Pompey defender makes perfect start in bid to boost Bognor play-off hopes

Matt Casey joins in the Rocks huddle at Leatherhead / Picture: Darren Crisp
Matt Casey joins in the Rocks huddle at Leatherhead / Picture: Darren Crisp

Jack Pearce believes Pompey's Matt Casey can make a big difference to Bognor’s play-off push.

The 6ft 7in centre-half arrived at Bognor on a month’s loan last Friday and slotted seamlessly into the side that won 2-1 at Leatherhead the next day.

Pearce was delighted with the 20-year-old’s contribution and feels he will add much to the team’s defensive strength in a busy few weeks ahead.

At present Casey is with the Rocks until February 9, but if the loan works well for all parties it could be extended.

He is one of six young players with Pompey links in the Bognor squad – which also contains striker Brad Lethbridge and defender Harry Kavanagh, both still part of the Blues academy, and forward Dan Smith, midfielder Josh Flint and defender Joe Dandy, all of whom have been released from Fratton Park.

Casey’s and the Rocks’ next test is a tough one, with Isthmian premier promotion hunters Folkestone Invicta visiting Nyewood Lane in the league this Saturday then hosting the Rocks in a rearranged Velocity Trophy tie next Tuesday, seven days after it was washed out for a second time.

Pearce said: “Matt was excellent at Leatherhead. He did very well. He’d not even trained with the lads so to go straight into the team and look at home was a credit to him.”

Casey is effectively a replacement for Joe Cook, a centre-half who shone for the Rocks in a fine run of form between early October and his Christmas recall by parent club Havant – his departure being followed by Bognor’s home defeats to Worthing and Margate.

Casey cannot be recalled for Pompey first-team games during his initial loan but can still go back for reserve matches – as he did on Tuesday when the Blues wanted him to face Plymouth.

The defender, who has also had loan spells with Gosport, Havant and Weymouth, said he was happy for the chance of regular senior football.

He said: “I just wanted to get out and start playing men’s football and Bognor seemed like the best option.

“They’re a close-partnered club with Portsmouth and I’ve played with many of the lads before so I knew what they were about and I knew it was a good set-up down here.”

Casey had played under Rocks coach Blake at Pompey and said: “He’s a great coach, he gets on with all of the lads and he’s got that tough side to him that will tell you when you’re doing wrong and he’ll always help you improve.”

Pearce and Blake were buoyant after Tommy Leigh’s injury-time header earned victory at Leatherhead to leave their side just six points off the play-off places. Brad Lethbridge had put them ahead but the Tanners levelled.

Pearce said: “It was a great win.

“Over the games against Margate and Leatherhead I felt our performances deserved four points – three against Margate and one at Leatherhead.

“So to be only one point down on that, and not three, isn’t bad.

“After the appalling start to the season we had we’ve not given ourselves a lot of room for error, so if we’re to challenge we need to stay in form and keep winning.

“Two games against Folkestone in a week will be tough. They’re one of the top sides and it will be tight.”

Blake added: “They (Leatherhead) started the game pretty well and put us under pressure from a couple of corners and set plays, but we took control after ten minutes and at times looked exceptional. They changed formation after about 25 minutes because they simply couldn’t handle us.

“We should never have conceded (the way we did) but the one thing you can say is that we’ve responded very well, we’ve gone to the end and worked exceptionally hard.”

With the trophy tie in Kent now planned next Tuesday, there is still no date for Bognor’s Sussex Senior Cup quarter-final against Brighton U23s or Burgess Hill – their two possible opponents had their third-round tie washed out again on Tuesday.

Pearce fears many clubs will face an end-of-season fixture pile-up. “This weather makes it difficult for everyone,” he said.

“You’re getting behind on games and you can’t train properly. We’ll end up playing most of a season in two months.”