Loxwood under-18s continue perfect league campaign and book last eight place in Youth Challenge Cup
Loxwood under-18s have made the perfect start to their Combined Counties League season and also booked their place in quarter-finals on the Youth Challenge Cup.
The league leaders made it nine wins out of nine last week when they overcame second-placed Holmesdale at Plaistow Road.
The 2-0 win gave the young Magpies an eight-point lead over their visitors in the title race.
As expected Holmesdale started the game brightly, using their pace in attack to try and get an early lead, but the Magpies defended well and they failed to trouble Rob East in goal.
After weathering the storm, the hosts began to dominate possession and were rewarded for their composure just before the break when Josh Neathey guided an Ollie Young free kick into the bottom corner to grasp the lead.
The pattern was maintained in the second half until, with all substitutions already used, the impressive Mackie Ringrose had to go off injured following a strong challenge, leaving the Magpies to play what proved to be the last 30 minutes with only ten men.
Holmesdale sought to take advantage of the extra man, but their direct approach was consistently repelled, Matt Dunningham in particular, continuing his impressive form.
The hosts looked to hit on the break and in the fourth minute of injury time they sealed the game when Tim Bennett put Neathey through and he kept his composure to step inside before firing home.
The under-18s then travelled to unbeaten Conquest Academy on Tuesday night in the Youth Challenge Cup.
Suffering from the injuries sustained the week before, Loxwood only had 11 fully fit players and were reliant on three players playing out of natural positions.
Nevertheless, in an intimidating atmosphere, they got off to the perfect start when Maxim Sheik was brought down in the area and Harrison Whitehouse stepped up to open the scoring from the spot.
The Magpies rode their luck a bit for the remainder of the half against a group of very talented academy-level players, but on the stroke of half-time the hosts won the ball high up the pitch and put in an equaliser.
Things got worse straight after the break when a well-delivered free kick was turned home at the far post to complete the turnaround for Conquest.
On the hour mark, Ollie Young finished after Josh Lyden had knocked down a Whitehouse corner and just four minutes later Neathey fired home a low free kick from 25 yards to make it 3-2.
This reverse sparked a swathe of ill-discipline from the hosts but the Magpies kept their heads to ensure that they capitalised upon it, which they did via two more Neathey free kicks to secure a well-deserved 5-2 victory and with it a place in the last eight.
Manager Matt Camp praised the maturity of their performances over the past week.
He said: "This was a big week for us. We have been working with these young men all season to prepare them for senior football, not just technically and tactically but also mentally, and these two performances show us that we are firmly moving in the right direction.
“Five of our 16 year olds have been loaned to Cowfold in recent weeks, not just to help a good club out of a tricky situation, but also to give these talented individuals exposure to adult football in order to aid their development, and in certain situations this week we have seen the benefit of that.
“We’re very pleased with how all of the squad is developing and with all but one of last night’s team being just 16 years old, we have a lot of potential to work with.”