The University of Chichester’s men’s football first team are champions. And coach Noah Hustler put the dramatic comeback victory at University of East London that clinched it down to a special team mindset.
“We were trailing 2-1 with eight minutes to go but the fighting spirit we’ve had all season helped us, with centre back Joel Bird grabbing two late goals,” he said.
Only a win would do for Chichester to snatch the South Eastern 1A title from their nearest rivals, and with it a place in the premier division play-offs and the possibility of a return to the elite tier of university football.
Chi started with intensity and David Mendes-Borges, Emmett Dunn and Alfie Lis forged opportunities early on before Rafa Santos broke the deadlock for the visitors, turning in a Lorenzo Dolcetti corner at the back post.
UEL equalised when Chichester failed to clear their lines, then stopper Ash Downs made a very good save as the hosts piled on the pressure. There was nothing Downs could do about the second goal on the hour mark following a counter attack.
Chichester opted for three at the back and more direct tactics with less than ten minutes to go and soon Bird got on the end of Dolcetti’s free-kick to make it 2-2.
The title looked to be heading East London’s way until Bird scored the winner deep into time added on. “We looked down and out,” said Hustler. “East London are a very good side.
“We’ve come to the league favourites and beaten them 3-2. There’s a real team togetherness and a never-surrender mentality in this squad.”
Hustler added: “We know Exeter, who relegated us last year, will be in the play-offs, along with maybe Bournemouth, Bristol or Southampton. We’ll do our analysis and a get a team plan for each one of those games.”
Elsewhere, Chi’s men’s football threes could only manage a 1-1 draw with Sussex in what was a relegation battle between the bottom two sides in South Eastern 2A. Chi took the lead but conceded a second half equaliser. Chi were guaranteed a South Eastern Conference Plate finalist with the fives and the sixes playing each other in a fiercely contested semi.
Kieran Dowell gave the sixes a dream start, heading in after Jonny Linard’s shot had been parried. Captain Ciar Cox almost doubled the lead when his free-kick rattled the bar.
Kieran Thomas dragged a shot wide and at the other end Linard glanced a header wide.
The fives got themselves back in it but Leo King restored the sixes’ lead after the break. The sixes were reduced to ten men when Matt Duncan was sent off.
Sixes keeper Bill Maynard made a super save late on to ensure the match didn’t go into extra time.
Chi’s women’s lacrosse team booked their place in the South Eastern Conference Cup final after an impressive 16-8 win at home to Kent.
The netball ones kept alive hopes of a league-cup double when they beat Brunel twos 59-16 to set up a final with King’s College (GKT).
The Conference Cup run for Chi’s women’s tennis team ended with a last four defeat to King’s and there were league losses against Portsmouth for both men’s badminton and men’s rugby twos.
Chi’s women’s rugby team beat Canterbury Christ Church 43-0, men’s rugby ones beat Imperial College London 15-3 and men’s basketball beat Reading 75-72.