Bognor’s young players have been challenged to meet their biggest test of character yet as they bid to bounce back from a first league defeat of the season caused by ‘appalling’ and ‘shocking’ mistakes.
The Rocks went into Tuesday night’s home game against Folkestone knowing a win would take them top of the Bostik premier – but a succession of individual defensive errors and missed chances saw them lose 4-2.
They have an immediate chance to put it right in front of their own fans when Margate visit Nyewood Lane on Saturday.
It comes as the Rocks continue to bolster their squad after losing key men Dan Smith. Corey Heath and Keaton Wood to injuries that will keep them out for a month or more.
Young Pompey academy defender Joe Dandy, just 17, has slotted into the defence after arriving on loan and striker Jimmy Wild is back at Nyewood Lane a year after leaving – and the Rocks are still hunting for more reinforcements.
Tuesday’s loss was in stark contrast to Saturday’s 2-1 win away to leaders Tonbridge, which many fans regarded as the best performance of the season, in which they won thanks to goals by Brad Lethbridge and Mason Walsh.
Pearce said he did not actually think there was a big difference between Saturday’s game and Tuesday’s.
Speaking after the loss to Folkestone he said: “No-one could deny we put a lot of energy into the game but the game hinged on the situation when it was 1-1 and Brad Lethbridge was clean through to score. If we’d gone 2-1 up there we’d probably have had another 5-1 or 6-1 victory, but the goals we let in were totally self-inflicted.
“For the first goal, it wasn’t great play by them. I thought then we did ever so well to get in the game and make it 1-1. There was another poor decision by us – poor communication between the centre-half and the goalkeeper – that led to their second, nothing to do with them playing marvellous football.
“Their third goal was another appalling mistake and you’re 3-1 down.
“At half-time we still felt we could win the game – if we could score in the first quarter of an hour we could go on and win. We missed two great chances – they were appalling misses.
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"The final things we did in the final third were poor. I’m disappointed because I think we were better than than as a football team. The score doesn’t show that, it shows you got hammered, but I don’t think we got hammered.
“But I saw, with three minutes to go, Brad Lethbridge running back 40 yards to win the ball, and Doug Tuck getting back, that showed good attitude. Now it’s how we react to the defeat. At some point you are going to get beaten – we’re not a good enough club to go all season unbeaten.
“The test for us will come on Saturday. We’ve blown a great chance to go top of the league. With the number of people that came in (508), that was typical Bognor – get them all in then let them down. But as a manager you couldn’t ask for more effort, or more effort to pass the ball.”
Pearce said the referee did not help – citing a throw-in at which he over-ruled a linesmen to give it to Folkestone, who went on to score; and the free-kick which led to their fourth, which the official ordered to retake when most felt strongly there was no reason. But Pearce said the Rocks did not lose because of the officials.
Asked whether it was tough to lift such a young team after this sort of defeat, Pearce said: “Five o’clock Saturday will tell us, simple as that. We’ll pick ourselves up. We created six glorious chances and if we do that in every home game I’ll be delighted. What we have to do is make sure we stop conceding goals like those.”
Pearce is delighted to have striker Wild back. “He’ll be a good addition to the squad.”
The Rocks continue to look for more new faces and Pearce warned: “If defenders keep doing that, they give you a good excuse to leave them out.”
Coach Robbie Blake said of the loss to Folkestone: “It was very disappointing but we’ve had a really good start to the season and if you’d asked players, supporters and staff about losing your first league game after 11 games, I’m pretty sure everybody would have snapped your hand off.
“We’re still in a good position. It’s a long season and you learn a lot about players and staff after a defeat. A lot of supporters came and we would love them to come back because we feel it’s a one-off. We feel we’ve shown this season we’ve been right on and I feel sure we’ll be back on it against Margate on Saturday.
“I don’t want to pick people out for the goals we conceded but they were nothing short of shocking. No matter how good you are as a good if you concede goals of that nature it’s going to filter down to everybody. You’re going to get anxious and nervy and you’ll lose confidence. But the lads have been first-class and we’ve just got to get back on the horse.”
Blake said having a younger squad did mean the odd blip in form was likely, and now they faced a test of character. He said there were not too many harsh words said to the team after the Invicta loss.
“We’ve only lost one game and you can’t have a good day every week. The players kept on going until the end. We needed to score in the first 15 minutes of the second half. If we had, it might have been a different game. We have to make sure we cut out the defensive mistakes because going forward we have a lot of firepower.
“There’ll be no panic – we’ll dust ourselves down and hopefully the punters will come in again and we’ll put a performance on for them. The lads will be eager to put it right. In terms of defending, it wasn’t that we were all over the place, it was individual errors. We’ll do some shape work at training on Thursday and look to be a bit more solid.”
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