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Eastbourne Town 0 Chichester City 0
On an Easter Sunday when the elite of the game were startng their season, another League was reaching a dramatic conclusion on a dull, drizzly day on the South Coast with a title showdown match at the end of a 20 match, eight month campaign.
Chichester City secured promotion to the South East Combination by winning the London & South East League Premier Division title on the Saffrons pitch of their nearest rivals Eastbourne Town, who needed to defeat City to prolong their own interest. With a tricky last match away at AFC Wimbledon, Chichester only needed to avoid defeat to achieve their aim and this is precisely what they achieved after a tense goalless draw. Eastbourne had led the league for much of the season but were pipped at the last by their opponents in this confrontation.
The match got off to a dramatic start as Chichester were nearly gifted an opener in the first minute when a home defender drove an attempted clearance against the underside of the bar. Eastbourne soon settled and started to make inroads into a tight well drilled defence. After a flowing move covering the length of the pitch, a home attack was driven wide of the target by Chi keeper Hannah McNamara and the ball ended up in the side netting.
Defences were generally on top, with Eastbourne threatening down the left through Stav Panayiotou whilst the away team, missing their leading scorer Abby Shrubb, sought to play their strikers in through early passes down the middle behind the back four. Whilst Eastbourne played a neat fluent passing game, they were unable to open up the visitors' defence for a clear sight of goal. Another Eastbourne defensive slip gave Chichester a rare sight of the target just before the break but Holly Wade was wide with an attempted lob.
With the outcome of a season, which had began with an Eastbourne win in the reverse fixture in mid-August, in the balance, the match took on an increasingly urgent tone on the resumption. Chichester raised their game and became more of an attacking threat, with skipper Kirsty Wiilett finding good positions on the right and Jade Widdowson prominent on the other flank. However, they still were restricted to long range efforts which were well dealt with by the stand in Town keeper who had a very sound match.
As the minutes ticked down, Eastbourne's need for a winner forced them to push forward with increasing urgency. With the score still blank, one moment of inattention or a defensive slip from Chichester would give the visitors an uncomfortable last day fixture instead of a celebration.
Just as the match had started with a dramatic moment, so it ended in amazing fashion. Eastbourne striker Natasha Pearson hit a Crouch-like volley from 25 yards which curled beyond McNamara but struck the inside of the far post and rebounded back into the centre of goal, only to be scrambled away for a corner. Pearson's set piece delivery then led to a massive scramble two yards out from which McNamara eventually emerged clutching the ball. A minute later the final whistle confirmed Chichester City's title and promotion to the Combination.
Both clubs have had fine seasons in a very competitive league, outlasting the challenges of the likes of Westfield, Denham United and Hemel Hempstead Town to contest the final outcome. On the day every player gave their best efforts but it was those of Chichester City who were able to celebrate the title and facing teams like Enfield Town, Norwich City and Luton Town in the Combination next season.
Eastbourne Town: Sarah Walshaw, Chelsey Leighton, Janine Daly, Loren O'Dwyer, Emma Parslow, Vicky Phillips, Chelsey Jenkinson, Kelly Hunter, Lil Johnson, Stav Panayiotou, Beth Richardson. Subs: Ashleigh Jenkinson, Catherine Hyland, Tina Wilson, Natasha Pearson.
Chichester City: Hannah McNamara, Zoe Hughes-Jones, Lucy Harnett, Georgina Stairbey, Sally Bown, Steph Madden, Kirsty Willett, Annie Richardson, Jade Widdowson, Megan Evans, Holly Wade. Subs: Gemma Halford, Lucie Challen.
(Report by Patrick Higgins)
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