Action from Saturday's title decider (Picture: Tony Sim)
A rocky roller coaster season came down to one game this weekend to decide who would be SCFL premier division champions. A win for Haywards Heath at Oaklands Park would earn them the title, whatever contenders Three Bridges' result against Worthing United.
Not that long ago there were maybe seven or eight teams in with a shout. And Chichester were right in the mix for the title or promotion.
Miles Rutherford's side have been inconsistent in recent weeks though, winning three and losing three now in their last six games.
After the mid-week loss to Newhaven, Chi welcomed back Lorenzo Dolcetti and Dave Herbert and Lewis Turnbull replaced Ant Ender in goal.
Haywards Heath have been something of a nemesis for Chi this season. There was heartbreak for City in November when the reverse fixture was settled by a winner deep into stoppage time, and Heath won the two cup encounters by the odd goal.
The visitors would probably not have imagined such a walk in the park and got off to just the sort of start they wanted inside the first ten minutes when a smart shot from Alex Laing nestled into the bottom left hand corner beyond the reach of Turnbull.
There were chances at either end before this opener. Dan Hegarty did well to head away a nicely struck free-kick and Kieran Hartley rifled an effort narrowly over the bar from distance after a good move involving Dolcetti and Scott Jones, who clearly wasn't on a stag-do with team mates in Ireland.
Ellis Martin was booked for a nasty tackle on Laing and Turnbull tipped away Callum Saunders' set-piece, diving acrobatically to his left.
Then on 14 minutes Laing drew a foul from Hartley. The Chi full-back was given a yellow and an incensed assistant manager Graeme Gee was sent from the dugout by referee Ciaran Fidler.
These wouldn't be the last cards shown by Mr Fidler.
City's Italian midfielder went close before a huge slice of luck helped double Heath's lead when Ben Pashley cut out a through ball intended for Laing, only to inadvertently loop it over Turnbull.
Dolcetti dragged one wide on the half hour and then had another attempt blocked by keeper Josh Heyburn four minutes later.
Melford Simpson, who had a real duel with Jack Lee all afternoon, got something on a cross in the 39th minute but there wasn't enough on his header to trouble Turnbull too much.
A super run from Kaleem Haitham opened up things down the right and Hartley fizzed a drive over.
Sixty seconds later Hartley was trudging off following a second yellow card and Chi were down to ten men for another time against Heath.
Saunders wasn't far away with a free-kick in time added on and then Hegarty somehow managed to divert a cross from Simpson for a corner.
This was whipped over by Jamie Weston and Nathan Cooper ghosted in to head the ball powerfully into the back of the net.
The ten men of the home side had a mountain to climb.
Simpson missed a couple of golden opportunities just after the re-start – the second a free header when Saunders picked him out. Lee then blocked another Heath goal-bound effort.
Rutherford brought on Rob Hutchings for Jones and Ryan Peake for Ruben French but the visitors were four up fifteen minutes in. After a determined run down the right Joel Daly swept the ball home.
It was all Heath now.
Turnbull did well to push a free-kick wide and then Max Miller missed a sitter when the ball was squared to him in the box, Pashley heading his effort away.
Dolcetti gave the home fans something to cheer with a stunning free-kick with fourteen minutes to go.
There was still time for half a dozen or so bookings for players from both teams – Hutchings, Lee and Peake for Chi.
Turnbull made a great stop to deny Laing a second goal. Then Miller blasted over after nice play by Kane Louis before Miller atoned for his miss and made it 5-1, slotting the ball past the keeper following a swift counter-attack.
Louis wrapped things up with a 90th minute penalty.
To compound the home side's misfortune Hutchings was sent off after the final whistle.
There were wild celebrations as the visitors were presented the league trophy, whilst City players and fans were left to contemplate a number of things. Another loss to Haywards Heath, another home defeat, another below par performance, another promotion push, that like last year, petered out at the end of the season.
With the RUR cup up for grabs next week and bragging rights at stake in the last league game of the season three days later against the same side, Chi will need to play with pride against the Lions.
The Sussex RUR Cup Final against Pagham is at Culver Road, Lancing, on Wednesday 2nd May (Kick Off 7:15pm).
Chichester – Turnbull, Hartley, Lee, Pashley, French (Peake), Martin (Lis), Haitham, Hegarty, Jones (Hutchings), Herbert, Dolcetti
Updated 05:36 - 30 Apr 2018 by Ian Worden