A wonderful first half strike by Kaleem Haitham gave Chi a narrow pre-season victory over Wessex Premier Division opposition at the third time of asking.
- Haitham (23')
Coach Danny Potter said, “We’re happy we had more senior players in the squad. The 1-0 win was a good result for us because Baffins are a very good Wessex side. They’re well-organised and Shaun Wilkinson is a very good manager.
“Kaleem Haitham’s goal was an outstanding finish with great movement from Rob Hutchings as well.”
There were three changes to the starting XI that featured last time out against Horndean.
Captain Connor Cody returned in the heart of the defence to line up with Lewis Hyde, Ryan Davidson came in at right back and trialist Will Stone, a former American college soccer student-athlete who turned out for Bognor in 2020 scoring four goals in friendlies, including one against Chichester at Oaklands Park, was given the No9 shirt.
And Stone had the first chance of the game here at Baffins Milton Rovers in the opening five minutes after a super touch from Rob Hutchings brought the ball under control. Hutchings elected to set up Stone rather than shoot but his teammate’s attempt was blocked by the hosts’ shot-stopper Konrad Szymaniak.
The home side spurned an opportunity moments later at the other end when a header was glanced off target.
Scott Jones then brought down ex-Chi player Tafadzwa Kanjanda, who featured for Chichester against Baffins in the corresponding pre-season fixture last year when Miles Rutherford’s team won 4-1 thanks to goals from Haitham, Ethan Prichard and a Josh Clack double, but Steve Mowthorpe gathered a follow-up cross easily enough.
A rash challenge by midfielder Jamie Horncastle earned him a yellow card on the quarter hour mark and then Haitham broke the deadlock in a match that was otherwise evenly poised. Hutchings fed the ball to Haitham and with defenders standing off the Chi No11 curled an effort round a player and into the right-hand corner of the net.
Things got a little cagey after this – an exchange between Davidson and Jones saw Baffins struggle to clear their lines; Hutchings and Haitham combined again only for Szymaniak to race out ahead of Jones; Mowthorpe grabbed a Harry Sargeant cross before the same player drifted an attempt wide without sufficient whip on it.
The visitors might have got in when Horncastle’s superb tackle allowed him to subsequently pick out Emmett Dunn only for Scott Jones to be flagged offside following the Canadian’s pass.
And on the stroke of half time a nice turn from Stone gave him some time and space but he over-hit his through ball to strike partner Jones.
Youngster Flori Vucay, who had a good game against Horndean the previous week, came on at the break and a couple of minutes in the home side managed to hook away a Hutchings’ cross after Matt Axell was fouled by Oscar Johnston.
Then Cody tidied up comfortably as Alex Przespolewski threatened.
A wayward back pass from Charlie Williamson gave his keeper a bit of trouble with Axell pressing before Dunn couldn’t quite get a connection in a crowd of players to Axell’s set piece.
Next Dunn had defending to do as Kanjanda charged through and then latched on to a lovely pass from Haitham but failed to get a shot away.
Baffins forced a corner and Davidson blocked Miles Everett’s shot with 53 minutes on the clock.
Dan Wood and Ben Pashley replaced Axell and Cody just before Mowthorpe made a smart save to prevent a Tommy Scutt equaliser.
Vucay had a great chance to double City’s lead when Haitham picked him in the box but his effort was denied at the near post by Szymania and Jones missed a header from the resulting corner.
A fine delivery from James Cowan fizzed invitingly into the Chi area in the 68th minute but no Baffins player could get on the end of it.
Jones then hit a pass behind Haitham as the visitors broke and struck a fierce drive straight at the keeper in the subsequent attack.
The hosts might have got in after Hutchings’ mistake but Mowthorpe did well to hold off sub Rudi Blankson and let the ball run out for a goal kick.
Haitham went close and a lovely Dunn turn and a raking pass to Hutchings got the left back in only for the Baffins keeper and a defender to snuff out the danger.
Lloyd Rowlatt, was introduced in the last 20 for his first pre-season appearance, and the mercurial midfielder soon found Jones whose cross was diverted for a corner.
Wood made a number of timely blocks, interceptions and challenges late on as Baffins probed before a cross looped off a Chi defender and on to the roof of the net for a corner that came to nothing.
Stone then rattled the bar with an impressive overhead kick and City’s wall stood firm to block Cowan’s set piece in the last action of the game.
Potter added, “The game went well and we controlled it from the start. We kept possession quite well and we had to be an organised team in terms of our defensive mode.
“We welcomed Lloyd Rowlatt and Ben Pashley back for their first games in pre-season so far, and we’ll try and give them more minutes over the next few games.
“We brought on 16-year-old Joe Masters and he did brilliantly with some great footwork and movement to beat players. His dribbling ability is very strong for his age and we’ll keep a close eye on him as we believe he’s one for the future.
“It’s disappointing for the club that Josh Clack has moved on to local rivals Haywards Heath. Josh has made the right move personally though and we wish him all the best. He’s been a long-term servant of the club.
“We’ve got three more games to go and there’s still lots to work on, but we’re pleased with the first four games, albeit we’ve won two, lost two. The result doesn’t matter at all to us – it’s more about the performance and getting the players back in their right positions and supporting them physically as much as tactically.
“We’re looking forward to our next two games which are at home and then we go to Bognor for a really tough test.”
Chi welcome Christchurch to Oaklands Park on Tuesday 27th July for their first home fixture since December (Kick Off 7:45pm).
Chichester – Mowthorpe, Davidson, Hutchings, Axell, Cody, Hyde, Jones, Horncastle, Stone, Dunn, Haitham. (Subs: Vucay, Wood, Pashley, Rowlatt, Masters)