The Rocks returned with all three points from their longest-ever journey for a league match – but it was a performance that needed every ounce of their battling qualities and not a little good fortune.
Stuart Axten was welcomed back to the centre of defence after eight weeks out with a serious ankle injury and performed magnificently as Bognor were put under the cosh by a Lowestoft team missing several key players through suspension and injury.
The home side almost scored within the opening 20 seconds as Louis John hesitated on the ball, allowing Henderson to square to Frew. With only Craig Stoner to beat he dragged his shot wide of the goal.
Within two minutes Henderson blazed over the bar when Wollers and John failed to clear. The Rocks almost conceded when Joe Francis beat two defenders on the right but hit the side netting from an acute angle.
Bognor began to weather the storm and Kane Wills and Dan Beck were battling well in midfield. Whenever the ball was worked out wide to Harvey Whyte, there was a sense something could be created as the home side looked far less assured in defence. A lay-off from Whyte enabled Ashley-Paul Robinson to shoot from 20 yards but his shot whistled just past the post.
In the latter stages of the first half the home side increased the pressure on Stoner’s goal and Lee Smith shot wide when clean through, followed by a desperate 60-second period when John, Axten and Daryl Wollers all hooked balls off the line. Stoner came out to make an excellent save from home captain Sam Gaughran.
Out of the blue the Rocks took the lead through James Crane on 41 minutes. A weak clearance from Gaughran allowed Whyte to cross perfectly to Crane who outmuscled a home defender before lobbing the ball over Jake Jessup in the home goal. The ball seemed to take an age to cross the line with the impressive Bognor support behind the goal willing it in.
This seemed to rejuvenate the home team and it needed more excellent defending by the Bognor back four to hold out until the interval.
Lewis Stockford replaced Wollers at the break, with Crane moving into the back four.
Bognor seemed far more assured in the second half and pressed their hosts from the start. In the 48th minute Kane Wills fed Whyte whose hard, low cross was cleared only as far as Steve Harper, who lashed it in from close range while lying inside the six-yard box.
Within a couple of minutes Robinson should have made it three. His tricky ball control took him clear of two defenders but with only Jessup to beat he shot weakly.
Lowestoft were running short of ideas and were having to leave gaps at the back as they surged forward. Whyte, who had an excellent game, looked dangerous every time he received the ball and was well supported by Harper.
Joe Francis had a couple of excellent runs, but was reduced to shooting from long distance as the Bognor defence held firm and it looked increasingly likely Lowestoft would run out of ideas. A penalty in the 73rd minute changed that, though.
Francis was pushed by Stockford and there could be no arguments as referee Duncan Foreman pointed to the spot. Dale Cockrill scored confidently despite Stoner guessing correctly.
This galvanised Lowestoft and again the Rocks’ defence were tested as Cockrill and Henderson led the assault. Doug Tuck and Terry Dodd replaced the tiring Dan Beck and Robinson.
The home side produced an excellent five-man flowing move which resulted in Henderson heading wide when he should have hit the target and Jon Marzetti headed off the line with Stoner beaten.
Stoner clawed the ball off the line as it seemed destined for the net as the pressure intensified. Jessup, the home keeper, was regularly upfield to support his colleagues as the barrage continued and this nearly proved his undoing in the 90th minute.
The home side lost possession and Wills, spotting the keeper well out of position, let fly from within in his own half. Agonisingly, the ball dropped 12 inches wide of the post.
There was still time for another flurry of home corners and in the 93rd and last minute, there were strong claims from the home fans for a free-kick against Stoner as he picked up what appeared to be a pass back from Marzetti.
This had been an excellent match in which Bognor showed immense character in defending as if their lives depended on it. Lowestoft will perhaps feel they should have gained at least a point, but how often have the roles been reversed this season at Nyewood Lane?
There should be special mention for the supporters of both clubs. It was a great turnout from Bognor, who justifiably celebrated wildly at the end and tremendous sportsmanship from the home supporters who stayed behind at the end to clap the Bognor players from the field.
All in all, this was a tremendous advert for non League football!
Lowestoft: Jessup, Saker, Ainsley, Jones, Nelson, Gaughran, Smith, Okay, Frew, Henderson, Francis. Subs: Eagle, Cunningham, Cockrill, Fitzgerald, Wilson.
Rocks: Stoner, Marzetti, Wollers (Stockford 46), Crane, Axten, John, Beck (Tuck 75), Wills, Harper, Robinson (Dodd 78), Walshe, Boyle.