TWO soft goals cost Bognor the points in their first home game of the new campaign as a battling second-half display proved in vain.
Alex Parsons cancelled out Leatherhead’s opening goal with a cool 51st-minute finish and the Rocks looked like they might go on and win it - but they were undone by a late Tanners winner to end the night still looking for their first league points.
It was the Rocks’ first home game of the season and an early chance to get their opening-day defeat at Canvey Island out of their system.
There were no fewer than seven players making their home league debuts - keeper Chris Winterton, full-backs Jamie Strong and Harry Medway, midfielders Jake Thomson and Charlie Oatway, who has had spells with Bognor before, and forwards Alex Parsons and Darren Wheeler.
Paul Hinshelwood, the captain, switched to the centre of defence with Dan Sackman not in the squad.
A strong bench featured Arron Hopkinson and Ollie Pearce, plus returning goalkeeping hero Tom Boyle.
Leatherhead had the early pressure, winning a couple of free-kicks in dangerous areas.
The Rocks found attacks few and far between in the opening stages, their best move coming when Wheeler turned smartly away from a marker and and played Medway away down the left, but it came to nothing.
Wheeler was starting to cause Leatherhead problems and he beat his man to whip in a dangerous cross on 14 minutes which a defender had to scramble behind for a corner.
Winterton was the first keeper brought into serious action, tipping over a ferocious drive by Matt Smart from 25 yards out. The corner caused another scare in the Rocks six-yard box but they survived.
Everything was going through Wheeler down the left for the Rocks and he curled in a cross to the near post that saw Parsons direct a header just wide of keeper Louis Wells’ near post on 23 minutes.
The Rocks gave away a sloppy goal a minute later. They lost possession in their own half when trying to play the ball out for the back and when the visitors played it to Basile Karagannis, Winterton could only parry his shot and Carl Rook headed it into an empty net.
As the Rocks tried to find a quick equaliser, Harvey Whyte intercepted a half-hearted clearance and fired a volley just high and wide from 22 yards.
It was turning into a very open game. Just after the half-hour, Wheeler turned and ran at the Surrey side’s defence before being blocked, then Nathan Koranteng beat Medway on the angle of the penalty box before sending in a low drive that Winterton couldn’t hold.
Ryan Cooper should have made it 2-0 with a free header from a right-sided corner but it was too high.
Another dangerous cross by Wheeler found Whyte and Parsons getting in each other’s way in the middle and was cleared.
Kiernan Hughes-Mason wasted a good chance to double the Tanners’ lead four minutes before the break with a solo run down the right and into the box that drew a fine one-on-one save from Winterton.
Thomson was booked in first-half injury-time for a foul that gave Leatherhead a 25-yard free-kick that they wasted.
Oatway created the first opening of the second half but his clever pass through to find Whyte’s run into the box had just too much on it.
Whyte’s strength took him past three men just outside the area but his attempt to find Oatway was read by a defender.
The Rocks had their tails up and levelled six minutes into the half. Whyte drew keeper Wells to the edge of the area and forced a save that led to the ball running loose to the lurking Parsons. He kept his cool and took his time to slot it past a defender on the line with the keeper nowhere.
Both sides made a change. Whyte was replaced by Ollie Pearce while Felix Ogeah-Andrews came on for Koranteng for the visitors.
On 56 minutes, Rook missed a chance almost as easy as the one he had taken earlier, glancing a free header wide from six yards when a corner fell to him - the Rocks marking again leaving plenty to be desired.
A second Rocks change saw Dale Hayes come on for Strong on 61 minutes.
Wheeler was in the action again soon after the change, floating over a lovely cross that neither Parsons nor Pearce could head home. Then Pearce seemed certain to put them ahead from another high ball into the box, only for Wells to palm his header over the bar.
Tuck almost scored what surely would have been unassailable as goal of the season when he met a cross with a flying volley from outside the area. It was a clean connection but flew wide.
It was a much brighter second-half showing from the home team, who looked like they’d had a few strong words put their way at the break. They were having the lion’s share of the play and deserved to be level, if not ahead, as the game entered its final 20 minutes.
Wheeler wanted a penalty on 73 minutes when his attempted cross seemed to hit a Leatherhead hand but the referee was unmoved.
It was Wheeler again having a go when the Rocks won a free-kick 30 yards out but his decision to try to chip one over the wall and in at the keeper’s near post wasn’t his wisest of the night.
Leatherhead brought on Warren Whiteley for Karagannis.
Ogeah-Andrews was over-ambitious with a long-range effort that brought a Leatherhead break to a halt as it drifted well wide.
At the other end, Hayes had about as much chance of success with a shot of his own from way out.
The ref booked another Bognor player as a Leatherhead break was thwarted eight minutes from time, but didn’t make it clear which one he was yellow-carding.
With six minutes to go, the Rocks were hit by a classic sucker punch. Again they gave the ball up too easily and it fell to Hughes-Mason, who took one touch and curled a precise low shot around Winterton and into the far corner.
Ryan Morey replaced Thomson with four minutes left before the Tanners made their final change, Rook being replaced by Denzel Gayle.
Oatway spurned an opportunity to set up a 90th-minute equaliser when he chipped a free-kick straight to the keeper. Then a Wheeler corner went the same way.
Next up, Maidstone visit Nyewood Lane on Saturday, then Bognor go to Hendon on Monday.
Rocks: Winterton, Strong, Medway, Tuck, Hinshelwood, Robson, Whyte, Thomson, Parsons, Oatway, Wheeler. Subs: Boyle, Hopkinson, Hayes, Pearce, Morey.
Leatherhead: Wells, Cooper, Dolby, Smart, Bruce, Nnamani, Koranteng, Avery, Rook, Hughes-Mason, Karagannis. Subs: Mahal, Whiteley, Ogeah-Andrews, Gayle, Otogo.
Ref: P Johnson
Report by STEVE BONE
Get all the latest from Nyewood Lane in the Observer on Thursday.