The Magpies were back at The Nest after their winning run had come to an end at Peacehaven 7 days previous. However, with the top 9 teams in the division seemingly intent on remaining tight to each other, it was vital that a further slip-up didn't occur today with Eastbourne United the visitors. In stark contrast to the weather when these two sides met on the opening day of the league season, there was plenty of debate before the game as to whether the match should go ahead, but referee Robert King was insistent the pitch was playable, and to his credit he made the right call.
There were a few changes in and around the squad, with Dean Wright, Joe Holvey & Gary Pritchard absent, but they were buoyed by the return of Ross Swaine as well as Harry Lloyd & Josh Courtney from injury, the latter of which was experiencing his first involvement in over 18 months!
The hosts got off to a flying start when a corner in the 2nd minute was curled into a central area by Byron Napper and Dan Mobsby was on hand to head downwards past the visiting 'keeper for the early advantage. It was so nearly cancelled out almost immediately though as Eastbourne went down the other end and worked the ball over to their number 10, who fired at goal on the angle, but his fierce effort was beaten away to safety by Sam Smith. Chances were coming thick and fast in the opening exchanges of the game, as both sets of defences struggled to acclimatise to the firm conditions. Tiago Andrade was put away down the right channel by Ollie Moore in the 9th minute and he did well to pick out the supporting Michael Wood at the far post, but the wide play couldn't keep his volley on target.
Ten minutes later, the offensive quality that the hosts were already showing, came to the fore again. After Andrade was upended 20 yards out, the forward picked himself up and took the ball with all the intention of having a go at goal, but instead he caught everyone by surprise and slipped Harry Bachelor in down the right, He delivered a perfectly weighted first time ball across the six-yard box and Moore was there waiting to slide home what was an excellent manoeuvre to double the lead.
That second goal ushered a somewhat underwhelming period of the game with the hosts keeping their opponents at arm's length as they struggled to create any significant openings. In fact, it wasn't until just after the half hour mark that The Magpies had another clear sight of goal, when Bachelor benefited from neat play by Ross Swaine and Andrade, but his resulting shot was skewed harmlessly wide. It was to be a different story just 3 minutes later though, when similar build up, this time on the left, saw Jordan Warren set Wood away and the winger showed good composure to evade the covering challenge before squaring Moore, who had the simple job of tapping home for his second and the team's third. Moore really should have secured his hat-trick in the 37th minute when Bachelor wriggled free of two challenges before picking him out in the centre, but the forward couldn't sort his feet out and the chance was gone, at least for the remainder of the first half.
He had another chance straight after half time, when he was fed again by the lively Bachelor, but he couldn't keep the ball down whilst under pressure. Moore was proving to be a magnet to the ball as he had further chances in the 50th and 55th minutes as a result of crosses from both flanks, but each time he was unable to hit the target, the latter being the closer of the two as the far post came to United's aid.
Just before the hour mark, the visitors served a reminder that they weren't yet out of the game when their number 10 did well to create some space for himself in the area before firing at goal from a tight angle. Smith did well to parry the initial effort and just got hold of the rebound in time to ensure that the number 11 was correctly penalised for kicking the ball out of his hands before dispatching it into the net. The Magpies reacted well though, with Warren becoming ever more potent from the left back position: First he put Napper away down the flank but his dangerous ball in was narrowly cleared over the bar by the number 5; then slipped in Wood, who bore down on goal, but his effort was blocked by the 'keeper at the near post.
With 14 minutes to go, the visitors had their best effort of the game when a well delivered free kick by their 10 wasn't claimed by Smith allowing the 9 to head past him, but Swaine had covered around his glove-man and was there to head clear. They wasted another chance two minutes later though, when a sweeping move found its way to the 11 at the far post, but under pressure from Swaine and Smith, he could only fire into the side netting. He had another sight of goal 4 minutes later when he neatly swivelled in the area, but the angle was too tight, and Smith was able to comfortably block the ball.
As the game slipped into added-on time, there was still long enough for the Magpies to have two good chances to boost the score line. In the first additional minute Wood neatly flicked the ball over the defender for Moore to volley at goal from 20 yards, but it whistled just over and onto the top of the net. Then with virtually the final play of the game, Callum Jardim delivered a whipped cross from the left and although Moore was arguably better placed, it was Andrade who rose to meet it, but his header looped over.
This was a game that was played in tricky conditions, particularly in one half of the pitch, and although the Magpies had the greater number of opportunities, the visitors weren't without their threatening moments, and for them to leave without being on the score sheet was somewhat harsh. The Magpies certainly deserved the three points though and will be pleased to have bounced back from last week in advance of their last game before Christmas next week at Three Bridges.