Jubilant Rocks boss Jamie Howell saluted his ‘brilliant’ players after they reached the semi-finals of the FA Trophy - and revealed he helped them on their way by telling them at the interval: We don’t want a replay at Torquay.
Bognor are in the last four after Snorre Nilsen’s header early in the second half proved the only goal of a tight game. It leaves the Rocks one two-legged tie from the Wembley final.
Howell (whose full interview can be seen in the video above) said afterwards: “I’m delighted. Torquay are in a difficult situation at the moment and we’re playing well. I thought ‘Do you know what? We could have a real game.’
“Conditions were tough in that first half expecially with that wind and especially for us going into it. But the lads were brilliant. It was a game of few chances. I was delighted we got the goal and we showed some good character to hold on at the end.
“With the wind against us, we couldn’t really get out for a time and you spend a bit of time looking at your opponents and try to work it all out. They looked dangerous and they had a lot of the ball, but after that we grew into the game and in the second half with the wind, I thought we did really well.”
Howell pinpointed a superb diving save late in the first half by Grant Smith as a key moment - and praised Ollie Pearce, back in the side after suspension, for his role in setting up Nilsen’s goal. He also said he was not surprised to see the defence keep out National League premier side Torquay.
“Normally we’re a team who score a lot of goals but concede a lot of goals. But we’ve worked on that a lot - Dabba (Killpartrick) has worked on that a lot in training and we’re a lot tighter.”
Howell said he did not have a clear view of the handball that saw a Rocks goal ruled out late in the first half but they were reasonably pleased to reach the interval goalless.
“We spoke at half-time and said we don’t want to go to Torquay - we don’t want another game in midweek. It’s difficult enough as it is.
“We had a really good crowd in. We wanted to really have a go and I felt we did. We really had a go in the second half and got the goal and defended well.”
It was the SEVENTH team from a higher division the Rocks have beaten this season - Torquay added to a list of scalps already including Oxford City, Bath City, Maidstone and Sutton from National League South, Lowestoft from National North and Altrincham who are with the Gulls in National Premier.
Howell added: “The players deserve a great deal of credit. They’ve played a lot of teams from higher divisions and they’ve played really well. And maybe they can play at a higher level.
“We love the club here - it’s a great club - but some of those players have done really well and they can play at a higher level, and now they’re showcasing it.
“I’m not overly surprised by our results. I know the players and we’ve had the majority of the here for a long time and it’s been a work in progress. I just feel they’re reaching that maturity and that level where they understand what we need to do. They’ve been absolutely fantastic.
“Jack’s been here a very long time as manager and chairman and has been a great help to me, and he’s had some very successful teams. Unfortunately we haven’t had that (success in the FA Cup and FA Trophy) for a very long time.
“We did well in the FA Cup and went out to Wealdstone, and I was disappointed because it was a very tight game. Now in the FA Trophy we’ve done really well. What we should take from that is that we should definitely do better in national competitions than we have been.
“We had so much support from the fans and lots of good luck messages from clubs in our area.
“I think it’s the biggest compliment you can have if people can’t really tell the difference (between Bognor and a side two divisions higher). There’s been a lot of hard work gone into it and a lot of disappointments along the way and we need to enjoy this time.
“I’ve enjoyed it for what it is - I haven’t really thought too much about Wembley. It’s nice to dream but whoever we play in the semi-final it will be very difficult.
“But we’re in with a chance - and that’s great for us. I’m delighted for everyone involved with the football club because it’s been a long time coming. We’re just enjoying every moment.”
See full coverage of Bognor’s latest day to remember in the Bognor Observer - out on Thursday
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