Chichester City’s exceptional start to the 2019-2020 campaign continued with an away win against early pace-setters Cray Valley PM that sent Chi top of the Isthmian south east division.
The victory maintained their 100% away record and meant they had won four of their first five league games - scoring at least two goals in each league match.
This was their first clean sheet in the league and it came against a side who, like Chichester, are in a debut season at step 4 of the non-league pyramid. The Millers clinched the southern counties east premier title in the last game of the season. They capped a fantastic promotion year in their centenary with a Wembley appearance in the FA Vase final.
Keeper Andy Walker along with another six players in the starting XI here featured in that game, and the veteran No1 was called into action inside the first five minutes when Kaleem Haitham forced him into a smart save. The home side broke from the resulting corner and Denzel Gayle had a shot blocked by Chi centre back Ben Pashley.
It was end to end stuff in a pulsating opening and Pashley and his fellow defenders had a very direct style of play to contend with as Cray went long and looked to ping diagonal passes. Corey Heath managed to clear the hosts’ first corner in the eighth minute, then Francis Babalola had a chance but the Millers’ striker couldn’t get a clean connection.
At the other end Josh Clack went close with a firm header that Walker saved and then Jimmy Wild gave the visitors the lead. Haitham found Lloyd Rowlatt with a super cross that Rowlatt headed back across goal for Wild to nod in a first goal in his latest spell at the club. It was only the second goal that an unbeaten Cray Valley had conceded in four league games.
A flowing move involving Gayle, Babalola and Dominic Ogun gave Chichester something to think about but MoM Rowlatt, given the skipper’s armband for the second week running, calmly got the ball away. Chi had defending to do and Gayle and Anthony Edgar were next to threaten before Jack Sammoutis fired narrowly wide on the quarter hour mark. Ogun then went over in the box but Mr Kaye wasn’t interested and waved away penalty appeals.
City broke and Emmett Dunn, making his first start after coming on to score in the FA Cup last time out, nearly got to a Clack cross. A couple of corners came to nothing for Chichester and then Steve Mowthorpe dived low to his right to deny Babalola following a nice piece of skill by Edgar.
An in-form Gicu Iordache gave the visitors a two goal lead on 26 minutes with a shot from distance that nicked off a defender and went in off the post.
Both keepers were busy in a spell of opportunities. Mowthorpe got a firm punch on a corner delivered from the left and Haitham blazed over Clack’s cut-back. Ogun and Babalola linked up again and a flick almost deceived Mowthorpe but he made a stop of sorts and was first to the loose ball. Rob Hutchings sent Wild away but Walker did well to gather under pressure.
Iordache then ghosted past defenders only to have his effort blocked by Walker. Next Mowthorpe came off his line sharply to take a cross after Danny Smith, Liam Hickey and Edgar were all involved in nice build up play. Ogun and the impressive Sammoutis almost got in for the hosts; a ball whipped in by Haitham was inches away from Wild; and Iordahe crashed a set-piece into the wall.
In the Millers’ first attack after the break Babalola outmuscled two players driving into the box but couldn’t convert. Wild then wasted a free-kick after Rowlatt had been upended. Cray cranked it up and Babalola had another shot blocked for a corner that Mowthorpe cleared under pressure from Kalvin Morath-Gibbs.
And then Babalola spurned his side’s best opportunity ten minutes into the second half latching on to a ball over the top that he should have steered in. It could have been 3-0 sixty seconds later but Walker palmed over a cracking volley from Wild. Ryan Davidson caused problems with a glancing header from the resulting corner.
Mowthorpe had to have his wits about him to intercept a long ball by Cem Tumkaya towards Babalola before Pashley cut out a pass from the same player. Three crosses in as many minutes from Clack caused problems for the Millers’ back four and a Wild header from one of these went inches wide.
Mowthorpe dealt with sub Emmanuel Oloyede’s low cross, Pashley hooked a ball intended for Babalola away, and the Cray No9’s shot on the turn was gathered by the Chi keeper. A lovely touch from Haitham set up a chance for Clack. Iordache then forced his way into the penalty area and won his side a corner that the hosts broke from swiftly but Oloyede wasn’t able to reach Edgar’s delivery who shot high and wide moments later in the next attack.
Oloyede dragged an attempt off target and Walker spilled Wild’s effort with the ball running perilously along the line. In time added on some neat play between Iordache, Dunn and Haitham earned the visitors a free-kick on the edge of the box but Clack’s effort was well saved by Walker.
Chi host Three Bridges at Oaklands Park on Tuesday, then visit step three side Hartley Wintney in the second qualifying round of the world’s oldest knockout football competition on Saturday, September 21 (3pm).
Chichester - Mowthorpe, Davidson, Hutchings, Dunn, Heath, Pashley, Clack, Rowlatt, Wild, Iordache, Haitham, Subs: Peake, Bennetts, Gurau, Horncastle