Keeper Tom Boyle and debut-making striker Ollie Pearce were the heroes as the Rocks progressed to the next round of the Ryman League Cup – but the night was not without bad news.
Pearce scored the penalty that put the Rocks 4-3 up in the shootout after a 0-0 draw in the 90 minutes at Leylands Park before Boyle made his second save from the Hillians’ five attempts to clinch the victory.
The blot on the landscape was another serious injury – utility player Dan Kempson went off after 20 minutes with a knee injury that looks like keeping him out for several weeks, while the knee injury sustained by Ben Andrews at Canvey Island on Saturday also looks more serious than at first thought.
James Crane also came off – his departure coming early in the second half after a knock – but his substitution was only a precaution.
It was a fairly low-key game as both teams used plenty of fringe players but as the match wore on it was evident it was one neither side wanted to lose.
At one stage the average age of the Rocks players on the pitch was 19 – while another footnote was that three of the 16 in the Rocks squad were sons of former Bognor players.
The draw for the next round – which will also be regionalised – is due to take place on October 26.
The Rocks were first to threaten when Kane Wills’ second-minute free-kick earned a corner, but that was scrambled away by the Hillians’ giant keeper Mark Zawadski, who had appeared for the Rocks in pre-season.
Much of the first half was played out in midfield although the Rocks had the best of what chances were created.
Harvey Whyte was played in by James Crane midway through the half but shot just past the post. In a purple patch for the visitors, Mu Maan twice outpaced the defence only to see shots saved by Zawadski.
Louis John, arguably Bognor’s best player, denied Hillians pair Pat Harding and Jonno Melia when each had sight of Boyle’s goal.
Before the break Harding burst clear and was denied by Boyle diving at his feet – and then the keeper excelled himself again by spreading himself to save after Harding beat the offside trap.
The opening of the second half was featureless but just after the hour, Lewis Stockford’s 40-yard run ended in a rasping shot that was tipped over. Then a Maan lob was tipped around the post and a corner was headed goalwards by John, but was somehow headed off the line by Sam Fisk.
Pau Casassa Busquets, the Rocks’ new Spanish signing, came on and showed some deft touches, sending one dipping shot just over. Good defending by sub Ben Chick – playing in the unaccustomed role of right-back following Kempson’s early loss to injury – and Boyle thwarted Melia.
Harding outpaced the defence and struck a post with a curling right-foot shot that beat Boyle – while the Rocks hit the woodwork twice, Whyte and Stockford denied.
Goalless after 90 minutes, it was straight to penalties and Wills and Curtis Gayler scored each team’s first kick before Whyte and Luke Donaldson saw their efforts saved, the latter the victim of a good stop from Boyle.
John calmly made it 2-1 but ex-Rock Darren Budd levelled. Doug Tuck restored the lead – Max Miller wasn’t playing for laughs and equalised.
Young Pearce made it 4-3 with a coolness that belied the fact he was a teenager making his Rocks bow, and then Boyle’s excellent save from Toby Phillips’ piledriver of a penalty put the Rocks through, with the keeper leading the celebrations among the travelling green army.
Rocks: Boyle, Crane (Casassa Busquets 50), Kempson (Chick 20), Stockford, Cody, John, Whyte, Wills, Walshe, Maan (Pearce 75), Tuck.
Report by Simon Cook and Steve Bone