Bognor squad set for major changes in the summer

Bognor in action against Whitehawk in their final home game / Picture by Tommy McMillan
Bognor in action against Whitehawk in their final home game / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Rocks bosses believe the squad could undergo significant changes in the summer – both from new players arriving and current ones leaving.

They want to recruit fresh faces who can ensure a more sustained promotion bid in 2019-20 – but do expect to lose some of their present squad.

Manager Jack Pearce and coach Robbie Blake are weighing things up after a disappointing end to the league season. Saturday’s final game, away to Folkestone, will end with the Rocks ending up between 11th and 14th – when they had spent much of the season in or near the top five and dreaming of a play-off spot.

Injuries have not helped but their home form has been poor and Pearce and Blake are determined to make a better fist of it next season – although Pearce is warning that their current position is not unreasonable for an outfit on their budget.

The manager said: “With our best 14 players, with a season of normal injuries, I think we’d be in the play-offs. But part of a manager’s job is to overcome those injury problems and in that respect I haven’t done very well. It’s going to get harder and harder for us.”

Pearce said if everyone who was at the club at the start of the season was fit and they could add a couple, he would be confident for next season. But he added: “From what I’m hearing it’s going to be quite difficult to keep all the players we want and therefore we need a restructure.

“They’re very good players. People who can get you to the top of the league, they’re not bad players, they’re just injured. Clubs that want to push on, they don’t come after your worst players. They only come after your best players. That puts a strain on us to try to keep the best players. That becomes expensive and if they get injured again it becomes more expensive.

“It’s a challenge, a major challenge. As a club, I see us on our structure that we have at the moment with the gates we receive and the other income that comes in, without any other individual putting money in, we are a mid-table step three club. That’s where we are.

“In years when we have people fit, if we get too many injuries early in the season, we’ll be in a relegation battle at this level. If we do okay at the start with injuries we’ll be in the top half or top six. With normal injuries we’ll be floating around a play-off spot, if we get excessive ones we’ll be relegated.”

Coach Blake said much time and effort was now going in who would and wouldn’t be at the Lane next season.

“We’ve got to do that. We’d be stupid not to,” he said. “We want better players and a better work ethic. We’ll be trying our best to get that in but it’s not easy. The players you are after, other clubs are probably in for too.

“We have to be careful with our recruitment but we’ll be trying our best to get the right type of player in. I don’t think we’ve had enough of them this season.

“When we lost Smudger (Dan Smith) and (Jimmy) Muitt, we lost six out of seven games, but we’ve only lost 12 overall. It goes to show we’re not that far away. With a little more recruitment hopefully we’ll be stronger.

“People go and people stay and there will be changes, it’s inevitable. You get that at every club. But we’ll be trying to keep the ones we really want because I think there’s the basis of a very good side here. It’s young and inexperienced but I do think there’s the basis.”

The Rocks lost 2-0 away to champions Dorking on Saturday then were held to a 0-0 draw at home to relegation-threatened Whitehawk on Monday.

Folkestone are their final league opponents but they have the Sussex Senior Cup final against Burgess Hill to look forward to on Tuesday, May 7.

Pearce said the end of the Whitehawk game – when the visitors broke and hit the bar with minutes left – was the first bit of luck the Rocks had had in several weeks.

“We got the maximum effort out of the players we had. Our decision-making at times was what you’d expect from a team low on confidence, which we are undoubtedly are because of the results we have had.

“We got the ball across their goal four times and had chances clean through, but failed to make their keeper make a save. When that happens you realise confidence is low.

“The team we had out against Whitehawk, if we have those same XI starting all next year, we will be a similar situation because it’s a difficult league.

“There’s about 12 or 14 clubs without a hair’s breadth between them. Our home form, as I’ve said many times, is what you’re judged on, and it’s been appalling. But in the team we had on Saturday we only had two players in the positions I would play them in with a full squad.

“It’s been a misery being manager because every week you’re fighting fires, training becomes a joke because you can’t get any cohesion.”

Blake said the team that took on Whitehawk worked hard but didn’t have the desire to get the ball in the net. But he does feel the players have regained with their past two performances some of the trust he had lost in them in a number of below-par performances.

Meanwhile, Pearce said anyone who thought a club with Bognor’s income SHOULD be getting promotion and competing in National South were living in cuckooland.

“I understand them thinking that way but they do not understand,” he said. “How many of those fans who say that have ever played at this level, been in a dressing room at this level, been told what sort of money goes on at this level. How many know? It’s all supposition.

“They think they know. They’re brilliant but they haven’t got a clue. That’s life and I respect their frustrations because if I was them knowing as little as they do about the inner workings of the club and the problems we encounter I’d be thinking exactly the same as them.

“The only people I get fed up with are the people that should know better that do understand the workings and think that way.

“The finances are very simple. If you want to get into the National South and avoid relegation you’ll need £100,000 (more than we are spending at the moment) and if you want to get into the top four you need £250,000. That’s the facts.

“There will always be exceptions to the rule in football, like Leicester – clubs who haven’t got the money but have a one-off success, or clubs who do have the money and fail.

“But in general you can tell where you’re going to be by the budget you have. Eastbourne Borough’s budget was 60 per cent bigger than ours last year and they missed relegation (from National South) by four points. This year it’s 70 per cent bigger than ours and they are round about the relegation again. And their management costs are 100 per cent bigger than ours.”

Pearce added: “The team we played on Monday have a bigger wage bill than us. Their No4 lives in Liverpool and they fly him down. And they’ve been in the bottom three all season. That’s how tight it is between being mid-table, being relegated or bring up the top.

“We played a team on Saturday where their wage bill is two-and-three-quarter times bigger than ours. That’s why they’re top of the league. They deserve to win it (the league), they’ve been the best team. But with us full strength I would fancy us to give them a very good game and wouldn’t be surprised to see us beat them.”