Bognor's under-fire boss: The manager’s always the easy target ... but I don’t think I’ve a problem motivating the players

Tommy Leigh and Dan Smith retrieve the ball from the net after Leigh's goal makes it 2-1 v Cheshunt / Picture by Tommy McMillan
Tommy Leigh and Dan Smith retrieve the ball from the net after Leigh's goal makes it 2-1 v Cheshunt / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Jack Pearce and Robbie Blake say a change of manager is not the way for Bognor to get over their poor early-season form - despite increasing pressure from fans demanding it.

Pearce and, to a lesser extent, Blake are under fire from fans after a fourth straight league defeat - 2-1 at home to fellow strugglers Cheshunt - left them in the relegation zone with just four points from their opening seven games.

Ashton Leigh goes head first v Cheshunt / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Ashton Leigh goes head first v Cheshunt / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Bullish Pearce said he did not think a different manager would have fared, or would fare, any better with the players they had and with the injuries they’d suffered. And he didn’t think that different boss would be able to assemble a better squad in the circumstances in which they were working, including the limitations of the club’s budget.

Blake backed him and said he was determined to get things right and do so quickly - saying he would walk away from the job if he did not think he was up to it. And he was quick to defend Pearce, who has come in for increasing criticism from supporters over his record since taking charge of the team again two seasons ago.

Pearce remains convinced the team can beat anyone in the league but says they have to start taking a greater proportion of their chances and stop making individual errors.

Asked after the Cheshunt loss if a different manager would bring different results Pearce said: “I think that’s a very fair question.

Brad Lethbridge shoots at the Cheshunt goal / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Brad Lethbridge shoots at the Cheshunt goal / Picture by Tommy McMillan

“Only two teams lost fewer games than us last year, the team that won the league and a team that got in the play-offs. Last season we had a very good frontline of Dan, Jimmy and Bradley and after Feburary we didn’t have them together, or had only one, and couldn’t win.

“Out of six regular defenders we had including the goalkeeper we have one left. You can’t lose five players of the quality we had and expect to replace them in five minutes. Like any good team you have to build from the back. You need solid foundations and our foundations are not very solid.

“You’ll always get people who say ‘Change the manager, that will cure it.’ I don’t think changing the manager will change the ability of some of the players we’ve got at the back. What we need to do is sign some better players and that’s not going to be easy, whoever the manager is.”

Pearce gave examples of the difficulties, though his words are unlikely to appease some disgruntled fans. “Some say I should have signed Benny Read (from Horndean). Havant paid a lot of money for him and put him on a contract way above what we could afford. At the time we had Calvin Davies playing for us and playing well. If they think we are then going to sign another full-back on a lot of money - and Havant had to pay £4,000 for him.

“The manager’s always the easy target and as I’ve said many times, if the players don’t give the manager the effort, then you know you’ve had it. I don’t think I’ve got a problem motivating the players to play to the level I want.”

Match report and the full interview on video

Pearce praised the ‘excellent’ Tommy Leigh – scorer and MoM versus Cheshunt – and said he was happy with his forward line. But he said: “We need another midfield player so I can leave (one of) them out. Harvey (Whyte) and Doug (Tuck) do ever so well but they could do with being reminded you have to work a bit harder to keep the shirt.

“Defensively it is a problem. A lot of people think Dan Lincoln was the best keeper in the league and you can’t lose the best keeper in the league and not be affected.

“When I say to supporters to tell me players who are available, it is a tongue-in-cheek remark, but where are the players who are in our geographical area and in our budget, who are not playing for Bognor but are playing for another club and doing really well? They’re not there.

“Havant have got a wage bill four times the size of ours. Gosport Borough have got one twice the size of ours - they go after Portsmouth’s players but they’re not pulling up trees.

“Robbie and I have put together a whole new back four and it’s going to take time and at the moment it looks like we’re going to have to get some other people in. That’s our main priority.

“The one thing you can say against Cheshunt is the players gave their all, and that reflects on the manager and the coach.”

Blake said: “I’ve always been honest in every interview I’ve done and this is not me diffusing the situation or putting the blame on anyone else. But if any other manager was to come in with that team, it would have the same outcome because it’s individual errors. It doesn’t matter how you play, there will come a time when you have to defend.

“We don’t come under pressure but we concede. I’m not sticking up for Jack, I’m trying to be honest - in my opinion and I’ve been in football a long time, it’s nothing to do with the manager.

“I would walk away if I didn’t think I had anything to offer or didn’t think I was doing a good enough job. unfortunately at the moment I’m not doing a good enough job because of where we are in the league but in our seven games not one team has dominated us, and we’ve found ourselves 3-0 down and 2-0 down against teams when we’ve not come under any pressure.

“That is the problem we’ve got – we’re conceding through individual errors. I’ve said that to the players. The facts are we’ve lost four, five games and have not come under pressure.

“I would walk away if I didn’t think I could do a good enough job at the club. I’ve got too much respect for Jack and for the supporters. That is genuine and hand on heart. If I did leave I would back myself to get another job. I don’t want to do that. I want to do my job here and I am the right man to do it with Jack. You just have to have the tools.

“It’s early in the season and we’ve said it might have to get worse to get better. I’ll guarantee you I’ll give 150% to the club and to Jack.”

Pearce added: “We’ve lost five games and in none of them have we been under the cosh. It’s difficult times.”

The Rocks now head into FA Cup action at Dulwich Hamlet. Blake said: “It should be a good footballing game and hopefully we can go there and express ourselves. Everybody probably thinks we will get beaten but football has a strange way of proving you wrong.”

The pair were hugely disappointed at the Cheshunt defeat and admitted things needed to change quickly.

Blake said: “The way our season is panning out, when you’re playing a team just above you, in fact whoever you’re playing at home in a league where everybody can beat everybody else, you want to be winning. We’re bitterly disappointed to have lost. We’ve had so much of the play but without working their goalkeeper. It sums up our season.

“They (Cheshunt) have done nothing to create the chance (for their first goal). It’s come from our sloppy play again and it’s individual errors again that are costing us. You get bored with saying the same things in interviews.

“After we went 2-0 down from another disappointing goal we showed great determination to get back in it and scored a great goal. We played on the front foot but didn’t work their keeper enough. That’s something we need to work on because our final third play is lacking.

“There are positives. The lads tried their hardest but until we cut out the individual errors we are going to struggle. I hope the supporters see the positives that it’s not a team who are not trying.

“Individual errors are happening too much. We have to try to do something about it. Whether that’s persevering with the players who are doing it or whether we must make changes in certain areas to stop it is something we want to address. We are a young team and we’re learning the hard way at the moment.

“If you put our frontline against the way we have defended we wouldn’t be where we are in the league. We need to eradicate these errors. There’s still time to have a successful season, we’re seven games in. It’s up to me and Jack and the players to turn it around. We welcome supporters voicing their opinions but we also need them to stay with us and I think they did in the second half.

“I think it doesn’t matter what level you play at if you keep committing errors your confidence goes. When you score goals you get that 10 or 15% back but when you keep conceding it affects you in a negative way. We have to learn pretty quick. We can be a threat going forward and can score good goals. It saps the life out of me when we concede like we do.”

Pearce added: “You ask for the players to give their maximum effort and I don’t think anyone let us down with their effort. We have one or two players who because of their age will make mistakes. If you have a young team they will be inconsistent and it will be difficult at times.

“It would be lovely if we had a reserve team where you could play players in. We need to make a concerted effort over the next month to get some bodies in. We realise where we need to strengthen because if we keep playing the same squad we are at the moment we will be in a relegation battle.

“The good thing is it’s come early. If we can’t win games like this at home we have a bit of a problem on our hands. I was pleased with the effort our players put in but the person you have to work hard, the keeper, was not worked.

“I’m very disappointed with the result, pleased with the effort, but this starting XI would keep us in a relegation battle. We need to sign two or three players in positions where people think they are a fixture and in defensive areas. We have to make teams work hard to score against us but we are very fragile defensively.”

Talking about the strength of the squad, which was looking positive in the summer, Pearce said: “On Saturday, the biggest worry was losing Jimmy (Muitt) because he has been our strongest forward. If we’d had Jimmy against Cheshunt, he’d have given their more ponderous players more problems.

“It’s a thin dividing line between success and failure. But players want to play and the only way you can have them and they are happy not to play is when they’re on contracts and can’t leave. And we’re not in that position at the moment. Also if you’re bottom of the league you’re not the most attractive place to come to. Our model has always been to get young players and develop them and with young players comes problems. But we’ll keep battling away and keeping calm.”

Blake said: “When we score first we’re a different team. As soon as we go a goal down we’re getting beat. When we score first we win.”