It's advantage Grimsby - but Rocks' Trophy belief remains
Grimsby are favourites to make it to the FA Trophy final at Wembley after a 1-0 win in the semi-final first leg at Nyewood Lane - but it was a brave effort by Bognor and it is not over yet.
The Rocks pushed the non-league high-fliers all the way but ironically conceded the vital goal after their best spell of the game in front of a crowd of 2,629 at the Lane.
It was the biggest day Nyewood Lane had seen in many a long year with crowds streaming in as soon as the gates were opened at 1.15pm.
The Rocks had performed heroics to get through to today’s tie - beating two other National League premier sides, Altrincham and Torquay, among the seven teams they had defeated on way to the semi-finals.
Grimsby arrived in town with promotion back to the Football League their main priority, but clearly also liking the idea of getting to Wembley for the Trophy final.
Bognor brought striker Chike Kandi - who rejoined on a youth loan from Brighton on Thursday after a spell of seven goals in 12 Rocks games earlier in the season - straight into the starting line-up, which meant Ollie Pearce had to be content with a place on the bench.
Ex-Pompey utility man Danny East was in a Grimsby side which saw goal ace Padraig Amond left on the bench.
After a fairly even opening five minutes, Bognor’s Grant Smith was the first keeper called into action, pushing away a Nathan Arnold shot that bounced in front of him, to concede a corner.
The Rocks were struggling to get too much possession in the opening stages but in truth it was a fairly cagey opening to the tie.
Gradually the Rocks seemed to be finding their feet and one attack almost put Snorre Nilsen in with a half-chance in the box but keeper James McKeown gathered.
Pat Hoban seized on a loose Calvin Davies pass and forced Smith into a low save from 25 yards.
The right-back made amends by launching an attack down the right that forced McKeown to hurry out and hoof clear for a throw-in.
On 29 minutes Alex Parsons had a cross-shot blocked when a neat build-up involving Nilsen gave the winger space in a dangerous position in the area.
Ten minutes from the break, Davies played in Parsons on the right and his high cross to the far post by met by a Prior header but although it was on target it was a comfortable take for McKeown.
The Rocks suffered a blow on 40 minutes when Kandi had to come off after taking a knock. Pearce - assister of the goals that beat Sutton and Torquay - came on to replace him.
A couple of Pearce corners saw Bognor end the first half on the front foot, the last of which eventually fell to Nilsen whose shot was well over the bar.
Grimsby almost caught Bognor napping two minutes into the second half. Smith conceded a throw and the Mariners worked it to Arnold, whose cross was sidefooted wide by Craig Disley.
The Rocks went straight up the other end as Davies led a break and when he squared to Pearce, he took it into the box before rolling a shot wide.
Davies went on a storming run down the right and got in a cross to win a corner - then when that was dealt with and Grimsby broke, the Pompey youngster was there to cut out the threat on the halfway line.
Stuart Green replaced Nilsen on the hour.
A Beck corner saw the Rocks appeal for a penalty as Prior went down before the ball came in - but the decision was given the other way.
A double Grimsby change saw Straker replaced by Richard Tait and Hoban go off for Amond on 63 minutes.
The Rocks were building a decent little spell of pressure and another corner, won by James Crane down the left, was just too high for Prior and his header flew wide.
Sub Green got the crowd going with a run at the Grimsby defence and a 25-yard shot but it ended on the clubhouse roof.
Davies led another attack that blew itself out when Parsons couldn’t keep the ball in by the byline.
From nowhere, and after the Rocks’ best spell of the game, Grimsby took the lead. It was a harmless-enough looking long ball from the back that just seemed to catch out the home defence - it put Arnold through with only Smith to beat and he took a moment to steady himself before firing low left-foot shot past a helpless Smith.
Gary Charman replaced Beck with 11 minutes to go as the Rocks looked to at least fight back for a draw to improve their second-leg chances.
Craig Robson headed in a corner on 80 minutes but the ref had already blown for a foul by a Bognor player.
Davies’ high, long cross to the far post found Charman but his looping header was just off target.
Grimsby sensed a chance to all but kill off the tie with four minutes left as Jon-Paul Pittman streaked into the area after a quick throw-in but Smith made a good save to beat it away.
Bognor kept on battling to the end - and their fans went home knowing they will do the same in a week’s time at Blundell Park to try to keep their Wembley dream alive.
In the other semi-final first leg, Nantwich lost 4-2 at home to FA Halifax.
Rocks: Smith, Davies, Crane, Tuck, El-Abd, Robson, Nilsen, Beck, Prior, Kandi, Parsons. Subs: Field, Charman, Rutherford, Green, Pearce.
Grimsby: McKeown, Robertson, Pearson, Disley, Clay, Pittman, Arnold, Nsiala, East, Straker, Hoban. Subs: Tait, Gowling, Amond, Venney, Henderson.
Ref: Simon Hooper
by STEVE BONE
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