Chichester City ground out another three points to maintain their five-point lead at the top of the SCFL premier division with a win against basement club Eastbourne United.
It’s been a challenging season for the East Sussex side, who have won just one game at The Oval, and when the teams met there in the quarter-finals of the RUR Cup in December cup holders Chi were 3-2 winners.
The Oaklands Park outfit came into the match on the back of a run of eight league games unbeaten. Bosses Miles Rutherford and Graeme Gee named the same back four for the fourth game running.
City were without the suspended Gicu Iordache, who was sent off against Loxwood. Matt Axell started in midfield after missing the matches against Arundel and Pagham over Christmas and Scott Jones returned up front.
Chi struggled to get going and United forwards Sam Schaaf and Chris Cumming-Bart gave the league leaders something to think about and had the ball in the back of the net twice in the first half, although both efforts were ruled out for offside.
The visitors' best outlet seemed to be Kaleem Haitham, who had featured for Bognor in midweek on a dual signing. Two jinking runs early on saw Haitham drift past defenders but his pass was too heavy for Jones on the first occasion and he couldn’t quite find a way of pulling the trigger when he got in again.
Chi went ahead just after the half-hour mark through Ben Pashley. Fellow centre-back Connor Cody had an effort cleared off the line but Pashley crashed the loose ball in for his first goal of the campaign.
Three good opportunities came and went for United before the break - a header from a free-kick brushed past Jordan Matthews’ post; Kane Penn fizzed a 30-yarder just over and Pashley cleared a shot from Alberto Lubango off the line.
Jones had Chi’s first second-half chance on 57 minutes, then Dave Herbert managed to round Jordan Hawkins but couldn’t get a final touch on the ball to lift it over the Eastbourne keeper. The lead was doubled five minutes later, again from a Josh Clack corner, when another defender, Ryan Peake, guided a powerful header home.
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Clack made it 3-0 with just under 20 minutes to go, his fourth goal in as many games, after a pinpoint cross from Jones. It wasn’t the best performance by City by any means but yielded another important three points nonetheless.
Alex Ferguson’s “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles” might or might not be a myth. Whatever the case, and there’s a long way to go still, Chi look like a side with genuine title credentials. But everyone at the club is taking things one game at a time after promotion pushes petered out the last two years.
In 23 league games so far City have scored 66 goals and kept 12 clean sheets. Only Saffron Walden Town have scored more league goals in the country at step five.
Chichester's goals are coming from a number of players, unlike second-places Newhaven whose striker Lee Robinson has scored 33 of their 57 goals this term and bagged another four at the weekend in the Dockers' 6-0 thrashing of Arundel.
Chi have some tough fixtures coming up. On Saturday they host Saltdean in the league before a midweek RUR cup semi final away at Haywards Heath on Tuesday, January 22.
Chi City: Matthews, Peake, Hutchings, Axell, Cody, Pashley, Clack, Edwards, Jones, Herbert, Haitham. Subs: Lewis, Biggs, Martin, Williams, Ndlovu.