Miles Rutherford & Co were forced into four changes to the starting XI dumped out of the FA Cup in the extra-preliminary round by Southall in the season curtain-raiser last time out.
Isaac Bello came in for Ryan Davidson at right back, Joe Clarke replaced Conor Honore in centre-mid, Emmett Dunn, who scored in the 2021-22 2-0 win over Phoenix at Oaklands, returned in place of Adam Biss, with Josh Clack starting for the absent Ethan Prichard.
Phoenix returned to Step 4 courtesy of a late, late penalty against VCD Athletic in the play-offs last term.
Chi recorded a 4-0 victory at the Christopher Russell stadium the year Phoenix were relegated with Josh Clack (2), Kaleem Haitham and Callum Overton all on target that day.
Here, both teams, who exited the world’s oldest knock-out football competition at the first time of asking, created numerous chances but couldn’t break down stubborn defences in an end to end match.
Clack linked up with Bello in the opening attack from which the latter earned a long throw which the hosts cleared.
Phoenix’s Bobby Mills then won a free-kick after referee David Spain deemed Ben Pashley’s second minute challenge a bookable offence.
Captain Ryan Hayes’ set-piece did little to trouble Chi and Dunn got Clack going for a cross that was headed away before striker Steve Hutchings wasn’t able to control another Clack follow up.
Bello saw off the danger posed by a Phoenix surge down the left and Mills unfairly tackled Clarke.
A second Bello long throw-in was gathered by Steve Hutchings too robustly and he blazed one over the bar moments later.
Rob Hutchings did well to head calmly back to custodian Kieran Magee as the home side threatened before a superb Clarke diagonal pass found Haitham but he couldn’t deliver precisely on 16 mins.
Next, Clarke picked out Bello for a rather wayward cross with a teammate offside anyway.
Clarke then took one for the team to thwart Alfie Evans and joined Pashley in the ref’s notepad.
A free-kick off the training ground from Hayes cleverly found Evans although Magee got down low to claim his cross from the right.
A clash of heads between Curtis Da Costa and Mills interrupted play for a couple of minutes with the Phoenix player receiving treatment before Lloyd Rowlatt and Clack exchanged a one-two which teed Bello up for a high snap shot that well-travelled 41-year-old keeper Andy Walker finally gathered.
The Chi right back then glanced a free header wide 25 minutes in and Rob Hutchings’ delivery from the left following good work by Clack and Clarke was too deep.
Clack headed clear the first corner of the match a couple of minutes later and saw his diving header saved by Walker on the half hour mark.
Some nice football set Rowlatt up for an opportunity that squirmed off target.
Impressive defending by Ryan Sawyer meant he managed to intercept a ping intended for Haitham before lovely touches between Rowlatt and Steve Hutchings ended in a final ball that was just too strong.
Rob Hutchings opened things up with a decent run which Phoenix eventually dealt with before the No3 was manhandled by Hayes in the subsequent attack.
Hutchings took the free-kick himself and it finally came to Rowlatt who shot on the turn only for Haitham to be adjudged offside.
Steve Hutchings and Clack then combined and after a bit of trickery and battling Dunn almost forged a chance.
In the last two minutes of normal time before the break Rowlatt had a shot blocked; Clack floated a set-piece in which came to nothing; and Henry Douglas intervened to concede a corner which caused a bit of havoc though to no avail.
Clarke dragged an effort wide in time added on and Rowlatt almost played Haitham in but Walker was out swiftly to smother.
Steve Hutchings headed the first opportunity of the second half just wide after a measured free-kick from his namesake.
One minute later Clack was dispossessed following a slick move and the hosts broke only for Pashley to beat Hayes to the ball.
Curiously Da Costa gave the ball away cheaply to Isaac Thompson only for the No9 to fire high and wide.
Key moments came and went in a 120 second spell when Phoenix had a sharp shot blocked; Walker denied Clack with a super parry for a corner; and Rowlatt’s attempt was turned out for one on the other side.
An odd altercation with Magee earned Matt Bourne a booking after the Chi keeper held on to an effort that struck him in the midriff.
Hayes then whipped a cross over which a composed defender chested back to Magee.
Thompson blazed another high and wide and just after the hour Steve Hutchings had a good chance but there wasn’t enough power on his header and it was steered out for a corner that was claimed easily enough by Walker.
Clack’s cross field run opened things up on 63 although the consequent shot was blocked and then the deadlock might have been broken as a Phoenix back pass hit the post and went out for a Chi corner which Walker punched clear.
Both sides rang the changes on 65 with Olly Munt coming on for Rowlatt who saw his first contribution turned out of danger.
Next, Hayes’ pusillanimous shot straight at Magee caused little trouble, but Mills pulled a fine save out of the opposition’s No1.
Dunn did well to cover as Evans pressed and Sawyer saw yellow for hurling Steve Hutchings to the ground.
Magee had another shot from Mills blasted too close to him and his counterpart was on hand to deny Steve Hutchings after Munt’s neat pass over the top.
Tyler Giddings and Adam Biss replaced Bello and Clarke for the last 15 or so and the former pulled an excellent take out of Walker.
Phoenix sub Junior Sarpong did Rob Hutchings and Pashley with six to go but Magee gloved his shot out for a corner.
Dunn beat the offside trap only to see his delivery similarly steered out.
And then came the game’s talking point following neat exchanges between Biss, Munt and Rob Hutchings – Was it in the area? Was it outside the area? Was it even handball? Some were ambivalent, but whatever, Mr Spain awarded Chi a free-kick outside the area.
Haitham took this and Phoenix headed away.
Both sides huffed and puffed in the five minutes of additional time but neither could find a winning goal.
Chi face Broadbridge Heath at their place in the Velocity Cup on Saturday 19th August (Kick Off 3pm).
Chichester – Magee, Bello, Rob Hutchings, Clarke, Da Costa, Pashley, Dunn, Rowlatt, Steve Hutchings, Haitham, Clack. Subs – (Giddings, Biss, Munt, Horncastle, Mohamed)