BOGNOR are back in the Ryman premier play-off places – and in fine fettle for Saturday’s FA Trophy quarter-final against Torquay – after a superb and convincing 3-1 win at Tonbridge.
Jason Prior’s three-minute first-half double was added to by Alfie Rutherford’s sublime chip early in the second half, and Luke Blewden’s goal for the Angels never looked like being any more than a consolation for the hosts, who are themselves making a strong bid for promotion.
The opening stages on a cold night in Kent saw Tonbridge in the ascendancy and they looked like they might be capable of stopping Bognor from playing their normal passing game.
Luke Allen had an 18-yard shot saved by Grant Smith before Nathan Elder had a couple of efforts at goal.
Gradually Bognor found their feet and Calvin Davies and Stuart Green linked well down the right to cause headaches for the Angels.
For Tonbridge, Charlie Webster played in Bradley Woods-Garness, who outpaced the defence and placed a shot past Smith, only to see it roll inches wide of the post.
Jason Prior’s three-minute first-half double was added to by Alfie Rutherford’s sublime chip early in the second half, and Luke Blewden’s goal for Angels never looked like being any more than a consolation for the hosts.
Nick Wheeler’s shot from 20 yards was well saved and Bognor took a 26th-minute lead. A superb tackle in midfield by James Crane enabled him to lay the ball off to Dan Beck, and his ball into the area was headed in by Prior – with the help of a decoy run by Rutherford that appeared to confuse keeper Anthony Di Bernardo.
That delighted the Rocks fans – and they were delirious a couple of minutes later when Prior crashed home a towering header from Green’s cross, a classic centre-forward’s goal.
It ought to have been 3-0 just before the interval when Rutherford seemed certain to score, but he shot wide.
Tonbridge might have been expected to come out all guns blazing in the second half but Bognor still had a large amount of control. And their position was further strengthened on 53 minutes when Rutherford picked the ball up on the left, headed for goal and, from the edge of the box, dinked the ball over the keeper and into the top corner. It was another beauty of a finish from a teenage striker having a season to remember.
Tonbridge had plenty of possession after that for a spell and pulled one back through sub Blewden - scorer of a hat-trick in their 5-0 win at Bognor in August - when he touched in from close range.
Bognor decided the best form of defence was attack and Rutherford and Prior each went close to making it 4-1.
Davies headed an Allen effort off the Rocks line before Gary Charman and Daryl Wollers came on to help shore things up in the final stages.
By the end Bognor were controlling things and never looking in danger of allowing the Angels an unlikely comeback.
Afterwards one of the Tonbridge directors told his Bognor counterparts the Rocks were the finest team they had played this season - a nice complinent for Jamie Howell’s team to come home with as they look ahead to the Trophy game.
They are now fifth in the Ryman premier - ten points off leaders Hampton and Richmond but with at least three games in hand over each of the sides above them.
They may find it difficult playing catch-up but for now at least they can enjoy the prospect of trying.
Rocks: Smith, Davies, Crane, Tuck, El-Abd, Robson, Green (Charman 78), Beck, Prior, Rutherford (Wollers 83)(, Tighe (Parsons 67). Subs not used: Field, Nilsen.
Get all the FA Trophy build-up in the Bognor Observer, out on Thursday
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