A record crowd of 1,300 saw Chichester City Ladies bow out of the SSE Women’s FA Cup following a 3-0 loss to Liverpool Ladies.
Despite holding the Reds for the opening 30 minutes, it was the Women’s Super League side who took command with goals from Rinsola Babajide and Ashley Hodson.
The second half started badly as Liverpool got a third through in-form Bethany England. Chichester’s defence held firm after that but the team couldn’t find a goal of their own for all their efforts.
Scroll to the end of this report for links to a picture gallery and post-match interviews
A huge crowd descended on Oaklands Park as Chichester played their biggest match in recent history – with a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals up for grabs against the full-time professional side who sit fourth in the top division of the Women’s Super League.
Matt Wright made a couple of changes to his line-up from game againat The New Saints in the last round that ended in a 1-1 draw and a penalty shootout victory, which set up this great occasion.
With the squad having been badly hit by injuries in recent weeks, Sophie Phelps and Chloe Melton made their debuts with captain Emma Alexandre among those sidelined, while Laura Ingram returned following injury.
The hosts started positively, playing neat football despite the heavy and difficult playing surface, while the Reds took their time to adjust to the unfamiliar environment.
Phelps had a half-chance in the fifth minute to score from Chloe Tucker’s deep free-kick but she the former fired over.
Jess Lewry had a golden chance from a stunning cross by Melton on the right but Reds keeper Emily Ramsey made an excellent save to deny her – albeit the offside flag was up as well.
Minutes later Liverpool broke well and England was one-on-one with Chi keeper Sadie Wilson-Blakely, who held her own diving low to prevent the threat of the on-loan Chelsea striker – it was one of a number of fine saves that earned the No1 the player-of-the-match award.
Caroline Weir was in for the Reds but excellent defending from several players blocked her effort at goal. Lewry was then caught offside again in front of goal following a series of great moves by Chi. After 32 minutes the breakthrough came. The Reds latest signing, Babajide, broke through the backline to calmly poke the ball past Wilson-Blakely for the opener.
Six minutes later and the lead was doubled through Hodson. It was a slice of fortune for Hodson, who benefitted from a moment’s hesitation between goalkeeper and defender, with the midfielder in the thick of it as she got a toe on the ball to bag herself a goal.
That seemed to deflate the crowd a little and it left Chi with a huge task in front of them to get back in the tie.
Tiffany Taylor made a great block to deny Liverpool a third before the break and manager Wright would have hoped for a stronger start for his side after the restart.
After chairwoman and secretary Caz Henry-Evans took to the tannoy in the interval to try to get the crowd making more noise, City suffered another setback three minutes into the second-half as Liverpool got their third through England.
Wilson-Blakely made a great save to deny the Reds at first but the ever-threatening striker had the time to sidefoot in the rebound.
Liverpool continued to press, but the catlike instincts of Wilson-Blakely kept them at bay on several occasions.
Chances were few and far between for the hosts, with the Reds defence like a brick wall at times and no way through for Chi’s strikers.
Former Yeovil winger Melton played a major part in some probing attacks for Chichester, her wicked pace and neat feet giving the Reds’ defence something to think about. To their credit, Chichester kept battling until the end and never looked like letting Liverpool add to their tally easily.
The full-time whistle blew and Chichester’s first defeat of 2018 saw them bow out of the FA Cup in the last 16.
The big crowd gave their home heroes a rousing reception, realising they had done everything they could against their illustrious opponents.
There will be plenty of positives to take from the game for a side who are two leagues below their WSL1 opposition, that’s for sure.
Everyone connected with the ladies will hope it proves a day when they showed they were a club on the up.
Chichester have a little break before they return to action at West Ham for a league match on Sunday, March 11.
ALAN PRICE & HAYLEY NEWMAN