A superb attacking performance at a strong Leatherhead side produced a thoroughly deserved a 3-0 Ryman League Premier success – and a great boost to the squad’s morale before Saturday’s FA Trophy semi-final second-leg showdown at Grimsby Town.
Rocks boss Jamie Howell rotated his squad to give several players a well-deserved rest whilst giving other players their chance in the starting line-up. Apart from the injured Chike Kandi, Howell had a full squad to choose from, including Harvey Whyte who made an impressive return from his own injury.
The Rocks started in style, moving the ball accurately and with great confidence, and pressing the home side whenever they gained possession. Alfie Rutherford proved a handful for the vastly experienced Steve Watt in the centre of the Leatherhead defence and his pace and directness promised to cause problems.
Although the home side had one reasonable effort early on, when Phil Walsh’s shot was comfortably gathered by Grant Smith, the visitors appeared firmly in control and it was no surprise when they took the lead after just 14 minutes. Doug Tuck worked the ball out to Connor Tighe on the right wing and his excellent cross into the box was met by a powerful header from Gary Charman, giving Louis Wells no chance in the home goal.
Bognor continued to dominate and both Harvey Whyte, restored to his normal position of right back, and Calvin Davies who played with confidence at left back were both instrumental at nullifying any home attack, whilst instigating a number of dangerous attacks of their own.
Frannie Collin, until recently at Maidstone United, was clearly the danger man up front for Leatherhead, but Chad Field marked him tightly at all times.
Rocks doubled their lead ten minutes before the break. Alfie Rutherford outfought both Adam Cash and Steve Watt and burst into the box. He rode one tackle before his powerful shot seemed destined for the back of the net. Jerry Nnamani did well to get in a last ditch block and the ball cannoned off him to safety. Minutes later young Rutherford tried a snap shot from an acute angle and Wells did well to parry it.
Shortly afterwards Bognor’s captain and leading scorer, Jason Prior, was replaced by Ollie Pearce as a precaution. Prior had felt a tightening of his hamstring and it clearly made sense to take no chances.
Within a minute of coming on, Pearce should have scored. Hesitation in the home defence saw him receive the ball with just goalkeeper Wells to beat. Ollie attempted a first time lob when perhaps he had time to control the ball, and this allowed the keeper a fairly easy save.
Sami El-Abd was introduced at half time for Gary Charman, again with Saturday’s game in mind, but if there were any thoughts of Bognor consolidating and defending their lead, these were firmly quashed within five minutes of the restart. Harvey Whyte muscled his way past two home defenders and sent a powerful cross in from the right. Ollie Pearce connected to score a magnificent headed goal.
Pearce is not the tallest of players and he was leaning away from goal at an acute angle, but somehow produced a bullet of a header to give the goalkeeper no chance, whilst sending the Rocks’ faithful behind the goal into ecstasy.
Bognor’s third goal was again scored by Pearce and once again the impressive Harvey Whyte laid it
on. Whyte collected the ball on the right of midfield and drove into the box, but was initially well tackled by Steve Watt, before Watt could clear the ball Whyte regained possession through sheer
determination and laid it back to Pearce who hammered an unstoppable shot past Wells into the far
corner of the net from outside the penalty area.
This was a performance to match the recent impressive win at Tonbridge and sets things up nicely,
both for the ongoing promotion campaign, but also for the match at Grimsby on Saturday.
ROCKS: Smith, Whyte, Davies, Tuck, Field, Robson, Charman, Green, Prior, Rutherford, Tighe. Subs: Pearce (Prior 43), El-Abd (Charman 46), Parsons (Tighe 55), Nilsen, Crane.
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