Lewes 2 (Rutherford 40; Lane 44)
Chichester City 2 (Wilson-Blakely 27, 31)
Chichester City claimed a minor victory after becoming only the second side to take a point off Lewes at their Dripping Pan fortress this season, but it must have felt like a defeat after losing their key player, talisman and top scorer Charley Wilson-Blakely to an injury that looks bound to sideline her for some weeks.
Their star striker, whose two well-taken goals today took her into double figures from just eight games in the Premier League South, fell awkwardly in an aerial challenge with Lewes goalkeeper Faye Baker and fears she may have damaged ankle ligaments.
It was the last thing Chichester manager Matt Wright needed after watching his players drop like flies in recent weeks – including several more today – although he rightly derived plenty of consolation from how his team posed second-placed Lewes problems just a fortnight after being beaten by them on their own patch.
It’s the sort of injury crisis his opposite number, John Donoghue knows only too well after a similar run wrecked his team’s campaign a couple of seasons back.
But now there is no such problem, with the community club pledging to fund the women’s section equally with the men’s.
The extra resources at his disposal meant that in the absence of key defender Tammy Waine – who, ironically, suffered a broken foot in a challenge with Wilson-Blakeley in the reverse fixture two weeks ago – he still had plenty of options to replace her.
Donoghue plumped for recalling Rachel Palmer, which wasn’t exactly a gamble, and she rewarded him with an excellent performance on the left side of defence, while Leeta Rutherford – another candidate to have stepped back into Waine’s position – demonstrated the value of being able to keep her in midfield, from where she and Katie McIntyre dictated much of the play, especially in the first half.
All four goals came in a frantic 17-minute spell before half-time, with the visitors bagging a quickfire double, totally against the run of play at the time, before Lewes responded with character and commitment, getting back to level terms through a Rutherford header, from a trademark Lewes set-piece, and a tap-in by Danni Lane from another corner routine.
Wilson-Blakely was a threat straight from the kick-off, breaking free down the right, only to be thwarted by an immaculate tackle by Kelly Newton, who won the ball cleanly before clearing upfield.
And her team made the more enterprising start, using the pace of Wilson-Blakely and Cherelle Khassal to stretch Lewes’s back line, but inevitably halted by the impeccable Palmer.
It was Chichester who had the first shot on target when, on nine minutes, Wilson-Blakely, with her back to goal, collected the ball and turned before firing a volley directly at Baker from 25 yards.
Lewes responded with a first-time shot from McIntyre, but it was well off target.
Gradually, the home side began to find their way into the game, their fluidity making it difficult for their opponents to pick them up.
Avilla Bergin, ostensibly playing on the left wing, as often as not cut inside to test Chichester’s central players, while McIntyre again troubled their defence in more advanced positions.
Behind her, Newton and Rutherford were largely dictating the play, but it was from another wide player – Lane – that their first genuine threat emerged on 17 minutes.
The classy attacking midfielder cut in from the right touchline and accelerated past two challenges before feeding Bergin on the opposite flank. She crossed well, but the ball was cleared.
The momentum was building, and two minutes later, Darcey James dribbled her way out of defence, performed a body-swerve that sent her marker halfway to Brighton and then found McIntyre, who shot just over.
Moments later, James was back tidying up neatly in her own half.
In the 20th minute the home side came close to taking the lead that was looking increasingly inevitable.
Rutherford latched on to a ball over the top and lobbed Baker with a volley that bounced once and struck the bar – an effort that would surely have gone in on the softer pitches of winter.
On 23 minutes McIntyre played the ball to Rebecca Carter, who swivelled sharply and shot while falling to the ground, but she could only find the side-netting.
The intensity was rising – as was the temperature, with neither Bergin nor her equally feisty marker, Lauren Cheshire, prepared to give an inch in a battle that was becoming as much psychological as physical.
Lane tested Baker again on 26 minutes, cutting inside and hitting a low shot from 25 yards, which the ‘keeper gathered easily.
Yet a minute later, Lewes were a goal down after a defensive lapse in concentration.
Jenna Fowlie was unmarked as she struck a fine first-time shot which cannoned off the bar, and Wilson-Blakely was quickest to react – in fact, she was the only player to react – finding the net with a clever volley from the edge of the area.
Lewes responded with a header from Charlotte Owen that went just wide.
But by the 31st minute they were further behind.
Again, Wilson-Blakely was at the heart of it. She turned cleverly and laid the ball off to Lewry, whose fierce shot was brilliantly saved by Baker. But Wilson-Blakely was again the fastest to react, to rifle home her 11th league goal of the season.
This was uncharted territory for Lewes. Apart from their opening-day thrashing at Charlton Athletic, Lewes had never been two goals behind this season – and with both goals coming against the run of play, they faced a big test not only of their ability but their character.
They responded in the right way. McIntyre and Lane combined to make progress through the Chichester midfield, and once again, Bergin delivered a good cross from the left, only for Kerrie Ryan to clear.
Bergin was shown a yellow card for pushing her tormentor, Cheshire, in the chest.
And moments later, Lewes struck wood for the second time in the game.
McIntyre’s free-kick found Lane on the opposite wing. She again cut inside, but her cross was deflected beyond Sadie Wilson-Blakely and hit the far post.
This time, they did have a player alert to the rebound, but Owen’s follow-up was saved by the goalkeeper.
They didn’t have long to wait for a goal, though, and unsurprisingly, given their pedigree in this department, it came from a corner. Palmer’s superbly flighted kick from the right on 40 minutes deceived Wilson-Blakely and Rutherford powered home a header to make it 1-2.
It felt like a potential turning point, with Lewes having responded in the right way to conceding two quick goals to resume their dominance.
And four minutes later they were level, again courtesy of another corner.
McIntyre’s kick from the opposite side came back to her and her return cross caused panic in the Chichester goalmouth, the ball eventually falling to an unmarked Lane, who tapped home from six yards.
If the first goal was a turning point, the equaliser looked like confirmation that Donoghue’s side’s superb winning run was to continue.
The next 45 minutes would tell.
Half-time: Lewes 2-2 Chichester City
Chichester made a change at half-time, bringing on Laura Ingram for captain Emma Alexandre, who had recently returned after injury.
As in the first half, Wilson-Blakely immediately threatened to break clear, but again a Lewes player was up to the task – this time Lane getting back to halt the striker’s progress with a fine tackle.
And it was the home side who conjured up the first effort on goal of the second half, Rutherford hitting her effort with her weaker right foot straight at Wilson-Blakely.
For once Lewes’s supremacy from corners let them down, Palmer finding the side-netting with her kick on 49 minutes.
But it was not all one-way traffic. Baker had to be alert to clear from the dangerous Khassal, coming out of her area to kick to safety as the striker looked set to catch up with another ball over the top.
In the 54th minute the home side won a free-kick just outside the Chichester City penalty area, but McIntyre’s cross was cleared.
Chichester then won one of their own from twice the distance – but it was to prove costly for the visitors.
Chloe Tucker launched a high ball into the Lewes box, which Wilson-Blakely got her head to just ahead of Baker, but the goalkeeper’s momentum sent the striker crashing to the ground, and she fell awkwardly on her ankle.
After several minutes’ attention, she was stretchered off, dealing a blow not only to the visitors’ chances of taking anything from the game but also jeopardising their hopes for the forthcoming fixtures.
But one player’s injury is another’s opportunity, and Wright sent on Alex Collighan, a prolific scorer in last season’s excellent under-16 side, who had opened her account last week on her first appearance for the senior side.
Her side immediately won two corners in quick succession, and the youngster was given an immediate chance to show her ability, shrugging off a challenge from McIntyre – no mean feat in itself – before laying the ball into the path of Cheshire, who shot waywardly wide.
The game was open and even, with neither side dominating for long.
On 67 minutes Lane, who has had an admirably consistent season for Lewes, set off on one of her trademark runs, bustling past challenges before swapping passes with Carter and delivering another decent cross, which was brilliantly blocked by the recovering Fowlie.
Moments later Lewes could have – perhaps should have – taken the lead. Newton met Palmer’s cross, but it bounced awkwardly and the Lewes captain could only get her knee to the ball and it ballooned over the bar from just a few yards out.
At the other end, while Chichester missed Wilson-Blakely’s presence, her replacement continued to give the Lewes defence plenty to think about, unafraid to power into challenges and showing composure on the ball.
Chichester broke through Lewry down the right but the midfielder shot well over.
In the 72nd minute Collighan took advantage of a poor throw by Newton, collecting the ball from Fowlie and shaking off a challenge before getting in a shot – albeit not one to trouble Baker.
Both sides made another change on 77 minutes – Lewes a tactical one, with Claire Johnson replacing Charlotte Owen, still on a journey back from long-term injury, and Chichester another enforced one, Hollie Wride – herself still not fit after her own lengthy period out injured – replacing Tiff Taylor, who came off worse in another aerial collision.
Collighan again showed tremendous skill, keeping the ball in a tight situation before finding Lewry. The latter tested Baker from 25 yards, and although the ball seemed to be going wide, Baker made sure to give Chichester a rare corner.
On 78 minutes, Lane followed Bergin into referee Greig Walker’s book for a seemingly minor foul on Lewry.
The game was still in the balance, as both sides proved with slick passing moves in quick succession.
Newton, who seemed to be everywhere for Lewes, made another good interception and found Carter, who in turn fed Rutherford who played it on to Bergin. The winger sent over another excellent cross which Wilson-Blakely was unable to hold, but there was no-one on hand to capitalise.
Then Khassal and Fowlie played a superb one-two, only for the former’s progress to be brought to an abrupt halt by an offside flag.
Carter fired an angled shot just past the far post in what was to prove her final contribution of the afternoon for Lewes. She was replaced by Amy Taylor, who became the new attacking focal point.
She was immediately involved in another passing sequence with McIntyre and Lane, who somehow turned in another excellent cross from the left-hand touchline, which Wilson-Blakely this time held commandingly.
As the game moved into stoppage time – of which there was plenty after the injuries to Wilson-Blakely and Taylor – McIntyre sent over another tantalising corner, which Ingram headed away impressively.
Five minutes into additional time, Cheshire’s corner at the other end found Tucker, whose header was casually collected by Baker.
There was still time for Lewes to launch one last attack, Taylor breaking down the right, but her cross-shot just cleared the bar, and there was to be no last-minute drama after a first half full of it.
This was another close, compelling Sussex derby, and this time Chichester got something out of it.
Whether they feel the loss of Wilson-Blakely for who knows how long is a price worth paying is another matter. There is no doubt their Premier League campaign depends greatly on the experienced striker’s all-round game and unsettling impact on opponents.
But in the end they were worthy of a share of the spoils in a game that Lewes looked like winning, both before and after City’s first-half purple patch in which they scored twice in four minutes.
Lewes manager John Donoghue might rue the dropped points but he will be buoyed by the way his team overcame the setback of going two goals down against the run of play as they continue to ride the crest of a wave that eight-game unbeaten runs tend to create.
For his opposite number, Matt Wright, it will be a bittersweet feeling after seeing his side dent Lewes’s impressive home record but lose several more players to injury.
Facts and figures
- Lewes unbeaten in eight games – seven in the league – last tasted defeat on the opening day of the season
- Their five-game winning league run was ended today by Chichester after six weeks
- They remain unbeaten at home, where they have conceded just three goals – two of them today
- League newcomers Chichester City have lost just once in their last six league matches
- They have lost just once in five away league games
- Their 23 goals are the second-highest in the division and almost double Lewes’s 12
- They have conceded almost twice as many, too – 18 to Lewes’s 10
- Eleven of their tally have been scored by Charley Wilson-Blakely in just eight league games
John Donoghue (Lewes): “To get back into the game with sheer determination is fantastic”
“You’re disappointed when some simple ball control and some simple decisions affected the first goal, and obviously, [Chichester’s] tails were up for the next one. We just needed to settle quicker, and we didn’t settle quickly enough after conceding the first one.
“But I was really pleased with how we controlled the possession, and we attacked very well. In open play, apart from the second goal, we limited their chances.
“It’s the character – it’s your reaction to what could potentially be a negative – and we stop playing and start giving possession back to the opposition – but they carried on playing like I asked them to. We got forward well, we got into the areas that I wanted us to.
“To get yourself back into the game with that sheer determination is fantastic. That’s eight games, including the cup game, that we’ve not lost in.
Lose a voice
“It is going to come, but you try and put as long a run together as you can. You get to [where you] expect to win, or you expect to do well, as long as you keep your concentration and your focus there. You don’t go into it too cock-sure, thinking, ‘We’re going to [win]’.
“You think, ‘If we’re going to continue to do what we have been doing, we’re going to give ourselves a chance, even if we go 2-0 down, to get back into the game’.
“You lose Tammy (Waine), you lose a voice as well as a very good player. In open play, we still defended pretty well and limited [Chichester’s] opportunities.
“I’m not going to say what other teams should do… but we’ve got players who can stand up to the physicality and it doesn’t really worry them. The only thing you worry about is picking up a couple of injuries, and sometimes you do.
“They did today, unfortunately for them. But that’s the only worry – you can pick up a couple of injuries in a tough encounter. But I’m quite happy that my players can deal with it.”
Matt Wright (Chichester City): “The girls have got more belief in themselves”
“In the first half we weren’t as good as we can be. Credit to Lewes, because they had great movement off the ball and it challenged us and threw our rhythm apart, the way we wanted to play.
“However, we weren’t good enough. We had a little reshuffle, in terms of how we should play, at half-time, and I think the girls came out and responded, and played fantastically well, especially under the adversity of players being forced off the pitch through injury.
“I’m happy with how we played today. I think we can be more effective in the final third, but that takes time to get there.
“We’ve been working hard. You’ve got to give some credit to Aaron Smith who’s been great. He’s helped us out on the coaching side. I think we’re learning that we are better than we think we are. And I think that takes time in this division.
“I think we might have thought that we’re not good enough to compete, so we panicked a bit on the ball. But now the girls are starting to realise that we can go into games and compete with anybody in this division.
“And we showed that. Lewes are one of the best teams here. They’ve gone five without losing; they haven’t conceded for I don’t know how long – apart from against us – and we come here, to their home ground, and score two today – and that’s quite simply because the girls have got more belief in themselves.
“We’re still troubled and hampered by injuries, and that’s not been helped today. Emma (Alexandre) has had a sickness bug; we’ve had a hamstring pull from Laura Ingram. She’s been forced in today, really. Tiff (Taylor) has hurt her neck. Charley (Wilson-Blakely) has hurt her ankle.
“Hollie (Wride) is still at 80%, playing while injured. (Lucie) Challen is out. Not forgetting Loulou Robson. Gracie White is another one. It’s probably the worst at any club I’ve ever coached or played at. It’s the worst run of injuries I’ve ever known.
“If you named our injured list, they’d win most seven-a-side games. It’s hard to keep overcoming that.
“We’re forcing our hand: we wanted to make a change today that we couldn’t. because of Charley’s injury. I honestly think the change we were going to make would have affected the result of the match. It may have swung it against us, but it was a positive move we were looking to make, and it may have swung it for us.
“With Charley’s you can lose a player and take that. But when she’s clattered in the box and nothing’s been given, it’s very disappointing.
“From where I was standing it was clear-cut. I respect the referee’s decision… but to me it was a very clear-cut penalty. If [the referee] hasn’t seen it, that’s fair enough. He can’t give it. But when you lose a player like that and you haven’t been given a penalty for the foul… it makes it even harder to swallow, especially at 2-2.
“[The draw] was encouraging. However, we want to win every game, and I believe we could have won today. I think they could have won, but I think we could have won it, as well.
“A draw might be a fair result, but I thought we were decent, especially in the second half. And the players who came on were outstanding. Young Alex Collighan was quite fantastic when she came on. To have that bright young talent on the bench, that’s something else.”
Sent Her Forward player of the match: Leeta Rutherford (Lewes, 8/10)
The multi-talented, combative midfielder, who also excelled in defence for Lewes last season, is back to near her best. With Katie McIntyre (7) and Kelly Newton (7), she bossed midfield for much of the game, particularly in a first half that Lewes dominated.
Her tackling was tough, her first touch excellent and her vision – and ability to deliver – unquestionable.
Also back to close to her peak was Rachel Palmer (8), who was the pick of the Lewes defence, in my view. Her left foot is a wand when passing the ball but a piece of teak when used for tackling.
Danni Lane (7) continues to shine, both going forwards and in defence, while Faye Baker (7) impressed in goal.
Rutherford’s biggest challenger for player of the match, in my view, was her former Portsmouth team-mate Charley Wilson-Blakely (8), who continues to unsettle the best of defences. Her movement, positioning, control and strength are rarely bettered at this level. But her goalscoring instinct is as sharp as ever.
Jenna Fowlie (7) again put in a shift up and down the left flank, and more centrally, for Chichester, while Jess Lewry (7) did the same on the other side. Cherelle Khassal (7) again threatened with her pace and movement, although she saw much less of the ball than in many games.
And what a joy to see young Alex Collighan (7) handle the big-game environment so well. Wilson-Blakely is a hard act to follow, but the 16-year-old was comfortable on the ball and showed awareness of those around her, while fellow substitute Hollie Wride (7) looked close to her best in her brief second-half cameo.
Sent Her Forward match rating: 7/10 Another tough derby but plenty of quality on show.