ROCKS REVIEW: Eastbourne Town 1 Rocks 2

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The Rocks are five points clear in top spot in Ryman one south after a first-half supershow earned them a 2-1 win at Eastbourne Town.

Michael Birmingham’s free-kick and another lovely finish by Ben Johnson - his third goal in eight days - secured another three points.

It gained the Rocks revenge for Town’s 3-1 win at Nyewood Lane in October - the only time the Rocks have lost at home in the league.

And with Whitehawk dropping two points at Chipstead, the victory also moved Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick’s team another point clearer of their rivals.

Another seven wins from their final 14 games will guarantee a play-off spot, but many at the Lane will be dreaming of the title and automatic promotion after this latest win.

The Rocks, backed by their usual large and vociferous travelling support, ground out a win that although well-deserved, was in doubt right to the final whistle.

Bognor began by playing down the noticeable slope on a quagmire of a pitch, and it became clear early on that the condition of the pitch was not going to suit a passing game.

In the opening exchanges Craig Stoner had to be alert to clear a passback from Tim Bond which slowed in the mud, almost letting Tim Rivers in for an early attempt on goal. Stoner’s ankle suffered in the challenge and several minutes’ treatment was needed before he could continue.

Birmingham was driving his troops forward in his usual inimitable fashion, and it was fitting that his excellent free-kick on only seven minutes enabled the Rocks to take an early lead.

Jason Prior was hauled down as he seemed set to burst through on the edge of the box, and although the position of the free-kick appeared to be rather too central to the goal, Birmingham produced a perfectly-placed shot which evaded the wall and curled just inside the right-hand post.

Kieron Thorpe in the home goal managed to get his fingertips to the ball but could not prevent the goal.

There were a number of almost comical slips in the mud by players on both sides, and it appeared that if Eastbourne were to get anything a mistake or mistimed tackle would be the cause.

Bond and Stuart Axten needed to be at their best to outwit the lively Rivers and Sam Crabb and Stoner, when called into action, appeared confident.

Axten was the first Bognor player to receive a yellow card when in frustration he reacted rashly when penalised.

The visitors looked dangerous whenever Johnson received the ball, and the home defenders became increasingly frustrated and aggressive as he turned them inside out on more than one occasion. Greg Manton and Steve Elliott both received cautions for treatment of Johnson and Dan Beck, and as the half progressed it seemed only a matter of time before Bognor added to their score.

A superb flowing move started by Jon Marzetti, and aided by James Fraser, resulted in Prior lobbing the advancing keeper from an angle, although the ball just rolled outside the far post.

Minutes later James Crane released Kane Wills with an excellent pass. His pinpoint ball found Prior 18 yards out but Thorpe was just able to smother his powerfully-hit shot.

Seconds from the break, Bognor deservedly scored their second goal. Johnson received the ball far out on the left, and beat two defenders with ease. From the far edge of the 18 yards box he swept a magnificent curving shot high into the far corner of the net – surely a contender for goal of the season (pictured above by Tommy McMillan).

Bognor had to play uphill in the second half, and in thick, cloying mud, this was always going to be a tough battle against a side who had shown earlier in the season at Nyewood Lane that they are no pushovers.

A third goal would probably have killed the game and it almost came just two minutes into the half when Johnson’s determination saw him win a ball that appeared lost. He managed to dribble past three players into the box but with little support he had to go on himself, and only desperate defending by the keeper and three defenders inside the six-yard box saved the day.

Eastbourne began to exert pressure of their own and gave an indication of what was to come when Matt Ferdinand outpaced the Rocks defence and fired in a great cross from the right. Rivers headed well over the bar from only ten yards with only Stoner to beat – a real let off.

Although Bognor did look dangerous on the break, the home side were largely in control, and it was no surprise when they pulled a goal back on 81 minutes. Again Ferdinand powered down the right wing, and although his cross was missed by a home player in a great position to score, it broke kindly to home captain Greg Manton who slammed the ball home from six yards.

Despite a few nervy moments, the Rocks survived the remaining nine minutes of normal time. The referee’s assistant then indicated a further six minutes of additional time which gave Eastbourne hope, but driven with great passion by Birmingham, the defence held firm.

Visiting supporters would have been heartened by Luke Nightingale’s return from injury to play the last few minutes, and Matt Wood also did a sterling job when he replaced James Fraser with 15 minutes left.

This was Bognor’s first visit to The Saffrons for 41 years and by the end of the 96 minutes played, they had held on to their record of winning every single league match this season, both at home and away, that has been played on a Saturday.

The points that have been dropped have all been in midweek fixtures. With only two more matches currently scheduled for midweek, is this a good omen?

ROCKS: Stoner, Marzetti, Crane, Wills, Axten, Bond, Beck (Nightingale), Birmingham, Prior, Fraser (Wood), Johnson. Unused subs: Royce, Whiehead, Marshall.

Report by Simon Cook