Tonbridge, Hornchurch and Enfield tests will tell Bognor bosses so much

Dan Smith's late winner is celebrated by Bognor's players / Picture by Tommy McMillan
Dan Smith's late winner is celebrated by Bognor's players / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Jack Pearce eyed Bognor’s next three games and said: They’ll show us how far we’ve come.

The Rocks have won their past eight matches and ten of their past 11, enjoying success in the Isthmian premier, the FA Trophy and the Sussex Senior Cup.

Keeper Amadou Tangara receives the October player of the month award before Saturday's game / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Keeper Amadou Tangara receives the October player of the month award before Saturday's game / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Saturday’s 2-1 win over Merstham, courtesy of Dan Smith’s late winner, pushed them up to eighth in the table – yet they were in the bottom three in mid-September.

But Pearce and coach Robbie Blake know tough tests lie ahead if they’re to keep the run going.

They visit National South side Tonbridge Angels in the FA Trophy third qualifying round on Saturday before back-to-back league games against teams above them – away to Hornchurch a week later and home to Enfield on Tuesday week.

Pearce said: “They’re three very hard games and we will learn a lot about our team from them.

“It’s a good time to be at the club but there are no easy games on the horizon.

“Tonbridge would be at the top of our division if they weren’t in the league above, while Hornchurch and Enfield are both very strong.

“We’ve turned things around well recently. The most pleasing thing about Saturday’s win is it came after we conceded an equaliser fairly late on. That can kill you psychologically, and would have done that to us in the past, but we had the strength to find a winner.”

Pearce said the nature of the win would get fans returning to the Lane. “The last thing they’ll remember is us scoring with only a few minutes to go to win the game and it would make them want to come back again.

“Some might have felt when they equalised that was it, but we created a lot of chances.”

The goalscoring form of Smith, who has 13 goals this season, and the return to the Lane of winger Mason Walsh, back from a spell in the USA, have helped fans forget the recent departure of 2018-19 top scorer Jimmy Muitt.

Smith joined the Rocks in the summer after a loan spell last season and his subsequent release by Pompey in the summer and Blake said: “Smudger has been different class for us this season.

“What you have to admire about his all-round play is that he never gives up, never has his head down.

“As a striker, you can miss easy chances and it can impact on your confidence for the rest of the game. But Dan just keeps going; he is unselfish and he can certainly finish. Scoring 13 goals this season at this stage tells you that.”

Pearce is pleased to have recruited Walsh. He said: “We saw last season what Mason is all about and we’re delighted he has chosen to return.”

Bognor will be without Doug Tuck and Keaton Wood at Tonbridge. Tuck has a hamstring problem likely to keep him out for a fortnight and Wood is abroad on work commitments.

The defender’s absence could spark a switch to a back four, with Joe Dandy partnering Joe Cook. Blake said there was a great spirit in the dressing room: “Early on in the season we could have lost that Merstham game.

“A couple of times now teams have equalised but we’ve bounced back and got the win and it’s really positive for us. The boys deserve all the plaudits – to make it eight wins out of eight is remarkable.

“When we go a couple of goals up we can play really nice football and we relax, but it’s nice we have a side that can win ugly as well.

“We want to play entertaining football for the fans but Saturday we had to grind out the result.”

Blake said the Rocks would go to Tonbridge with a spring in their step. “It’s going to be a tough game, but we will go there with confidence and belief we can win the game. We’ve got good players and they will look at our form and know it’ll be tough.”

The Rocks’ home county cup tie with Horsham YMCA has been set for Tuesday, December 10,

* Tomorrow brings the delayed annual fireworks display at Nyewood Lane and boss Pearce stressed the importance of the community coming out to support it.

“In the past 35 years it has been Bognor’s biggest fundraising event of the year and it’s really important for the community to take part,” he said.

Gates open at 5.30pm with a funfair and arena events before a 7pm display. It’s £6 to get in but under-fives go free.