Pearce pops up to win dramatic play-off semi for Rocks

James Fraser and goal hero Ollie Pearce / Picture by Tim Hale
James Fraser and goal hero Ollie Pearce / Picture by Tim Hale

Bognor left it late - very late, in fact - but are through to the Ryman premier play-off final after a dramatic win over Wingate and Finchley at a tense Nyewood Lane.

Ollie Pearce was the hero, putting the Rocks ahead five minutes into the second half - then being in the right place at the right time to win it in the fifth minute of injury time.
In between, Wingate scored an 85th-minute penalty and even threatened a winner as the home side and their fans and management werer put through the wringer again.

As it is, it was Bognor's turn to find late joy instead of more heartbreak and they'll now face Dulwich Hamlet - 4-2 winners over Enfield in the other semi - in front of a huge crowd on Monday afternoon.

Incredibly it will be the fourth time the Rocks and Dulwich have faced each other in a play-off in the past seven seasons. Dulwich have won two semi-finals but Bognor beat them in the 2012 Ryman one south final and will be out for a repeat five years on.

Bognor had a great chance to open the scoring as early as the second minute when they won a free-kick less than a yard outside the D, but James Fraser's low curling effort came back off the wall. Then Pearce appeared to be clipped as he ran on to a through-ball just outside the area but no foul was given, to the anger of the home players and fans. It was, at least, a positive start for the Rocks.

It was all Bognor early on and Alex Parsons was denied by a well-timed tackle as he ran on to a Fraser pass. Parsons met Dylan Barnett's corner himself but his header skidded wide.
Wingate's first bit of danger came from their first corner, which caused a scramble in trhe box that ended with Dan Lincoln smothering a deflected shot. The visitors were growing into the game and were adopting tactics of closing down any Rocks player quickly to stop them playing their natural passing game.

Ex-Rocks winger Walter Figuiera forced Lincoln into the night's first serious save with a decent shot from outside the area. Pearce almost created a chance for himself by chasing what looked a lost cause down the right. With no support, he cut inside and hit a low left-foot shot goalwards but a defender blocked it.

Bognor missed a superb chance to go ahead on 20 minutes when Fraser's clever cut-back cross from the right found the unmarked Harvey Whyte running on to it, but he directed his header wide when it should have been on target. Fraser was so close to getting a boot on the end of a low Parsons cross but it was inches too far in front of him.

Doug Tuck was next to go close, rifling a fierce shot only a few feet wide after Pearce set up Fraser and the loose ball ran to him 20 yards out. Then it was Parsons missing a fine opening - shooting wide and not testing the keeper after Pearce surged to the byline and cut it back to him on the run.

The first booking of the night went to Wingate centre-half Sean Cronin, with the referee indicating his foul on the flying Parsons 25 yards out was the latest in a succession that had earned him his card. Barnett's free-kick was straight at the wall.

HT 0-0

There was a bright start to the second half by Bognor and an attack ended with Jimmy Muitt curling an ambitious shot just high and wide. And the positive opening to the half paid dividends when Parsons was sent racing clear down the right and, with the Rocks outnumbering the visiting defence, he squared it to the unmarked Pearce who finish coolly with the keeper stranded.

Wingate stepped up their game after going a goal down and put a couple of testing balls into the box that Lincoln dealt with efficiently. Then he had to get down sharply to keep out an Ahmet Rifat shot from 18 yards.

At the other end Parsons was having plenty of joy down the right flank and another good low cross was met at the near post by Muitt, but his first-time shot went into the side netting.
Sami El-Abd was down in the Bognor goalmouth on 63 minutes after a clash of heads. He was soon back on his feet, to the home team's relief.

Bognor boss Jamie Howell made his first change on 65 minutes, replacing Parsons with Jimmy Wild. The Rocks went close on 70 minutes when Pearce got in and tried to cut it back for Wild. Muitt ended up being booked, rather harshly, for fouling Cladiu Vilcu.

Bognor were playing with fire at times by giving up possession too cheaply in their own half - but on the other hand they were at least defending stoutly after doing so.

A Wingate change had Afolabi Obafemi replacing Rob Laney. Immediately a Barnett cross from the left was headed away from danger by Vilcu. From the corner, Fraser almost hooked it in after Charman won an aerial challenge.

Wingate were doing their best to level it up and Reece Beckles-Richard was denied by a fine save by Lincoln, who raced out to spread himself and smother the striker's shot. Ed Sanders replaced Muitt as the Rocks tried to see the game out - but that was something they couldn't do.

There was agony for them five minutes from time when Vilcu was fouled inside the box as he shaped to shoot. Cronin stepped up to send Lincoln the wrong way from the spot. Here we go again, thought pretty much everyone of a Bognor persuasion.

For a time, Wingate were doing all the attacking and Rifat looked like he'd headed them into the lead from sa corner but Lincoln leapt to save superbly. It looked like extra-time was a certainty - then, Bognor found the energy for one last attack... and got the winner. They attacked down the left and when Barnett crossed, Wingate couldn't clear it - and Pearce, running in beyond the far post, sidefooted home.
The players and fans went wild - a complete contrast to last Saturday when it had ended up all doom and gloom. There was only just time for Wingate to kick off - one long ball forward was cleared by Charman, named as MoM, and the game was won.

So it's on to Monday, and a big final in front of what could be a crowd of 2,000, against Dulwich Hamlet. Not great for the nerves, but still great.

Rocks: Lincoln, Whyte, Barnett, Tuck, El-Abd, Charman, Fraser, Beck, Muitt, Pearce, Parsons. Subs: Crane, Budd, Sanders, Davies, Wild.
Wingate & Finchley: Gore, Williams, Abrahams, Vilcu, Cronin, Rifat, Ifil, Figueira, Laney, Beckles-Richard, Tejan-Sie. Subs: Young, Obafemi, Wales, Sharpe, Vanderhyde.
Ref: Lee Brennan