VIDEO: Howell insists Rocks still in with chance of Wembley

We’re still in this - that was the message from the Bognor dressing room after the 1-0 defeat to Grimsby in the home leg of the FA Trophy semi-final.

Boss Jamie Howell insisted the defeat was little different to the game having finished 0-0 as the Rocks would still need to go to Blundell Park next week and score.

He praised the effort of his players and said it was a mark of how far they had come this season that players and fans went home disappointed at such a close result against one of the top non-league sides in the country.

Howell admitted it was quite a cagey game and said: “When you’re playing against good players it’s going to be difficult to open them up and create opportunities. I thought their goalkeeper and defence were excellent and they were hard to break down so it didn’t surprise me it was a game of few chances.”

He said the Rocks would have been happy had it finished 0-0 but said of the 1-0 deficit: “I don’t think it’s changed too much. We knew we would have to go up there and play well. I don’t think we’d have gone for a 0-0 draw and penalties, so we’ll just see what we can do up there.”

Howell admitted some of the Bognor passing game was not up to its usual standard but said that could happen when quality opponents put pressure on you.

Ollie Pearce attacks against Grimsby / Picture by Tim Hale

Ollie Pearce attacks against Grimsby / Picture by Tim Hale

“Sometimes you need that bit of extra quality and composure,” he said. “When you play at our level all the time, it’s quite good – but they’re top of the National League premier; they’re in the top three and doing very well. So sometimes you don’t have the time. Better players can do things quickly and under pressure. If you can do that you can play at higher levels.

“Because we’re not used to that, sometimes we took an extra touch or didn’t deliver when we could have done, and wasted opportunities. That’s what I think we need to work on for next week.”

Howell was heartened in particular by the Rocks’ second-half showing, which saw them do most of the attacking in the middle section of the half.

“We had 15 to 20 minutes where we were doing well. That’s what’s so disappointing - we had that and then we conceded a freakish goal.

“Robbo (Craig Robson) might have got underneath the ball (for their goal) but he’s been excellent for us all season so that was an uncharacteristic mistake. But after working so hard and pushing, to go 1-0 down was hard to take. But that’s sometimes how football works and we meed to make sure we have another go next week.”

Howell felt the fact Bognor were on top just before they conceded was a tribute to the levels his players were showing.

“If we’re playing against a team in the top three of the division and we’re in the ascendancy and they’re having to defend a little bit, I think that’s a huge compliment to the players. It’s a learning curve.

“Calvin Davies was superb at right-back yet possibly could have done a little bit better with the goal. That’s really harsh because he was superb all game, but that’s the level you’re playing at and you need to make sure you see out games.”

Howell said there were mixed feelings in the dressing room post-match.

“I think there’s a little bit of despondancy because we were in the game and doing okay. We didn’t test their goalkeeper a great deal. I’m under no illusions that’s the case. But with respect I don’t think they did too much to our keeper, apart from the goal and the chance with five minutes to go.

“It was a tight game but we take a lot of positives into next week. We’ve seen what they’ve got - they’ve got some good players, but our players did really well so it’s all to play for.”

Howell said the late save by Grant Smith when Jon-Paul Pittman found himself in on goal was crucial, keeping the deficit down to one goal.

“When it went to 1-0 late in the game, I thought ‘can we just make sure we hold on?’. I wouldn’t want to go up there with a two-goal deficit. That would be really hard. But 1-0 is always a dodgy score in football. Do they push? I’m sure they will. Will they leave spaces for us to create? We need a goal.

“If we get a goal there’s that little bit of pressure on them. I know they’ve got lots of quality, I’m not trying to be disrespectful to them. But I don’t think our minds have changed too much from what we thought we’d have to do up there next week.”

Howell agreed there was no way Bognor could have won the tie in the first leg but they could have lost it.

“That was the main objective and we haven’t (lost it). It’s advantage Grimsby but we’re still in it and we’ve got lots of good players. And I’m confident. If we can just get that little bit of quality you need, and it is difficult, I have the players that can do. We need to be a little bit sharper and take our opportunities when they come. Then it’s game on.”

Howell said Ollie Pearce’s second-half chance, when he shot wide with his left foot after Davies set him up, was one of the Rocks’ best openings.

“I thought he might cut back on to his right foot and try to curl one into the top corner, which I’ve seen him do on regular occasions, but I’m not going to criticise him because he had a shot on goal and that’s pleasing.

“If he’d curled it in, brilliant, But then if he’d tried that and got tackled everyone would have moaned at him. So he had a shot, which is a positive.”

Howell was gutted to see striker Chike Kandi hobble off injured in the first half in the first game of his new loan spell from Brighton.

“It was really disappointing. He got a hack on his ankle and it’s quite sore. We didn’t want to take any risk with that so he came off. We’ll assess how he is.

“He’s an excellent player and he’s been really good for us. Whenever we’ve had him he’s been a real plus for us. He gives us lots of options, with him, Ollie, Alfie and Jason.”

Howell said Davies fully deserved his MoM award. “For a young man he showed no fear. He got on the ball well and was really positive. I like the way he plays - he’s tenacious and aggressive, in the right manner, and we need to do that - we need to be brave and get on the ball and make things happen.

“We need people to get on the ball and make good decisions. But I’m really pleased with the chaps, I thought we played really, really well against a good, well-organised team. So losing 1-0 is definitely no disgrace and I can take many positives into next week.

“It’s a credit to the players that we’re disappointed to lose 1-0 at home to Grimsby. We know how good they are and felt we should have got something from the game.

“We’re not here just to make up the numbers - we don’t want to be like that. We want to be there having a go. If we geat beaten fair and square, we do. But I think it shows tremendous character among the boys that they’re disappointed to have lost this game.”

STEVE BONE

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See the full interview in the video, above.

Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking sport news where you live.

Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be among the first to know what’s going on.

1 Make this website your homepage

2 Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/pages/Sport-Sussex

3 Follow us on Twitter @SportSussex

4 Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

Share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!