Rocks do their bit - but Ryman title goes to Hampton
The Rocks kept their end of the bargain as the Ryman premier title race came to a thrilling conclusion - but Hampton pipped them to the trophy and automatic promotion by a single point.
Bognor knew if they won 4-0 and Hampton lost 1-0 to Enfield, they would be champions and would dodge the play-offs. They did win 4-0 - but Hampton hung on, literally in the end, for the point that confirms top spot for them.
It means Jamie Howell’s team will go into a play-off semi-final at home to fifth-placed Dulwich Hamlet on Thursday night. And if they win that, the fact they have finished second means they will also be at home in the final, against East Thurrock or Tonbridge.
So Bognor began the afternoon needing a decent win to keep up their hopes of winning the title and hoping Hampton would slip up at home to Enfield.
Snorre Nilsen switched to right-back to replace Harvey Whyte - beginning a two-match ban for ten bookings - while Connor Tighe was given a start wide right in place of Alex Parsons, who hurt his calf in Tuesday’s win over Brentwood.
Hendon arrived in Bognor safe from relegation and still with a London Senior Cup final to look forward to.
Bognor almost had the dream start when Jason Prior’s volley hit the base of a post after Doug Tuck headed a loose ball to him in the box. Hendon scrambled clear.
But the breakthrough didn’t take long to come - it arrived through the same player, Prior, in the third minute as he headed a Dan Beck corner - won by Tighe - down and in beyond Joe Wright’s dive.
Hendon hit back with a couple of attacks of their own - Keagen Cole had the ball in the net from one but play was brought back for a foul in the build-up.
Then Tighe muscled into a good position by the byline but saw his attempted cross block, before play was held up by an injury to Hendon left-back Oliver Sprague.
Hendon gradually came more into the game and a lovely flowing move on 25 minutes ended with Kezie Ibe being put through on Grant Smith, but the keeper got down sharply to save.
It was 2-0 on 25 minutes as Rutherford chased a long Tuck ball and forced hesitation between the keeper and a defender, and nipped in to convert from a tight angle with the keeper out of the picture.
A minute later Green’s left-footed cross from the right was perfect for Prior but his header but blocked by a defender.
With Hampton still drawing 0-0 at this stage, Bognor fans must have felt their title dream was very much alive.
Bognor were on top and Tuck and Rutherford made a nuisance of themselves in one scramble without finding room for a shot, before Dan Beck was booked for halting a Hendon breakaway.
Hendon were forced into a change as defender Casey Maclaren was forced off injured - to be replaced by Brandon Adams.
Prior raised the excitement levels further five minutes before the break when he headed in number three from James Crane’s cut-back from a Tighe cross to the far post.
Green tried to find Rutherford with a high cross into the box but the keeper plucked it out of the air.
Green had a chance to make it four within the first minute of the second half as Tighe played him in on goal with a clever through-pass in the box, but a defender was quick to get in a block.
Then Green tried a curling effort from 25 yards that was heading for the top corner until Wright got to it.
Rutherford wasted a good chance on 57 minutes when he took a volley first time from Prior’s high ball across the six-yard box and the effort flew up and on to the clubhouse roof.
Bognor’s play was becoming a little hurried and over-complicated as they hunted for what could yet have been a vital fourth - all the time knowing Hampton still had the 0-0 scoreline they needed.
Green might have got No4 on 67 minutes when he harried a defender into an error but he curled a shot goalwards that was saved by Wright when he might have squared to Prior.
Then Tighe missed a great chance after suddenly finding himself with only Wright to beat but he couldn’t force it in.
Chike Kandi, back from a month out injured, replaced Green with 22 minutes to go. Gary Charman replaced Tuck with 15 minutes left, before Hendon brought on for Nyv Bogaire for Carl McCluskey.
Bognor kept on pressing but Crane, Tighe and Prior twice were all off-target then sub Charman was denied by a superb save with his legs by Wright as he fired a low shot goalwards at the end of an intricate passing move.
Finally the Rocks got the fourth goal they needed when Tighe was played in at the far post and controlled the ball and cut back on to his left foot by firing low into the corner.
It sparked great celebratory scenes, but before long news came through that Hampton - despite a superb effort by Enfield at the Beveree - had the point they needed to finish ahead of Bognor.
But what an achievement to finish second by Howell and Darin Killpartrick’s team. They were seventh at the height of their FA Trophy run as the games in hand piled up, but they have finished the season with 10 wins from 13 games, that in just five weeks, scoring 34 goals in those 13 games.
The fans will hope that winning form will give them the momentum they will need to succeed in the play-offs and take that coveted place in National League South for next season.
Rocks: Smith, Nilsen, Crane, Tuck, El-Abd, Field, Green, Beck, Prior, Rutherford, Tighe. Subs: Pearce, Robson, Kandi, Wollers, Charman.
Hendon: Wright, Seeby, Sprague, Diedhiou, Maclaren, Tangey, Bettache, Murphy, Ibe, Cole, McCluskey. Subs: Adams, Bogaire, Cousins, Robins, Taggart.
Ref: J Pike.
Report by STEVE BONE
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