Rocks reflections: Team can thrive, but title talk is over the top

I was surprised to see the other day the results of a survey of fans of Bostik premier teams conducted by the good folk who run the league's website.

Saturday, 18th August 2018, 1:00 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd September 2018, 10:07 pm
The Rocks celebrate a goal at Haringey / Picture by Tommy McMillan

One fan of each of the premier division’s 22 clubs had been asked to rank where each team would finish – then their answers had been combined into a final table.

It showed the Rocks as champions, just taking the title ahead of Folkestone Invicta. Margate, Tonbridge and Kingstonian were the next three, while Haringey, Harlow and Potters Bars made up the bottom three.

Of the other Sussex clubs, Whitehawk were placed just outside the play-offs, Lewes and Worthing in mid-table and Burgess Hill a couple of places outside the drop zone.

Many of the predicted placings made sense but I was highly surprised to see Bognor come out on top. Maybe fans of other clubs are remembering how well the men in white and green fared in their last season at this level, finishing second and only just behind champions Havant in 2016-17.

I suspect if you were to survey 22 Bognor fans, rather than a group of 22 Bostik premier supporters including only one from Bognor, you’d get a very different outcome.

At the moment. I think last season’s struggles are still in people’s minds and many are thinking a season of consolidation, hopefully with at least a push for promotion, is about the best that can be hoped for.

I may be wrong but I wouldn’t think too many members of the Green Army are expecting a title party at the end of April 2019.

That said, not too many would have predicted second-place finishes in the then Ryman premier in 2016 or 2017... so Bognor are certainly capable of punching above their weight at this step of the non-league scene, if not the next one up.

And a win and a draw in their opening two games will only have heightened expectations among supporters.

The squad Jack Pearce and Robbie Blake have at their disposal for the coming months doesn’t look half bad.

Of the players who have departed, I think Dan Beck, James Crane and Ollie Pearce will all be missed most. But the defence and midfield available to the Rocks for this coming season have had a solid look to them ever since the majority of last season’s squad committed to the cause quite early in the summer.

And the more recent additions to the squad of Pompey duo Brad Lethbridge and Dan Smith, and now goalie Dan Lincoln, back for what we hope will be a third full season at the Lane, has given the line-up a better all-round look.

Bognor have a strong first XI and probably, when everyone in the squad is fit and available, a matchday 16 good enough to challenge in the top half. And they are due a season of better luck with injuries.

If they can avoid as many long-term casualties as were seen last term, and also be better disciplined so as not to keep losing key man to suspensions, I see no reason why they can’t mount a serious promotion challenge.

The bookies seem to agree, though they don’t go as far as the fans in that survey. The odds for Bostik premier promotion favour AFC Hornchurch over everyone else, with Margate, Kingstonian and then the Rocks behind them.

We ought to mention Dorking, who have spent big and have a certain Jason Prior leading the line. Both the fans and the bookies have them in sixth place in the pecking order.

Like all forecasts, be they of the weather or the football variety, they can soon be proved to be way off target. But Bognor should at least go into the new season buoyed by the respect others have in their ability and potential.

Champions? I don’t think so myself, nice though it would be. And perhaps Pearce, Blake and their team won’t end the season quite as far off the prize as some would have feared after relegation last season.