Sore heads can be excused after Chichester City upset the FA Cup odds again

Defenders go to ground ... the celebrations start after City's win / Picture by Daniel Harker
Defenders go to ground ... the celebrations start after City's win / Picture by Daniel Harker

There’ll have been a few sore heads the morning after.

And why not? It’s not every day after all your football team makes it to the first round proper of the FA Cup.

The last time, and up until now, the only time, a Chichester City side made it to the first round of the world’s oldest knockout competition was in 1960.

Now they’ve done it again after battling through six rounds of qualifying, and as the last club standing who started their FA Cup adventure back in August in the extra preliminary round. Three of those six triumphs have come against teams who play a division higher than City.

Not so long ago the club were on the brink of going out of business - but on Monday Chichester will be in the hat for the draw alongside the likes of Portsmouth and Sunderland and the other League One and League Two sides thanks to a bit of luck, some dogged defending and the kind of team spirit that has lifted everyone connected with Chi through this remarkable run.

Chichester have experienced a dramatic upturn in fortunes on the pitch in recent years. A run to the fourth round of the FA Vase in 2016-17 was bettered the following season as Chi made it to the last 16 only to lose 1-0 in the last minute against 1874 Northwich.

A win for all ages / Picture by Daniel Harker

A win for all ages / Picture by Daniel Harker

They lifted the RUR Cup that year beating local rivals Pagham 4-0 and claimed the SCFL premier title in 2018-19 and promotion to step four of the non-league pyramid for the first time ever.

The FA Cup, though, has not been kind to Chichester, who have won only once in the early qualifying rounds of the competition in the past ten years, but the underdogs got off to a dream start in this memorable cup triumph at Bowers & Pitsea when Matt Axell put them ahead with a 15th minute penalty after Josh Clack was impeded by Bowers skipper Martyn Stokes.

A powerful Ryan Davidson header gave Clack something to run on to. Stokes got there first but didn’t get enough on the ball to play it back to keeper Callum Chafer and pulled Clack down. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Axell stepped up and calmly converted.

Bowers, who ply their trade one step higher than Chichester in the Isthmian premier division, had looked the more likely to score in the earlier exchanges. Top scorer Brad Warner was involved in most things and the Chi back four did well to smuggle the ball away when Max Cornhill had a shot blocked following a Warner set-piece with barely five minutes gone.

The calm before the storming win / Picture by Daniel Harker

The calm before the storming win / Picture by Daniel Harker

City captain Connor Cody was involved in regular duels with Lewis Manor with Manor looking to feed Warner and others knock-downs. Steve Mowthorpe then gathered convincingly as Warner whipped in a cross from the left before Cody diverted an effort by Warner for a corner that Axell headed clear.

Cornhill might have equalised in the home side’s first attack after falling behind but the No8 couldn’t get enough purchase on the ball. Another attempt from Warner forced Mowthorpe to gather on 20 minutes before Chichester doubled their lead through a freak goal when a clearance cannoned off Kaleem Haitham and looped beyond a hapless Chafer.

Chances came and went as Warner caused further trouble with a free-kick and Manor pulled a smart save out of Mowthorpe after Quentin Monville’s long throw wasn’t dealt with. And then a couple of blocks bailed Chi out as the ball pinged off players in the box before Warner brushed a header the wrong side of a post on the half hour.

Lloyd Rowlatt, in a rare raid for the visitors, blazed one high and wide before Mowthorpe got off his line quickly to intercept a Manor flick-on intended for Warner. Persistence by James Thomas almost paid off in the next move but Cody and Davidson combined effectively to tidy things up.

Referee Callum Walchester brandished the first yellow card of the match to Ryan Sammons for a foul on Axell in the 38th minute. Axell dusted himself down and took the set-piece himself but it was too deep and drifted harmlessly out for a goal kick.

At the other end a super cross from Monville was inches away from Warner before Chi forged two decent opportunities a couple of minutes before the break when Gicu Iordache rattled the woodwork with a fierce drive and Axell fizzed a shot just over the bar.

Bowers were quick out of the blocks in the second half. Warner had an effort charged down and Mowthorpe got a strong glove to a long throw from Monville – these would be a constant threat. Cody put his body on the line to deny Thomas on 54 minutes and Davidson and Rob Hutchings both made timely interventions as the home side sought to get back into the tie.

Mowthorpe tipped over a bullet header from Manor and Davidson cleared the resulting corner. Manor’s next shot on the turn nicked off a defender for another corner. David Knight came on for Thomas. The Bowers striker was prolific last year, scoring 42 goals in all competitions for the Essex outfit, and he was soon in the thick of things picking out Manor who headed over.

Cody managed to hold off Knight and guide the ball back to Mowthorpe. Chi had a storm to weather as the hosts forced corner after corner and free-kicks in dangerous areas. Davidson, arguably the visitors’ man of the match, managed to steer a set-piece away on 68 minutes after Monville had threatened down the right.

Manor should have pulled one back but he snatched at his shot. Miles Rutherford & Co threw on fresh legs. Emmett Dunn, Rory Biggs and Ryan Peake came on to replace Jamie Horncastle, Gicu and Haitham.

Mowthorpe did brilliantly to tip Knight’s set-piece over the bar with five minutes of normal time left and then produced the save of the match as Kenzer Lee looked set to score from close range.

Manor wasn’t far away moments later before Chi’s stubborn resistance was finally broken when Cornhill scored in added time turning in Joe Gardner’s delivery. It was the first goal the away side had conceded in over seven and a half hours of FA Cup action but too little too late for the hosts as Chi hung on to make another piece of history.

Plaudits poured in across social media platforms for Chichester’s achievement. The Emirates FA Cup tweeted “History made, congratulations Chichester City”.

The draw for the first round takes place live on BBC Two from 7:00pm on Monday 21 October. Chi are ball number 71.

Chichester – Mowthorpe, Davidson, Hutchings, Axell, Cody, Heath, Iordache, Horncastle, Clack, Rowlatt, Haitham. Subs – (Bennetts, Dunn, Biggs, Peake, Gurau, Onwuachu, Walster).