Chichester City Ladies came out on top in a classic Sussex County Cup semi-final, beating Crawley Wasps 2-1.
Tiffany Taylor gave Chi the early lead with a great volley - her first goal for the club. Wasps dented City's hopes when a Charlotte Young header found the net, but the day was green and white as Jess Lewry’s penalty sealed the win and the place in the final.
Heading into the game Crawley were unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions, including a 2-0 win over Chichester in December in the SSE Women’s FA Cup. Wasps had taken the scalps of two other National League sides since then, beating Coventry United and Plymouth Argyle.
Chi, on the other hand, were coming into the game a little off their mark following the disappointment of the loss to Coventry the week before.
Matt Wright guided the team from the sidelines (see his post-match interview on this page) with manager Aaron Smith suffering from flu and there were two changes to the starting line-up with Lauren Clark and Tash Stephens starting.
Kemina Webber dragged a shot wide in the first minute before Rebecca Barron’s 25-yard shot was claimed by Frankie Gibbs. Molly Clark’s calm control put Helen Ogle on the run to cross into the box where Gibbs parried and Sara Tubby pounced for a tap-in but the goalkeeper recovered quickly.
The game had started well for Chi and Lauren Clark won a corner from which the visitors took the lead. Megan Stow and Naomi Cole failed to clear the set-piece and Taylor's volleyed effort flew in.
City looked hungry for success and the back four of Lauren Cheshire, Tammy Waine, Laura Ingram and Taylor worked efficiently to time their blocks and challenges against the Wasps’ attacking trio Sian Heather, Faye Rabson and Webber. Molly Clark was controlling the midfield and provided the link to Ogle and Stephens, both nuisances to the Crawley defence.
Barron played a great through-ball for Stephens but Darcey James thwarted her. In the Chichester goal, Lauren Dolbear had a few tame shots to deal with including a low block at her near post from a Crawley counter. The experienced Waine, using her strength, denied Heather on the stroke of half-time.
Chi had a spell of possession in the Wasps half as Molly Clark, Ogle and Stephens put the hosts on the back foot, while Ingram saw her shot from 30 yards go wide. Crawley did gain ground but were struggling to break Chi’s strong defensive line.
With just over ten minutes remaining Heather was adjudged to have been fouled by Molly Clark and Khassal, resulting in a free-kick 25 yards out. Cole struck the ball well but hit the corner of the goal frame, but her disappointment soon changed as Young raced on to the rebound to head in.
Two minutes later, the hosts nearly took the lead through Rabson despite the best efforts of Waine - but Dolbea, off the back of her player of the match performance against Coventry, put in a great block to keep the score level.
Drama came in the 81st minute when Stephens was fouled in the box from behind by Niamh Stephenson and the referee pointed to the spot. Substitute Lewry had to wait two minutes before she could take the spot-kick but the time delay didn’t faze the attacker as she sent Gibbs the wrong way to restore the lead to the delight of the visiting fans and dugout.
There were seven minutes of injury time for Chi to endure, including three Crawley free-kicks all played into dangerous areas, but it wasn’t to be for the hosts. The final whistle came and with it Crawley’s first defeat this term plus a first Sussex County Cup final appearance in four years for Smith’s team.
Up next for Chichester City is a home time against Milton Keynes Dons in the FA Women’s National League at the Countrywide Gas Stadium this Sunday (January 27, 2pm).
The Sussex Cup final is due to be played on Thursday, March 21, at Lancing FC and Chi will face either Brighton & Hove Albion DS or Lewes DS.
City: Dolbear, Cheshire, Ingram, Taylor, M Clark, Stephens, Waine, Tubby (Lewry 75’), Ogle (Khassal 65’), Barron, L Clark (Simmonds 84’). Unused sub: Capel-Watson.