The Rocks reflected on a hugely disappointing FA Cup exit and admitted: The players are hurting.
Bognor had two attempts to beat AFC Sudbury – who play a division below them in the Bostik League – but after a 1-1 draw at Nyewood Lane, it was the Suffolk side who went through 3-2 in a replay that went to extra-time.
It cost the Rocks a place in the third qualifying round - which is only two games from the first round peoper - and £9,000 prize money.
Now boss Jack Pearce and coach Robbie Blake believe they will see a response from the young Bognor squad when they resume their so-far-unbeaten league campaign at Potters Bar on Saturday.
The Rocks dominated Saturday’s first game at home to Sudbury but couldn’t build on Harvey Whyte’s early goal. In the replay Whyte and Jimmy Muitt put them 2-1 up only for them to be uindone by an 88th-minute free-kick and an extra-time winner.
Coach Blake said: “We’re bitterly disappointed – it was such a great opportunity for us and we haven’t capitalised on it. In the first half I thought we were poor. They wanted it more than us in the first half. They were on every second ball.
“We gave them a rocket, to say the least, at half-time. And in the second half, we’ve done everything. We’ve got ourselves 2-1 up, it could have been 6-1 or 7-1, they’ve been in our half twice in the second half. They’ve got that free-kick on the edge of the box.
“We were getting a little bit tired and a little bit leggy and they were launching the ball forward and we’re getting a bit uncomfortable.
“It’s frustrating that we couldn’t see that out. But it’s our first defeat of the season. The first half wasn’t acceptable, the second half we’ve given them a bit of a rollicking and we’ve come out and I thought we thoroughly deserved to go through. It was such a sucker blow right at the end.”
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Blake did not feel a 79th-minute subsitution which saw Mason Walsh replaced by Tommy Scutt was a factor in the lead not being held – and he rounded on anyone who wanted to be critical of boss Pearce after the team’s first loss of the campaign.
was asked about bringing Tommy Scutt on for Mason Walsh ten minutes from time but said it was unfair to say ther change cost Bognor the game.
“We’ve probably created ten good chances in the second half to win the game comfortably – I think it’s a little bit harsh to say a substitution has killed us.”
He said Sudbury’s tenth-minute opener came from a needless free-kick being given away then not dealt with. “We said that if we were aggressive in both boxes, that should be enough for us to go through. Unfortunately on that occasion we weren’t aggressive enough.”
Blake said it was unfair if Pearce was getting criticism on social media. “How can he get criticism? We’ve lost one game. We’re unbeaten in the league, joint third. Do they not watch football? Derby have gone to Manchester United and won in the cup, so just because we’ve been beaten by AFC Sudbury, that means that Jack should be coming under pressure or should be getting a little bit of stick for a game?
“We’re unbeaten in the league above but the FA Cup has a funny way of turning around. And we’ve dominated that second half so much that it could have been six.
“Fans can voice their opinion, I’ve got no problem with that. They pay good money to come and watch us play and they are entitled to their opinions. but to say Jack is under a little bit of pressure because we’ve been knocked out of the FA Cup is just a little bit harsh.
“I understand the difficulties of it – we rely on that sort of revenue, which is very disappointing. But no-one loves this football club as much as Jack so I think it’s a little bit harsh that he’s getting criticism after one defeat in ten games.
“Everything was rosy when we beat Whitehawk 8-0 and then we don’t perform against Sudbury twice. But over the 180 minutes plus 30, how many minutes have Sudbury dominated? It happens, it’s football. We’ve dominated the second half but to say someone should go or be under pressure is mind-blowing.
“Anyone who was here would see that in the second half we’ve completely battered a football team.”
Blake said the young Rocks players had to learn quickly about seeing games out when leading. “The first half wasn’t acceptable under any circumstances and the players know that. But they have given us a massive response in the second half and all we’ve got to do is keep to the principles of how we want to play, which is passing and moving the ball.
“Once we go off that we become a bad team because we’re not good at the other side of it. We’ve got to stick to controlling the pace of the game and controlling the possession.
“Their second goal came from a lack of game management by us and we’ve got to be a little bit better with that. We’ve got to roll our sleeves up, dust ourselves down and you’ll see a test of the character of the players at Potters Bar on Saturday.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll get a response – we’ve got a good set of lads and they’re all hurting. There’s no-one who’s not hurting. When you hear the opposition celebrating, the lads won’t like that.
“We’ve got to go to Potters Bar and make sure we get out first win away from home for the season and if we do that.
“This disappointment will linger over us for a while but the lads have tried and on the second-half showing we should have won the game.”
After Saturday’s draw, Pearce said he didn’t think the loss of young on-loan Pompey strike duo Brad Lethbridge and Dan Smith was the main factor in them not winning – rather, the inability to produce good crosses coupled with ‘embarrasing’ finishing was to blame.
Pearce said: “If it was a boxing match it would have been stopped. They dug in and sat deep and tried to frustrate but we’ve not worked their keeper. We found their first defender from the first minute to the 90th.
“We worked hard and moved the ball well, but it comes back to having people who can put the ball in the net so we did miss Lethbridge and Smith.
“Saying Sudbury had 25 per cent of the possession is being kind to them.”
Pearce admitted after the replay he was bitterly disappointed. “It’s a massive blow to the club – the finances in the FA Cup are so important to a club like ours. We probably had 80 per cent of the play in the first game and the second half of the replay but couldn’t score. And I wasn’t pleased with the goals we let in.”
The Rocks are still trying to add to their squad, having been able to name only three subs on Saturday and four on Tuesday when seven were allowed.
Pearce admitted: “We are short on the ground. The problem we have trying to get players in is players of the quality we want are saying ‘Where am I going to play?’
“They don’t live in the area and they’re not going to come from a long way away to sit on the bench. And we can’t pay them a lot of money. It’s the constant battle we face and we have to balance it week to week.”