FA Trophy: Rocks ready for another higher-tier test

The Rocks outnumber Hendon in Saturday's 1-1 draw / Picture by Derek Beech
The Rocks outnumber Hendon in Saturday's 1-1 draw / Picture by Derek Beech
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JAMIE HOWELL believes the Rocks are in good shape to show once again they can live with teams from a higher league.

Bognor have already beaten three teams from National League South and North in the FA Cup and FA Trophy this season.

On Saturday they aim for a fourth scalp of the campaign when they visit Maidstone, who are flying high in National South.

It’s for an FA Trophy first-round tie that will leave the winners £5,000 better off and in the last 32.

The Rocks had some good battles with the Kent side when both were in the Ryman premier and Howell rates his team’s 2-1 on their 3G pitch in April 2014 as one of their best displays of recent seasons.

He has a virtually-full squad to select from and is confident they can give a good account of themselves – as they did in beating National League sides Lowestoft and Oxford City in the FA Cup and Bath City in the last round of the trophy.

We know it will be a challenge and a difficult ask for us to get a win there, but we’re playing well and our cup runs this season have shown we can compete with clubs at that level.

Bognor head to Maidstone’s Gallagher Stadium on the back of a 1-1 Ryman premier draw at Hendon last Saturday plus a few extra days’ rest courtesy of their Sussex Senior Cup third-round tie at Eastbourne Town, scheduled for Tuesday night, being called off.

Howell said: “Maidstone’s always a great place to go. They’re a good club and a good team – you only have to look at where they are (second place) in their league this season.

“We know it will be a challenge and a difficult ask for us to get a win there, but we’re playing well and our cup runs this season have shown we can compete with clubs at that level.”

Coach Darin Killpartrick said he had a lot of respect for the progess Maidstone had made but he wanted the Rocks to face them without fear.

He said: “There’ll probably be a crowd of 1,500 or 1,600 but we know that, and we know what the surface is like, and if we have a little bit of luck and perform at our best, we can get a result.”

Howell was not sorry that Tuesday’s scheduled county-cup visit to Eastbourne was deemend unnecessary because of a sodden pitch.

“We have a few players who are getting over knocks and niggles and a few days to rest can do them more good than having to play another game,” he said.

Snorre Nilsen and Gary Charman will both be absent on Saturday but they should be the only men missing.

Pompey youngster Nilsen, who has been impressive in midfield this season, is out for two to three weeks with a hip flexor problem.

Midfielder Charman injured a calf at Hendon and won’t be fit this weekend.

Howell also revealed centre-half Sami El-Abd had a bad back and Harvey Whyte had taken a kick to the ankle – but said he was hopeful both would be fine to face Maidstone.

Also back in contention is winger Alex Parsons, who has recovered from a groin injury.

Howell was reasonably pleased with the point gained at Hendon, though he admitted the game was far from memorable.

El-Abd came to the rescue with a 72nd-minute equaliser after Hendon went ahead early on.

The point leaves the Rocks fifth in a table in which the top nine are separated by just five points.

Howell said: “It was probably a fair result but it was a game you just want to forget about and move on from.

“Conditions weren’t easy but we were probably the most likely team to win it after our equaliser.”

Killpartrick said: “It was windy, wet and heavy.”

Provided the Maidstone tie doesn’t require a Nyewood Lane replay, the Rocks will visit one of their promotion rivals, Hampton and Richmond, in the league next Tuesday.

The following Saturday they go to another club close to them in the league, Billericay; then they host struggling Lewes on Boxing Day.

STEVE BONE

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