Chichester City 7 (Ambler 7; Khassal 19, 27, 74, 80; Lewry 64, 89)
Brislington 1 (Maggs 50)
Chichester City shrugged off their midweek setback to reassert themselves as justified favourites for promotion to the Premier League’s top tier with an overwhelming win over the division’s newest team.
And justified they certainly are. A team that get better every time I watch them, they now have a strength in depth they never had before.
Regular centre-backs out injured? No problem: bring in two experienced players who looked like they’d played together all their careers.
Free-scoring strikers need a rest? Put them on the bench and wait until their replacements have demoralised your opponents – and then bring on the fresh legs to rub salt into the wounds.
But most impressively, after parting company with their excellent midfield playmaker, Amy Found, in slots a replacement who wouldn’t look out of place in the Super League.
Molly Clark, who chose not to return to Portsmouth, where she had proved to be an invaluable part of the former Premier League champions’ midfield, was simply outstanding at this level, ruling the centre of the park and cajoling her new team-mates into hitherto unseen levels of intensity.
She brought even more style, composure and class to a team already decently blessed with such qualities – and with Cherelle Khassal, another player with top Premier League credentials, tormenting defenders on both flanks – not to mention grabbing four goals – it was an afternoon to forget for South West Division One newcomers Brislington.
Their manager, Jason Kirby, admitted his players were half-beaten before they walked on to the pitch, such is the reputation of their opponents, who narrowly missed out on the title last season.
And it took until the middle third of the game before they offered genuine glimpses of what they could do – by which time their hosts were 3-0 up and coasting.
Beautifully worked goal
Clark began dictating play from the opening moments, spraying a superb ball to Khassal on the right flank before meeting her deflected drive first time, only to watch it fly narrowly wide.
Moments later, Clark sent another exocet, this time to the opposite wing, where full-back Lucie Challen sent over a tantalising cross that was cleared.
But within seven minutes the home side were ahead – courtesy of a beautifully worked goal. Khassal started the move, cleverly holding up the ball and laying it back to Lauren Cheshire, whose first-time pass found Khassal again, this time in space, and her precise ball across the goal was gleefully blasted home from a couple of yards by Kally Ambler.
Chichester were piling on the pressure, and Clark was again the instigator as they laid siege to the Brislington goal. Her quick free-kick down the line fell perfectly for Khassal, whose shot was well pushed away by Tallulah Wheeler for a corner.
The visitors’ defence was unable to clear Challen’s flag-kick but they somehow managed to block shot after shot on the line, eventually conceding another corner.
There was no let-up for Brislington’s beleaguered defence as Challen’s kick fell for Jade Widdowson, but again Wheeler was equal to her effort.
After Wheeler had once again foiled Clark, Chichester won a third corner, which again fell to Widdowson, but her volley was blocked.
The pressure was incessant, Chichester’s pace, power and passing proving a triple whammy for the newcomers. And they could have had a second on 11 minutes when Chloe Dowdell fed Clark down the left wing, but Ambler, at the far post, ducked under her terrific cross to inadvertently grant Brislington some respite.
It was only temporary, though, as within 60 seconds Chichester were 2-0 up, Khassal pouncing on Wheeler’s attempted clearance from a back-pass.
Still the pressure continued and still the corners mounted up.
Another pinpoint diagonal pass, this time from defender Kerrie Ryan, found Dowdell in space on the left wing. Her cross found Khassal, but again Wheeler stopped her effort.
And so it continued, with the visitors barely able to get out of their own half, driven to hurried clearances that simply came back with added pace.
And it was no surprise when Chichester went 3-0 up in the 27th minute. Clark, inevitably, was at the heart of the move, lifting a first-time pass over the static defence for Khassal to chase. She won the race with Wheeler and tapped the ball into the empty net.
With the game almost won already, the West Country side launched their first meaningful attack, Kim Maggs and Polly Wardle breaking quickly deep into home territory, but Challen was back in an instant to thwart their efforts.
On 35 minutes, the visitors strung together a neat passing move, culminating in a fine run and cross by Maggs, but there was no-one to capitalise on her good work.
Moments later, Khassal should have had her hat-trick, failing to get a touch on Ambler’s clever low cross with the goal at her mercy.
Brislington were finally getting into their stride, and Chelsea Heal was at the centre of much of their more constructive work.
Her superb pass played in Shannon Osman, but as she prepared to take on goalkeeper Sally-Anne Thompson, Ryan raced across to nick the ball and launch another Chichester attack.
Two minutes from half-time, Brislington finally won a corner after Cheshire needlessly got her head to a ball that was going out.
Charlie Grimes delivered an excellent cross under the bar, but Widdowson headed clear.
If Brislington thought the tide was beginning to turn, they were to be disappointed. Even before the half was out, the home side had had two more efforts on goal.
Firstly, Ryan waltzed through the visitors’ defence unchallenged and found Becky Barron, who shot narrowly wide.
Then, in time added on, there was a triple effort on goal – Clark’s long-range shot was blocked, Khassal’s follow-up parried and finally, Ambler’s thunderbolt flew well over.
Half-time: Chichester City 3-0 Brislington
It was to be Ambler’s last involvement in the match. Nursing a slight injury, she was replaced for the second half by joint-top scorer Jade Widdows, ensuring there would be no let-up for the visitors.
Yet it was Brislington who drew first blood after the interval.
After they won a throw deep inside the Chichester half, Maggs took advantage of a rare mistake by Ryan to lob Thompson from some 25 yards to make it 3-1.
It was to prove little more than a brief respite, though, as the unplayable Khassal continued to mesmerise her opponents, this time from the opposite wing, and Chichester merely cranked up the pressure.
Lewry headed Widdowson’s sumptuous free-kick narrowly wide, while Clark and Barron enjoyed themselves in the heart of midfield with a masterclass in quickfire passing and accurate long-range delivery.
On 64 minutes it was 4-1 – and reward for Chichester’s tenacious pressing.
Jess Lewry struck a rocket into the opposite top corner after excellent closing down by Dowdell and Barron.
Still the shots rained in, but on a rare foray back into Chichester territory, substitute Emily Plummer threaded a clever ball between two defenders, but Ryan and Cheshire were alive to the danger and managed to do what Brislington’s defenders had so often failed to do, particularly in the first half, and cut out the threat.
Khassal had another chance to seal her hat-trick in the 72nd minute when she volleyed Widdows’ superb cross into the side-netting, but she didn’t have to wait long for her third.
Two minutes later the defence again failed to clear and Khassal lobbed the stranded Wheeler to make it 5-1.
Chloe Rogers wasted a rare chance for Brislington, hitting her 25-yard free-kick straight at Thompson, and then Khassal set up Clark, who again shot narrowly wide.
A sixth goal was inevitable as a shattered – but still fighting – Brislington wilted in the autumn heat. And it was Khassal again who did the damage, outsprinting two defenders to a through-ball and finishing with aplomb.
The home side, who had introduced 16-year-old Keavy Price for Challen, brought on Shannon Albuery, who has three goals to her name already this season.
And she made an instant impact, her pace and strength posing new problems for the Brislington defenders.
Widdows switched to the right flank, but moved back inside to meet Khassal’s cross, only to fail to keep her volley down.
Albuery played probably the touch of the match, when her faintest of half-volleyed flicks found Lewry, but the former Southampton player could not capitalise.
She did get her second, though, a minute from time, heading home Cheshire’s deflected cross while standing on the goal-line.
Even then there was time for Keavy to show her own attacking abilities with a superb run and excellent cross, which just eluded both Khassal and Albuery.
The Chichester tally was to remain seven – but that was more than enough for a shell-shocked Brislington.
Brislington had made a decent start to life in the Premier League, winning two and drawing one of their three fixtures – all at home – before today.
But today they met the reality of life at the upper end of this division – a Chichester City side that is already a country mile ahead of the team that finished second to Swindon last season.
They’ve lost playmaker Amy Found after a disagreement with manager Liam Greenfield, but have acquired Molly Clark, who should be playing her football at a considerably higher level – and almost certainly soon will be.
They have cover all across the back four and an abundance of attackers, all of whom have already made their mark this season.
Brislington were soundly beaten but will meet few teams of the quality of Chichester this season. Nearly half the side has Premier League Southern experience – and the rest are more than good enough for that division.
Liam Greenfield (Chichester City): ‘If you’re not playing well, you don’t play’
It was hard for Greenfield to be too critical after his side’s dismantling of Brislington, but he admitted after the game that he was not totally satisfied.
Whereas he had bemoaned the ones his strikers had missed as they went into the break “just” 3-0 up, it was the goal they conceded in the second half that frustrated him.
“That’s become a little bit of a thing for us at the moment,” he said. “We’re on top of games, but… I don’t know what it is, but we tend to concede a goal.
“It was all right today because we scored seven, but on Thursday night (against Southampton Saints) we only scored one… and then Southampton went down the other end and got one themselves. So there are still things we need to improve on.”
Greenfield said the surprise draw at fellow early front-runners Southampton helped him motivate his side today. “You’re not going to win every game… but [the draw] did motivate me because I was able to say to the players, ‘We need to go out and have a bit of a show today. If we’re going to be on top of games that much, we’ve got to let the scoreline show it.”
With centre-backs Laura Ingram and Emma Alexandre out with foot and back injuries respectively, Greenfield was able to leave the pair to recover in their own time and draft in Kerrie Ryan and Jade Widdowson. “They’ve done all right together. They’ve never played together before,” he said, pointing to the vast strength in depth now at his disposal.
“The great thing is, if you’re not playing well, you don’t play. And if things aren’t working, we’ll change it and you’ll come off.”
Greenfield said he had invited Clark, who he said had decided not to return to Portsmouth, to train and play with the team after she became a regular spectator at games and training sessions.
He added: “She’s someone who takes her football very seriously and she is someone who, along with a few of our players, is really raising the level of professionalism at the club.
“We’re bringing in players like Molly, like Kerrie, Cherelle, to supplement people like Jade [Widdowson], Emma [Alexandre], [Lucie] Challen and [Lauren] Cheshire. The players who are still here now from last season and previous seasons were the ones who were professional, who wanted to work hard in every session, work hard in every game and strive to make themselves better.”
Jason Kirby (Brislington): ‘As long as we learn, we go forward’
Kirby faces a tough task in lifting his players after their worst nightmares came true.
Having made a bright start to life in the Premier League after comfortably winning the South West Women’s League last season, the Bristol side were brought back to earth with a bump against pacy and powerful Chichester – a “wake-up call”, Kirby called it.
But he revealed his team were overawed even before they began.
“We were frightened before he blew the whistle,” he admitted. “Our girls were worried before they’d even got off the bus. They’d heard a bit about (Chichester). They’ve had a few texts in the week ‘you’ve got to watch out for this; you’ve got to watch out for that’.
“It doesn’t bother me. Don’t worry about what they’re doing. Let’s concentrate on our own game. I think that was the problem today – we worried too much about their game and not about ours.”
But Kirby derived some consolation from the improved performance from his young, inexperienced side after half-time, when they played a little more football and rocked Chichester with only the third league goal the Sussex side has conceded in five games.
“First half we said, ‘can we stay in the game?’ But it’s nice to know that when we play our football we can upset any team.
“And obviously we’ve got to learn that we’ve got to talk a lot more, because when you talk you don’t panic so much.”
With new players bedding in and last season’s top scorer, Georgia Vandries, yet to return from holiday, Kirby is confident that Brislington can achieve their aim of staying in the league – and he is confident of a top-half finish.
“As long as we learn, we go forward.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Cherelle Khassal (Chichester City)
The former Brighton, Portsmouth and Lewes striker was absolutely unplayable, her pace and technique posing a constant threat to Brislington’s young defence. I have seen her perform similarly at the starts of previous seasons. If she can maintain this level for the entire campaign, Chichester will go up.
On any other day, Molly Clark would have walked away with the honour. The elegant, composed player has everything – except, on today’s evidence, her shooting boots. But it would be churlish to question any aspect of her game on a day when she helped take Chichester City to a new level.
Becky Barron is a model of consistency and performed neatly beside her, demonstrating, perhaps, more focus and determination than in previous seasons. Kerrie Ryan also shone, while full-backs Lauren Cheshire and Lucie Challen were, once again, outstanding.
Jess Lewry has added yet another attacking dimension, while Shannon Albuery and Keavy Price both produced excellent cameos in their short spells on the pitch.
For Brislington, Tallulah Wheeler can be largely proud of her performance in goal, while at the other end, Kim Maggs and Polly Wardle produced some magical moments against one of the best defences they are likely to face.
While Jade Hatton and her fellow defenders were given a torrid time as Chichester found a way of passing beyond them to willing runners, she produced some excellent stops and composure under pressure in the face of an onslaught.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 8/10 Thoroughly enjoyable spectacle – with the promise of even more to come.