Merstham 1 Rocks 1: Pearce gets Howell's men off mark
Ollie Pearce's goal earned the Rocks their first Ryman premier point of 2016-17 - and they might have headed home with all three with a bit more fortune late in the game.
There was a first competitive start for defender Ed Sanders but that was the only change from the starting line-up that had faced Lowestoft in Saturday’s league opener, with Daryl Wollers dropping to the bench.
Merstham were direct and well-organised and played at a high tempo, though Bognor had the better of the first half, playing with more threat in the final third than they had on Saturday.
A neat pass by Dylan Barnett - who has been one of Bognor’s brightest players in the first couple of matches - set up Pearce for an early shot from the edge of the area which whistled past the post.
Alex Addai was a danger for the home side and had a number of runs at the Rocks defence, mostly well-marshalled by Sanders.
Tom Kavanagh went close after an Addai set-up, his shot going through a mass of players but going wide of the unsighted Billy Granger’s post.
Addai brought an excellent save out of Granger ten minutes before half-time before the Rocks enjoyed a dominant spell.
Barnett’s cross was headed goalwards by Pearce and struck the post as keeper Phil Wilson was beaten, then Jimmy Wild’s powerful drive scraped the outside of an upright.
It was no surprise when Jamie Howell’s team took a 43rd-minute lead, Pearce putting away a header from an acute angle after another good Barnett cross.
Addai immediately hit the bar from a free kick at the other end but Bognor led at the interval.
Merstham came out strongly for the second period and levelled eight minutes into it. A move started by Kershaney Samuels ended with a pass to Dan Bennett and he beat a couple of defenders before shooting past Granger.
Merstham had the ball in the net again on the hour but it was rightly ruled out for a push on Granger, and the Surrey side continued to put the Rocks under pressure, with Gary Charman and Chad Field standing strong.
Pat Cox headed over when unmarked as the hosts continued to look for a second, then Xavier Vidal forced an alert save out of Granger at his near post.
It was Bognor who ended the night the stronger side, though. Pearce ran clear as sub Darren Budd played him through and was unlucky to be held up by an offside flag that looked the wrong call.
Pearce then got away own the right and cut inside to find Doug Tuck, whose first-time effort brought a stunning save from Wilson. From the corner Charman and James Crane both went close to forcing a winner.
Next up for the Rocks is a trip to Grays on Saturday, when they hope big defender Sami El Abd will be fit to start.
Rocks: Granger, Sanders, Crane, Tuck, Field, Charman, Fraser (Wollers), Beck, Wild (Budd), Pearce, Barnett. Subs unused: Walsh, Robinson, El Abd.
Report by SIMON COOK
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