Haywards Heath, south east division table-toppers for much of August, September and October, have gone off the boil somewhat in recent weeks drawing four of five league matches, and long-standing Heath boss Shaun Saunders became the latest in a catalogue of managers to part company with their clubs this season.
Miles Rutherford & Co made a couple of changes to the XI that started in the 1-1 stalemate at Whitehawk last time out. Connor Cody replaced Lewis Hyde at centre back and Scott Jones returned up top in place of Callum Overton.
The first half was a rather turgid affair with Chi stopper Kieran Magee not forced to make a single save.
Ben Pashley coped capably with journey-man Trevor McCreadie, back for another spell at Heath, as the pair duelled once more.
Ryan Davidson, Eric-Georges Dellaud, skipper Jamie Horncastle and Lloyd Rowlatt linked up early doors for a slick move that earned Chi the first corner of the game.
This came to nothing and at the other end Tom Cadman’s out-swinging cross from the left was cleared easily enough.
Both teams exchanged several niggly fouls, as would be the case throughout, and a set-piece from one of these fell to Kaleem Haitham but the winger’s decent cross was claimed by Heath custodian Billy Collings.
Rowlatt and Jones combined on 13 minutes and won another corner which Ben Mendoza whipped over and Jones fired a shot on the turn high over the bar.
Magee did well to dance round McCreadie as he took control of a through ball intended for the visitors’ striker.
Collings punched away another Mendoza corner before the first genuine opportunity came and went when Horncastle got on the end of Haitham’s pin-point delivery only to head over the frame of the goal.
Emmett Dunn then cleared a Trey Masikini cross at the mid-point as Heath raided and a neat one-two between Davidson and Haitham led to a cross that was hooked away.
Josh Clack, back at his former club, teed up Heath teammate Sam Remfry on the half hour but the No8 swung and missed.
A super pass got Dellaud going down the left flank. Dellaud fed the ball to Mendoza, who twisted this way and that into the box only to send in a wayward delivery.
Rowlatt’s lovely flick to Mendoza was followed by an inviting cross from Dellaud seeking out Jones at the back stick but he couldn’t get his head on it.
A well-timed tackle by Cody broke up Masikini’s determined run.
Dellaud picked out Jones again with an even better delivery five minutes before the interval but he struck his effort off target.
And in the biggest talking point of the match so far Mendoza and Hamish Morrison were both shown yellow cards after going shoulder to shoulder, with Morrison seemingly throwing his opponent to the floor.
Morrison hooked up with Clack in Heath’s first attack of the second half only for Davidson to hammer the ball clear.
Dellaud had another cross diverted as he probed again and then Gil Carvalho grabbed the only goal of the game on 49 minutes following a Cody slip-up. It was nothing like Clack’s worldie that settled things at Hanbury Park in October, but inevitably earned all three points nonetheless.
Jordy Ndozid, who’d replaced Masikini, traded a pass with McCreadie only for Pashley to head clear, and Davidson dealt with a move down the left.
Heath threatened from a Remfry free-kick with Magee getting behind the stabbed attempt after the ball was knocked down.
Ethan Prichard, who missed the Whitehawk game with a groin injury, came on for Jones 10 minutes or so in ahead of a scrappy spell of poor passing and decision making.
Rowlatt’s corner kick was just too high for Cody on the hour mark and then Haitham squared the ball to Rowlatt who cracked one that nicked off a defender and out for a corner on the alternative side.
Next, Dunn blocked Clack – there was only one person who was going to take the set-piece, which on this occasion Clack lifted high over the woodwork.
Sinn Christie similarly wasted another free-kick and McCreadie conceded one fouling an advancing Pashley.
A nice run by Mendoza opened up Heath in the 68th minute. He played in Dunn who took a touch, when perhaps he should have shot first time, and drilled his effort into the side-netting.
Cadman joined Mendoza and Morrison in the ref’s notebook with 20 to go and then the ball wouldn’t quite sit up for either Dunn or Prichard after Collings spilled it and gathered at the second attempt.
Mendoza was upended on the edge of the penalty area after another mazy run. Rowlatt’s first take was blocked; as was the follow-up; and Prichard’s strike on the loose ball too.
A foul on McCreadie won the away side a 74th minute set-piece which Remfry took and a teammate headed straight at Magee.
Cody then found Horncastle whose shot on the swivel was blocked before Tyrone Madhani replaced Haitham on 77 minutes.
Madhani’s first contribution was a delicious cross which was headed clear before Dunn also delivered but too close to Collings.
The Heath keeper was called into action moments later to claim ahead of Prichard and Mendoza.
Desperately searching an equaliser Chi forced another corner which Rowlatt headed narrowly over.
Ndozid’s neat turn set up Remfry and Cadman but Davidson defended intelligently and youngsters Prichard and Dellaud got something going for the hosts only for Prichard to shoot tamely at Collings.
Charlie Oakwell-Boulton came on for Dunn with five minutes of normal time remaining and the sub was involved straight away when a super Dellaud tackle sent him off down the wing.
Odd free-kicks featured as the clock ticked down. One of Madhani’s was somehow smuggled away and then the Chi sub saw red in the three minutes of time added on for a reckless challenge.
The win sends the visitors up to fourth place, while Chi remain in tenth spot.
It was Chichester’s second league loss of the season at home as Haywards Heath became the first team to inflict an Isthmian south east division double defeat over Miles Rutherford’s men.
Next up, Chi welcome the league’s current top-form outfit Burgess Hill to Oaklands Park on Tuesday 1st February (Kick Off 7:45pm).
Chichester – Magee, Davidson, Dellaud, Horncastle, Cody, Pashley, Rowlatt, Dunn, Jones, Mendoza, Haitham. Subs: (Carroll, Hyde, Madhani, Prichard, Oakwell-Boulton)