The Rocks somehow managed to claw a 4-3 defeat from the jaws of victory at a wet and windswept Fetcham Grove, suffering the heartbreak of conceding a 93rd-minute winner from the penalty spot to a ten-man Leatherhead side.
Any neutrals at the ground would have thoroughly enjoyed the match with plenty of goals and drama, but both managers will be wondering what happened to their defences. Had either set of forwards taken the many chances created for them we could have witnessed a record score.
Bognor began the match without James Crane, suffering from illness, and Craig Robson, who was still away. Young Brandon Haunstrup came in from Pompey for his first game at left-back and played well until before tiring in the second half. Jason Prior was playing his last match on loan before returning to Margate.
The first opportunity of the match fell to Bognor with Alex Parsons releasing Stuart Green on the right. Green’s excellent cross into the six-yard box was somehow missed by Ollie Pearce and Prior with Louis Wells, the home keeper, stranded. Bognor were having the majority of play but Leatherhead did look dangerous on the break. Young Haunstrup did well to deny Vasileios Karagannis as he burst clear on goal.
Wells in the home goal did not inspire confidence and following a flurry of corners from the Rocks, he again failed to clear and Ollie Pearce came within a whisker of opening the scoring.
On 29 minutes the home side took the lead with a break down the right. A long ball into the box was missed by several Bognor defenders and it fell to Kiernan Hughes-Masson, who was unmarked three yards out. He initially fluffed the opportunity but was given another chance and this time he squeezed it home.
Within a minute Bognor should have drawn level. A Pearce shot was deflected into the path of Prior ten yards out and with only the goalkeeper to beat. But the normally-reliable striker managed to place the ball wide of the post.
To emphasise the end-to-end nature of the match, Paul Semakula then wasted a glorious opportunity to add a second for Leatherhead, shooting straight at Chris Winterton when he should have scored with ease.
Leatherhead had another good chance when Chad Field slipped. This allowed Stacy Long to run through with only Winterton to beat. Long took the ball round the keeper, but just when it seemed easier to score than miss, young Field redeemed himself with a superb blocking tackle.
Prior and Pearce had a couple of good chances, with the ever-dangerous Parsons carving out opportunities from the right wing, but failed to capitalise on them. It seemed that a goal for Bognor must come but right on the half-time break, a second goal did arrive – for Leatherhead.
Carl Rook and Stacy Long were allowed to pass between themselves inside the box with the Bognor defenders unwilling to tackle. Rook then passed to that man Hughes-Masson who, surrounded by three defenders, managed to backheel the ball gently into the net from a yard out, squeezing it between keeper Winterton and the post.
Two down at the break against a side who were one of the poorer teams faced by the Rocks this season meant that some stern words were needed in the dressing room. Whatever was said seemed to have an effect as Bognor came out with all guns blazing in the second half.
Within two minutes of the restart Field should have tested the home keeper following a corner, but he mis-hit his shot from just a few yards. Parsons then shot powerfully, only to see wells deny him with an excellent diving save. Bognor forced corner after corner and it seemed that a goal must come.
It did in the 57th minute, with Harvey Whyte’s cross from the right after he had outpaced his marker being headed powerfully into the top left corner by Prior.
Although Bognor were by now thoroughly controlling the game and playing some lovely football, Leatherhead continued to look dangerous whenever they had the chance to break. Hughes-Masson thought he had scored a hat-trick but his goal was correctly disallowed for offside and just a minute later he cut in from the right and let fly from 20 yards. Fortunately his curved shot went just past the post.
On 63 minutes Bognor were level. A superb pass from Doug Tuck to Prior was turned in to Jake Thomson, and he picked his spot with a clinical shot from 12 yards.
Any thoughts that the visitors could now go on to win were cruelly dashed less than 60 seconds later. Straight from the kick-off Bognor’s defence backed away from Stacy Long and he was allowed to advance and score, sliding the ball confidently past Winterton.
However this did not seem to faze the Rocks and just a few minutes later Parsons restored parity. Fed by Tuck out on the right he beat two defenders before cutting inside and firing low and hard past Wells.
Surely now the Rocks would go on and win! It seemed likely in the 80th minute when Pearce did well to outpace two defenders and then lob the keeper from an acute angle. Agonisingly the ball hit the post and bounced out rather than back towards him. A minute later Leatherhead were reduced to ten men as Long was given a straight red for kicking Charlie Oatway.
Bognor then thought they had won the match. Green took the ball past three defenders and his low shot from 15 yards seemed destined for the corner of the net, only for Wells to somehow get a fingertip to it and divert it for a corner.
When it was indicated that there were to be an additional five minutes of added time to be played, mainly as a result of Leatherhead’s time wasting antics as they tried to hold out, there were groans of despair from the home supporters.
Football can be a cruel game however, and with 93 minutes on the clock, a long ball out of the home defence found Karagannis some 30 yards out.
Surrounded by three Bognor defenders he should not have been given any chance, but he squeezed past Thomson, and then advanced into the box shepherded by Field and Dan Sackman. Field missed his tackle and then Sackman’s despairing lunge brought the forward down.
Referee Mr Goldsmith had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Karagannis took the penalty kick himself and although Winterton guessed correctly and almost saved, the ball crossed the line for the winner.
The Rocks look to bounce back on Saturday, when they host Bury Town.
ROCKS: Winterton, Whyte, Haunstrup (Oatway 61’), Tuck, Sackman, Field, Green, Thomson, Prior, Pearce, Parsons. Unused subs: Lawson, Morey.