The Magpies got back into league action this week with a sun-soaked local derby against Broadbridge Heath at their Leisure Centre ground. With both sides having registered wins from their opening two matches in the SCFL, at least one of the five 100% records in the division was to fall by 5pm and the recent history between these sides made it tough to call who's that might be. The visitors' preparations weren't smooth as Tom Familton needed a late fitness test to confirm that he would replace Eddie French in the starting line-up after the latter was still recovering from a heavy fall the week before. Harry Bachelor replaced the injured Adam Williams for his first competitive start of the season. Finally, Tiago Andrade began his three match suspension against one of his former clubs, which looked to mean a first start for Joe Holvey since the opening day of the season, but he sustained a recurrence of a calf strain in the warm-up and that meant Gary Pritchard stepped up from the bench, but this was a move that would prove to have a decisive effect.
Whilst the game began at a fairly brisk pace for such a warm afternoon, there was no real sight of goal for either side until the 12th minute when Michael Wood squared the ball to Ollie Moore but his left footed drive was way off target and didn't trouble Chester in the Bears' goal. 2 minutes later a free kick that saw both Marlon Maxwell and Rob Gidfrey booked in the aftermath nearly proved costly for the hosts but Byron Napper's curled effort from 25 yards merely grazed the crossbar with Chester stranded. A moment later Napper had another sight of goal following good link-up play between Michael Wood and Adrian Todd on the right, but the Magpies' skipper could only drag his shot wide.
It wasn't until midway through the half that Heath managed to create a clear opportunity of their own, but former Loxwood player, Tim Martin, lashed his shot wide. Five minutes later, the industry of the Loxwood midfield created an opening for Alfie Gritt as Howard-Bold was robbed of the ball deep in his own half, but the striker proved to be another who couldn't keep his strike beneath the bar. Despite all the huff and puff from both sides, there was little more than another harmless snap-shot from Napper to show for all the effort and halftime came with both sides looking to raise their performance in the second period.
Gritt really should have ensured that it was the Magpies that took the lead just 2 minutes into the half when he dispossessed Maxwell on the edge of the home penalty area but he could only tamely shoot straight at the grateful Chester. The hosts very nearly rubbed salt into the wounds as they broke and went straight down the other end where Robinson's adventure saw him in on goal but his shot from an ever-tightening angle was well blocked by Sam Smith with his legs.
In the 50th minute Gritt nearly made amends for earlier misses when he unleashed a near post drive, but Chester did well to get down and push it away for a corner, which came to nothing. The game was now quite end-to-end and as such it was the Bears who had the next effort with Piers McDermott letting fly with a well controlled half volley from 25 yards but Smith did well to judge the swerve and grab the ball at the second attempt. Finally in the 57th minute one of the openings was actually capitalised on, and it was the visitors who grabbed the lead. Chester was given an atrociously over-hit back-pass and when his controlling touch was too heavy, Gritt swooped to seize possession and slip the ball to the supporting Pritchard. The striker didn't connect well with his effort to roll the ball home, enabling the covering Maxwell to head away the looping ball, however Pritchard wasn't to be denied at the second attempt and reacted well to tuck the ball over the line with an overhead kick (above), much to everyone's relief.
Martin had a great chance 5 minutes later to restore parity, but Smith comfortably dealt with his effort and that would prove costly as in the 65th minute delightful interplay between Gritt and Pritchard saw the latter pick up the ball on the edge of the area outside the line of the left-hand post and without hesitation he took aim and fired a left-foot shot across and over Chester into the far, top corner. There was nothing scrappy about this one!
To the hosts' credit they showed great character immediately and within a minute a clever piece of forward play by Martin saw him get ahead of Adrian Todd in the box and drew the touch from which went down and won an understandable penalty. Despite the referee blowing his whistle for the spot kick to be taken when Smith had his back to the ball, the Loxwood stopper managed to react quick enough to block the strike by Devon Fender, but he could only parry the ball back into the striker's path and he duly tapped home the rebound to ensure the game was very much back in the balance. Despite that, the Magpies were still creating the better of the opportunities with Gritt firing just over with 15 minutes to go and 5 minutes later having a penalty claim waved away by referee Barry Cox despite the scenario looking very similar to that which brought reward down the other end not 15 minutes previous. The visitors pushed on though and Harry Bachelor evaded two challenges before shooting narrowly wide of the far post from the edge of the area with 5 minutes to go. Despite there being 3 minutes of additional time, the final periods of the game were well managed by the visitors ensuring that the hosts remained frustrated and it would be their 100% record that fell at the end of another tight contest between these two sides.
The Magpies now head home at the other side of the bank holiday weekend where they host a Pagham side who have begun the season with some stellar results, particularly in the FA Cup. If there's one thing the early encounters of the season has shown all involved in the Premier Division, it is that this is going to be a very keenly contested season with a number of good quality sides who are likely to keep taking points off each other.