Bognor boss: Promotion the aim - we'll need luck with injuries and referees
The Rocks are ready to roll. A new Isthmian League season starts on Saturday and manager Jack Pearce is clear that promotion is the aim – and is achievable.
The Nyewood Lane stalwart says the team will need luck with everything from injuries and refereeing decisions, but says there’s no reason they can’t challenge for honours with the squad they have assembled.
Another three players have signed in the past week or so – defender Joe Dandy, midfielder Phil Brown and striker Kayne Diedrick-Roberts.
And they have more players tied to contracts than ever before as they set out to make their mark on what’s likely to be a highly competitive league.
It’s the Rocks’ fourth season back at step three after a year in National South in 2017-18, but only one of the previous three campaigns has reached a conclusion, Bognor finishing in mid-table in 18-19 before two Covid-shortened seasons.
Having signed the likes of Ethan Robb, Joe Hancott, Craig Robson and Charlie Bell and retained regulars from last season’s team like Amadou Tangara, Joe Cook, Harvey Whyte and Jordy Mongoy, both management and fans at the Nye Camp are optimistic going into the new season.
Results in friendlies have been good, with Horndean, Havant and – on Monday night – Chichester City among the teams the Rocks have beaten.
Boss Pearce said there was a good feeling around the place as they prepared to welcome Bishop’s Stortford for the Isthmian premier opener on Saturday.
He told the Observer: “It’s been a very good pre-season in terms of training and the results and performances seen in friendlies, but I’ve been around long enough to know you can have a great pre-season and bad season, or a bad pre-season and a great season. You can’t read too much into anything before the league starts.
“But on the face of it, it’s very encouraging.”
Pearce warned the new-look team could not be expected to be at their best from the word go.
“I’d ask fans to be patient. We have a lot of new players still getting to know how each other play, and with the way we play, with a passing game, often passing the ball around in our own half, there’s every chance there will be mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes might cost goals.
“We’re not going to change the way we play so we have to be prepared to make the odd mistake.
“But I’m very pleased with the recruitment we’ve done and with the strength of the squad.
“If anything we may have too many good players. It may be difficult keeping everyone happy but we’ll review things at the end of September and see how we’re going.”
It’s probably fair to say that more than half the clubs in the division – whose line-up is unchanged from the 2020-21 season – will fancy their chances of at least a play-off place.
In Sussex alone, the Rocks can expect strong challenges from Worthing - many people’s favourites for the title - and Horsham and Lewes, who have also had good summers in the transfer market.
Pearce said Bognor had every right to be one of the clubs looking up, not down: “The division could be the most competitive it’s ever been, with a lot of good sides involved.
“Covid will play a part. There will be teams hit by players isolating but games will have to be played.
“We will need good fortune with everything from injuries to refereeing decisions. Luck plays a big part.
“But my wish is to be in the top third of the table. We are looking for promotion, that’s the clear aim.”
Generally speaking the squad is fit and looking sharp after a long build-up to the ‘season proper’ – they began training on the first Saturday in June.
But there are one or two injury doubts for Saturday’s first game, which is followed by a trip to East Thurrock a week later.
Defender Joe Cook and forwards Jason Parish and Alfie Lis are the ones who may miss the opener.
Pearce added: “With restrictions lifted, we look forward to seeing a good-sized crowd in who we know will get behind the lads.”