A woeful first-half defensive showing ended Bognor’s unbeaten start to the season in devastating fashion at a subdued Nyewood Lane.
Tonbridge ran out 5-0 winners and could have had more as the Rocks had James Crane and Craig Robson sent off.
It’s a big setback to Jamie Howell and his team after making such a good start to the season with two wins and a draw, and they now face being without half their first-choice defence for two or three games.
The Rocks were almost at full strength, but defender Sami El-Abd was again on the bench as he gets back to full fitness after hamstring trouble.
On a day more suited to summer sports than football, after a slow-paced start to the game, Ollie Pearce was first to try his luck but a shot from the corner of the penalty area was very wide and very high.
Bognor went behind on ten minutes when Nathan Elder headed in Luke Blewdon’s corner after a short spell of Angels pressure.
Things went from bad to worse four minutes later when Grant Smith punched clear a free-kick floated into the Bognor box and it fell to Blewdon, whose volley bounced and flew into the top corner to leave the home fans, players and management stunned.
Bognor tried to get back into it on 20 minutes and Chad Field’s long ball put Pearce in with half a chance but he was caught between shooting and lobbing a cross towards Jason Prior and Tonbridge cleared.
It took Bognor 23 minutes to win their first corner. Prior attacked Jake Thomson’s delivery but keeper Anthony di Bernardo - who has appeared in a Rocks shirt in the past - claimed it.
The Rocks were gradually finding their feet and Robson’s floated pass forward found Pearce in space, but after some fancy footwork, he shot over from 20 yards. Then Alex Parsons got away down the right and found Gary Charman in the box, but his acrobatic attempt skewed well wide.
The Rocks were reduced to ten men on the half-hour when Crane was red-carded for a challenge on Nick Wheeler. It was certainly a full-blooded tackle but Crane went off protesting he had got the whole ball.
And as if that was not bad enough, Blewdon got his second and the Angels’ third on 32 minutes, poking in during a goalmouth scramble. So much for the Rocks’ unbeaten start to the season.
The misery continued for Bognor when Blewdon completed a 21-minute hat-trick with a stunning goal from an angle 25 yards that beat Smith and flew into the top corner. The Rocks were shell-shocked and you had to wonder how many more Tonbridge were going to score.
Gary Charman sent a cross to the far post for Prior but he could only direct it into the hands of di Bernardo as the Rocks tried to salvage at least a goal from one of their worst 45 minutes of recent times.
Pearce wanted a penalty for handball as his cross from the right appeared to hit a defender’s hand but a corner was given. Robson headed goalwards from the kick but it drifted wide.
Were the Rocks playing only for pride in the second half? Most in the ground thought so and manager Howell made a double change for the start of the half. Thomson and Stuart Green were the men to make way, with El-Abd and Alfie Rutherford coming on.
One bit of good news was Bognor was that hat-trick scorer Blewdon did not come back out to inflict any more misery on them. He’d suffered a dead leg and was replaced by Tom Whitnell.
After a quick start to the second half by Angels, which required an early touch for El-Abd in clearing a cross from the left, the Rocks got forward and Prior got a header in at goal that di Bernardo got to with ease.
The game descended into farce 15 minutes into the second half. First Angels scorer Elder was sent off - for reasons unclear - after a Tonbridge attack was halted.
Minutes later Pearce was harshly judged to have fouled his man on the edge of the box and a penalty was given and after heated appeals, Robson was sent off. It appeared to be a straight red for dissent.
Crane and Robson will now both miss two, or possibly three, games at the same time.
Dan Beck replaced Charman with 25 minutes left - meaning only six of the Rocks players who’d started were still on the field.
Some credit is due to the Rocks for continuing to try to get back into it despite being down to nine men - Parsons intercepted a Tonbridge clearance and set up Prior, whose ball into Pearce ended with a shot that di Bernardo saved.
On 73 minutes Tonbridge replaced Shaquille Hippolyte-Patrick with Ellis Brown.
Bognor kept plugging away and Rutherford impressed the home crowd with a surging run down the inside-left channel that led to a bobbling shot which di Bernardo got across to stop.
The game was over as a contest but Bognor were at least avoiding another defensive horror show that had been the story of the first half - up to a point.
The second-half effort was undone to an extent when an 83rd-minute through ball caused confusion at the back and Smith came out but failed to clear, and sub Whitnell was left to walk the ball into the net.
Rutherford ran through at the other end and fired across the keeper but just wide of the far post.
Whitnell was denied a second in stoppage time by a superb diving save by Smith.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the sponsors did not name a Bognor man of the match.
The Rocks slip to ninth place after this result and have a quick chance to get the defeat out of their system - they go to Met Police on Tuesday night.
Rocks: Smith, Crane, Wollers, Charman, Field, Robson, Green, Thomson, Prior, Pearce, Parsons. Subs: El-Abd, Rutherford, Nilsen, Beck, Whyte.
Tonbridge: Di Bernardo, Folkes, Parter, Parkinson, Ball, Miles, Hyppolite-Patrick, Carey, Elder,Blewdon, Wheeler. Subs: Brown, Webster, Phipp, Pearson, Whitnell.
Ref: Leigh Crowhurst (Uckfield)
Report by STEVE BONE
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