Four leave Bognor - but Pearce says squad is taking shape

Skipper Harvey Whyte on the ball in the friendly at Gosport / Picture by Tommy McMillan
Skipper Harvey Whyte on the ball in the friendly at Gosport / Picture by Tommy McMillan

Rocks manager Jack Pearce is happy with his squad – despite losing the services of midfielder Freddie Read two days after releasing a trio of players who were not expected to get much game time.

Youngster Read was set to join Bognor following his release by Pompey, but he informed Pearce yesterday he had received an offer to go and play for a university in the United States and felt it was too good to turn down.

That came two days after the Rocks released defenders Ed Sanders and Josh McCormick and midfielder Jack Breed, who had all been training and playing with them during pre-season.

Despite the departures Pearce said he felt the squad was looking healthy ahead of the new league season starting away to Bishop’s Stortford on Saturday.

A couple more additions are possible though none is expected this week, with young Pompey academy striker Brad Lethbridge among those likely to join the Bognor ranks – the 18-year-old expected to return for a second season-long loan spell.

There remain questions over who will be first-choice keeper – with another Pompey youngster Petar Durin favourite to get the nod for the first game – but defensive midfielder Tommy Leigh’s impressive pre-season form looks to have earned him a place in the early-season starting line-up.

Bognor had a disastrous final friendly last Friday, losing 6-1 at Gosport and having three players sent off, but Pearce said it was useful in that it helped him and coach Robbie Blake formulate their plans for the squad.

The loss of Read is a blow but Pearce said: “He has been offered a university football opportunity in America and we underatand he feels that is something he doesn’t want to turn down.

“I feel we’re quite settled and are almost where we want to be with the squad. We still have six midfielders, which allows to play four and have a couple up our sleeve.

“We released Ed, Josh and Jack because we didn’t feel they’d get much game time with us. They’re all players we’ll keep an eye on and we wish them well.

“It’s still quite possible we will bring other players in though there is nothing immediate planned.

“The league starts on Saturday and the games come thick and fast early in the season so we’ll soon see how we’re looking. The squad is shaping up as we want it to and we’re confident that we’ll be able to take a strong group of players into the opening day of the new season.”

The three sent off at Gosport – Leigh, skipper Harvey Whyte and striker Dan Smith – are all free to face Stortford as red cards in friendlies don’t result in bans from league games.

The Rocks camp are keen to put their Privett Park nightmare behind them but coach Blake did say on Twitter: “I thought the ref was shocking.”

Pearce said the first red card, for a challenge by Leigh, came after he had been fouled, and the other two came from comments made to the ref. He added: “We must be the only club in the country to have ended a friendly with eight men. I did feel the referee didn’t manage the situation as well as you might hope in a friendly.”

The Rocks expect two stiff tests to kick off their bid for promotion from the Isthmian premier.

Saturday’s hosts Bishop’s Stortford finished seventh last season, only three points off the play-off zone, while Tuesday night brings the first home game when newly promoted Horsham come to town.

“They’ll be two very different games but both very difficult,” said Pearce. “But we’re just looking forward to getting started.”

* Season tickets are on sale at Nyewood Lane from 10am to midday tomorrow (Fri Aug 9). Prices: adults £201; 65+ £168; U18s (& students with ID) £84; seats - adults, £218; 65+ £184. U16s get free season tickets.