Analysis: how the underdogs came out on top
Days before the final, Chichester City manager Matt Wright said the best team in Sussex should win the County Cup – and invariably did.
After watching his pumped-up squad – for with Chichester it’s more than a team game – stumble through the fog to an ultimately convincing 3-0 win over Premier League Brighton, it’s hard to take issue with either his sentiment or the reality.
Brighton – and their Premier League neighbours Lewes – may play in a division above Chichester, but on current form there is no doubt the Greens are as good as anyone in the county.
The South West Combination promotion challengers’ set-up is impressive, their organisation and attention to detail as meticulous as any of their rivals, and individually, their players are as talented.
Brighton & Hove Albion staff certainly wouldn’t argue with their right to ply their trade in the winter game’s top division.
Confident first touch
Wright got his tactics spot-on, from starting the game with effervescent striker Kally Ambler instead of goal machine Abbey Shrubb, to the change in formation at half-time that saw Ambler’s strike partner Lauren Cheshire pulled back to reinforce midfield, to the substitutions, which saw Lizzy Laws replace Jade Widdowson in the first half and Shrubb take over from Ambler halfway through the second.
After watching with disappointment their impressive home draw with league leaders Swindon Town on Sunday, Wright wanted a fast start from his players tonight.
Even the most timid of Chichester supporters (if such a being exists) could not have been worried about the result after Shrubb’s first
And he got it. Gone was the edginess and un-Chichester-like long balls in those first few minutes.
Back were the confident first touch and incisive passing that have seen them pass the halfway mark of the season still unbeaten in the league.
And back, crucially, was that goal touch.
Hollie Wride’s early trademark free-kick was just the boost Chichester needed. It shook Brighton and gave the underdogs the impetus.
For the first 20 minutes or so, they largely ran the game, despite the serious threat from Charley Boswell down the Brighton right.
When the favourites did get their act together, Chichester’s defence withstood everything they could throw at them.
Tammy Waine performed admirably in a lone strike role, but the support was intermittent and the finishing disappointing.
When they did threaten, mainly via a series of Kirsty Barton corners on the right, goalkeeper Hannah McNamara was equal to anything that was thrown at her.
Half-time came at the right time for Chichester, with the game being played almost exclusively in their final third.
But just when you expected Brighton to learn the lessons of that first 20 minutes and start the second as they had ended that first, Chichester slipped back into their comfortable playing style.
However, their tactics had changed. Cheshire, whose speed had caused her former club-mates problems in the first half, moved back to bolster midfield, granting left-back Lucie Challen more support in dealing with the menacing Boswell.
Then came the entrance of Shrubb in place of Ambler, to plough a lone furrow up front against a Premier League defence.
It took her 14 minutes to make her mark, adding strength and pace to the discipline she had shown since striding on to the pitch, and finishing with aplomb from a narrow angle.
Her second – another typical Shrubb opportunist goal – was the icing on the cake. But by then, Brighton were down and out.
Even the most timid of Chichester supporters (if such a being exists) could not have been worried about the result after Shrubb’s first.
They celebrated at the final whistle like they had won the biggest trophy of their lives, which of course was exactly what they had done.
The fact is, it’s unlikely to be their last.