ROCKS REVIEW: Whyteleafe 1 Rocks 5

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Bognor’s trip to Whyteleafe saw them make it six league wins out of six in 2011 to maintain their assault on the Ryman division one south title.

Against the struggling Surrey outfit, a Luke Nightingale hat-trick - which saw him bring his personal tally to six goals in three games - along with goals from Jason Prior and Ben Johnson, made it 22 goals for the year so far in 22 days.

After naming an unchanged starting XI for the third match running, the Rocks took the early initiative and went ahead in the 11th minute.

Johnson’s corner from the right saw Nightingale nip in front of his marker to steer the ball home at the near post from barely a yard out.

The difficult uneven playing surface saw the ball bobble on numerous occasions and this almost led to an equaliser for the home side when, after Craig Stoner’s mis-kick, the ball fell to Alex Brown. But he quickly found himself under pressure from the visiting defence and in the end the chance came to nothing.

Midway through the first half, a good move down the right saw Kane Wills’ testing cross cut out and from the resulting corner, Prior headed just wide of the post.

Johnson gave the home defence a torrid time throughout the match and on the half-hour mark, his deep cross flew over the head of home keeper Chris Dilley but Tim Bond, arriving at the far post, was unable to divert the ball on target.

But the large travelling support didn’t have too long to wait to see the Rocks double their advantage.

A neat move saw the ball fed to James Crane on the left, whose cross took a touch off a Whyteleafe head before the ball dropped nicely for Prior who volleyed home at the far post.

Barely a minute later, however, the hosts had a golden opportunity to immediately pull one back when referee Mr Eva pointed to the penalty spot, ruling that Stuart Axten had climbed on Bentley Graham.

But for the second Saturday running, Stoner proved himself equal to the task by saving the spot-kick, pushing Chris O’Flaherty’s weak effort to safety.

However, O’Flaherty made amends by pulling a goal back for the hosts four minutes before the break. The ball was played over from the right, finding the left foot of the dangerous No.11 who unleashed a ferocious low drive from the edge of the box, into the far corner to halve the deficit.

Five minutes into the second half, the Rocks restored their two-goal cushion when Perry Ryan’s cross-field ball was superbly brought under control on the left by Johnson, whose cross found the unmarked Nightingale, who firmly planted his header home past Dilley.

Seven minutes later the three points were effectively safe when Nightingale and Johnson reversed their roles, with the former supplying the latter with the cross to head home goal number four.

Back in October, the two sides met on the same ground in an FA Trophy replay, with Bognor running out 6-1 winners. And a repeat of this scoreline appeared to be on the cards as the dominant blue-shirted visitors went in search of further goals.

Dilley was on hand to deny Micky Birmingham, doing well to tip the veteran’s free-kick over the bar, before Johnson saw a more ambitious effort from 40 yards fly narrowly over the crossbar.

In the 80th minute, Whyteleafe captain Fred Fleming could perhaps consider himself fortunate to escape with a yellow card following a two-footed lunge at Johnson, before substitute Dan Royce also saw yellow, despite the fact his opponent had put in a very high challenge that saw him come off worse.

However, the Rocks saved their best goal to last when some excellent one-touch football saw Wills set up Nightingale, who drilled his low shot home past Dilley to complete his hat-trick and to make it 14 league goals this season, just three behind Prior’s current league tally of 17 so far.

This victory lifted the Rocks up to second place in the league table for the first time since September. Although there is a midweek trip to Faversham to deal with first, next Saturday’s visit of table-toppers Metropolitan Police - who lead the Rocks by two points - is very much in the minds of the green army.

ROCKS: Stoner, Ryan, Crane, Wills, Axten, Bond, Beck (Marzetti), Birmingham (Wood), Prior (Royce), Nightingale, Johnson. Unused sub: Whitehead.

Report by Rob Garforth