Rocks pass Dulwich test - but big challenges lie ahead
The Rocks passed one big test - but now head into what could be the toughest three days of the season to date.
Their superb 4-2 win over Dulwich Hamlet set them up perfectly for visits to play Hayes and Yeading in the FA Trophy on Sunday and fourth-placed AFC Hornchurch in the Ryman premier next Tuesday.
Those two matches will test just how far the Rocks have come since their poor start to the season - but Saturday’s win over their old rivals from south London suggests they are well on the right track.
The game was well-poised at 0-0 with more than an hour gone, only for six goals in the final sensational 24 minutes to see the Rocks thrill a 502 Nyewood Lane crowd and leave Jamie Howell’s team in sixth place and as the joint second highest scorers in the division.
Now they’ll need to play as well again, if not better, to keep their fine run going.
FA Trophy third qualifying round opponents Hayes and Yeading sit fifth in Conference South having won three of their past six.
The side managed by former Liverpool, Sunderland and Republic of Ireland defender Phil Babb - who play home games at Woking FC - stand in the way of the Rocks netting another £4,000 from the competition and potentially facing a Conference Premier side.
They will have to be wary of Hayes’ top scorer, the former Southend player Louie Soares.
Howell said: “We’re in good form and confidence is extremely high after beating Dulwich but this will be a different test again.
“We’ll try to play in the same style we have been adopting but we can’t go there and be gung-ho, but you do need to try to impose yourselves in a game like this. It will be good to challenge ourselves against a side from the division above.”
Another tough proposition comes on Tuesday with the visit to Hornchurch, who are in the play-off places having won ten of their opening 16 Ryman premier games.
They suffered a shock 4-2 defeat at home to Harrow on Tuesday but Howell said: “That will also be a very difficult game. Playing twice in three days could stretch us.”
There are a number of injury worries as Bognor warm up for Sunday’s encounter.
Winger Ben Johnson has fluid on the knee that kept him out for a year with cruciate ligament damage and may need to miss a couple of games before the problem worsens.
Forward Ollie Pearce has a hamstring strain which is likely to keep him out for a couple of weeks, while midfielder Doug Tuck also has tight hamstrings, but should be fit to face Hayes.
Pearce’s absence is likely to mean a start for Ben Godfrey alongside Terry Dodd up front.
Another midfield man, Dan Kepmson, has two more games of a three-match ban to sit out.
Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick felt Dulwich gave their troops the sort of examination they had expected - and were delighted the Rocks came out on top.
Howell said: “In the first half we played really well. Some people said they weren’t impressed by Dulwich at that stage but I thought a lot of that was down to us containing them well.
“After half-time they battered us for a while and no-one could have predicted it would end up 4-2. Even at 2-1 down we thought we might just have to accept being beaten by a side who were better on the day - but are at our best when we’re on the front foot and came back at them superbly after going behind.
“We have players who can create and score goals and when that’s the case, you can’t write us off.
“We’ve scored a lot of late goals this season and one of the reasons for that is fitness. Neil Cockroft and Dabba (Killpartrick) do an awful lot to that end on the training ground and it’s nice to see it paying off.”
Killpartrick highlighted match statistics which showed Bognor made 432 passes (348 of which were successful) ad Dulwich 520 (405 successful).
He said: “That’s as good a passing rate as you’d expect from the top passing teams in the Premier League.
“Anyone who paid to watch that game would have gone home having had more than their money’s worth. It was a game between two good footballing teams and we were delighted to win it. The fans were magnificent.”
STEVE BONE & JAMES SANDFORD
Get the first report from Hayes and Yeading v the Rocks on this website on Sunday.