Late goals from both sides saw an entertaining derby between Loxwood and Broadbridge Heath end with the honours shared on Saturday.
The Premier Division clash proved quite a feisty affair with both sets of players endeavouring to do their best for their team egged on by their partisan supporters.
The first talking point came after only three minutes’ play when Jake Holmes went down in the penalty area following a challenge by Josh Courtney.
The referee immediately pointed to the spot and Holmes picked himself up and placed the ball on the spot but blasted his effort wide of the post.
Heath continued to have the upper hand and opened up the Loxwood defence again on 13 minutes when Holmes beat the offside trap, but Sam Smith was off his line to push the striker’s effort wide.
Holmes reacted quickly to chase down the rebound and fire off a shot from the angle which went across the face of goal and out to safety.
A minute later, Heath debutant Gicu Iordache dribbled his way into the Loxwood penalty area and was about to shoot when he was upended, but whereas the first penalty was a very soft call, Heath felt there was no doubt in this instance, but the referee ignored the appeals.
Gradually the home side got into the game with Michael Wood having the first effort at goal from long distance which went wide and Byron Napper doing the same.
Midway through the half, Heath had yet another penalty shout waved away when Tom Bold was clattered by a defender, but again the referee ignored the appeals. The ball came out to Tom Frankland and the defender took it to the goalline and picked out Tim Martin, whose first-time effort from six yards was saved by Smith at the near-post.
Loxwood finished the half strongly with Dean Wright shooting narrowly wide from 12 yards and Naim Rouane attempting his luck with a shot from distance but it remained 0-0 at the break.
An early Heath corner was played out to Iordache who shot narrowly over the crossbar and minutes later Heath’s newest recruit drove a left-foot shot inches wide.
George Cousins went close for Heath with another effort that flew across the goal, but midway through the half Heath skipper Tom Bold was cautioned for questioning a refereeing decision – and that would prove costly when he picked up a second yellow 15 minutes from time for a late challenge on Wright.
The Magpies took full advantage of the extra man and looked far more threatening, Joe Holvey had their first shot at goal of the half in the 77th minute when he forced his way into the penalty area but dragged his shot wide.
The pressure told two minutes later when Wright got down the left flank and drilled the ball across the face of goal where Holvey forced it over the line from four yards.
That looked to be enough to win the game, but on the counter-attack in the 86th minute Heath’s Shaun Findlay scampered down the left flank and the ball was shifted into Martin, who drove forward and shot first time with the ball looping over Smith and in off the far post.
There was still time for either side to snatch victory, Iordache came close for the Bears with a shot blocked by Loxwood’s Eddie French and deep into time added on, a stunning save by Michael Chester pushed Dan Mobsby’s effort over the crossbar.
Following the result, Loxwood assistant manager Matt Camp has stressed the Magpies have the quality to end their dip in form.
Camp was frustrated with their draw against Heath and acknowledged the loss of form that has seen them win one in six Premier Division matches, but doesn’t believe it will continue.
He said: “It was frustrating. We didn’t manage the game as well as we should have done.
“They shouldn’t have had the opportunity to equalise so it’s our fault rather than any fantastic play by them. We’re definitely confident that we can get back to winning ways.
“We can’t avoid that it hasn’t been the best Christmas but we’ve worked on a lot of things and everyone is well aware of what our expectations still are. The league is still close and even though we’re in ninth, all we need is a run to get back in the mix again.
“We know how hard we had to work to get our run together in November and we’ve got to get back to that. We know when we get it right we’re a match for anybody.”
Loxwood: Smith, Holvey, Warren, French, Courtney, Bachelor, Swaine, Rouane, Napper, Wood, Wright. Subs: Jardim, Mobsby.
Heath: M.Chester, Frankland, Robinson, Findlay, Flack, Bold, Weller, Martin, Holmes (Clark 87), Iordache, Cousins (Sim 76).