THE ROCKS are out of the FA Cup - but they came away from Wealdstone wondering what might have been.
Jason Prior had two penalties saved – one either side of two Stones goals in seven minutes that ensured it was them and not Bognor who go into the hat for Monday’s first-round draw.
Chad Field got one back for Bognor late on but they couldn’t force an equaliser.
It was a bitterly-disappointing outcome for Bognor but they can look back with more than a little pride at this performance and at a cup campaign that saw them account for three sides, including two from higher divisions.
Now the management will have the tough job of lifting the players for the bread and butter of the league campaign.
It was wet in places and grey at Grosvenor Vale as National League South side Wealdstone and Ryman premier high flyers Bognor did battle for a coveted place in the first round of the Cup.
The Rocks were buoyed by having beaten National League South and North opposition in the previous two rounds - Oxford City and Lowestoft. Wealdstone came into the game on the back of an excellent 2-1 league win at Havant a week ago.
Alex Parsons - two-goal hero of the third qualifying round win over Oxford - had to be content with a place on the bench while Alfie Rutherford kept his place, not surprisingly, after scoring four goals in the past two games.
With £12,000 and that first-round spot up for grabs for the winners, there was a great atmosphere around the ground as a large crowd - 847, well above their average - flooded through the gates, plenty of Rocks fans among them.
The Rocks carved out the first chance after three minutes when Prior chased a long James Crane ball down the left and crossed for Snorre Nilsen at the far post, but the Norwegian’s header was off-target.
At the other end Bradley Hudson-Odoi flung himself at a free-kick but didn’t make contact.
A flowing move down the right involving Rutherford and Prior ended with Nilsen crossing towards Pearce but he was judged to have fouled his marker.
There were some bright signs for the Rocks - their players winning plenty of 50/50 balls and getting the ball early quickly.
Sami El-Abd saw the afternoon’s first yellow card for a foul in the centre circle.
Jefferson Louis is always a handful in an opposition line-up and so he proved on 19 minutes, muscling away from Chad Field but then striking a left-footed shot well wide from 25 yards.
Midway through the half an intricate four-man passing move looked to have put Dan Beck in on goal inside the box but a superbly-timed tackle by Josh McLeod Urquhart denied him a shot at goal.
The Rocks were doing most of the pressing but the final ball into the box wasn’t always of the highest standard.
Matt Ball brought the home crowd to life on the half-hour with a 30-yard drive that beat Grant Smith and cannoned off the bar.
Just as spectacular at the other end was a Prior volley from a defensive clearance - he caught it beautifully but keeper Jonathan North had it covered.
It was end to end for a while as both sides took it in turns launch quick breaks which faltered with the final ball.
Louis missed a good chance to put the Stones ahead on 36 minutes, directing a header too close to Smith from Scott Davies’ cross from the right.
The Rocks wanted a penalty five minutes before the break when Prior’s low cross into the six-yard box caused chaos and Beck went over, apparently with the defender not getting the ball. But a goal-kick was the outcome.
A minute before half-time, there was another Rocks penalty shout - and this time it was given - when Prior went down in between two defenders. He got up to take the spot-kick himself but North guessed right and saved low down to his left.
The Rocks were immediately back on the attack and Field had a half-chance before Prior’s half-volley from the edge of box was only just high and wide.
Bognor started the second half on the front foot, with a Crane cross and a Craig Robson shot testing the home defence and keeper. Then Beck tested North with what may have been an intended cross but almost dipped in under the bar.
Pearce curled a long-range free-kick just over the crossbar.
Davies won and took a free-kick in a central position 20 yards out but Smith saved comfortably.
Out of the blue, the Stones took the lead on 54 minutes. Harvey Whyte’s forward pass was intercepted just inside the Bognor half and Hudson-Odoi was sent sprinting away down the left. He surged into the box, waited for Smith to come then slid the ball beneath Smith from a tight angle.
It was harsh on the Rocks, who’d had the better of the game up to that point.
And it got worse on 61 minutes when Wealdstone doubled their lead, centre-half Tom Hamblin heading in a right-sided corner at the far post with no-one managing to pick up his run.
Gary Charman replaced Beck a minute later, while Doug Tuck replaced Nilsen as the Rocks faced a huge uphill battle to stay in the Cup.
Pearce had a chance to pull one back when Whyte’s long ball put him in on goal but North was out quickly to block him.
Parsons replaced Rutherford on 66 minutes, needing a similar two-goal show to his one in the last round to save the Rocks.
Scorer Hudson-Odoi was replaced by Johnny Wright with 20 minutes left as the Stones fans celebrated their double spot-kick repreive.
Bognor won their second penalty on 69 minutes when Prior was fouled on the edge of the box as the Rocks attacked down the right. Defender Ellioott Godfrey and keeper North were booked before Prior stepped up again - but North saved again, diving the same way to make an even better save than from the first spot-kick.
That left the Rocks and their fans feeling like it just wasn’t their day but to their credit the team kept plugging away, with Parsons leading a couple of threatening attacks down the right.
Prior took a free-kick 25 yards from goal and central but the wall did its job and his follow-up wasblocked at close range by a charging defender.
Still the Rocks kept attacking and Parsons and Prior each had clear sight of goal in a scramble with three minutes of normal time left.
A minute from the end of the 90, Bognor suddenly had a late lifeline. Pearce swung over a corner and when it ran loose, Field stabbed it in from close range.
Five minutes were added on and Bognor gave it all they had - the best chance coming when Whyte was fouled close to the byline to give the Rocks another free-kick in a dangerous position. But Pearce’s delivery was claimed by the keeper - and with that went Bognor’s hopes of ending their 20-year wait for an FA Cup first-round place.
The fact North was later named man of the match was telling.
So it will be Wealdstone’s name on ball 69 when the round-one draw is made live on BBC2 on Monday evening, and there will be a few Rocks fans watching to see who they would have had and thinking.. What if?
Twenty-four hours later Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick must get the side’s focus back on the league when Staines visit Nyewood Lane, while games in the FA Trophy and Sussex Senior Cup loom too, giving them the chance of progress in other knockout competitions.
And those other knockout competitions are fine. They’re just not the FA Cup.
Wealdstone: North, Urquhart, Binns, Parker, Hamblin, Godfrey, Lucien, Davies, Louis, Ball, Hudson-Odoi. subs: Corcoran, Wright, Hutchinson, Markus, Duffy, McGleish, Dutton.
Rocks: Smith, Whyte, Crane, Field, El-Abd, Robson, Rutherford, Beck, Prior, Pearce, Nilsen. Subs: Charman, Tuck, Parsons, Wollers, Horncastle, Rowlatt, Boughton.
Ref: Carl Fitch
Get all the action from the Cup game, and the rest of the news from the Lane, in the Bognor Observer, out on Thursday.
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