After a four week wait, The Magpies were finally back in action with the visit of East Preston in the league. The hosts were conscious of giving up the lead twice, late on in each half, in the reverse fixture and were keen to make amends for the points they considered dropped.
On a tricky pitch, following the recent prolonged wet weather, the hosts made the better start of the two sides and had the ball in the net in the 7th minute when Eddie French rose to head a Byron Napper corner home, however, referee Andrew Senior judged there to be an infringement on goalkeeper Benjamin Purkis and ruled it out. Ten minutes later Michael Wood took aim from the edge of penalty area and although his strike was somewhat tame, Purkis merely shovelled the ball out, fortunately for him into an area where nobody was waiting to take advantage. A few moments later there were strong calls for a penalty when Napper went down in the area following a seemingly late sliding challenge, but play was waved on. The Magpies continued to apply all the meaningful pressure and in the 23rd minute it was the woodwork that came to the visitor's aid, when Harry Bachelor's curling effort from 18 yards didn't find the net despite beating Purkis all ends up. Wood was the next to have a sight of goal when he got in behind the back line, but his flicked effort went the wrong side of the near post. Purkis then denied Napper but was fortunate that Moore was unable to punish his parry out. With 10 minutes left of the half, French was again unfortunate at a corner with his header this time being cleared off the line.
With a degree of somewhat inevitability, the missed opportunities would soon prove costly. In the 37th minute the ball was lost in the East Preston third, but to their credit the visitors counter-attacked well at pace and in no time at all Dan Huet found himself in on goal and he neatly tucked the ball past the on-rushing Sam Smith to opening the scoring. It could have got even worse for The Magpies before the half was out when Luke Beedie seized on loose play at the back and drive towards the near post, but Smith did well to block the subsequent effort out for a corner, which came to nothing and signalled the break.
The hosts started the second period as positively as they did the first, and this time they took advantage. With just 5 minutes gone in the half, Jordan Warren drove forward from the left back position and after a neat one-two with Dean Wright, he squared the ball to Ollie Moore who calmly slotted home under pressure to restore parity. It wasn't long before EP came close to retaking the lead though when Jack Barnes went for goal from a free kick 22 yards out, but Smith was equal to it and held the effort.
In the 56th minute the two who got The Magpies back on terms combined again, but this time Moore couldn't keep his header down following Warren's well-delivered cross. On the hour mark another Loxwood corner caused problems for the visitors when Josh Courtney rose highest and headed downwards, but Purkis did just enough to hold on. Courtney's next significant impact was at the other end; Smith failed to gather the ball at a corner and presented Hayden Hunter with a golden opportunity to score, but his volley was superbly cleared off the line by the Magpies defender. And his penalty area dramatics didn't finish there. Just 6 minutes after his previous effort on goal, he got on the end of another Napper corner and this time volleyed the ball home to give his side a deserved lead.
The visitors were sparked into action by the turnaround and it wasn't long before they forced another free kick in a dangerous area, but this time Smith denied Beedie. They had a much clearer effort in the 72nd minute though when Ryan Quirke wriggled his way through, but he was denied by an extraordinary Smith save that saw the ball go just over. 9 minutes later though, the Magpies stopper wasn't so dominant against Quirke when a misjudgement presented the striker with an open goal and he duly levelled the scores.
This saw the game descend to an end-to-end battle as both teams went for the win and it looked like the hosts would restore their lead when Wood did well down the right-hand side before cutting back for substitute Ollie Gill, but yet again an effort that beat the 'keeper was cleared off the line by committed defending. Two minutes later a French error of judgement on a high ball presented Huet with a chance to bag his second of the game but he blazed over. EP had another opportunity in the 88th minute when a swift break presented Jake Herlet with a chance, but Smith tipped it behind for a corner from which Huet fired from point-blank range but somehow Smith blocked and held the effort.
A winner did come in the final minute of normal time and it was the visitors that seized it. The Magpies gave the ball away cheaply in their attacking third and once again East Preston broke away to deadly effect. Huet broke the offside trap and drew in Smith before calmly laying the ball off for Hunter to tap home into the now unguarded net and cue wild celebrations. As it happens there was enough additional time for The Magpies to carve out one final opportunity, but Gill's cross-shot grazed the far post before the ball was cleared to safety and with that any positive result was lost.