The Magpies completed their November fixtures with the visit of in-form Horsham YMCA on Saturday who were unbeaten in their previous 9 league matches, securing 23 points in the process and registering notable victories against high-flying Haywards Heath Town and Saltdean United. That said, the hosts were enjoying a very positive recent run, with four wins in a row along with 3 consecutive clean sheets. All this promised for an engaging afternoon at The Nest, and it wasn't far wrong.
The hosts took to the field for the fourth match running without a change to the starting eleven, but Gary Pritchard returned from illness to join the squad at the expense of DJ Dominique who was unwell.
The two sides tentatively felt their way into the match to begin with, both keen not to gift what might be a telling early advantage. As such, it wasn't until the sixteenth minute that there was a clear sight of goal when Ollie Moore slipped the ball inside Dan Evans for Harry Bachelor to run onto, but the young midfielder took an extra touch that narrowed the angle and gave Aaron Jeal in the YMCA goal the opportunity to block the resulting effort.
6 minutes later hearts were in the home fans' mouths when Eddie French was guilty of too many touches at the back and he was robbed of the ball by Sam Schaaf, who bore down on goal. The striker touched the ball away from the advancing Sam Smith, but hadn't accounted for the recovering French, who did extremely well to recover and block the goal-bound shot behind for a corner in what was very much a let-off.
In the 28th minute though, it was the turn of the visiting back line to make an error in a pertinent position when Callum Donaghey looked to let an errant through-ball go back to Jeal, but miscommunication between the two enabled Tiago Andrade to nip in between them and take the ball before being brought down by the 'keeper, giving the referee little option but to point to the spot. The striker dusted himself off to take the kick himself and he duly sent Jeal the wrong way to open the scoring.
Whilst the hosts were having the better of the general play, the visitors posed a significant threat when presented with opportunities in the final third, and they got another such sight of goal with 8 minutes to go in the half when Philip Johnson seized on some over-play in the right channel and although he too evaded the onrushing Smith, the attentions of the covering Joe Holvey were enough to put the forward off and he could only drag his shot wide, and the last meaningful opportunity to restore parity to the scoreline at the break had gone.
The Magpies came out for the second half knowing that there was every chance that the visitors would look to get the ball forward a bit quicker than they had done in the first half, and as such they would need to improve their concentration levels at the back and be ready to take advantage on the counter-attack. They successfully absorbed the pressure that was being exerted on them, with Holvey and Dan Mobsby standing particularly strong as YMCA looked to get the ball to their talisman David Brown on the left flank as much as possible.
Despite this, it was the Magpies that continued to create the better opportunities, and none better than in the 70th minute when skipper Byron Napper wriggled clear in the box but his attempt to clip the ball neatly over the advancing Jeal went comfortably clear of the bar, doing little for the home support's nerves. There was to be no such finishing trouble 15 minutes later though as a quick move saw Napper slip the ball to Moore 22 yards out just right of centre. Without hesitation Moore drove the ball goalward with great power and accuracy, so much so that Jeal stood no chance in preventing it fly past him and nestling into the bottom corner to spark mass celebrations involving every player.
As the game moved into injury time all were keen to secure what would be a 4th successive clean sheet and there had been little before it in the half that threatened to spoil that, but in the 2nd minute of added time the referee believed he'd seen French block a speculative overhead effort at very close range with his arm and awarded a penalty. The fact that French was left with an extremely bloodied nose as evidence of how he'd actually thwarted the effort failed to affect the decision and Luke Gedling managed to strike his spot kick high enough to evade Smith's dive for what proved to be nothing more than a consolation.
Whilst all concerned with disappointed at losing a clean sheet that all had worked so hard to earn, the bigger picture was that this hard-earned victory was the Magpies' fifth in a row; it secured a 100% record for the month; and it sees the boys from The Nest rise to 6th ahead of a visit next Saturday to another high-flying rival in Peacehaven & Telscombe.