Neil Murfin marked his birthday by giving Pagham the perfect present as they won a tight Sussex League division-one game 1-0 against East Preston at the Lashmar.
Sammy Donnelly’s EP side will rue some very wayward shooting as they continue rebuilding after their recent departures.
This takes nothing away from the visitors, who again forced the game in the second half, and Murfin’s late strike was well-deserved.
The Lions gave a debut to loanee Dale Hayes, the latest product of their agreement with Bognor Regis Town’s under-18s.
There were early chances for both sides. EP’s Shaun Charles was a handful on the wing, while Kwab Osei sent a header sailing over James Binfield’s goal.
Liam O’Connor had a shot charged down for the Lions, while Charles went on the rampage.
Murfin and Ryan Davidson both had to be on their toes to clear and then Charles found space to direct a header towards goal that Binfield collected with ease.
This was followed by four chances in afive minutes, with Andrew Dalehouse missing the target from a header and a free-kick and Charles sending a shot well wide of a gaping goalmouth.
Hayes blotted his copybook infront of the watching Bognor under-18s coach Luke Cooper with an uneccessary and probably unfair booking for kicking the ball away.
A barging challenge by Dalehouse left Pagham keeper James Binfield in a heap, but he was fine to continue. Another awful miss for EP followed as Richard Greenfield failed to bother Binfield with a shot that struck the trees behind Pagham’s goal.
Just before the interval, Ryan Morey ran into EP’s area, only for his shot to by saved by home keeper Rui Buckland.
Josh Irish made way for Sam Garnett for the Lions. Ruben French pressured the EP defence.
A ball was pinged into the EP area and Scott Murfin’s shot on the turn caused panic among the home side’s defence, triggering a goalmouth scramble that could have seen the Lions go l ahead.
Garnett and Andy Brown both had openings while Dalehouse directed a header at Binfield.
A second contentious booking saw Greenfield booked for kicking the ball away after the whistle had gone.
Dan Martin made a welcome return from a long term injury on 73 minutes, replacing Morey in Pagham’s midfield.
The referee ruled a back pass by EP had been handled by their keeper, resulting in a Pagham free-kick on the edge of the area. it was deflected for a corner and Ryan Davidson was close with a header as the ball came back in.
Greenfield shot wide and an East Preston free-kick in a dangerous area was cleared off Pagham’s line by one of their own players, summing up a disappointing afternoon for EP.
That disappointment became worse with three minutes left. A free-kick was rocketed into the area by French and Scott Murfin pinged in a shot which rebounded to Neil Murfin, who made no mistake from close range, triggering delirious celebrations from the Lions fans who knew a victory would take them above their hosts in the table.
The Lions go into Saturday’s game against Horsham YMCA with the chance to go second in division one.
PAGHAM: Binfield, Hayes, French, N Hawker, Davidson, N Murfin, A Brown, O’Connor (Rowlett), Irish (Garnett), Morey (Martin). Subs: Richer.
Steyning U18s 1 Pagham U18s 3
Pagham travelled to Steyning for a Sussex Youth League game and came away with all three points.
The Lion Cubs moved the ball around and they went in 3-0 up at the break with goals from Crouch, Irish and D Greenslade.
With their rivals losing, Pagham moved three points clear at the top of the table.
This Sunday they face Steyning in the County Cup at Nyetimber Lane (11am).
Pagham Reserves lost 3-2 at home to Lavant in the Sussex Intermediate Cup.