“We have some quality players in our squad. It's now time to get these players playing together. When they do, we'll be frightening.”
Lorenzo Dolcetti was one of City's goal scorers away at Broadbridge Heath last year in a 3-1 win
Picture: Tommy McMillan
With the World Athletics Championships taking place in the London Stadium it seemed quite fitting that City's Macron sponsored Southern Combination league premier division season should kick off at Broadbridge Heath. This is the club's last season on the pitch inside the running track. And on a day when Usain Bolt's last ever race ended in disappointment for him, Chi's new campaign started with a disappointing below par performance for a team aiming at medal places.
Referee Nick Blogg was a busy man and brandished a number of cards in a game that, whilst it wasn't exactly all fire and fury, was certainly niggly at times. The Bears had two penalty appeals turned down, the second shout following a foul on Dean Wright just before the hour mark, looked a stonewall pen. The referee's assistant clearly thought so too in a talking point moment that incensed home players and fans alike. City striker Scott Jones also felt he'd been unfairly impeded in the box on the stroke of half-time but Mr Blogg was having none of it.
Chi, without the suspended Jack Lee and Rob Hutchings, gave a league debut to Drew Smith and set up with four at the back and Jones and Dave Herbert up top.
It was the visitors that had the best of the chances in the opening ten minutes. Dan Hegarty, who had graciously admitted to teammates to being at fault for goals in the FA Cup tie at Binfield the previous week, got a header off from a Josh Clack free-kick within sixty seconds. Moments later the Chi captain cracked a right foot shot just over. Clack and fellow winger Kieran Hartley heaped on early pressure with crosses from either side but a well-organised defence regularly caught Jones off-side as City midfielders looked to play him in.
At the other end Ant Ender just managed to gather the ball in time with Tim Martin bearing down on him and then denied the same player, blocking a shot with his chest this time.
Next on 15 minutes George Way found Jones and the No.9 squared the ball back to Way only for the effort to be deflected. A minute later Clack had a go and then set up Hartley but Michael Chester got down well to smother the ball.
Following this, the Bears might have taken the lead when new boy Devon Fender combined effectively with Wright who crossed for Martin to steer a header goalwards. Wright then blasted over after good work in the box from Alex Parsons and Scott Weller.
For Chi, Herbert, in a fine run of goal-scoring form with five in three, stabbed the ball just too close to Chester after a cushioned knock-down from Jones.
Broadbridge Heath slowly started to get a grip on the game and opportunities fell first to summer signing Tom Howard-Bold with an effort Hegarty turned away for a corner, then Weller whose drive skidded past the post, and finally Fender, but his shot was always rising.
With the home crowd sensing a goal from all this persistence the breakthrough came on 29 minutes. Wright lurking at the back post gratefully tucked away Martin's chip into the box.
This lead might have been doubled five minutes or so later when Weller ran over the ball at a set piece allowing the Blues skipper to test Ender with an effort from fully 25 yards that the City keeper tipped acrobatically over the bar.
The visitors had one or two opportunities before the break to get back into things. In the 40th minute Clack found Herbert but the former Arundel and Worthing player's shot lacked both power and direction. Next Clack troubled Chester with an effort that he couldn't hold on to, only for the ball to roll agonisingly wide with the keeper holding his breath.
Jones, who didn't seem quite himself for much of the time, tried to link up with Clack and then had that penalty appeal turned down. And for Heath with a minute to go to the interval, an unmarked Martin should have done better with Jamie Robinson's cross.
Chances came and went early in the second half for Chi. Watts pulled a ball back for Jones and Herbert but it was just behind them, Jones had a header redirected for a corner and was then pulled up for a foul on the keeper as a cross from Hartley sought him out.
A series of yellow cards followed the game's flash-point when the home side didn't get the penalty they deserved. Chichester might have added insult to injury with Ellis Martin not far off target before Clack, Herbert and Lorenzo Dolcetti, on for Jones, created openings for an equaliser in a frantic period.
Marlon Maxwell then struck a fierce shot that cannoned off a cluster of defenders before a counter attack caught the visitors out in the 68th minute for Fender to put his team two up, calmly slotting the ball into the back of the net.
And it could have easily been 3-0 in the space of two minutes when both Fender and Parsons asked questions of the Chichester No.1.
Patient build-up play from City resulted in three corners in quick succession that all came to nothing. Dolcetti, whose wonder free-kick helped Chi win the corresponding fixture 3-1 last year, could have got on the scoresheet with ten minutes to go. Then Chester saved efforts from Hartley and Way before his counterpart denied substitutes Jack McNab and Chris Copestake in the dying moments.
Broadbridge Heath manager Steve Painter, who took charge in 2010, will have been delighted with his side's league curtain-raiser. Painter guided Heath to a best-ever eighth place finish in the premier last season. Looking forward to 2017-18 the Bears boss told the West Sussex County Times “If we have all our players fit and available we can compete with anyone in the league but realistically I would just like to improve on where we finished last season.”
So City's start, like Bolt's bow, was disappointing. It's been a long time since the team has failed to score. In fact there were only two shut-outs all year in the league last season, against Shoreham at home and away to Peacehaven & Telscombe.
Heath are due to move to a pitch south of the leisure centre. Work on the new club pavilion has been delayed though, so spectators will have to watch matches from some way off behind the running track for a little while yet.
City on the other hand just need to move on now, put the last few games behind them and find some of that swagger and verve that defined their play for the majority of last season.
"The season is still young. We'll learn from our mistakes and work hard to improve. We're looking for the right style of play and we'll find it soon" said Chichester boss Miles Rutherford.
Chi Coach Danny Potter added, "One league game won't determine our season. We were disappointed to lose on Saturday, though we'll bounce back as a group. We have some quality players in our squad. It's now time to get these players playing together. And when they do, we'll be frightening."
Next up for Chichester are Arundel - twice in a week. Chi take on the Mullets at home on Tuesday in the league (7:45pm kick off) and away on Saturday in the RUR Cup (3pm kick off).
City – Ender, Watts, Jupp (Martin), French, Smith (Williams), Hegarty, Clack, Way, Jones (Dolcetti), Herbert, Hartley
Broadbridge Heath – M Chester, Findlay, Attwater, Robinson, Maxwell (Sim), Weller (Copestake), Parsons, Knight, Martin, Wright (McNab), Fender
Updated 16:38 - 16 Aug 2017 by Ian Worden