It was a night of other firsts – a first ‘home’ game under the lights at Bognor’s MKM Arena; a first league goal conceded by Chi this campaign; and first placed Three Bridges against Chichester in second spot.
There’s plenty of history between these two sides, who were former rivals in the County League before promotion to Step 4 of the non-league football pyramid and they’ve had some right old ding-dongs over the years. Chi won the corresponding fixture 2-1 in 2022-23 at Oaklands Park and grabbed a share of the spoils away thanks to a Steve Hutchings’ header late on.
Both came into the match unbeaten in the league this term with Bridges defeating Phoenix Sports 6-2 at the weekend and the prolific Leighton netting his tenth and eleventh goals in that game.
Miles Rutherford & Co named the same starting XI which won at Beckenham last time out. Jamie Horncastle returned to the squad joining Joe Moore, Isaac Bello, Olly Munt and Ahmed Mohamed on the bench.
The visitors started brightly causing Chi some problems with their high press.
Keeper Kieran Magee had a cross from the left to deal with after barely two minutes.
Steve Hutchings then almost played Emmett Dunn in but Jasper Sheik was off his line quickly to clear.
Three Bridges had appeals for a third minute penalty turned down by referee Jacob Wright after Ryan Davidson clipped Ibrahim Jalloh.
And then centre back Curtis Da Costa hit a lovely ball to a marauding Rob Hutchings whose delivery across the area at the other end was gathered low down by Sheik.
Next, fine play by Dunn set Chi joint-top-scorer Ethan Prichard up for a speculative effort that Sheik saved.
Steve Hutchings combined with Ben Pashley for an ambitious reverse pass towards Lee Seok-jae before Rob Hutchings brushed off Ethon Archer and Three Bridges’ Kevin Rivera, who also bagged a brace against Phoenix, whipped a dangerous cross over that was steered away.
The visitors won the first corner of the match on 10 which skipper Brannon O’Neill took and Leighton forced Magee into a fine stop after the ball cannoned back to him.
A determined run by Joe Clarke following a Bridges’ mistake opened things up; Da Costa similarly slipped and Jalloh might have got in but for Magee’s sharpness; and Conrad Honore had a chance which was deflected for a corner.
Dunn’s long-ranger nicked off a teammate and nearly crept under Sheik in the 18th minute before Prichard fired an effort narrowly wide.
Pashley took a knock for his trouble making a super tackle to deny the lively Leighton moments before Ridwan Euba picked up the first yellow card of the night for an incident spotted by Mr Wright’s assistant.
The away side won a corner with 15 or so of the first half to go. Steve Hutchings swung and missed attempting to clear his lines and Jalloh got a shot off before he outmuscled Clarke and squared to Leighton who couldn’t find a decent connection.
Indecision from Magee and defenders meant a corner wasn’t cleared properly and Bridges earned another one on the other side.
Following a bit of pinball in the box subsequently Magee made an excellent stop on the goal line.
Taylor Curran was booked for scything Prichard down and then Honore trickery, as he jinked this way and that, forced Euba to foul him and concede a 38th minute penalty. Steve Hutchings stepped up but his spot kick was at a comfortable height for Sheik who got a strong wrist on it and the ball went out for a corner.
Dunn couldn’t direct his header from this goal-bound either.
Then Davidson got away with one before Pashley found Rob Hutchings who passed it on to his namesake, although he slipped at the crucial moment.
Honore almost caught Sheik out seven minutes after the restart following a neat exchange between Pashley, Dunn and Lee.
And Magee got to the ball ahead of Jalloh as the visitors probed once more.
Chi lost Lee to an injury on 54 with Bello replacing him.
A couple of minutes later Archer spun Pashley weaving into the box and then, almost in slow-motion, the ball finally looped into the back of the Chi net off Leighton and that sequence of five league clean sheets was over.
Honore’s clever backheel sent Bello away only for the move to break down.
Next, Prichard drove forwards on the hour mark but the ball wouldn’t sit up for him as he looked to pull the trigger.
The away team felt Pashley had got a hand on Jalloh’s cross – nothing doing according to the ref.
Davidson then fouled Jalloh and O’Neill’s inviting free-kick was headed out for a corner by Da Costa which Magee punched to safety.
A Chi set-piece after Honore was impeded came to nothing as did Pashley’s attempt from some distance.
Slick work from Honore led to a Steve Hutchings’ pass that O’Neill intercepted before Bridges exchanged Archer for Camron Lawson.
Sheik got to the ball ahead of Bello on 72 minutes and Rivera then had a shot blocked.
Leighton, scoring goals for fun this season, missed a golden opportunity to double his and his side’s tally when Bryan Villavicencio delivered one to him on a plate.
Prichard was adjudged offside, rightly or wrongly, by an assistant’s flag with 14 of normal time to go and Lawson spurned a glorious chance blazing a measured cross well-off target.
There was too much juice on Magee’s pass towards Rob Hutchings and Dunn joined Euba and Curran in the notebook on 77.
Joe Clarke came off for Joe Moore as the hosts rejigged and Lawson fired wildly once again.
Corners came and went as both teams pressed and Bello saw his long throw-in cleared.
The Chi sub then had a fierce effort saved on the goal line for a corner which was hacked away.
In the first of six additional minutes Honore’s shot seemed to be heading over Sheik and under the bar. However, the Three Bridges custodian made an amazing fingertip save and then punched away Rob Hutchings’ follow up.
Prichard cracked one, although it was always rising; no one attacked Rob Hutchings’ delivery; and Moore’s pass with practically the last kick of the game to Prichard was too strong and straight.
So, Chi’s unbeaten league run through August and September came to an end. Next up is an away trip to East Grinstead in the league on Saturday 14th October (Kick Off 3:00pm).
Chichester – Magee, Davidson, Rob Hutchings, Clarke, Da Costa, Pashley, Lee, Dunn, Steve Hutchings, Honore, Prichard. Subs – (Moore, Horncastle, Bello, Munt, Mohamed).