Rocks supporters have been asked to be patient with the team’s progress – despite growing frustration over form and results.
The Rocks have slipped from the top three to tenth place over a period of a couple of months when they have failed to find the consistenct that gave them a storming start to their Bostik premier promotion campaign.
A 1-1 draw at Harlow at the weekend was seen as a disappointing result after Jimmy Muitt had given them an early lead - then on Tuesday they blew a 1-0 interval lead to lose 2-1 to Enfield on a night when another injury blow and refereeing injustice added to their misery.
It’s been far from an ideal build-up to one of the most keenly-anticipated games of the season on Saturday, when leaders Dorking Wanderers come to Nyewood Lane, probably bringing with them two former Nyewood Lane favourites, Jason Prior and Sami El-Abd.
Bognor are tenth in the table but only two points off the play-off zone and seven behind Dorking, but fans know their position could and should be so much more healthy.
A mixture of soft goals conceded and a failure to turn pressure into goals continues to hold them back - while decisions like the one to award Enfield their winner after the scorer brought the ball down with his hand, and injuries like the one that saw Gary Charman become the fourth centre-half crocked this season, are certainly not helping.
Pearce said after the Enfield loss: “We’re having a bit of a bad time as a club and it’s performances like that put managers, coaches and everyone else on the staff under great pressure. The first half was interesting because there were lots of chances at both ends but the difference was that ours were created by good football and most of theirs came from us making sloppy mistakes with our passing.
“If you accept you want to play through the three thirds, you also have to accept that at times players will pass the ball not as well as you like. Once you give the ball away, that leads to chances. Fortunately we got into a 1-0 lead at half-time and I thought we were worthy of that because our football was better than theirs.
How Enfield came to behind to shock the Rocks
Robbie Blake's post-match verdict
Jack Pearce speaks out
“Two things we spoke about at half-time were not giving away unnecessary throw-ins and needless free-kicks and being sensible. Jimmy Muitt had a great opportunity to make it 2-0 or at least work the keeper. Then we gave away a needless foul, Harvey Whyte got beaten very easily, it was crossed and the ball was in the back of our net.
“Our keeper’s not had to make a save. I thought we’d finish 1-1 or it would be 2-1 either way. I didn’t see any danger. Then the ball went down to Blocky (Tommy Block). He was under no pressure and he kicked it out for a throw-in. With better communication from people and a bit more calmness from him we could have played our way out the corner and not given away a throw-in.
“The other thing we talked about was people in more forward areas being aware that when balls come in our box, when it comes out you’ve got to get there before the person behind you.
“Mason (Walsh) was on the edge of our box with the chap behind him, it was cleared to him, Mason totally switched off. The opposition bloke got there first. He handballed it and the referee didn’t spot it. And when you’re struggling for a bit of form and a bit of luck, it goes against you.
“That is a monumental decision. I’ve seen it on video and it’s as blatant as anything. Why the referee hasn’t seen it I don’t know. But there is a small dividing line between success and failure and sometimes it’s so thin you can’t see it.
“We’re struggling and we have to accept that. We’ve brought in our fifth centre half of the season and now I’ve got four injured. And I don’t know what you can do about that. We just have to keep going.”
Coach Robbie Blake said: “Out of possession we’re not very good ... and that means you’re not aggressive and not good with the ball when you’re put under pressure. We’ve conceded two goals and although they had a couple of half-chances Dan Lincoln hasn’t made a save.
“When we’re out of possession we’re like a Subbuteo team. Do we want a team of ten thugs who head it and kick it out – then you’re hard to break down but don’t play good football – or do you play good football with young lads and try to educate them? That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re on a little bit of a bad run. If the Enfield game had been in the first six of the season, we’d have won. But right now we’re struggling and haven’t got much leadership.
“If Gaz (Charman) had still been on I don’t think they’d have got a free header (for their first goal). Gaz has desire and heart to keep the ball out and we haven’t got enough of that. The senior players aren’t dragging the younger players out of it. A few years ago we had a lot of senior players at the club in the dressing room and on the pitch but right now we haven’t got that. You’ve got me and Jack shouting things from the sidelines but it’s not going in at the minute.
“We’ve lost three games all season and we’re ninth – that is criminal. I know we’re only seven points off the top and we have a game in hand so it’s not all doom and gloom, but at the moment as a team we can’t see where the next win is going to come from. We’re a little bit lacking in confidence, we’re a little bit naive at times, we didn’t manage the game very well.”
Blake blamed poor communication at the back for the concession of the throw that led to Enfield’s winner. “We need to keep our shape and keep our discipline. We’ve got to get better, our game management is very poor.”
After the draw at Harlow, Blake had spoken about a lack of discipline and respect in the dressing room but he said that issue had been nipped in the bud.
Asked about the referee not seeing the handball immediately before the Enfield winner, Blake said: “Nothing’s going to change unfortunately. They have a difficult job and can’t get every decision right. But when you go into a referee’s room you don’t get any answers. You only get a headache and you get yourself into trouble. And that’s the difficult part.
“He’s made a genuine mistake. He’s human. He’s not deliberately thought ‘do you know what, I’m not going to give that decision.’ What’s disappointing is the referee is five yards away and the linesman’s 25 yards away and has a great view of it.
“It’s frustrating and it’s difficult. But do you think if referees in the Premier League are struggling, the referees in the Bostik League are going to be of the calibre required? No. And that’s not me being disrespectful. It’s a tough job but we can’t go on blaming referees. We were 1-0 up and should have won.”
Blake said there should be no need to motivate the players ahead of them hosting the leaders on Saturday and added: “It’s frustrating for us as a group, a team, a club. But we’re seven points off and there’s a long way to go yet. We’ve got to do better and we will do better, and that’s only the third game we’ve lost. I hope people stay patient and they will see good football from us.
“We want to produce good football and we will, mark my words – that’s if I’m here long enough! We’ve got to roll our sleeves up.”
Blake said there was a need to keep calm and remember what they were trying to achieve. He said only so much ranting and raving would get any response. They needed to start keeping clean sheets and follow Dorking’s lead in grinding out 1-0 wins.
“We believe in the players and hopefully it will turn around,” he added. “After 70 minutes of the Enfield game, I thought we were going to win.”
Blake said another leader or two, in the mould of Charman, would be useful additions to the squad but you had to be careful about keeping the balance and spirit of the squad. It’s a young team with little mileage on the clock and they will get better. What hurts you makes you stronger and we have to keep believing.”
Blake felt Lethbridge should be fit to face Dorking, having come off on Tuesday feeling a bit of cramp. Fellow Pompey forward Dan Smith should be available again and Blake did not rule out a quick return for Charman, who may be okay after resting his back.
Get the first report from Bognor v Dorking on this website on the whistle on Saturday