BOGNOR’S promotion dream is over after a jaded and at-times nervy performance saw them crash out of the Ryman premier play-offs at home to Lowestoft.
The Suffolk visitors killed off the Rocks with a 77th-minute winner on a night when each of the goals was down to a defensive mistake.
The home team’s misery was complete when sub Ben Johnson was sent off soon after Town’s second goal for kicking out at Chris Henderson as he tried to shake off his opponent’s challenge on a run down the left.
It is a big disappointment for the Rocks after a fine season league season that saw them finish third to earn the home semi-final. A hectic run of fixtures in the final month of the season, when they played ten matches in 28 days, caught up with them.
The Rocks named a strong starting line-up, with midfielder Sammy Igoe the main absentee as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
Unusually, the Rocks were attacking the clubhouse end in the first half in what was their third play-off semi-final in four years.
There was a quiet and at times nervy start to proceedings as both sides checked one another out but it was Henderson who had the first effort at goal, his fierce shot flying wide in the fifth minute. Then Jake Reed forced Grant Smith to save with his legs after surging into the area and shooting low from an acute angle.
The visitors were having the better of the opening exchanges and Shaun Bammant flashed a header wide from a corner.
Completely against the run of play, Terry Dodd gave the Rocks the lead, seizing on a loose backpass to slot the ball past Lowestoft keeper Ashlee Jones and in off the post.
Town tried to hit back immediately and Paul Hinshelwood did well to get in the way of Robert Eagle’s low drive. From the corner, a Lowestoft man had a free header which was cleared off the line by a defender.
The goal had helped settle the home side but Lowestoft were giving them plenty to think about and Henderson looked well-positioned for a shot on the edge of the box but skewed it wide.
On 20 minutes, Ollie Pearce was close to getting on the end of an Arron Hopkinson cross but captain Dan Gleeson hoofed it clear for Town. Craig Robson almost got on the end of the resultant corner.
Dodd beat his man down the right to set up Hopkinson in the box but a corner was the best he could win.
Pearce picked up a yellow card on 24 minutes for halting Jack Ainsley’s run from right-back.
The Rocks suffered another injury blow when Hopkinson, having taken a knock, limped off to be replaced by Ben Johnson. Bringing on Johnson so early when he is still coming back from injury, and it left precious few other attacking options on the bench.
Town were level on 28 minutes and the Rocks brought in on themselves. They conceded a throw-in close to their own by-line when passing between keeper Smith and defender Robson got them in trouble. That led to a corner and when that wasn’t cleared, Curtis Haynes-Brown smashed in the loose ball from ten yards.
There were big shouts for handball from the Rocks players and fans when a Pearce cross was blocked on 32 minute but the officials didn’t see it.
It was a more even contest now but the occasion seemed to be getting a little to both teams.
Dodd almost surprised Lowestoft again when he somehow beat two defenders and the keeper to meet a Pearce cross at the near post but it went the wrong side of the post.
Reed had a great chance when a cross from the right found him unmarked eight yards out but he didn’t get a clean connection on it and Smith gathered.
Henderson had the first chance of the second half, running on to a neat through-ball and drawing a good low save from Smith. Soon, Reed set up Rossi Jarvis but his stooping header was well wide.
It was all Lowestoft at the start of the second half and Bammant’s volley brought the save of the night so far out of Smith as he took off at his near post to palm the effort away for a corner.
Johnson lined up a free-kick in a promising position 25 yards out after he was fouled, but the delivery was disappointing and easily cleared.
The Rocks threatened again when Doug Tuck swung in a cross but Dodd and Johnson seemed to get in each other’s way.
Bammant went close again on 61 minutes, curling a shot just beyond Smith’s far post from inside the area after beating Hinshelwood.
Reed went on a mrauding run into the Bognor box on 65 minutes but was crowded out.
Town wasted a free-kick just outside the box down their right, the delivery straight down Smith’s throat.
Straight away at the other end, a high cross from the left looked perfect for Pearce but a defender beat him to it.
Eagle was next to go close for Lowestoft, fizzing a low drive across the box and just wide.
Another scare for the hosts came on 75 minutes when a corner bounced across the six-yard box without a telling touch from anyone.
Lowestoft took the lead and it was another avoidable goal. The defence failed to deal with a high ball and when an attempted header back to Smith fell short, Reed took it past him and slotted in from a tight angle.
The Rocks were almost made to pay again for hesitancy at the back when a clearance fell to Henderson and his lob from 35 yards beat Smith and came back off the bar.
Bognor were reduced to ten men when Johnson saw red for kicking out at Henderson as he tried to go past his man down the left and the Town player pulled him back.
After that it was always going to be tough for the Rocks to lift themselves back into it and save the game.
Four extra minutes were signalled but Bognor didn’t seem to have anything left to give.
The last act saw Town bring on Michael Frew for Bammant, and in no time the referee blew to bring a downbeat end to what, it should be remembered, has still been an excellent league campaign at Nyewood Lane.
Now they have a couple of weeks to regroup and get a few injured players fit for the Sussex Senior Cup final, which will see them take on Peacehaven at the Amex on Sunday, May 18.
Rocks: Smith, Hinshelwood, Crane, Tuck, Axten, Robson, Hopkinson, Wills, Dodd, Pearce, Chamberlain. Subs: Johnson, Sackman, Kempson, Wollers, Ender.
Lowestoft: Jones, Ainsley, Haynes-Brown, Fisk, Gleeson, Gaughran, Henderson, Jarvis, Reed, Bammant, Eagle. Subs: Smith, S Ainsley, Frew, Bailey, Jessup.
Ref: L Forrester (Luton)