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Chichester City sealed a third place finish for themselves in the Southern Premier Division with a 3-0 victory over Queen's Park Rangers, following a season long title challenge.
We talked to Chichester midfielder Tash Stephens, who was pleased overall with the way the season has gone and looked forward to what she feels is a very bright future for the club:
WSS: Sunday's win against QPR makes it four in a row in all competitions, has it been pleasing how well you are finishing the campaign?
TS: Yeah we're really glad to be finishing what's been such a good campaign for us on a high. We've got these wins against some tough teams as well which is really pleasing for us. But to be able to play and enjoy playing football with each other, and getting these wins to finish the season, has been really special for us.
WSS: It was also your third clean sheet on the trot and overall your defensive record is very good, has that been a particular strength during the season?
TS: Our defensive unit has been incredible this season. Their closeness, the birth of 'Team Timmy', their Whats'app group - that Helen has somehow managed to sneak her way into, and the fact that any number of players could play in the four positions (make that five positions after Tammy's ‘Buffon' heroics on Sunday), makes them a tough unit to break down. There's not many games that go by that an opposition player won't hear me proclaim my love for one of them during an amazing piece of defending! It's not great as an attacker at training though, as there is never ever an easy session for us, but these standards that we expect and demand from each other is what makes us improve.
WSS: Your result - and Cardiff's - mean that you are bound to finish in third place, would you have accepted that at the start of the season?
TS: I think I'd be lying if I said we wouldn't have been happy. At Chi we're full of players and staff who want to win everything - whether its a tournament, two touch, a game in training or a competitive match. Personally I've always had the attitude that there's no point entering a league if you don't want to win it. But as a team we all knew it was a transition year with what I think was 10 or 11 new players, and our main aim was to finish higher than our 8th place finish last year and see how well we can do from there. To have finished third, and to be in a position where we feel we could have done better, just shows the amount of hard work and dedication that has been put in by Smithy and the coaching team and all players, and I think it's important that everyone receives that credit!
WSS: Overall though, are you pleased with the way the season has gone?
TS: When I look at the season as a whole I think it's a bittersweet one. Like I've said we would have bit our hand off for third at the start of the season, but there was a point where we could have really challenged Coventry for the league, but had disappointing results which cost that for us which we all know was preventable. It's been massive for us as players, I remember saying to a few girls in other teams that I'm friends with at the start of the season that Chi could really do some damage this season, and they laughed at me. Now little old Chi have become one of the teams to beat! We're also proud to say that we're the only team other than Coventry to beat every team in the league (depending on Cardiff's result to them on Sunday), which is something we're frustrated by, but also really pleased with! However I think what's really special is how we've come together as a group of players, for a team that doesn't have a big named male club with it, a club with no budget, and we've come and fought for our love of football and love of each other and what we feel that this club could achieve, and I know that this is something that we will continue to fight for.
WSS: You have ended up lifting silverware when winning the County Cup, how pleased were you to get your hands on the trophy?
TS: Despite getting ran around the pitch for 90 minutes by some of the fittest, most talented and most youthful players Sussex had to offer, It was great to be able to get our hands on the Sussex Cup! At the start of the season we all wanted to win some silverware and we're pleased to have gotten this one, for only the second time in the club's history! We had a tough time getting there, beating a brilliant Crawley team, and went into the final v Brighton as underdogs. Maybe the early goal, a ‘banger' by Molly, shock, came at the wrong time for us, but we ended up comfortable against a team of really talented young players who I expect to see great things from in the future. The only bad side about this final is that it made us all feel incredibly old and has had me borderline questioning retirement at 24.
WSS: This week you complete your season with a trip to Gillingham, what sort of game are you expecting there?
TS: Gillingham is never an easy game, and I feel that they're a lot better than their position in the table suggests. They're full of talented players who can punish you in an instant if you switch off or lose focus at all throughout. They're a team that's happy to put their body on the line for each other, and will keep going from the first minute to the final one, making them really tough to break down. I know Sharna really well and I think she's been trying to supply me with fake information on them ever since pre-season - amongst threatening to nutmeg me, so we'll all have to make sure we're at the top of our game! It'll be important for us to remain patient, and make sure that we play our brand of football, and really try to finish what's been a great season on a high.
WSS: Having gone close this season, are you confident that the team is capable of going just a little better next time around?
TS: I think that given the right opportunities, this team could be capable of doing anything that we set our mind to. We're so close as a group, and we all feel lucky to be able to play and train alongside some of our closest friends every week, I've always sworn I wouldn't use the world family to describe a team, but this is the closest I've ever felt to it! We've talked a lot as a group, staff included on how we could have done better this year, and about our future. Our honesty and openness with each other makes these things easier to highlight. We know what we need to do in the upcoming season to do better, and as a group of players we are determined not let anything stand in our way!
WSS: Chichester is an ambitious club and well organised off the pitch, how close to do you feel you are to matching those ambitions in the future?
TS: Personally as a player, I always want to be a part of an ambitious club. We're playing in the third tier of women's football which is incredible, but we can't just settle with what we've achieved and drop from here! The Championship is in sight, we almost beat Spurs - second in the Championship, a week before their first match of the campaign, we've already had FA Cup ties against the likes of Liverpool which I was gutted to be cup tied for, but we really want to be able to continue to bring special moments like this to the city of Chichester. Football is always evolving, and that's something that during this season, we've managed to do really well and worked hard on from both a player and coaching point of view. As long as that evolution keeps happening then there's no reason why we can't match or even one day exceed these ambitions, it's such an exciting time to be a part of the women's game and I really hope that we can be a big part of that.
Our thanks to Tash!
(Photo by Tommy McMillan)
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