Bognor building squad they believe can challenge for Isthmian premier honours

Bognor’s bosses believe they will start the new Isthmian premier season with a squad strong enough to challenge at the top of the table.

They are content with progress after watching 21 different players take the field in their first friendly, a 3-1 defeat at home to National South side Havant on Tuesday night.

Tommy Leigh converts a corner / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Tommy Leigh converts a corner / Picture by Tommy McMillan

The starting XI contained many players likely to be involved in the league opener on August 10 – while the second half involved ten substitutes, mostly trialists keen to prove they can work wonders for the Rocks in the new campaign.

One eye-catcher was former Havant, Salisbury and AFC Totton keeper Charlie Searle, who did his chances of replacing Dan Lincoln as the club’s No1 no harm with a succession of fine saves.

Others to impress included former Pompey academy midfielder Freddie Read and trialist Junior Kamara, while full-back James Crane and attacking utility man Stuart Green got great receptions on their returns to the club.

Blake said the Havant game had to be seen in the context of the opposition being further into their pre-season schedule than Bognor were, but he was happy with the workout.

Trialist Junior Kamara impressed / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Trialist Junior Kamara impressed / Picture by Tommy McMillan

“It’s all about assembling a squad ready for August and we feel that with a few more additions we’ll be all right,” he said.

“I thought the lads worked hard. The most important thing is fitness, you can’t do anything without fitness, so the Havant game will have been good for them. You can train but it’s not the same as playing. I’m excited about the season, I’m not disappointed by the performance.

“We played 11 trialists and they’ve only had one training session with us. I’m positive. We can see players in training but we need to see them in a game to see whether they’re up to the fight and the challenge. Jack and I will sit down and assess it.

“It’s fact-finding. We’re assembling a team and we firmly believe with the personnel we have we’ll be okay.”

James Crane is back in white and green / Picture by Tommy McMillan

James Crane is back in white and green / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Looking ahead to the new league season, Blake said: “The aspiration is to certainly be better than we were last season.

“You have to put yourselves under a little bit of pressure and we want to be fighting for the top positions and with a couple more additions I genuniely believe there’s a strong possibility of us doing that. Fingers crossed we get the players in that we want.”

The Rocks are once again not being helped by injuries to defenders. Full-back Calvin Davies is out long-term and now Blake has revealed centre-half Chad Field’s knee injury is also not one he’ll return from quickly.

Left-back Ashton Leigh is out for several weeks after an injury in a training session and on Tuesday, central defender Ed Sanders and trialist left-back Jobi Griggs both hobbled off.

Blake said Tuesday’s injuries didn’t look to be serious but with Field out long-term, reinforcements were needed.

Asked about the goalkeeping situation, Blake said: “Charlie’s come in over three sessions and done ever so well and has done again against Havant.

“I think Dan’s still a possibility. We’ve not spoken about that yet but we’ll finalise that in the next week or so.”

Striker Brad Lethbridge was among those watching the Rocks take on Havant and Bognor would like him back on loan from Pompey if the Blues agreed. Blake said: “We’re very hopeful. We would like the player and I think the player wants to come.

“He’s tweaked his thigh so he’s probably ten days to two weeks away. That’s disappointing for him because anyone who misses pre-season it knocks them back further because of the fitness they lose.

“We’d love to have Brad but everything’s got to be right for everyone. We’ll see.”

Bognor are looking forward to welcoming Pompey to Nyewood Lane next Tuesday for their most prestigious friendly - a game that’s a key fundraiser for them.

“You’ve got the biggest club close to us coming to us and it’s great for local fans and for the players to play against Pompey.

“I hope they’ll bring a strong squad which I’m sure they will and it will be a big test and another step up for us. Hopefully we’ll be another week further on, another week stronger, but we anticipate a tough game and it’s one that we look forward to and enjoy every summer.

“We need to keep getting that little bit better every week and hopefully come the start of August we’ll be good to go.”

Blake said other new trialists may yet be seen but numbers would be trimmed down as pre-season continued.