Late scare can't stop Chichester City going five points clear

Chichester City in action against East Preston / Picture by Daniel Harker
Chichester City in action against East Preston / Picture by Daniel Harker

A Josh Clack double and a peach of a free kick from Dave Herbert helped SCFL premier division leaders Chichester City see off East Preston - despite a late scare.

The Oaklands Park outfit have been in fine form at home since losing their only league game there this season against Eastbourne Town in October.

They’ve taken 17 points from a total of 21 in the past three months at home in an unbeaten sequence of five wins and two draws, scoring 22 goals.

Miles Rutherford and Graeme Gee made one change to the starting XI that won at Broadbridge Heath last time out with Kaleem Haitham coming in for Rory Biggs, who dropped to the bench alongside Harry Williams, Terrell Lewis, Roman Krumpholz and a fit again Lorenzo Dolcetti.

City were 4-0 winners in the reverse fixture at the Lashmar at the end of August while EP knocked Chichester out of the Sussex Senior Cup when the sides met in December in a close third round tie that was settled by a lone first-half goal.

Here, there were chances at both ends in the opening spell. First Chi winger Haitham delivered a dangerous ball to Scott Jones who narrowly missed. Then Jake Heryet spurned a golden opportunity for the visitors on nine minutes, stabbing his effort wide after a long throw from Scott Slaughter.

Moments later Chichester centre-back Ben Pashley wasn’t far off with a volley following Gicu Iordache’s corner. Lewis Jenkins went on a driving run for East Preston, sending a pass to Asa Nicholson, whose cross was cleared thanks to a last-ditch tackle from Ryan Peake.

The deadlock was broken after 25 minutes when Scott Jones was brought down in the box by Jack Barnes. Clack stepped up and made no mistake from the penalty spot, tucking it away to the keeper’s left for his sixth goal in eight games. Daniel Huet tried to reply instantly, but his shot flew over the bar.

Clack, who was busy all game, put in a delicious ball which Jones met at the back post, only to see his header rebound off the crossbar. City doubled their lead in the 34th minute after a scintillating counter-attack. Haitham, who was found by Peake, squared the ball to Iordache, and the Romanian unselfishly set up Clack who slotted it away.

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The hosts started the second half as they had finished the first, and would have had a third goal if it wasn’t for Slaughter, who denied Clack his hat-trick. Next Rob Hutchings got a powerful shot off after a good run but his effort was always rising.

Chi went 3-0 up when a super free kick from Herbert gave the visiting keeper George Bentley no chance five minutes after the break. Captain Connor Cody whipped a great cross into the danger area, only for Jones to head straight at Bentley.

City looked comfortable as Clack went close again and Iordache crashed an attempt on to the crossbar after skilfully getting out of a tricky situation. Dan Huet grabbed what looked like a consolation, tapping in from close range after Jenkins’ effort was saved, before Nicholson made it 3-2 on 82 minutes to set up an anxious finish.

Chi hung on and the victory together with Eastbourne Town’s 2-1 win at second-placed Newhaven gave Chichester a five point lead at the top of the league.

Next up for City is tough away match at Peacehaven & Telscombe on Saturday, February 9 (3pm).

Chichester: Young, Peake, Hutchings, Axell, Cody, Pashley, Clack, Herbert, Jones, Iordache, Hiatham. Subs: Williams, Lewis, Biggs, Krumpholz, Dolcetti.