THE ROCKS head into their biggest game in years being told: Have no regrets.
They will be in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time in 20 years if they can win at Wealdstone in the fourth qualifying round this Saturday.
They’re likely to be backed by 200-plus fans as they look to secure a place in a draw that could see them paired with a League One or League Two team like Pompey or Millwall.
Boss Jamie Howell admits this is not just any other game but says the players must tread the line between being up for the challenge and getting carried away by the excitement that victory would bring.
It’s 11 years since the Rocks got this far in football’s most famous competition and on that occasion they lost to Yeading – who went on to play Newcastle in a later round.
You have to go back to 1995 to find the last time Bognor played in the ‘proper’ rounds. After overcoming Ashford in the first round, they were drawn away to Peterborough and it was the talk of the town for weeks, even after they had lost the tie 4-0.
Howell will have virtually a fully-fit squad to choose from as long as full-back Harvey Whyte proves he is over a thigh strain, and the manager says he has one or two positions where he is still mulling over who to play.
He says the squad are looking forward to the trip to Grosvenor Vale and know what it means to the club and the fans.
“Everyone knows it’s a big game – it’s not really just another game,” Howell said. “We want to have a go – we don’t want to come home from Wealdstone with any regrets.
“Wealdstone are a good team – well-organised, well-drilled. Chances will be at a premium and we mustn’t lose our concentration or give away silly goals.
“It’s tempting to look beyond this round because of what it holds, but we can’t afford to do that. If we go daydreaming about the first round draw, we will come a croppper.
“Wealdstone will fancy their chances against us and rightly so – they play a division above us. And I’d say what I said in the previous two ties against Lowestoft and Oxford City: we need to be at our best and hope they have a bit of an offday.
“We’ve been all right this season and if we perform on the day we have a chance. We need our senior players to lead from the front. I’m more confident we can do this with the team we have now than I would have been with other line-ups we’ve had.”
Coach Darin Killpartrick played in Bognor’s game at Peterborough in 1995 and puts it as one of the top moments of his playing career – and is telling the 2015-16 squad this is their chance to make a name for themselves.
“There’s a bit of a buzz in the dressing room,” said Killpartrick.
“Training has been going extremely well and we know we will be going to face an organised team and a hostile crowd.
“I reckon we’ll have as many as 250 fans there and we’d love to get to the first round for them but also for ourselves.
“I played at Peterborough in that game 20 years ago and it was one of my career highlightss. We have lads like Gary Charman and Sami El-Abd who have played in the first round so they know hoe big it is.”
If Whyte is fit, it would allow him to return to the Rocks team at right-back, freeing up Craig Robson for a possible return to midfield, where he has been effective alongside Dan Beck and Snorre Nilsen of late.
Another player desperate to start will be teenage striker Alfie Rutherford, who has scored twice in each of the Rocks’ two most recent games.
In the league, Bognor sit in fifth place after blowing a 2-1 lead to draw 2-2 at home to East Thurrock on Saturday.
Monday’s visit to Kingstonian was postponed because the Ryman League likes its teams to have a free midweek ahead of FA Cup games at this stage of the competition.
If the visit to Wealdstone ends in a draw, the replay will be at Nyewood Lane on Tuesday evening. If there is no replay, Bognor will host Staines in a league game.
If you can’t go to Wealdstone, keep up to date with all the action on this website – where you will find a match report and all the reaction on Saturday evening
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