Following a very pleasing win in the FA Cup 7 days earlier to start the competitive season, it was now time to commence the Magpies' league campaign and they would do so on the road against the same opponents whom they completed the previous season, Eastbourne United. The Oval pitch was in great condition and was accompanied by the customary, stiff coastal breeze that was blowing right down it. The visitors were forced into three changes due to Adrian Todd being away, Ross Swaine being suspended and Joe Holvey carrying a slight niggle that wasn't worth risking. That meant first starts of the season for Gary Pritchard, Tom Familton and Michael Wood along with positional changes for a couple of others.
Despite the alterations Loxwood could have got off to a flyer when they appeared to have a good claim for a penalty in the very first minute, but the somewhat clumsy challenge on Tiago Andrade in the area went unpunished after good work on the left by Adam Williams. That aside, the initial exchanges were all at arm's length with neither side creating anything clear-cut despite the visitors' considered build-up play in direct comparison to the hosts' more direct approach.
The Magpies had a host of chances after the quarter hour mark that should have seen them take the lead: Firstly, Michael Wood's snap shot on his left foot went wide of the near post; then Williams put Andrade in, but the striker couldn't get a shot away before the covering challenge arrive; moments later Ollie Moore was set on the edge of the area but blazed over; the best of the lot though came on 23 minutes when Byron Napper harried to win the ball and break clear on goal but he got caught in two minds whether to take on the shot or lay the ball off for a tap-in for the supporting Pritchard, but he did neither and ball dribbled harmlessly wide. It wasn't long before another chance was fashioned when Moore delivered a great ball from wide right to find Wood and he beat 2 defenders before shooting at goal but home stopper Phil Hawkins did well to block it.
Wood would get another sight of goal 10 minutes later when he rose to meet Moore's header back across goal from a corner but is guided header was well cleared off the line much to the visitors' frustration. It could have been even worse for the Magpies one minute later when an under-hit pass from Eddie French allowed Ollie Sotoyinbo through on goal but Sam Smith stood tall in the one-on-one and saved his centre back's blushes. Smith had his heart in his mouth just 5 minutes later when the assistant penalised him for a somewhat rash challenge outside of the area, but he only received a caution thanks to the cover that had got in behind him. That spelt the end of a half that should have seen a visiting lead, but somehow so nearly ended up quite the opposite.
The second half started slowly, but soon enough the pattern of the first half followed with the Magpies threatening again, this time from the left-hand side with Williams at the forefront. Firstly, he delivered an exquisite ball into the area that somehow evaded everyone including Wood at the far post who would have tapped home with greater anticipation; Then, moments later Williams showed good feet again to manipulate an opportunity for himself but he could only drag his shot wide. These missed opportunities so nearly proved costly when just after the hour mark the hosts were able to break and debutant Max Howell found himself clear but he inexplicably rolled the ball wide of the goal when it looked for all the world that he would break the deadlock.
Two minutes later though all the attacking play finally delivered when Wood got away down the right before cutting back in and curling a delightful ball left-footed to Williams waiting at the back post. The midfielder showed great composure to bring the ball down before calmly slotting past the scrambling Hawkins prompting celebrations (above). That really should have been the cue for the visitors to take a firm grip on the match but instead they eased off a bit and it wasn't long before the hosts capitalised. With 15 minutes left Howell whipped in a cross from the right and found substitute Tyler O'Callaghan who was fortunate to retain possession following not one, but two, block challenges before cashing in and forcing the ball past Smith for the equaliser.
Three minutes later O’Callaghan had a golden opportunity to put United ahead as he rounded Smith after being slipped in the left-hand channel, but the youngster was unable to get his shot away cleanly and the Loxwood 'keeper seized the opportunity to recover and gather the ball. This let-off sparked the visitors into action and they went straight up the other end where Jordan Warren cutely put substitute Alfie Gritt in on goal but Hawkins was quick off his line to block the shot and the chance was lost. However, the 81st minute was to prove more productive; Williams threatened again down the left before laying the ball back to Warren who delivered an enticing ball into the area that Moore showed exceptional ambition to get to and neatly guided his header across Hawkins and re-secure the lead despite suffering an injury in the process that would end his afternoon a bit early.
This time the lead would not be surrendered and the Magpies comfortably repelled anything that the hosts could manage to muster in response. They could have even extended the lead in the third minute of injury time when Gritt centred to find Wood on the edge of the area but his half volley flew harmlessly wide. This would prove to be the last notable action and the final whistle soon came to confirm a 3-point start to the league season at what can be a very tricky venue to visit and provides further confidence to the squad ahead of a prolonged series of two-game weeks running into September, starting with the visit of Three Bridges this Tuesday night,
Team: Andrade, Colbran, Familton, French, Moore (Bachelor 82), Napper (c), Pritchard (Gritt 66), Smith, Warren, Williams & Wood Subs not used: Camp, Holvey & Milbarrow