Patient Chichester make it nine wins in a row

Chichester City prepare for kick-off against Maidenhead United, Feb 12 2017 (Photo: Sent Her Forward)Chichester City 3 (Clark 51; Lewry 62; Wilson-Blakely 84)
Maidenhead United 0

Unbeaten Chichester City continued their relentless march towards the Premier League’s top division with an ultimately convincing 3-0 win over Maidenhead United that barely reflected their dominance.

Already excelling in every facet of the game this season, from a defence that has conceded just seven goals in 13 league matches, a midfield that combines defensive duties with creativity and an attack that oozes goals, Chichester added another element to their armoury today – patience.

Fresh from an 8-0 midweek win over the only other unbeaten side in the Premier League’s South West Division One, Liam Greenfield’s players did not have it all their own way against a side whose tenacity and organisation threatened to dent their progress, holding out for a goalless first half.

Last season Chichester might have caved in at the disappointment of failing to score in a one-sided first half in which Maidenhead goalkeeper Ellie Parker was outstanding.

The players might not have been able to see beyond the scoreline and recognise that for all the visitors’ superb organisation and commitment, Chichester were carving them open at will down the flanks and creating a hatful of chances for their lethal strikers.

But this season’s Chichester, on a winning streak of nine league games and having dropped only two points all campaign, are a very different proposition and kept their heads, scoring three times after the break – despite more brilliance from Parker – to maintain their 10-point lead over Plymouth Argyle, probably their only realistic rivals for the title, and promotion.

The scoreline was their lowest in the league since September, when they conceded their only points of the campaign in a 1-1 draw at Southampton Saints.

But it wasn’t for the want of trying.

They earned 15 corners, each of them delivered masterfully – all but one by captain Becky Barron.

They had 31 shots; scored three goals, had three disallowed and hit bar and post.

And Parker made 11 saves – a couple of them outstanding.

Moreover, a depleted Maidenhead, who brought a squad of just 12 players to Oaklands Park and haven’t played a competitive game since November, were extremely well organised, defended like demons and frustrated their hosts in a first half played almost exclusively in the visitors’ half.

Prompted by the outstanding Molly Clark and Becky Barron in central midfield, Chichester made excellent use of their two wingers, Chloe Dowdell and Cherelle Khassal, who have 25 goals between them in all competitions.

Action from Chichester City v Maidenhead United, Feb 12 2017 (Photo: Sent Her Forward)The wide players supplied some tantalising crosses for Chichester’s front two, Jess Lewry and Charley Wilson-Blakely, who could each have had double hat-tricks but for some wayward finishing and Parker’s extraordinary goalkeeping.

As always for a team who rely so much on width to attack, Chichester’s full-backs, Lauren Cheshire and Laura Ingram, were constant supports, putting a massive strain on Maidenhead’s midfield and defensive fours.

And while goalkeeper Sadie Wilson-Blakely, enjoying her fifth consecutive clean sheet since making her debut against Shanklin in early January, was under-employed, she played a full – and vocal – part in Chichester’s impressive performance, loudly organising her defence and not losing a second of concentration.

Already badly hit by injuries, Maidenhead suffered another big blow when Alex Dover was injured in a collision with her own goalkeeper and Lewry in the eighth minute, and though she re-entered the fray after a five-minute stoppage for treatment, she appeared to be struggling for much of the game.

Yet she and her defensive partners – among whom Sarah Reid was outstanding – provided a significant obstacle for Chichester to negotiate.

Yet time and again wingers Dowdell and Khassal unlocked them with their pace and skill, fed brilliantly by Barron and Clark.

They should have gone ahead on 16 minutes when Parker brilliantly pushed away Wilson-Blakely’s powerful strike.

Then after Lewry’s fine first-time shot had flown just wide, Parker was out of her goal like a flash to thwart Wilson-Blakely and Dowdell as they chased a through-ball that caught the Maidenhead defence flat-footed.

Chichester forced a string of corners, many of whom they got to first, but they could not get the breakthrough their pressure probably deserved.

Parker saved again at point-blank range from Lewry, and then she denied Dowdell from similar distance as the home side ratcheted up the pressure.

On the few occasions Maidenhead did get the ball anywhere near their isolated attackers Kerrie Ryan and Emma Alexandre – who won every aerial battle she faced – were there to mop up the danger.

Khassal was causing all sorts of problems down the Maidenhead right, outsprinting her marker down the line or cutting in to shoot.

But she struck one straight at Parker and followed it moments later with a better effort, which landed on top of the net.

Parker excelled to keep out Wilson-Blakely’s close-range header from a superb cross from Dowdell, and then from another brilliant Dowdell cross, Lewry’s header cannoned back off the bar.

Half-time: Chichester City 0-0 Maidenhead United

Maidenhead enjoyed probably their best spell immediately after half-time, twice making good ground into Chichester territory before running out of bodies.

Yet ironically, after 45 minutes in which they’d won 10 corners and had 16 shots without scoring, the home side took the lead with their first real attack of the half – and what a goal it was as Clark turned on the edge of the box and cracked an angled volley into the far corner with her back still to the goal.

It visibly lifted Chichester, who settled much more into their familiar composed style that has seen them go six months unbeaten in the league.

And the second goal followed on 62 minutes. Another brilliant Dowdell cross caused chaos in the Maidenhead area. Parker made a double save but was unable to keep out Lewry‘s effort from a few yards out.

Chichester’s strength in depth was illustrated shortly after when top-class right-back Lauren Cheshire was replaced by Lucie Challen, among the finest left-backs in the division, Ingram switching to the opposite flank.

Parker made another spectacular stop to keep out a 25-yard effort from Khassal, and then Maidenhead notched up their first meaningful shot in the 69th minute when Natalie Richardson tried her luck from best part of 40 yards, which was never going to trouble former Portsmouth championship-winning ‘keeper Wilson-Blakely.

A seagull on the pitch during the match between Chichester City and Maidenhead United (Photo: Sent Her Forward)Kally Ambler replaced Lewry and Maidenhead brought on their only sub – Shylla Duhaney-Carty.

Ambler immediately had an effort on goal, which was blocked, as Chichester showed no signs of sitting on their now impenetrable lead.

With 15 minutes to go, Khassal so nearly got the goal her performance had merited, but once again she was thwarted by the brilliance of Parker as she bore down on goal.

Khassal and Wilson-Blakely were leading by example, refusing to give up the remotest cause, and the constant pressure earned them one final goal when the latter finally got the goal she, too, deserved, ramming the ball home after another brilliant turn and cross from the phenomenal Dowdell.

There was still time for Wilson-Blakely to head wide once more before she was replaced with three minutes to go by youth player Loulou Robson, who was making her senior debut just over a week after her 16th birthday, making her among the youngest ever to play in the FAW Premier League.

And with the game now in stoppage time, there was one last moment of brilliance from the home side as Challen played a beautiful chip into the area, which Ambler controlled with a sublime touch before prodding the ball – for once – beyond Parker’s reach, but it struck the outside of the post and went wide.

Verdict

With the run that Chichester are on, a 3-0 win over a side from the division’s lower reaches – including a blank first half – probably ranks as a bit of a surprise.

It was their lowest goal haul in the league for nearly five months.

But it was a match they were never in danger of losing – in fact, even conceding – and one in which they looked comfortable and assured without ever reaching the peak that has seen them reel off victories of 4-0, 5-0, 14-0, 6-0 and 8-0 in their last five league matches.

They have class in every single position – including the bench – a Premier League Southern team in all but name.

But in such a tight division they know they need to continue their remarkable run, which has seen them lose just twice in the league in 31 matches – dating back to September 2015 – if they are to clinch that promotion which just eluded them last year.

Liam Greenfield has assembled a seriously classy side at Oaklands Park, boasting several players who would be more than comfortable in the Prem’s top league – if not the Super League.

Yet battle-weary and ultimately beaten Maidenhead did themselves proud in standing up to the challenge their classy opponents set them and can surely take some pride in restricting them to their third-lowest score of the season.

Reaction

Liam Greenfield (Chichester City): “Everybody has stepped up”

“We won a game 8-0 on Thursday night… and it almost fell a bit flat when we were 3-0 up in 15 minutes. And then today the players turn up and they’re not expecting to win, but they’re thinking, if we can beat Southampton 8-0 a few days earlier, we should be able to cruise to a victory against Maidenhead.

“And it didn’t really happen like that. It took half an hour for us to really get into our stride and get ourselves going, so being honest, I was not panicky but I was a little bit concerned at half-time that perhaps we wouldn’t do it.

“Our captain [Becky Barron] said at half-time everyone was panicking and getting stressed out because we were not winning, but we will. And we won’t be four or five goals up every half-time. Everyone has just got to keep their heads and get on with it, and that’s what they did in the second half.

“And the result took care of itself.

“Last season we didn’t have a regular scorer. I was watching a documentary the other day about Arsenal in the ‘Invincibles’ season, when they had Thierry Henry. And they were saying it was always all right because they would go 1-0 down but everyone would be thinking, Thierry hasn’t scored yet.

“And now we’d probably be thinking the same. Today, yet again, Charley Wilson is on the score sheet, Jess Lewry’s on the score sheet, Molly Clark’s on the score sheet.

“And that’s not taking into account Cherelle [Khassal], Chloe [Dowdell], who have also weighed in with a lot of goals.

“Charley does make a difference, but being honest it’s not just her. She obviously catches the eye with everything she does because she plays with so much passion… But everyone else has really stepped up this season, big time.

“As an example, on Thursday we were 3-0 up at half-time. If that was last season, everybody would be going in thinking, great, we’re 3-0 up. But we’ve come off the pitch at half-time and they were really disappointed that we’d let ourselves drop for about 20 minutes, half an hour of that first half.

“We’ve got a good enough team for [promotion], a good enough squad for it. It is just that case of continuously going and going. It’s hard in our league because you just can’t slip up. You have one slip-up and you are almost done, the end.”


Chichester City factfile

  • Unbeaten in all 13 league games this season
  • Have won their last nine league matches
  • Last league defeat was on March 13 2016, against Swindon Town, who won the league and were promoted
  • Have lost just twice in the league in the past two seasons
  • Scored 44 goals in 18 matches last season, finishing second
  • Have scored 72 in 13 matches so far in this campaign

Kerthney Carty (Maidenhead United): “We’ve got to take the positives”

“Considering we haven’t played for almost three months, it was always going to be difficult – and against a good side. It’s been up and down, with games called off on a regular basis. We’ve not had the rub of the green.

“But I’m more than happy with the girls because after being off for so long without a game, we’ve come in and put in that performance against a top side.

“We knew the game plan. We knew how they play. They like to get the ball out wide and get the crosses in and attack the ball. So we just said, two banks, make it hard for them; let them try to play through us and force it – which they were, trying to force that ball over the top and getting in behind.

“We said at half-time we are making our own bit of luck here, but on top of that we are working hard for each other so we’ve got to take the positives.

“If we can maintain that in the second half, they are getting frustrated because the ball is not going in, and then we might be able to apply ourselves and get that all-important goal.

“We had that break right at the start of the half… it’s frustrating.

“We’ve had key players out with long-term injuries, so that hasn’t helped. Last season, it was OK, although we had some players come in who didn’t really understand the importance of the level we were playing at. You need the commitment.

“So we refreshed it a bit and brought some more players in, to get to know each other. But we ended up with some more players who didn’t understand the commitment.

“But I’m pleased that we’ve got some players who understand and are knuckling down and getting on with it.

“I can’t complain today. I can’t knock any of them. They’re the ones who made the journey and they stuck it out. It was always in the back of your mind, how are we going to fare in our first game back, and who do we get? Chichester.

“Liam is doing a fantastic job there. They have got some quality girls. I’m a bit envious, in a way, because we could do with a couple.”


The Wilson-Blakely effect

Married couple Charley and Sadie Wilson-Blakely were both Premier League Southern championship winners with Portsmouth, and while Chichester were already unbeaten and in excellent form before they joined, they have certainly had a beneficial impact on results.

  • Charley joined Chichester City last October, making her debut as a substitute against St Nicholas
  • She has scored 19 goals in nine starts and three appearances from the bench – 15 of them in eight league appearances (two as substitute)
  • She has three hat-tricks this season – one of them a double hat-trick
  • She has 15 goals in her last six games
  • She is averaging a goal every 38 minutes
  • Sadie made her Chichester debut on December 18 against Keynsham Town
  • She has yet to concede a goal as Chichester have gone on a scoring spree at the other end
  • In the games she has played, her team has won 5-0, 14-0, 6-0, 8-0 and 3-0
  • So far it’s 450 minutes without conceding – and counting

Sent Her Forward player of the match: Ellie Parker (Maidenhead United)

A host of candidates throughout the Chichester side, but Maidenhead’s goalkeeper worked miracles, her save tally in double figures, including a couple of outstanding ones from close range.

Parker went about her business quietly, unfussily, but was a magnificent last line of defence in a side who defended for their lives but couldn’t quite pull off the miracle of maintaining a clean sheet against the league’s highest scorers.

Key contributions

Charley Wilson-Blakely was also outstanding, combining her power and passion to great effect, but also performing unselfishly throughout to provide chances galore for team-mates.

Cherelle Khassal, too, was a beacon, tearing Maidenhead apart with her pace and testing Parker at every opportunity.

On the opposite flank, Chloe Dowdell had the best game I’ve seen her play, delivering top-quality crosses time and again from the right wing.

Behind the front-runners, Molly Clark and Becky Barron ran the midfield, spraying a string of superb passes to the flanks, while the defence remained largely untroubled, and while goalkeeper Sadie Wilson-Blakley barely had a save to make, she played her full part in a team performance with excellent communication and organisation.

It was a thankless task for the visitors, who stuck at their task, Sarah Reid probably the pick of a solid defence.

Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10 Entertainment, commitment, skill and – eventually – goals.

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