FA Trophy: Rocks v Grimsby - Be brave, be confident, be winners
The Rocks head into their FA Trophy date with destiny against Grimsby on Saturday being told to strike a balance between playing their normal game and staying in the tie ahead of the second leg.
Bognor can begin the home first leg with confidence after disposing of Altrincham and Torquay – who play in the National League premier division alongside the Mariners – in earlier rounds.
But they have been warned Grimsby are a step up from the challenges presented by the other higher-division sides the Rocks have beaten on the way to this stage.
Bognor are sweating on the fitness of two key players – centr-half Craig Robson and midfield maestro Dan Beck. Both picked up nasty bruising to the foot in last Saturday’s draw at VCD and will be given as long as possible to prove their fitness.
Otherwise boss Jamie Howell had a fully-fit squad ahead of last night’s league visit to Burgess Hill and have welcomed fit-again dright-back Harvery Whyte back into the fold. They may also make a loan signing to boost numbers ahead of the Trophy tie.
A crowd of around 3,000 is expected at Nyewood Lane - including about 500 Grimsby supporters - to see if the Rocks can keep alive their Wembley dream.
Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick are urging players and fans to enjoy the big day as the club make a last big push to get to the final.
Howell said: “We’ve been looking forward to it since the draw was made and now it’s in front of us. I watched Grimsby play Forest Green live on TV on Friday. Did I learn anything? Yep – they’re a very good side.
“No disrespect to the other teams we’ve beaten but Grimsby are the next level up. They’re at the top end of what is a very competitive non-league top flight., They’re pushing for promotion back to the Football League, which is where they belong.
“We have to take them on with confidence and with the run we’ve had, we can do that. We can’t be gung-ho and think we are going to brush them aside. We will give them the respect they deserve but focus on our strengths and maybe their weaknesses.
“We want to be in the game going up to Blundell Park for next week’s second leg.”
Howell is one Bognor figure who has played at Wembley – aged 15 in the early 1990s, he captained England schoolboys in drawn games against Italy and Holland – with a certain Francesco Totti the opposing skipper when they faced the Italians.
He has had plenty of banter with the Bognor players about his famous football past but won’t be reminding them of it again in Saturday’s team talk.
“Playing at Wembley is the pinnacle of English football. There’s no greater motivation than the chance to do it. But there’s a time for that sort of talk and what you can’t do before a semi-final is think too far ahead.
“In many ways the team talk on Saturday will like the one at VCD last Saturday and Burgess Hill last night - it will be about getting the lads focused on that one game and the jobs they have to do in it.”
For coach Darin Killpartrick, Bognor being in the semi-final lays to rest a demon that has haunted him for exactly 20 years.
“We lost 3-1 at home to Radcliffe in he second round and one of the goals was my fault. That was a chance to get to the third round and we have never got to the third round since - until this year.
“That’s one of the reasons this year’s run has meant so much to me, and I’m delighted for everyone associated with the club.
“Saturday should be another great occasion. We are big underdogs with nothing to fear and want to make sure we are still in the tie at the end of the first leg.
“We’ve given a good account of ourselves against some very good teams in the Trophy but this will be the toughest test yet – Grimsby are effectively a Football League club and they will be very strong.”
* The Rocks have been given permission by police to allow home fans in who want to pay on the day. But you can be sure of your place at the game by buying tickets today - they’re on sale at the club office until lunchtime, then from the club shop between 4pm and 5pm.
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