Bognor boss Jamie Howell hailed his side’s defensive resilience after they bagged four points from two away games.
A clean sheet away to Met Police on New Year’s Eve was rewarded with three points courtesy of a late own-goal winner – then the Rocks had to dig in to secure a 1-1 draw at Worthing on bank holiday Monday.
The Rocks may be relatively short of goals in the current league campaign - their tally of 43 is bettered by seven other sides in the Ryman premier top ten – but they are making up for that with a mean defensive record that’s joint best in the division.
They’ve let in only 25 goals in 25 games and Howell picked out goalkeeper Dan Lincoln and centre-halves Sami El-Abd and Ed Sanders for their input at the back in recent weeks.
Howell said: “If I’m honest we were a little fortunate to come away from Worthing with a point. Worthing played very well in the second half and put us under a lot of pressure and a lot of teams – including some Bognor teams of the past – would have crumbled.
“But we are more resilient these days and that’s a good trait to have. Last year we had the best defensive record in the league and this year, as of now, we have the joint best with Havant.
“It’s the results you get when you are not playing well that can make the difference between being at or near the top or somewhere much lower down the table. And at the moment we are going through a spell where we are perhaps not playing as well as we can.”
The 1-0 win at Met Police – earned when 17-year-old forward Oscar Haynes-Brown forced an injury-time own goal – meant Bognor reached the turn of the year in top spot after closest challengers Needham Market had their game called off.
Then the Suffolk side’s defeat at Leiston on Monday, couple with Bognor’s point at Woodside Road, gave Howell’s men a one-point lead in the first new league table of 2017.
The Rocks host mid-table Billericay – who are fresh from an injection of cash and a host of new signings – on Saturday, then visit Southern Combination premier-division leaders Shoreham in the Sussex Senior Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday night.
Howell praised the influence sub Haynes-Brown had coming on at Met Police and said he was a player that Rocks coach Darin Killpartrick had worked with in the England Colleges set-up.
“He is at Ardingly College, where former Bognor player Duncan Jupp works, and he also recommended him to us. He’s potentially one for the future,” Howell said.
Gradually the Rocks are getting their injured players back, although midfield maestro Dan Beck’s hip flexor problem needs further investigation.
Defender Gary Charman was ill over the festive period but could feature on Saturday, while another centre-half, Chad Field, is still not 100 per cent over his hamstring problem.
Striker Jimmy Muitt has been struggling to hit a run of full fitness but Howell said: “We hope he’ll be able to feature more prominently in the second half of the season.”
The hunt for another striker continues but Howell admitted it was tough finding the right man at this stage of the season.
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