IT’S a Happy New Year for the Rocks after they came behind to beat Sussex rivals Peacehaven 3-1 with goals from Ollie Pearce, James Crane and Stuart Green.
They fell behind despite a bright opening to the game – but in an attacking performance, their quality told as they forced countless corners and created numerous chances and deserved the 3-1 final scoreline.
Jamie Howell’s team remain tenth in the league but there’s now a four-point gap between the top ten and the sides below them and Bognor are just three points off the side in the final play-off place, Met Police.
Eighteen-year-old Pompey academy defender Chad Field came straight into the side in place of Craig Robson, who is unavailable for two games through family commitments.
The Rocks were facing a Peacehaven squad containing ex-Bognor players Mark Knee, James Fraser, Joe Gatting and Jon Marzetti.
Bognor were straight on to the attack and won a corner a minute into the game. Pearce took it and Jason Prior’s free header was goalbound until a defender got his body in the way.
A third-minute corner from Pearce gave Prior another free header - this time it was just high and wide as questions were asked in the visitors’ defence. Then keeper Tony di Bernaldo was sluggish to take a goal kick and Prior blocked it, but the keeper got first to the loose ball.
It was a lively start from the Rocks but typically, when the opening goal came, it went to Peacehaven.
Their first venture into the final third ended in a cross from the right by Jamie Brotherton that found Tom Burton unmarked. He took a touch to control it then volleyed in off the underside of the bar with Chris Winterton helpless.
Jake Thomson pierced the Peacehaven defence with a ball that found Alex Parsons’ run down the right, but his cutback was collected by Di Bernaldo.
Prior caused alarm for the home defence when he chased down Green’s lob forward but he couldn’t quite force it home. Then Green latched on to a through ball and hit it first time with his left foot but di Bernaldo made a good diving stop.
Bognor saw three efforts at goal scrambled clear in one incident - two of them off the line - following a corner on their left. Then Prior’s radar was just off again when he headed over from a corner kick from the other side.
Bognor were level on 23 minutes and you couldn’t say it hadn’t been coming. Green played Parsons into space down the right and he drew the keeper before squaring it to Pearce, who couldn’t miss.
Fraser had the ball in the net on 25 minutes, nodding in Josh Jones’ cross, but he was clearly offside. Thomson was booked for a foul on Fraser.
Green did well to keep a ball in play down the Rocks right and pulled it back for Pearce, but there was no white and green shirt in the box to convert the goalscorer’s ball across the face of goal.
Both sides were intent on attacking and Joe Gatting got his head on the end of a cross from Brotherton, only to nod it wide and be flagged offside.
Bognor were winning corner after corner but gradually Peacehaven were working out how to defend them. Plenty of balls were going into the Peacehaven box but Prior and Pearce couldn’t get on the end of them.
Pearce was inches away from a second, lifting a shot over the fast-advancing di Bernaldo only to see it drop just the wrong side of the post.
A curling free-kick by Pearce, given for a foul on Doug Tuck, shaved the bar but fell to safety four minutes before the interval.
Pearce was the second Rocks player to see a yellow-card - cautioned for a late foul on Fraser.
Winterton kept Bognor level a minute before the break with a fine save at the feet of Fraser, who looked favourite to score.
In first half injury-time Crane headed in a Thomson free-kick for a foul just outside the box and close to the by-line as the Rocks attacked down the left. Peacehaven felt the free-kick was harsh and were upset to see Crane’s header go in, with suggestions it went in off Mark Knee’s head.
So the Rocks went in at the interval in the lead, and most would have agreed they deserved it for the number of chances they had created in the opening 45 minutes.
It was a quiet start to the second half and first to manage a shot at goal was Joe Gatting but his left-footed effort after he twisted and turned 20 yards trickled wide.
On 51 minutes Fraser drew a fine one-handed save from Winterton with a fiercely-hit strike from the D.
Parsons had been causing the visitors problems all afternoon and another driving run down the right brought a corner from which Prior had yet another free header - this one sailed just over.
The succession of home corners continued with another couple just before the hour mark but Peacehaven repelled them.
One ex-Rock - Jon Marzetti - replaced another, Knee, for the visitors. Then another Rocks corner was only half-cleared, allowing Thomson and Pearce to link up for another threat, but one that came to nothing.
Trevor McCreadie came on up front for the Magpies on 61 minutes, Brotherton the man to make way.
Field, who had put in an impressive shift on his Rocks debut, ensured McCreadie’s first attempt to get at the home defence was quickly snuffed out.
Peacehaven centre-half Dan McLaughlin was booked for handball 35 yards from goal, but the free-kick was poor.
Another Peacehaven change brought Wilfred Grimaud on for Gatting. Grimaud soon found the ball at his feet 20 yards from goal but his shot was hurried and well wide.
The game had become rather scrappy, with much less of the attacking vibrancy both sides had displayed in the first half.
Peacehaven still carried a threat, as a spell of pressure around the 75-minute marked proved.
McLaughlin was sent off with ten minutes to go, picking up a second yellow for catching a Rocks player late near the halfway. He seemed upset with the decision but could have no complaints.
Pearce received a warm ovation on 81 minutes when he was replaced by Charlie Oatway.
Crane ran through for a shot on goal as the game entered the final five minutes but it floated well over. Soon the Rocks had possession again and another pinpoint cross from the right by Parsons was swept in from close in by Green, who was promptly named man of the match.
Marzetti was booked on his Nyewood Lane return for ending a Parsons charge down the left.
George Branford replaced Field as four added minutes began.
Burton was booked as the visitors got frustrated with Bognor running down the clock in the corner.
ROCKS: Winterton, Whyte, Crane, Tuck, Sackman, Field, Green, Thomson, Prior, Pearce, Parsons. Subs: Oatway, Lawson, Branford, Hawker.
PEACEHAVEN: Di Bernaldo, Metcalf, Knee, Cotton, A Jones, McLaughlin, Brotherton, Fraser, Gatting, Burton, J Jones. Subs: McCreadie, El-Abd, Hammond, Marzetti, Grimaud.
Ref: Mike Desborough (Havant).
* The Rocks are not in action this weekend but go to Leatherhead next Wednesday (Jan 7) and host Bury at Nyewood Lane on Saturday, January 10.
Report by STEVE BONE