Chichester City 2 (Challen 43, Widdows 60) Southampton Saints 1 (Whyte 86)
It took them 10 minutes to get into the game – and they had a five-minute panic at the end – but Chichester City eventually comfortably beat Southampton Saints for the second time in five days to maintain their flawless start to the season.
A sparkling goal from Lucie Challen and a tap-in for Jade Widdows earned Chichester the three points that preserve their 100% record in both league and cup this season, although a late consolation from Krystal Whyte induced panic in a defence that until then had capably dealt with Southampton’s sporadic forays into their territory after riding out an early storm.
Two league wins out of two for Chichester – three, including Sunday’s League Cup victory – are just the start new manager Liam Greenfield wanted to build team confidence and avoid having to play catch-up in what looks likely to be another tough league campaign.
He felt before the season started that he had a stronger squad than last season’s – and with the prospect of playmaker Jade Widdowson returning by the new year, he believes there is a depth to the squad that was sorely missed last year.
And there was plenty of evidence of that tonight as he brought in prolific striker Kally Ambler and young attacking midfielder Jade Widdows without in any way weakening his team. And when he introduced his second-half substitutes, they seemed to reinvigorate his side, who were already well on top.
Southampton, by contrast, have had a dismal start, losing all three FAW Premier League South West Division 1 fixtures, as well as their 1-0 League Cup reverse at home to Chichester on Sunday.
And while manager Adam Lee believes there is no disgrace in having lost narrowly to Keynsham Town and Chichester – albeit being “battered” (to use his own word) by Swindon in their season opener – he knows they have to pick up points soon if they are to restore some much-needed confidence throughout his deflated team.
Trio of efforts
In a rousing opening, they looked as though they might well break their duck, settling quickly into their possession game and firing shots on and around Sally Thompson’s goal almost at will.
With only six minutes on the clock, they had racked up a trio of efforts – all from distance, and none on target.
But their passing was fluent and in Whyte, they had the ideal player to bring others into the game. Chichester, by contrast, were reduced to playing long balls into the channels for the likes of Jenna Fowlie, Widdows and Tammy Waine to chase.
Yet suddenly, the complexion of the game changed – for good, as it turned out. Widdows and Lauren Cheshire combined well down the right for Chichester, the former laying the ball back for Fowlie, whose first-time shot was brilliantly tipped over by Hannah Haughton in the Southampton goal.
After Jess Lewry had shown great skill to fox Emma Alexandre before firing over a cross into an empty Chichester penalty area, Amy Found, Kally Ambler and Fowlie combined well on the left, denied only by a terrific block by Emily Hardaker.
By the mid-point of the first half, Chichester were on top, and while there had been little to test Haughton since that early save, the home side were enjoying not only the bulk of possession but – perhaps more importantly – the better quality possession.
Left-back Challen was dominating at the back, winning every ball in the air and frequently setting her team on to an attacking path.
Found was a formidable presence just in front of the back four, her height making her unbreachable in the air, her strength earning her balls she had no right to win and her power going forward gaining her side territory as opponents bounced off her marauding frame as she moved upfield.
Typical of her contribution was her 25th-minute tackle that broke up a rare Saints attack, followed by a supreme ball into the path of the willing Ambler, who won a corner.
Becky Barron’s kick was punched back to her by Haughton, and the midfielder’s chip back into the box was met by the head of Tammy Waine, but it flew harmlessly wide.
Then Barron tried a shot from the edge of the area, which Haughton took comfortably above her head.
Chichester were totally dominant, Southampton restricted to the occasional counter-attack, but from one such move, Becki Bath fired a snap-shot from all of 30 yards, which proved no trouble for Thompson in the home goal.
A series of injuries requiring frequent stops in play disrupted the rhythm of the game, but just as it seemed the half might end without the goal Chichester deserved, they struck with an absolute beauty.
After Found had pulled off the pass of the game, curling the ball with the outside of her right foot down the left touchline for Waine, Chichester won a free-kick on 43 minutes, which was quickly taken, finding the on-rushing Challen just inside the Southampton box.
Her first touch was sublime, and then she beat two players before finishing with a superb angled drive beyond Haughton.
Half-time: Chichester City 1-0 Southampton Saints
The goal was a big boost for Chichester but a hammer blow for Saints, who looked to have held out, despite coming under heavy pressure.
And no sooner had the second half begun than they were in familiar roles, Challen finding Waine with a good ball down the line, and the former Brighton striker laying the ball back into the path of Fowlie, who mishit her effort wide.
Bath, who had been occupied by Found for almost the whole of the first half, suddenly found more space for herself, beating her giant opponent and side-stepping Barron’s challenge before playing an excellent ball for Whyte to chase. But Alexandre, who grew in stature as the game developed, timed her interception to perfection.
In the 52nd minute, from another corner, Challen found Waine in space, but she headed wide with no semblance of a challenge.
Two minutes later Rebecca Davis replaced Hardaker at right-back.
Bath, who was coming more and more into the game, robbed Found and after playing a one-two, hit her first-time shot well wide.
Then on 58 minutes, two of Chichester’s new recruits, Waine and Widdows, combined well, the latter hitting a dangerous first-time cross from the right, which Haughton held under pressure from Challen.
Then on the hour Chichester grabbed a second that should surely have killed off the visitors.
Widdows fed Ambler, who played a fine ball out to Fowlie on the left, but she was thwarted by an excellent tackle from Davis.
However, from the ensuing throw-in, Waine chipped a delicate volley from virtually on the byline that left Haughton grasping thin air, and it would have gone in had Widdows not joyfully blasted it into the net from all of two inches.
The goal inspired the home side to even more dominance: wave after wave of green shirts bore down on Saints’ back line, who performed gamely to keep the score down.
Widdows broke through with clever skill and determination, but failed to spot the runs of her two strikers and ran into an ambush.
Ambler turned brilliantly and fired just over after Barron’s tenacity had won a ball she had no right to reach.
Widdows made another good run down the right before playing an intelligent ball into the path of Ambler, who was denied at the near post by Haughton.
On 65 minutes, Fowlie was replaced by Chloe Dowdell, who took Widdows’ place on the right flank, Widdows moving to the left.
Five minutes later, Waine, who had grown into the game, showing clever movement and some deft touches, executed a magnificent Cruyff turn to leave her marker helpless and then made progress down the right before delivering a superb cross into the path of Challen, who could not quite match her first-half finish.
Rachael Waller replaced Ambler up front in the 71st minute, and moments later the substitute was denied by another brilliant stop by Haughton following excellent work between Widdows and Waine, the teenager’s former youth coach at Brighton.
A few minutes later, Saints made another change, Carla Perkins coming on for Bath. But whatever the visitors tried, there appeared to be no way back against a side in total control, with Found proving almost unstoppable in midfield.
Davis again thwarted Challen down the Chichester left with another fine challenge, and then Kaye Henton twice came to the rescue for Saints, her header from virtually under her own bar especially impressive.
Waine came so close to her second goal in two games against Southampton when she hit a superb curler, but Haughton again somehow managed to tip it around the post.
With just six minutes left, Challen almost beat Haughton again from the left in similar style to Waine’s effort that led to Chichester’s second goal, but this time the goalkeeper reached it.
Waine, 37, who is still playing her way back to full fitness following a serious knee injury, finally left the pitch five minutes from time, replaced by 16-year-old Shannon Albuery, who took her place as central striker.
And within a minute, Southampton had pulled one back. A lapse in concentration let in Whyte, who collected a through-ball and finished with aplomb.
It energised a lacklustre Saints, who returned to the slick passing that had served them so well in the opening minutes, and caused panic in the Chichester defence.
Whyte in particular was causing problems, and with time running out, she fed Henton, whose shot was deflected for a corner.
The goal had indeed proved too little, too late. But it may just kick-start Southampton’s season as they head into what they hope will prove a slightly easier set of matches.
Southampton: Adam Lee, the Southampton manager, felt they had played three of the best teams in the league in the opening fortnight. “We’ve played Keynsham, Swindon Town and Chichester, and I would expect them all to be up there,” he said. “So I think we’ve had a really hard start to the season.”
He hopes his team can now start picking up points, starting on Sunday at home to St Nicholas.
But he conceded that, like last weekend, his team were second-best. “Chichester bossed the game, pretty much like they did on Sunday,” he said.
“We defended quite well and then for some reason, we suddenly came to life five minutes from the end. I’ve just said to them, ‘Why couldn’t you do that in the first five minutes?’ That’s the frustrating thing.”
Chichester City: While Lee was at a loss to explain his side’s surrender after such a bright start, his opposite number felt he knew why his team faded so dramatically at the end after being in total control.
Liam Greenfield told Sent Her Forward: “It’s quite congested for this time of the season. We haven’t really got going, and we’re playing three fixtures inside a week. Maybe it’s just a bit of tired legs.”
He said: “We panicked a little bit towards the end. We made it really hard work for ourselves because until then, we were controlling it.”
Greenfield felt his side’s equally slow start was down to Saints’ determination to take what they thought was a winnable game to the hosts in the early stages. “It was a tight game on Sunday and they probably thought to themselves they could come here and get themselves off in the league with a victory, so they started really fast.”
But he feels Chichester’s fitness and strength in depth stood them in good stead, giving them an ideal springboard for a genuine assault on the title – and promotion.
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Amy Found (Chichester City) In the first half in particular, Southampton found her unplayable. They seemed scared of her and she dominated, breaking up attacks and setting up her own side on the counter.
Star turns: Lucie Challen, Tammy Waine, Jade Widdows, Emma Alexandre, Laura Ingram (Chichester City); Krystal Whyte, Hannah Haughton, Becki Bath, Jess Lewry (Southampton Saints).
Sent Her Forward match rating: 6/10 Became very good in patches, but first-half injuries marred it as a spectacle.