The Rocks feel they are on course for a strong start to the season that can get fans dreaming of promotion again.
Bognor are determined to launch a more sustained bid for promotion back to National South this season after last year’s attempt faded and ended in a 14th-place finish.
They pushed a young Pompey team all in the way in their second pre-season friendly at Nyewood Lane on Tuesday with a hard-working display that has heartened Blake, the rest of the Rocks staff and fans.
It was a step up from their efforts in the opening game, a 3-1 home defeat to Havant & Waterlooville a week earlier.
Dan Smith scored the goal that pegged back Pompey after they had taken a 2-0 first-half lead and Kenny Jackett’s side, containing a few first-team names but mostly talented youngsters, were fortunate to run out 2-1 winners.
The Rocks are still looking for additions to the squad.
Striker Brad Lethbridge, who spent last season on loan to the Rocks from the Blues, may yet return in a similar deal this term.
Rocks boss Jack Pearce, who was away on business on Tuesday and left Blake in sole charge for the Pompey game, said they were happy with how the squad was coming together but were still working on signing a goalkeeper and centre-half. Loans from the likes of Pompey and Brighton are possible to plug the gaps.
Blake stressed that such loans could benefit the Rocks and the players involved, who would not otherwise play much men’s football.
Pearce said: “What I think we’ll have this season, more than last, is proper competition for places. That’s good for a manager but it will probably upset some players at times if they think they should be in the team and are not.”
The Rocks head to the midlands on Friday for some team-bonding and extra pre-season work. They’ll camp at an army base from Friday night, do some teamwork and training, have a social night then face a step-five team in a friendly at the FA’s St George’s Park on Sunday. Their run of friendlies resumes away to Michael Birmingham’s Horndean next Wednesday.
Coach Blake praised the players for the endeavour they showed to push Pompey’s young squad in front of a crowd of close to 1,400 at the Lane.
“I’m very pleased and encouraged. We acquitted ourselves well against a strong team. It was nice to play the way we did and we kept on going right until the end,” Blake said. “We made a lot of substitutions but kept our shape.
“From the second half’s point of view it was outstanding.
“We got undone by two silly goals that were from our errors and I said at half-time if we wanted to do anything this season we have to iron that out. And we will. I feel extremely confident that we’re in a better place.
“We used the ball very well in the second half and passed it around. We limited them to nothing in the second half.
“We’ve got to step forward now and play like that. It’s no good going to Bishop’s Stortford for our first league game and, because they’re big and strong and physical, not play as we can.
“The players are all on board and are enjoying training. There’s a real good togetherness about the group. We want to build something – good team spirit along with quality. If we get that, we should have a good season.”
Blake praised the performance of 19-year-old holding midfielder Tommy Leigh, who the Rocks are keen to sign from Baffins Milton Rovers, and the coach is delighted with the progress seen by former Pompey pair Freddie Read and Smith.
Blake said they probably knew about 80 per cent of their favoured line-up but said: “There are a few games to come. There are players that need to gel.”