Competition for places is returning to the Bognor squad – and that can help give fans an exicitng end to the season as the team go for glory on two fronts.
Defenders Keaton Wood and Calvin Davies are close to full fitness after weeks out injured and at least one of them may be in the squad for Saturday’s trip to Bishop’s Stortford.
And with winger Mason Walsh also back in the mix, midfielder Theo Widdrington back for a second loan spell after getting over a hamstring problem and calf injuries suffered by top scorer Jimmy Muitt and and centre-half Chad Field not looking like keeping them out, the club’s selection options look much rosier.
That will be key as the Rocks go into the final dozen league games with every chance of landing a play-off place and look forward to a Sussex Senior Cup semi-final early in March.
It was a great week results-wise for Bognor as they followed a 2-1 win at high-flying Merstham last Wednesday with a hard-working if not-very-pretty 2-0 home triumph over Hornchurch on Saturday.
Manager Jack Pearce was delighted by the six-point haul even though he admitted the ground-out win against Hornchurch was not great to watch.
“There have been a lot of games this season in which, in my opinion, we have played better and lost. But sometimes you just have to be pleased to win, and if you can’t play well, then winning without a good display is the next best thing.
“They were two difficult games and the wet pitch at Merstham left the players a bit leggy for Saturday. But considering the injuries we have had, we have to be happy with where we are.”
Wood and Davies have been out long-term with ankle and knee injuries but both are training well and on the verge of training. Pearce said: “We might see one of them in the squad on Saturday.”
Walsh came off the bench for Field against Hornchurch although he is not yet 100 per cent fit after a hip injury. And Pearce said Muitt and Field should be fine to face Stortford after calf muscle injuries.
“It’s a competitive league and for us to have more players available at this time is vital,” said the manager. “If you can start filling your bench with players who others know can come on and make a difference, it is very healthy.
“I just hope we don’t suffer any more bad luck with injuries. We have had more than our fair share so far.
“If we can keep everyone fit we should be able to give the fans a very good and exciting end to the season.”
Coach Blake was pleased with the win over Hornchurch even though the performance was not great. He said: “We dug in really well and it was a vital three points. Three or four times we’ve set ourselves up to win at home and cement our place in the play-off picture and not done it, and here we’ve done it.
“The lads deserve a lot of credit because a lot of them are coming back from injury. I thought we’d either win impressively or lose ugly.
“We dug in and have to do that if we’re going to achieve anything this season.
“We don’t seem to get a break with the injuries. Jimmy Muitt goes out and that upsets the rhythm of the team.”
Blake praised skipper Harvey Whyte for the bit of magic that set up the Rocks penalty and opening goal, put away by Theo Widdrington even though coach Robbie Blake wanted Dan Smith to take the spot-kick.
He was also delighted by Richard Gilot’s finish for the second goal - the Frenchman’s first goal since his return to the club last month.
“We showed a lot of commitment and a willingness to get over the line,” he said.
The Rocks are third but only ten points separat them from 14th-placed Carshalton.
“All we can do is look after ourselves. Our main objective is the top five,” Blake said.
“The boys have been different class all the way through the season. They’ve had to deal with injuries, suspensions, loan players not available. They’ve been magnificent.”
Blake said the trip to Bishop’s Stortford was another chance to show their recent form was no fluke. “They’re very good at home but lately we’ve been very good away from home. We need to keep on with this positivity.”
Bognor are hopeful Pompey pair Brad lethbridge and Dan Smith will be available this weekend – though the Fratton Park club are likely to recall them nearer their Checkatrade semi-final at Bury on Tuesday, February 26.
The Rocks will find out on Tuesday whether it will be Brighton under-23s or Eastbourne Town they will face in their county cup semi-final at Sussex FA HQ at Lancing on March 5. Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath will meet in the other semi six days earlier.