The Magpies went to the coast for the second successive Saturday, this time to Littlehampton where they were looking to build upon a very pleasing performance at Newhaven last time out. Whilst they were without the absent Max Bickell and departed Olly Gill, they were able to welcome to the starting line-up the returning Adam Williams and debutant Tiago Andrade following his transfer from Haywards Heath in the week,
As is so often the case with visits to the port towns, there was a stiff breeze blowing across the pitch and it was evident even in the warm-up that if either side were to take all three points they would have to conquer the elements as much as they would their opponents. In the early stages, it looked as though it would be the hosts to seize the early advantage as Daniel Kempson was finding joy down the left-hand flank and was causing trouble with subsequent crosses. Firstly, he picked out Jack Newhouse after 5 minutes but his volley flew over; and then just 3 minutes later his deep delivery was met by Lee Garnham, but the striker's header was well tipped over by Dave Carruthers.
The visitors began to get a foothold in the game after that and on ten minutes Tom Frankland seized on a loose bit of play in the Littlehampton defensive third and duly curled an effort at goal that Luke Hutchings did very well to tip over. The Town 'keeper wasn't so effective five minutes later, however, as Jordan Warren sent a deep cross into the area from the left and with the assistance of the wind the ball made its way over Hutchings and nestled in the corner of the net to give the visitors the lead.
Whilst the opening goal had a degree of fortune attached to it, the Magpies were in no mood to give up the advantage and after a Byron Napper corner was tipped over the bar, the midfielder went over the other side of the pitch and sent in another telling delivery that this time saw coming-of-age birthday boy, Joel Colbran, thump home a header off the bar, giving Hutchings no chance to react, and they weren't done there. Two minutes later, after Frankland had been fouled just outside the width of the penalty area, Napper stood over the ball again and this time took aiming, fizzing the ball past Hutchings and into the far corner (above).
The hosts were clearly stunned by that five-minute salvo, but to their credit they set about regaining their composure well and slowly fought their way back into the game, although they struggled to find a telling way past a backline that was well organised (as it was the week before) and marshalled by skipper Eddie French and Colbran at its centre. Nevertheless, they could have gone into the break even further behind when Napper let fly in added time from 20 yards, but Hutchings did very well to reach out and tip the effort over.
Knowing that the elements could still play a part and that Littlehampton's direct style could very much benefit from them, nothing was being taken for granted at half time, but nor was there any talk of sitting deep and just trying to repel them. In fact, the visitors created the first meaningful chance of the half when Ross Swaine put Williams away with an excellent first time ball and he crossed into Andrade who did well to make contact acrobatically, but the effort looped over the bar. Just after the hour Andrade was involved again as he exchanged passes with the advancing Napper, but the latter's shot was parried to safety. Just a minute later, the hosts' threat was evident again but between Colbran and Carruthers they managed to crowd out the potent George Gaskin, much to the striker's frustration.
With just 15 minutes left, the game really should have been put to bed as Williams (productive all afternoon) found Andrade in the centre who swivelled on the ball but he could only shoot straight at Hutchings. 3 minutes later, it was Williams orchestrating things again, this time finding substitute Ed Davies, but his shot was well saved. Nerves were frayed with 7 minutes left to go as Garnham created some space for himself on the edge of the Loxwood penalty area and unleashed a fierce effort, but Carruthers did very well to dive low to his right and tip the ball around the post.
After that scare, the match really should have been managed effectively to its conclusion, however the Magpies lost their way as the game entered added time. The second extra minute saw Town substitute Jack Cole seize on some slack defending and duly flashed the ball past Carruthers to prevent the clean-sheet, and it got worse 4 minutes later. After a fracas off the ball prompted unsavoury scenes between the two sides, Napper was shown a second yellow card and was duly dismissed.
The final moments of the match certainly took the shine off the performance, but up until then the Magpies had demonstrated the togetherness and discipline that has been growing in recent weeks, and complemented it with a quality in the final third that has eluded them of late. Going into the final month, and 6 matches, of the season, everyone is keen to see what can be achieved by a group that is building with next season in mind as much as this, starting next week when Arundel visit Plaistow Road.