BOGNOR head for one of their biggest matches of recent times being told: Play with no fear.
They go to Sutton United on Saturday knowing a win in the third round of the FA Trophy would leave them just two games from the Wembley final.
It’s captured the imagination of supporters, who will travel to the National League South side’s Gander Green Lane ground in their droves to see if the Rocks can overcome higher-division opponents for a sixth time this season, having already beaten Lowestoft and Oxford City in the FA Cup and Bath City, Maidstone and Altrincham in the Trophy.
Bognor go into the game in fine form – home league wins over Hampton and Richmond and Leiston in the past week have made it eight successive wins and put them four points clear in fourth place in the Ryman premier.
But their players have been warned they will have to be at their very best – and hope for a little luck too – if they’re to overcome Sutton, who are third in National South and are the division’s top scorers.
Bognor reaching the Trophy’s last 16 is the equivalent of a League Two side getting to the fifth round of the FA Cup – something none has managed this season.
Rocks boss Jamie Howell said: “Getting as far as we have in the FA Trophy is already an achievement but we mustn’t relax and be happy with that.
“A lot of fans are talking about whether we may get to Wembley but I’ve not really thought like that. We’d have to beat three more excellent teams – Sutton included – to do it.
“All we can do this weekend is go there and make sure we are ready for the challenge and give them a game.
“We went there in the FA Cup a a few years ago at a time when I thought we were doing well as a club and we got hammered 4-0. Obviously we don’t want anything like that to happen again but we will need to be at our very best.
“They play on a 3G pitch and that will suit us having a nice even surface to play on. We can go there in positive mood and try to cause them a few problems.”
Coach Darin Killpartrick said: “We’ll approach the game in the same way as every other one, with no fear and the right attitude. And we’re going there with a squad which now has great competition for places.
“Our supporters have been fantastic recently and we know they’ll be there in huge numbers on Saturday.”
Bognor should have a full squad to choose from, with Alex Parsons and Harvey Whyte both proving their fitness in recent victories after knee and groin problems respectively.
Key man Craig Robson was ill last weekend and also sat out Tuesday’s win as he recovered, but will be fit to face Sutton.
And the recruitment of a third Pompey youngster – right-sided player Calvin Davies –gives the management another option down that flank.
Striker Ollie Pearce will be banned for three games, starting on February 13, for a red card against Hampton that the club have decided not to appeal against.
Howell was delighted by the back-to-back league wins.
“Against Hampton it was a tight game and at the point we went down to ten men I’d have been happy with a 0-0 draw. But it opened the game up a little and we dug in really well and a had a little fortune with the goal, so to beat them was a bonus,” said the manager.
“Then against Leiston, apart from the first couple of minutes when they came at us, I thought we played really well and fully deserved to win by three goals. It was difficult to pick a man of the match – everyone was on their game.”
Teenage striker Alfie Rutherford continues to impress – he nabbed the winner against the Beavers and the opener versus Leiston. He’s now hit 13 goals in 13 starts and 24 appearances off the bench.
Howell said: “Alfie’s been brilliant but we are being careful not to put too much pressure on him. He will be an excellent player.”
Not going to Sutton? Get live updates from Gander Green Lane at www.bognor.co.uk
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