Bognor travelled to Champion Hill in South London on Saturday to face old adversaries Dulwich - and came away with a superb 3-1 victory that helped banish the memory of last season’s play-off defeat.
Both sides went into the game in a run of good form, Dulwich’s latest victory being a 3-0 midweek victory away highly-fancied Lowestoft.
The game, played in perfect conditions, attracted a gate of 2,217; the largest in the Ryman League so far this season.
Bognor welcomed new keeper Dan Lincoln into the team, while Doug Tuck returned to the midfield after injury and Gary Charman was reinstated to centre-back, having been an emergency keeper last game.
Bognor started in a confident manner creating all the early pressure, Kevin James’ last-ditch header denied deny Sami El Abd a clear header after good work out wide by Alex Parsons. Minutes later Ollie Pearce had a good shout for penalty following a rasping shot.
Another clearing header by Matt Drage denied Parsons after good work by Dylan Barnett out on the left.
Dulwich tried to counter attack, but Charman and El Abd looked solid in the centre of defence.
Bognor came again and on 19 minutes a superb move involving young Jimmy Wild, who led the line well all afternoon, saw his perfect pass found Barnett out wide on the the left. A first-time cross evaded all the home defenders and was eventually bundled home by James Fraser to give Bognor a deserved lead.
Instead of building on this, Bognor took their foot of the throttle for a few minutes, and Dulwich punished them.
An excellent run by Nyren Clunis on the right caused problems, his cross was missed by several defenders and the impressive Ibra Sekajja unleashed an unstoppable shot to give Lincoln no chance and bring the scores level.
Dulwich had the wind in their sails, but Bognor weathered the slight storm and started to get back into it. Lincoln was looking impressive on debut and his quick distribution often changed defence into attack.
On 29 minutes a superb inter passing move involving Wild and Parsons sent Pearce through and he was hacked down by Mark Weatherstone in the penalty area for a penalty. The home defender was lucky to escape any type of card.
Pearce picked himself up and coolly slotted home past Preston Edwards in the home goal to restore Bognor’s lead.
Dulwich came back at Bognor again. Ashley Carew caused problems and Clunis headed over with goal at his mercy.
This gave Bognor a kick up the backside and they dominated the remainder of the first half. Fraser’s cross was headed down for Pearce and his shot was blocked then minutes later an eight-man move from one end of the pitch saw another superb shot cleared off the line by Drage.
With the crowd hoping for a second half equally absorbing, Bognor again came out all cylinders firing.
On 51 minutes Wild again caused problems and was awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Barnett’s shot was deflected for a corner. From the corner, Edwards dropped the ball under pressure and Sanchez Ming hooked the ball clear to again deny Bognor.
Dulwich again came back at Bognor but Fraser made a good block and Lincoln a fine save to keep the hosts out.
On 58 minutes an excellent run by Parsons set up Pearce and his first-time volley hit the cross bar with the keeper beaten.
Dulwich made changes but Bognor still looked the stronger team, Pearce, who was excellent throughout and a constant menace to the home defence, was fouled again in the 64the minute which resulted in a overdue booking for James.
Quick thinking by Tuck, who was steady on his return, set up Wild who went through to shoot straight at the keeper when perhaps a pass may have been a better option.
Calvin Davies made a last-ditch tackle to Sekajja. Then on 77 minutes Tuck was repalced by James Crane, whose first touch almost set up Barnett.
From hero to almost villain in a matter of minutes, Barnett gave the ball away but again Fraser came to the rescue. Davies was replaced by Ed Sanders on 83 minutes and Fraser replaced by Chad Field on 87.
In the 88th minute it was game over as Pearce and Wild linked to set up Cranem who fired home from six yards to beat Edwards at his near post, although he will probably claim he was unsighted.
With five minutes of injury time the victory could have been greater but Parsons’ shot lacked power, then with virtually the last kick of the game Carew hit the post from a free-kick, and the follow up was hit wide.
Overall this was one of Bognor’s best team performances of the season. Every player gave their all, and Lincoln looked very solid on debut.
His talking, and handling gave confidence to his defence, whilst his quick distribution often changed defence into attack. If Bognor continue like this they have the look of a team that could be in the mix at the end of the season.
They host Merstham on Tuesday night and Sudbury on Saturday. All support welcome.
Rocks: Lincoln, Davies, Barnett, Tuck, El-Abd, Charman, Fraser, Beck, Wild, Pearce, Parsons. Subs: Crane, Sanders, Budd, Field, Muitt.
Report by DAVE ROBINSON
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