Rocks Review: Forget relegation and promotion - just enjoy yourselves

Bognor Football Club's Jack Pearce (right) Darrin Killpatrick (middle) and  Simon Cook winners of the Sports Team of the Year.'''Photo by Louise Adams  C121773-4 Chi Community Awards
Bognor Football Club's Jack Pearce (right) Darrin Killpatrick (middle) and Simon Cook winners of the Sports Team of the Year.'''Photo by Louise Adams C121773-4 Chi Community Awards

The Rocks have been told: Forget about promotion and relegation - just carry on enjoying your football.

They head into a hectic festive run of four games in 11 days sitting comfortably in fifth place in the Ryman premier - and buoyed by winning the team of the year award at the Observer community awards.

They’re well on their way of achieving their top pre-season target of avoiding the drop back down, but have no plans to start fretting about whether the second half of the season could turn into a push for the play-offs.

A fifth-place finish would earn a play-off semi-final and a stab at promotion back to Conference South, but that is far from the thoughts of the management at Nyewood Lane, who can look back with pride at the first half of the campaign.

Saturday’s 3-1 home win over Hendon, clinched with three goals in the final 16 minutes, sets them up nicely for games at home to Leiston on Saturday, away to Lewes on Boxing Day and East Thurrock on Saturday week and at home to second-placed Whitehawk on New Year’s Day.

Manager Jamie Howell said: “It will be a testing period for all teams but we can go into it knowing we’re playing well.

“Leiston are in excellent form so that will be a tough one to start the Christmas period, but our form is good - in fact, I’d say we’ve been playing well in the league all season, even when we were losing a few home games.”

Howell said he hadn’t expected the Rocks to be fifth at this stage.

“I was always confident we had a team capable of doing well in the premier division but it’s about whether you can score goals. If you keep your players fit and have strikers who can score, you will be okay. If not, you can get dragged into a relegation battle.

“Our first objective when the season started was not to get relegated, and with 29 points, unless we have a major catastrophe, we’re well on the way - although we won’t be complacent about that.

“Beyond that, we will tell the players to carry on doing what they’re doing and enjoying themselves. There’s no pressure on us. Where as over the past couple of seasons there was pressure to win every game, now there’s not - we are going to lose some games.

“We’ve a young squad and it’s nice to have that pressure off.”

Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick were delighted the team picked up the Observer gong - see pages 44 and 77 for the full awards rundown - at the end of their promotion-winning year.

Killpartrick, who narrowly missed winning the coach of the year title at the ceremony, said: “That was lovely after some real low periods the club have been through. The award shows how much more stable we are now and how we’re building for the future.”

He has no worries over the players being sensible with their Christmas food and drink and being ready for the festive matches.

“It’s a time for families and we want them to enjoy themselves, but they all know what’s expected of them and have no doubt they’ll be right and ready for the matchdays.”

Keeper Craig Stoner is suspended for the Leiston game. Deputy Tom Boyle steps in.

Centre-half Ben Andrews is still getting over knee trouble and forward Steve Harper has a hamstring problem, but there are no new injury worries.

Winger Ben Johnson finally has a date for his cruciate ligament surgery. He’ll undergo the op in early January and boss Howell is hopeful he could be back for pre-season.

Howell said: “Ben’s been coming to games, home and away, and has been incredibly supportive despite his frustration at not being able to play.”

Meanwhile midfielder Dan Beck is the latest Nyewood Lane favourite to sign a contract.