A depleted Argyle side went to Chichester with just 12 players as they were without England under-20 international Jessie Jones who was ill, Greek under-20 international central defender Panagiota Papaioannou, who was stuck in her homeland due to heavy snow when visiting her family over the Christmas period, and Kayley Lane, who is in Australia.
Argyle joint manager Dave Leonard said: “We knew we would have to weather the storm at the start but once we got our goal we gave as good as we got.”
Chichester started well with Cherelle Khassel having a shot cleared before goalkeeper Lindsay Rogers came out to block another Khassel effort. Rogers then made a great save to deny Molly Clarke.
In the ninth minute, Argyle scored what Leonard described as ‘the finest goal’ he had seen during his time at the club. It started from Rogers and 10 passes later the move involving seven players ended with Helen Bleazard crossing to Becky Dandridge, who made no mistake.
Three minutes later it could have been 2-0 when a Bleazard shot crashed back off the crossbar with Dandridge following up by firing over the bar.
Both teams enjoyed spells of possession but it was Zoe Cunningham’s turn to pass up a chance through a scuffed shot. Amber Pollock then shot tamely at goal while at the other end Rogers saved a header from Sara Tubby.
Argyle were then caught out as Chichester counterattacked with Khassel crossing to Helen Ogle, who tucked the ball away at the near post.
The Pilgrims responded with a crucial tackle by Gemma Simmonds denying Pollock. Khassel then had a shot blocked with her second effort saved by Rogers.
Rogers was called into action to deny Khassel again with Pollock being denied when her 30 yard effort was superbly saved by Lauren Dolbear. Tiffany Taylor then denied Cunningham with a great tackle.
In the second half Cunningham set up Pollock, who was once again denied again by Dolbear.
The game was still up for grabs and chances fell to both teams before the deciding goal came 20 minutes from time when Argyle disputed where a free-kick should have been taken and it proved to be decisive as Ogle fired the ball into the roof of the net.
Argyle threw everything into the game to try and get something out of it. Pollock was then denied when her terrific effort rebounded off a post and Cunningham was denied before the same player lofted a free-kick over the crossbar. Bleazard then brought a great brace save out of Dolbear.
The visitors’ pressure led to Chichester taking the ball into corner and trying to the slow the game up and the hosts managed to hang on for the three points.
Leonard said after the match: “Their first goal came after we were on the attack and we didn’t switch on during the transition. The midfield three which included new signing Leah Burridge put in a great performance and I thought Burridge was influential and is a valuable asset to the squad.”
He added: “’I am very proud and happy at how the team performed. It just goes to show we are not far away from where we want to be. Everybody put in a shift and their application and effort was testament to their fitness as we matched the top of the league.”
Coach Marc Bonney said: ‘We didn’t come away with the points, but we came away with a huge amount of pride. It was a massive shift and effort from everybody that the result didn’t reflect.”
Argyle squad: Lindsay Rogers, Darcey Hepworth, Ebony Dover, Kate Middleton, Leah Burridge, Helen Bleazard, Zoe Cunningham, Becky Dandrdge, Amber Pollock (Faye Ivall), Steph Beck, Mollie Taylor.
They made the breakthrough when Jodie Randall played the ball to Kelly Vinnicombe, whose pin-point cross found Alex Hugh sliding in at the near post.
The second soon followed with Vinnicombe once more involved when she found Nicola Champion, who spotted a darting run from Sally Salter into the penalty area who duly dispatched the ball high into the net.
There was no respite for the visitors as Gabi Alphous found Hugh to score her second to make it 3-0.
Hugh was proving influential and, after making a tackle on the edge of her own penalty area, she gave the ball to Becky Parkyn, who in turn switched play to her defensive partner Rachel Javan. From there, some great inter play between Javan, Randall and Vinnicombe ended with Hugh firing against a post.
Vinnicombe then set up Champion to open her account. Champion also added the next and on the stroke of half-time a corner from Randall was headed into the Weston net by a defender to make it 6-0.
The second half started in the same fashion with Vinnicombe being the provider for Champion to complete her hat-trick.
Within minutes Champion provided the chance for Gabi Alphous to grab her first goal. She then netted a second when she headed home a Vinnicombe corner.
The next goal came when a cleverly worked free-kick between Randall and Hugh found Champion on the end of the defensive wall, who duly turned and fired the ball past the stranded goalkeeper for her fourth.
Alphous then made a piercing run to set up Maya Ridge, who dispatched the ball into the corner of the net.
Debutant goalkeeper Claire Squires was almost a spectator. Tamsin Medd-Gill made a great run down the right before laying the ball into the path of Kiara Robins, who unleashed an unstoppable drive into the bottom corner of the net.
A Medd-Gill corner was converted by Rachel Javan, who then had a volley well saved. The hard-working Alphous found Shania Fenlon, who provided a clinical finish with Abbie Scurr setting up Medd-Gill. The final goal was scored by Hannah Brock who had been set up by Alphous.
Manager Rob Bonney said: “Forget the scoreline it was about the whole squad performance. It was the way the girls played the whole 90-plus minutes. Even though the goals were going in at regular intervals, the team remained very disciplined, kept their shape and were professional throughout the game. Some of the approached play and the way they created the chances was a joy to watch.”