Top-two finish assured - but Rocks won't stop there
Jamie Howell reflected on Bognor's lead at the top of the Ryman premier being cut to a single point and vowed: 'We'll keep calm.'
The Rocks are now guaranteed a top-two finish for the second season in a row – an amazing effort after they lost their two top scorers and four other key players last summer.
But despite pride at another fine campaign, they are desperate to cling on to top spot from the only side who can catch them, Havant, and claim the sole automatic promotion place.
With four games left, the Rocks know a draw at Havant and wins in their three other games will secure them the title. Equally they know that is a big ask, and any lesser haul will leave the outcome dependent on what Havant do.
Bognor lost 1-0 at Enfield on Saturday, when Havant had a late Jason Prior penalty to thank for beating Dulwich Hamlet 2-1, reducing the gap at the top from four points to one.
Howell said they were disappointed to come away pointless on a day when they had a big and vocal following, but said they were looking forward to putting it right at AFC Sudbury on Saturday.
One or two new injury concerns are hitting the build-up to the trip to Suffolk.
Howell said: “We were disappointed to lose at Enfield. We always knew it would be a tough game – they’re a very good side – but I felt we gave it a right go.
“We threatened from long throws, which is not normally our style but could have paid off, and we changed the midfield to put Gary Charman in, because we’d have got murdered if we’d gone with a lightweight midfield.
“You could say we didn’t get the rub of the green but before Saturday we’d gone 11 unbeaten. In this league you are always going to see that sort of run end.
“We need to put that behind us and see what we can achieve at Sudbury.”
Leiston’s defeat to Merstham on Tuesday night left Havant as the only team capable of catching the Rocks and Howell felt that was worth celebrating.
The side who finish second will be at home in the play-off semi-finals and will host the final if they reach it.
“To be guaranteed top two with four games to go is excellent,” Howell said. “No-one, from Bognor or any other club, would have predicted this at the start of the season. But we have a fantastic team, we have players who care about the club and who have played well above expectations.
“The players deserve huge credit. Clubs with better resources expect to be in this position but for us to be where we are has taken a great effort.
“If we finish second and go into the play-offs we will still have a great chance. But now our focus is on taking a game at a time and trying to finish first.”
Injury problems could force changes to the Bognor line-up on Sudbury’s 3G surface.
Skipper Dan Beck’s hip problem is still being monitored while James Fraser (back injury), Gary Charman (foot problem) and Chad Field (wrist) will all need checking, while Ollie Pearce was not 100 per cent at Enfield and came off at half-time.
The Rocks moved to increase cover last Friday by recruiting midfielder Shabazz Omofe – who has been on Chelsea and Bristol City’s books – from National League side Bromley, Pompey youth midfielder Tommy Scutt and, on dual registration, Pagham keeper James Binfield.
Howell said the signings were insurance against injuries in the run-in and he would not bring new faces into the team at this stage unless he had to.
The manager said he knew fans, who had been travelling to games in large numbers during the promotion run-in, would continue to give the players their full backing.
“The fans were brilliant at Enfield and I’d imagine a fair number will be with us at Sudbury. We’ll need their support more than ever during these last few games,” he said.
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