Rocks ready for two tough league tests

Gary Charman leads the celebrations after scoring the winner against Merstham / Picture by Chris Hatton
Gary Charman leads the celebrations after scoring the winner against Merstham / Picture by Chris Hatton

THE ROCKS take on two of their fellow promotion hopefuls in four days with boss Jamie Howell declaring: We’re ready to put ourselves to the test.

Bognor go to early leaders Grays on Saturday then host old rivals Kingstonian on Tuesday – and Howell believes both opposition teams will be there or thereabouts at the end of the Ryman premier season.

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But they go into the double test buoyed by an FA Cup win over Merstham and early-season form that has carried them to sixth place.

Howell said: “I expected Grays to be one of the sides up there this season but I’ll admit to being a little surprised how strong they look.

“They had a great end to last season and have added a few players in the summer, but we can go there confident in our own form and ability and ready for a good test of how far we’ve come.

“The same goes for Kingstonian. There’s never a lot between the sides when we play them and they’re another team I’d expect to be up there challenging throughout this season.”

League action has to take centre stage again for the next week but a 2-1 first qualifying round FA Cup win over Merstham has got the Nyewood Lane faithful daring to dream of a nice little run in the competition, with the promised land of the first round proper now just three games away.

They have been drawn at home to National League North side Lowestoft in the second qualfying round on September 26 – and might go into the game with a spot of revenge on their minds.

Lowestoft won at Bognor in the Ryman premier play-offs at the end of the 2013-14, although their victory came after they had been well-beaten 4-1 at the Lane in the regular league season.

Howell said: “It’s not a great draw – you wouldn’t ideally be drawn against a National League side at this early stage. But we’re at home and we know Lowestoft from previous league seasons.

“If we play to our strengths, we will have a good chance.”

It’s been 20 years since Bognor reached the ‘proper’ rounds of the FA Cup – despite having been regulars in the first and second round in the 1980s and 90s.

They have already earned £3,000 from beating Merstham and will net £4,500 if they overcome Lowestoft. The prize money rises to £12,500 for teams who come through the fourth and final qualifying round.

Meanwhile, Howell heads to Grays with a decreasing number of injury and availability issues.

James Crane returns to the squad after a three-match ban for a red card while Craig Robson was back after suspension last Saturday – although faces a hearing over a proposed extra two-match ban resulting from same incident, his sending-off for dissent against Tonbridge last month.

Midfielder Doug Tuck is likely to be out for another two weeks with a hamstring strain but Howell hopes Alex Parsons (bruised foot bone), Gary Charman (illness), Harvey Whyte (dead leg) and Stuart Green (bad back) will all have recovered from their variety of problems by the weekend.

Norwegian defender Snorre Nilsen is back from a visit to his homeland.

The Rocks’ visit to Hampton and Richmond – scheduled for Saturday, September 26 – has been postponed because of their FA Cup progress. It will now take place on Tuesday, November 3.

STEVE BONE

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