Rocks fans have been urged to be patient with their new-look team as bosses admit: We’re asking a lot of players to make a big step up.
They have had a tough start to the season, losing 3-1 at Bishop’s Stortford in their Isthmian premier opener then needing a late equaliser at home to Horsham in a 1-1 draw in which they had enough chances to win.
The one-point tally is a disappointment after plenty of optimism in pre-season but manager Jack Pearce and coach Robbie Blake have seen lots to give them confidence the team will settle down and start to put wins together.
Bognor have not been helped by injuries, illness and unavailability and are desperately hoping that won’t be a theme of the season as it was last term, when absences contributed to the league campaign petering out in a 14th-place finish.
Bright spots in the opening two games have been the performances of some of the young players brought into the squad and a superb debut goal against Horsham for Tyrell Mitford, a striker who came through the QPR academy system and has scored plenty recently for Winchester City.
Next up for the Rocks is a trip to Wingate and Finchley on Saturday, then they have a break of just over a week before heading to Woodside Road for the first of this season’s keenly anticipated derbies with Worthing on bank holiday Monday.
Pearce said: “I think we need to keep things in perspective at the moment. We have in our team and our squad numerous players who are moving up two steps of the non-league game or who are very young and have not played at this level before. Added to that, they have not played together as a team before.
“Fans are being very patient at the moment but it could take five or six weeks for this team to settle. You can expect inexperienced players to click straight away. We will have ups and downs with young players and there will be inconsistencies with results – we have already seen that in the first two games.
“At Bishop’s Stortford we played well in between the two penalty areas but gave away avoidable goals and didn’t take our chances. In the first half against Horsham we had no fluency at all and I was as worried by that performance – not the effort, but the performance – as I have been by a Bognor game for a very long time.
“We addressed things at half-time and we were much better in the second half. The most pleasing thing was the way we changed rhythm. We certainly had enough chances to win it 3-1 or 4-2. There are good vibes around the club but no-one should expect too much too soon.”
Charlie Searle has played his way into the first-choice keeper’s spot with a solid show against Horsham that could keep Pompey teenager Petar Durin on the bench for a while, while at the heart of defence Brighton youngster Ben Clark-Eden, aged just 17, impressed so much against the Hornets he was named man of the match.
Clark-Eden was an emergency replacement for Pompey academy defender Joe Dandy, who Pompey didn’t want risked after a bout of illness, but the Rocks would like to have both players available as the season unfolds.
Midfielder Doug Tuck was missed against Horsham – he was on holiday – but should be back to face Wingate, while former Pagham striker was given a rare chance to start in the midweek draw. The Rocks hope to sign Mitford, who scored the equaliser after coming off the bench and might have had a hat-trick, to give them extra options up front – where another Pompey loanee Brad Lethbridge may yet add to their firepower.
Coach Blake said the Rocks looked like 11 players who’d never met each other in the first half against Horsham, playing in a ‘completely different’ way to how they’d been asked to perform, but gave the visitors plenty to think about in a satisfying second half.
“We looked lethargic, sluggish and lacking in confidence in the first half. I was dumbfounded and they got told quite severely that was not how to play,” he said.
Blake said although forward Dan Smith had missed some great chances in the first two games, he could have had six and the important thing was he was still getting into the right areas to shoot at goal. “For Dan, goals will come, we know they will. He’s been involved in so many chances already.”
He said it was frustrating to take only one point and not three after their second-half pressure against Worthing, though felt they were maybe fortunate to be only one down at the interval.
“We saw in the second half what we can do. If we play like that we will cause teams problems. The positive is that we’re creating chances but there are a couple of players in the backline who are struggling for confidence.
“Now we have a tough game at Wingate where hopefully we can get our noses in front and see how we get on.”
Blake is hopeful Lethbridge will soon be available to the Rocks and says further appearances by his fellow Portsmouth academy player, defender Hadji Mnoga, are not out of the question although nothing had been agreed.