ROCKS REVIEW: Chatham 1 Rocks 1 - Point is not enough for title

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What a cruel, cruel game football can be. Too cruel for words, really.

The Rocks have finished the season with 96 points having lost just four games. Yet they have missed out on the Ryman one south title and now face the lottery of the play-offs.

Not by a point, but by a goal. One miserable goal.

The Rocks’ 1-1 draw at Chatham means they finished with a goal difference of 103-43 - the Met’s 1-0 last-day win over Merstham, achieved with a striker 24 minutes from time, gave them 96 points and a goal difference of 102-41.

Have a team ever missed out on a title with 96 points before?

Now the Rocks management, players and fans face a massive task - getting over this huge disappointment and anti-climax and lifting themselves for the play-offs.

In a semi-final expected to be played on Tuesday night, they will face Dulwich Hamlet, who finished a full 31 points behind them. So for every three points the Rocks won this year, Dulwich won two - just about.

The Rocks beat Dulwich home and away but the worry will be that Dulwich, who have not been in the top five all season, have that crucial end-of-season momentum while the Rocks could have a justifiable feeling of not having wanted to be anywhere near the play-offs.

Bognor welcomed back Michael Birmingham from his two-game suspension and he replaced Conor Wilkins.

Jason Prior won a corner in the fourth minute, and shortly afterwards a shot flashed just the wrong side of Chats’ right post.

The hosts looked dangerous going forward and after six minutes a free kick was floated in from the left towards Brad Potter and he managed to win a corner off Tim Bond. The kick was cleared by James Crane on the back post.

Kane Wills won a free-kick on the halfway line. Taken by Birmingham, it bobbled up awkwardly for goalkeeper Adam Molloy and Crane sent his shot over the bar.

Molloy required treatment after appearing to clash with Prior in his desperate attempts to clear.

The Chats looked invigorated after two straight wins. On 14 minutes Francis Tshikaya sped down the right and beat Matt Whitehead to cut the ball across the area for Joe Fuller. The striker hit his shot straight at Craig Stoner.

Ryan Rustell went close with a shot from outside the box that bounced inches wide.

A curling right-sided cross found Stuart Axten in the area. He headed towards goal but Molloy athletically palmed the ball around the post. From the resulting corner by Ben Johnson, a header by Prior sailed well over the crossbar.

Johnson sped down the left but his low cross was easily gathered by Molloy.

It was end to end stuff as Prior scuffed a shot well wide when he had more time than he realised.

On 24 minutes Birmingham lost the ball with a bad touch, but when Rustell ran through, all he could do was hit it along the deck to Stoner.

Crane then worked well with Johnson down the right. Crane crossed and Axten again rose above defence to loop a header at goal, but Molloy was equal to it.

Prior headed on to Wills who volleyed a cross in which was too much for Billy Parkinson and fell to Johnson. The winger did well to control the ball in the box but his low attempt was blocked by the legs of Molloy.

Chatham took the lead on 37 minutes. Tshikaya wove his way between the defence after short passes with Fuller and Restell, the tricky right-sided player slotted home the opener into the bottom corner beyond the diving Stoner.

Johnson was brought down by Jon Hogg just outside the box. But Birmingham hit the free kick at the wall.

The Rocks levelled on 43 minutes. Molloy had punched the ball high into the air after a cross from the right and Prior got his boot on to the ball to steer it into an empty net. The Rocks’ No9 celebrated his 38th league goal of the season with the many Rocks fans behind the goal.

The last attempt of the half came when Wills piled the ball through the middle but no other player could get on the end of it.

HT 1-1

Birmingham had taken a knock in the first half and was replaced by Dan Royce. Perry Ryan came on for Whitehead, allowing Crane to play at left-back to try to stop Tshikaya on the right.

Dan Beck threaded the ball in for Johnson and he kept the ball moving to allow Crane to cross. But it was poor and the defence cleared with ease.

Stoner had to catch the ball above Fuller as Ryan Laker swung in a high cross from the left for his team-mate.

The Rocks really should have gone ahead when Prior shot from distance. He forced a two-handed save from Molloy which fell to Nightingale, who without a marker, skied his shot over the bar.

Prior set Wills on his way down the right and the midfielder returned the favour when his cross fell accurately for Prior, but the striker’s header was feeble and straight at Molloy.

Tim Bond received a yellow card after he brought down Tshikaya on 67 minutes. Bond redeemed himself by heading the ball high from the free-kick and the defence cleared the danger.

Tshikaya rounded Crane on the right and crossed to the back post for Fuller, who headed over the bar.

The Rocks’ frustration continued as Royce smashed a cross straight at a defender who cleared.

Ryan set Prior up inside the area. The striker’s shot from the left side of the box looped up and looked destined for the top corner but the impressive Molloy tipped it wide under pressure.

Substitute Dean Maynard created a chance as soon as he took to the pitch as he crossed for Prior - but the striker disappointingly diverted the ball wide.

Within the same minute Royce blasted a shot along the turf that ran wide of the post after he cut in from the right.

Wills was yellow-carded, for appearing to argue against a free-kick decision, and with news coming through that the Met Police were winning, the Rocks looked increasingly desperate.

With ten minutes left, Stoner cut off an angled shot from Fuller inside the box.

Seconds later Maynard brought the ball down for Royce, but the right winger’s fierce shot was parried away by Molloy.

Prior belted a right-footed shot wide of the left post before Nightingale was caught narrowly offside when he was set through on goal.

For the Chats, Fuller flashed a shot narrowly wide of the far post.

Johnson couldn’t find anyone with a swirling cross from the left with Royce lurking on the back post.

In the final minute of normal time, Chatham’s Kane Rice was sent off with a straight red card after getting into a fight with Ryan. He took his shirt off and refused to head straight to the dressing room, which went unnoticed by the referee

Bond managed to block off substitute Billy Shinners at the last moment before Stoner had to pull out the point-saver right at the death, diving to his left to deny Fuller and somehow win a goal kick.

But as it turned out a 2-1 defeat would have been no worse for the Rocks than the 1-1 draw as they lost out by that narrowest of margins.

The irony is that the draw was as useless to the home team as to the Rocks - it sees them finish in the second relegation spot, with Corinthian Casuals and Whyteleafe repreived.

As for Bognor, they have had enough bad luck in recent years to last a lifetime and this season had looked for all the world like being the one when bad luck turned into good. It still might - if Dulwich Hamlet and then the winners of the Whitehawk/Leatherhead play-off semi can be overcome.

ROCKS: Stoner, Crane, Whitehead (Ryan HT), Wills, Axten, Bond, Beck (Maynard 72), Birmingham (Royce HT), Prior, Nightingale, Johnson. Unused Subs: Turner, Marzetti, James.


Picture: Dean Maynard goes close as time runs out for the Rocks. By Tommy McMillan