There were four changes to the Chi starting XI that got knocked out of the Sussex Senior Cup mid-week away at Peacehaven & Telscombe after a sudden-death penalty shoot-out, with Ryan Davidson, Connor Cody, Adam Biss and Joe Moore all returning.
The visitors came in to this encounter as the in-form team in the Isthmian south east division – unbeaten in five, whereas Chichester, who shone in October, have drawn a couple of league games and exited two cup competitions this month.
Manager Kevin Watson announced his departure from Cray Valley this week after a wonderful spell where he took the side to Wembley for an FA Vase final in 2019, won promotion to Step 4 in that same year, and led the Millers to the first round ‘proper’ of the 2020-21 FA Cup only to lose narrowly to Havant & Waterlooville.
The two teams had met three times at this level of the non-league football pyramid – a memorable match in 2019-20 when Jimmy Wild and Gicu Iordache scored on a hot September afternoon in South East London to send Chi top briefly in their inaugural season at Step 4 before Covid curtailed this campaign and the subsequent one; a goalless game away last year where a point felt more like three; before losing the corresponding fixture at Oaklands 2-0.
Here, the opening 45 wasn’t particularly special by any means.
The visitors centre back Finn O’Mara lamped a second minute ball forward towards Denzel Gayle only for Chi keeper Kieran Magee to clear and then Rob Hutchings did Hassan Ibraham only for a defender to turn his shot out for a corner which Lloyd Rowlatt took and Tom Chambers headed away.
Next, experienced custodian Chris Lewington held on to an Ethan Prichard shot before Kaleem Haitham was impeded by Ibraham and the Millers’ back line dealt with a nicely worked Chi set-piece.
A couple of deft touches from Josh Clack following a decent Connor Cody pass set Haitham up only for the No7 to get dispossessed.
The best chance of the half so far came and went in the 12th minute when Hutchings found Clack with a super pass but Lewington got his angles right and smothered Clack’s attempt.
The Chi captain then misplaced a square ball after a counter-attack.
Sonny Black was the first player of six to go into referee George Lynch’s notebook on 14 minutes for pulling Rowlatt’s shirt.
Lewington flapped at Cody’s free-kick and conceded a second corner which Rowlatt delivered. The Cray keeper got a better glove on this one but the loose ball fell to Biss whose shot was blocked.
Bennett tried his luck from distance at the other end with a long-ranger and Prichard’s lovely cut-back caught Clack out somewhat before a skilful touch by Hutchings enabled him to pick out Haitham who took too long and lost the ball.
Moore was well in on Ade Adeyemo, who was a hat-trick hero midweek in the visitors’ 5-0 thumping of Faversham, and then Magee made a valuable save with his feet at the mid-point.
Ibraham, Chambers and Gayle combined in a move that produced a dangerous cross which Davidson cleared.
The Millers won their first corner of the match on 27 but once again Davidson was in the right place to powerfully head away before a break down the left flank ended with Chambers firing over.
A great recovery challenge by Ali Tumkaya put paid to a Prichard opportunity with Lewington already on the deck.
Cody’s timely interception denied Adeyemo as Cray pressed and the resulting corner came to nothing; Connor Dymond got a head on Davidson’s cross; and Haitham cutting in pulled a drive wide.
As the clock ticked down Haitham found Moore but he couldn’t get his shot off before Hutchings, who scored an outstanding goal on Tuesday, lifted an effort narrowly over the bar.
Magee was caught by an opponent after claiming a corner just before the break and Dymond joined Black in the book.
Ibraham blazed a free-kick well over one minute into the re-start following Biss’ caution for a foul and then an unmarked Bennett,with Davidson down, hit a shot straight at Magee.
Prichard was clattered in the penalty area by Barney Williams as the Chi top-scorer got on the end of Magee’s upfield punt – nothing doing according to Mr Lynch.
A Magee ricket gave away a corner, which Chi defenders cleared, before Hutchings danced down the wing only for Lewington to get there first to the left back’s pass intended for Clack.
Ben Pashley blocked an Adeyemo effort after the striker waltzed past Cody.
And on the hour mark Cray Valley broke the deadlock when the ref played an advantage for Haitham’s high boot, the ball nicked inadvertently off Biss into Bennett’s path and the No17 slotted beyond Magee.
Magee was forced into a fine save some four minutes later to deny Dymond’s bullet header from point blank range.
Next, Haitham couldn’t quite reach Moore’s measured delivery; the visitors cleared Cody’s pass to Clack; and first Prichard, and then Rowlatt had attempts blocked.
Magee gave the ball up cheaply to Gayle whose pace got him past a player or two for a shot that the Chi keeper saved.
At the other end Haitham picked Rowlatt for a return to Hutchings who fired off target.
Then, good defending by Davidson instigated a counter which finally fizzled out.
Rowlatt was bundled over in the box in the hosts’ subsequent attack but the ref wasn’t interested.
Joe Clarke replaced Moore in the 77th minute and the away side rang the changes too bringing on Coombes, Julien Anau and Kershaney Samuels.
Clack might have got in sixty seconds later but the last man made a timely tackle.
Samuels then found Black only for his shot to deflect off a Chi defender for a corner that Samuels took and Hutchings steered away.
Pashley came across to deny Gayle on the edge of the area and got a yellow card for his troubles.
Samuels’ set-piece was a shocker though.
Miles Rutherford & Co introduced Olly Munt and Isaac Bello for Haitham and Biss with five to go and pushed Hutchings up top.
Munt had a free-kick cleared after Prichard was obstructed and a well-marshalled Cray back line held off Chi’s most advanced player.
And then the visitors doubled their advantage when two subs combined with Samuels’ clever back-heel falling to Coombes who slammed the ball beyond Magee.
The home side huffed and puffed in the four minutes off time added on but Cray Valley PM were in no mood for charity.
Chi welcome Sevenoaks to Oaklands Park for a league game on Saturday 26th November (Kick Off 3pm).
Chichester – Magee, Davidson, Hutchings, Moore, Cody, Pashley, Haitham, Biss, Clack, Rowlatt, Prichard (Moore, Clarke, Bello, Hyde, Lumsden).