The Rocks head into a week that will define the end of their season being urged to maintain the standards that ended their winless run.
A 2-0 victory at Wingate and Finchley last Saturday has revived their faint hopes of reaching the Bostik premier play-offs. It’s a result they aim to build on at home to Brightingsea Regent on Saturday and in next Tuesday’s Sussex Senior Cup semi-final against Brighton under-23s at Lancing.
Coach Robbie Blake has urged the players to keep working hard and taking a game at a time – and see where that takes them.
It looks like they will be boosted by keeper Dan Lincoln being fit – despite ending up cut and bruised after receiving a boot in the face in the victory at Wingate. Another defender is set to return to the squad after injury, but others are out for longer.
The Wingate win, courtesy of two goals in five second-half minutes by Mason Walsh, left Bognor ninth, six points off the top five, and it would take a fine run in the final five games for them to make the play-offs.
Manager Jack Pearce felt the Rocks were ‘off-colour’ in the first half in north London but improved in the second, especially when Walsh was switched to a central role.
“There’s very little between most sides in this league," Pearce said. "And I thought we’d played better in parts of our recent home defeats than in the first half at Wingate. Now we need to take this into the next game and hope key players stay in form.”
Blake was delighted the team kept their league season alive at Wingate. He said: “Any time you get three points is good, whether you play well or poorly. We haven’t had a win in the past six games and it was important to get it.
“I said at half-time we were trying to force too many errors. I said to Mason that defenders at this level switch off with a bit of interchange and give and go, and that’s what happened for our first goal. Once we got the first we settled down and scored a second.
“We’ll take the three points and move on to the next game. We have to take one game at a time because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve got to keep going for ourselves, for the pride of the football club and for the supporters."
Blake, who praised Walsh for his goals and Doug Tuck for his overall performance, insisted the Rocks could still get into the play-offs despite that recent run of six games without a win. “It’s by no means an easy assignment but you have to take a game at a time. If we win Saturday, we’ll see what happens from there.”
Brightlingsea Regent, who are 14th, visit Nyewood Lane on Saturday but Blake said: “Every game in this league is tough. But hopefully this win will give us a bit of confidence.”
Booted in face and scarred but Dan is still the man
Walsh whips Wingate
Blake had praise again for the Bognor fans who backed the boys in London. “They’ve been fantastic – but before the start of the game at the warm-up they were grilling me! I said ‘I’m not going to come over and talk to you again. Seriously though we respect them and appreciate their support.”
Keeper Lincoln is in with a fighting chance of facing Brightlingsea despite being booted in the face at Wingate. The reckless high challenge earned the home side’s Donovan Makoma a red card. After lengthy treatment on the pitch, Lincoln bravely carried on and helped the visitors to the win. But the custodian needed stitches to the wound caused by Makoma’s studs after the game.
He took to Twitter to take issue with claims on social media the hosts were set to appeal against the sending-off as no injury was caused. He tweeted: “Stitches put in, stitches pulled back out! Referred to facial reconstructive surgeon tomorrow morning! The facial reconstructive surgeon wouldn’t agree with the fact no-one’s injured, chaps. He spent a good couple of hours out of his morning yesterday stitching my face up. The scar is going to look great for the rest of my life.”
Pearce and Blake are desperate to have Lincoln back in goal for the run-in, with the Senior Cup semi-final clash with Brighton U23s on Tuesday looming.
Pearce said: “We remain hopeful Dan will be with us after the unfortunate incident at Wingate & Finchley. He deserves an awful lot of credit for continuing to play and there is no question that he influenced the result hugely by doing so, and he kept a clean sheet in the process. I’ve spoken with Dan and it looks as if he has a very good fighting chance of playing on Saturday against Brightlingsea Regent.”
Left-back Joe Tomlinson should be fit for Saturday but right-back Calvin Davies is out for the season and striker Jimmy Muitt is out at least until the final couple of games.
Pearce is delighted by the progress of centre-half Keaton Wood, who was out from September to March. "He's looking stronger every game," Pearce said.