Another long and arduous midweek away journey brought another hard-fought and well-deserved 2-1 victory against a strong Harrow Borough side.
The Rocks welcomed back former fans’ favourite Ashley-Paul Robinson and also brought ex-Pompey and Lewes midfielder George Branford into the squad – but it was the late decision to play Ollie Pearce as the main striker that paid dividends.
Pearceproved a real handful for the home defence all evening and his direct style, speed and aggression paid off after just four minutes when a beautiful passing move involving Doug Tuck and Jake Thomson provided him with the opportunity.
He collected the ball outside the box, brushed off two strong challenges and smashed the ball home with a tremendous shot from 18 yards – and from an acute angle. Within five minutes he had almost doubled the score but his shot, again powerfully hit, cannoned back off the upright.
It was not all one way however, and Chris Winterton needed to be at his best to tip a powerful shot over the bar from Steve Butterworth – probably Harrow’s best player on the night.
Within minutes Butterworth hit a superb ball across goal to an unmarked Marc Charles-Smith whose header sailed over the bar when he should have done better. Butterworth could have scored himself as he outpaced the Rocks’ back line, only for Winterton to come out and save well with his feet.
The home side did equalise after 30 minutes, however, although this was a soft goal which will have disappointed Winterton. An attack down the left produced a scramble in the box. A scuffed shot from a Harrow forward was deflected and appeared to deceive Winterton, who could only spill the ball straight into the path of Butterworth, who could not miss from just a yard out.
Bognor had to defend for the majority of the remainder of the half, with first Lewis Driver going close and then seconds before the break, James Crane needed to smash the ball clear from the goal line as Butterworth threatened to grab his second goal.
The second half started in the same way – with Crane again saving the day with a last-ditch clearance from Driver almost on the line.
However throughout the second half a consistent pattern developed. Harrow had a lot of possession in midfield, but the Bognor defence, marshalled by Craig Robson and Dan Sackman, withstood all that was thrown at them.
Bognor would then break and always looked dangerous coming forward. Pearce almost grabbed a second as his shot missed by a whisker with home goalkeeper Charlie Horlock beaten and at the other end Winterton saved well from Ryan Hope’s determined effort.
Pearce was outpacing the home defence at every break, and midway through the half he beat two defenders and crossed to Ben Johnson in a good position. Johnson’s shot was just smothered at the last moment by home defender Francis Otira.
Midway through the half, Robinson was replaced by Alex Parsons. Robinson had demonstrated his usual superb ball control, and had had an effective game playing just behind Pearce, but was beginning to tire through a recent lack of match practice.
The introduction of Parsons seemed inspired. Within 60 seconds he outpaced the home defence on the right and crossed well to Ollie Pearce, whose goalbound shot was just cleared by Daniel May on the line.
A minute later and the Rocks were ahead. This time it was Pearce who was the provider. He again left the home defenders for dead, and his cross was met superbly by Parsons and he headed home powerfully from ten yards, much to the delight of the Bognor faithful who had travelled to Earlsmead in surprising numbers.
Although Harrow continued to have a lot of possession in midfield they were starting to run out of ideas and the visitors looked likely to add to their tally each time they broke. Crane created a chance for Pearce but his shot went just past the post. Robson also came close following a flurry of Bognor corners. Minutes from time the home side did create a chance but if confirmation was needed that this was Bognor’s night, it came when Butterworth’s excellent shot crashed back into play after hitting the post with Winterton beaten.
The victory lifted Bognor to 17th. Their next test comes on Saturday, when bottom side Hornchurch visit Nyewood Lane.
ROCKS: Winterton, Crane, Medway, Tuck, Sackman, Robson, Whyte, Thomson, Pearce (Branford), Robinson (Parsons), Johnson. Unused subs: Da Costa, Warren, Oatway.