“I think we’ve got our rewards for probably two to three years of hard work. I’m delighted for all the people behind the scenes who’ve given up a lot of their time and have supported us. ”
Chichester celebrate after clinching the title (Picture: Chris Gregory)
They've done it! Chichester City are premier division champions.
They say April is the cruellest month, but not this year.
City's promotion pushes the last two seasons have petered out in April. Four losses in April 2017 meant the Oaklands Park outfit finished third behind Shoreham and Haywards Heath and another four defeats in April 2018, after a disappointing run of league form, saw them finish sixth in the league.
But not this year.
Chi’s first match in April 2019 turned out to be a history making one when goals from top scorer Scott Jones just before the break and Emmett Dunn in the 89th minute gave Chichester the points they needed to clinch the title with three games to go.
There were, of course, historic runs in the FA Vase in 2016-17 and 2017-18 along with a RUR Cup final win against Pagham last season.
The hosts came into the Langney match on the back of seven straight wins in an unbeaten run of twenty league games stretching back to November.
Langney had a real go when the teams met in the reverse fixture before Christmas. Trailing 2-0 at the interval on that occasion City staged a second-half comeback and grabbed all three points thanks to a special ‘Peakey Blinder’ moment as defender Ryan Peake scored with four minutes to go.
Here, the visitors, who were promoted as division one runners-up last season, had to soak up early pressure.
Peake gave Langney keeper Dan Hutchins something to think about after five minutes when he headed a Matt Axell free-kick goalwards and then got a connection on Chi’s first corner of the match.
Next Josh Clack forced Hutchins into a save with his legs before captain Connor Cody went close.
The best chance though of the opening 15 minutes fell to Langney’s Sonny Dollaway after Ben Pashley was dispossessed by Tyler Capon. Capon picked out Dollaway in the box only for the No.4 to drag his shot off-target with the goal gaping.
At the other end Hutchins spilled a fierce drive from Gicu Iordache and then a clever flick-on by Jones set up the Romanian for an effort that went narrowly wide.
Axell wasn’t far away with another set-piece moments later and Jones might have done better after left back Rob Hutchings delivered a super cross.
It was March player of the month Jones who fittingly broke the deadlock with a classy header on the stroke of half time to send a bumper Oaklands Park crowd into raptures. It was the striker’s seventh goal in four games and his twenty-first of the season in the league.
Peake, Haitham and Clack had chances for City just after the restart as the hosts pressed for a second goal.
Clack and Jones both went close with headers next and Dunn had an attempt tipped over the bar.
It was all Chi now.
Clack fired a shot into the side-netting on 73 minutes before Jones missed a header many would have bet their mortgages on.
Hutchins then denied Jones again before Chichester were awarded a soft penalty with three minutes to go.
Hutchins did well to get down low to save Clack’s spot-kick but there was nothing he could do about the 89th minute goal that sealed all three points for the home side as Canadian youngster Dunn beat him with a well-placed header.
Good times never seemed so good.
There were jubilant scenes after the final whistle as everyone involved with the club celebrated and players and staff sung along to ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the home dressing room.
Manager Miles Rutherford said, "Things have worked out for us this season. We decided to go with a squad of twenty players. We thought we might upset some players early on but we didn’t. We’ve had to deal with lots of injuries. We’ve had to leave people out the squad the last four games but they’ve stuck around.
“As a manager you want to treat people in a way you’d want to be treated yourself. It was hard to decide we were going to go with twenty but we did and it’s worked out well for us this year and to be fair we’ve had a much stronger squad than we’ve had in previous years.
“Yes, I’ve had to upset some people on the way but, you know, in football that happens and mainly we’ve kept the same squad and most people happy. We’ve got some good players and some people that do care.
"We’ve won games lately 1-0, whereas at the beginning of the season we were winning games 4-0 and 5-0 and playing really good football. Recently we’ve dug in and won some games ugly but that’s what wins titles at the end of the day and we’re happy to be there.
"Next year when we go up, if we struggle, we struggle. We’re not a club with a big budget. Some people think we’ve got lots of money but we haven’t. We’ve done this on a very tight budget. I think we’ve over-achieved for what we’ve got but we’ve got some very good players."
Rutherford’s assistant Graeme Gee added, "We managed to get a little bit of strength in depth this year. We needed this because we lost players we consider crucial players throughout the season like Dan Hegarty, Kieran Hartley and George Way.
“I think we’ve got our rewards for probably two to three years of hard work. I’m delighted for all the people behind the scenes who’ve given up a lot of their time and have supported us.
“We like to attack games. Our ethos is not to sit back. We like to try and entertain the way we can but we’re about trying to get results. Some of it’s not been pretty, I’m not going to lie. I thought the first fifteen games of the season we were outstanding. We’ve been consistent from Christmas onwards.
"There’s been a couple of massive results. Horsham YMCA away was key. I’m still disappointed about Newhaven away when we could only field a fraction of the side that we’d normally get out – that still sticks in my throat a bit but it’s all forgotten about now because we’ve won the league as deserved winners and I don’t think anyone else in the league can complain that we’ve finished top of the pile with three games to go."
First team coach Danny Potter said, "We’re delighted we’ve won the league. We’ve added depth and experience this season. Other teams had a little slip and lost a few games in succession but we’ve not done that all season. We’ve lost to three teams who were better on the day. We haven’t lost back-to-back league games.
“We’ve been confident at home. The players enjoy playing here. We’ve got good fans that support us. There’s a mentality thing now that we can play well at home and other teams don’t like coming here. We’ve got to take that mentality into the bigger cup games and some of the bigger away games next season.
“We’re more resilient now as well at the back and we play with the right mentality getting forward.
“We’re looking forward to competing at the next step above. We’re a club on the up.
“There are so many people we could thank this season, so many volunteers that support this club. This title isn’t just for the players, it’s for all who help out at Chichester City”
Chairman Ash Clack said, "We’ve had a great season. The management have been absolutely superb. We couldn’t have asked for more.
“Next year will be a challenge but we’re looking forward to it. We’ve kept a lot of our players and they’ve grown together over the last few years and this season they’ve just buttoned it.”
Scott Jones, who has scored 21 of the team’s 96 league goals, said, "It’s been a real team effort and the goals have been spread around the team. Everyone has played their part. The team chemistry has been something else this year.”
Captain Connor Cody said, “It’s fantastic. It’s been a long time coming. The boys have worked really hard. The club’s been pushing for it the last few years and it feels great to finally get there.
“I think a lot of it is down to the fact that as a group of players we have a very strong bond, both on and off the pitch, and that really helps. The coaches have got games spot on.
“We’ve shown a lot of character to grind out some games. There’s been games that we’ve won last minute and I think that’s part of a title winning side - to be able to go and get those different kinds of results that get you over the line.
“Keeping clean sheets means a lot to our back four. There’s been a few games where we’ve conceded sloppy goals but at the end of the day it’s the three points that count and that’s what’s got us the title.
“There’s a lot of challenges that will come next year but it’s a challenge that we’ll relish.”
The league trophy will be presented when the champions face Pagham in their next home match at the Countrywide Gas Services Stadium in Oaklands Park on Easter Monday (Monday, 22nd April, Kick Off 11am).
Before that Chi are away at Arundel on Saturday 20th April, Kick Off 3pm
Chichester - Young, Peake, Hutchings, Axell, Cody, Pashley, Clack, Dunn, Jones, Haitham, Iordache. Subs: Lewis, Biggs, Herbert, Williams, Ndlovu
Updated 15:59 - 8 Apr 2019 by Ian Worden