BOGNOR are not going to Wembley - but can still hold their heads high after their wonderful FA Trophy run came to an end with a brave semi-final second-leg effort at Grimsby.
Two goals from Padraig Amond, one from the spot, put paid to the Rocks’ dream of reaching the final, either side of a Dan Beck strike that gave Bognor and their 180 travelling fans hope of a shock.
The 2-1 loss meant they lost 3-1 on aggregate - but they were in the game until the Mariners got their second 12 minutes from time.
Yet again it was difficult to tell in a Rocks game which were the higher-placed team and Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick will realise that if they can somehow get promotion to National League South, they have done more than enough to suggest they could at least hold their own at that level.
Afterwards there was disappointment at missing out on Wembley but plenty of pride at how close they had run another team from the top tier of non-league football. Now it’s a question of whether they can end the season by extending their fine league form and securing a place in the Ryman premier play-offs.
The sides were meeting the second leg a week after Grimsby won the first game 1-0 in front of 2,629 at Nyewood Lane.
That meant the Rocks arrived in Cleethorpes with a huge task in front of them, but they went into it insisting they were still in the tie.
Bognor replaced suspended midfielder Doug Tuck with Craig Robson, and Chad Field was drafted into defence to partner Sami El-Abd as Robson moved forward.
Ollie Pearce got the nod to start up front in place of Chike Kandi, who had hobbled out of the first leg before the interval with an ankle injury.
Grimsby dangerman Amond almost had a sniff inside the first 30 minutes as El-Abd didn’t deal too cleanly with a ball in from the left wing.
There was a huge blow just two minutes into the game when Calvin Davies - MoM last week - had to hobble off, seemingly after getting a kick to the foot. Harvey Whyte - thankfully fit again himself - replaced him at right-back.
The Rocks created their first opening on six minutes but Beck failed to connect cleanly from ten yards after Jason Prior and Pearce unsettled the home defence from an Alex Parsons cross.
Immediately Grimsby went to the other end and were awarded a spot-kick for a foul on a forward as a Nathan Arnold cross came in from the left. The Rocks felt there was a Grimsby handball in the build-up but Amond didn’t care as he stepped up to send Grant Smith the wrong way and double the aggregate lead.
Amond might have made it 3-0 on aggregate on 13 minutes but headed a loose ball wide after Pat Hoban and Smith clashed heads trying to reach a long ball. Smith needed lengthy treatment but was able to continue, albeit with a bandaged head. The Rocks had no keeper on the bench.
Evan Horwood wasn’t far off target with a rasper of a shot from nearly 30 yards on 20 minutes.
Arnold tested Smith on 28 minutes with a fierce shot after a quick turn and run at the visiting defence - but the keeper beat it away and then claimed the resultant corner, showing he was none the worse for wear from his wound.
The Rocks enjoyed a little spell of pressure around the half-hour and were rewarded with a goal by Beck. A long throw from the left went into the six-yard box and when it was headed out, it fell to Beck - just inside the area - and he connected beautifully with a left-foot volley that flew low past James McKeown.
Grimsby might have restored their advantage within a minute when a quick break led to Arnold being free in the area with only Smith in his way, but the keeper was briskly out to smother the shot.
Then Prior was into the area at the other end thanks to a quick attack down the left but his low ball in was cleared.
Beck and Robson were involved in most of the Rocks’ forward play and the team and their noisy fans could be highly encouraged at the way they had fought their way back into the game.
As for Grimsby, everything they got into the box was being foiled by the safe hands of Smith.
HT 1-1 (2-1 agg)
Smith was last man out for the second half, presumably after further treatment to his head injury.
Bognor began the second half brightly, taking the game to their hosts as the aggregate scoreline demanded they should. A couple of balls into the box from the right wing were claimed by McKeown.
It took nine minutes for the first chance of the second half to arrive and it was Grimsby who made - and missed - it. Arnold and Horwood combined down the left and the cross was perfect for Hoban, but he volleyed well over from eight yards.
Alfie Rutherford replaced the hard-working Parsons on 56 minutes.
The game became bad-tempered and there were niggly fouls committed by both sides. That seemed to affect the quality of the play and neither keeper was being tested. That, of course, suited Grimsby as they were the ones going through if the score remained the same.
Gary Charman replaced Nilsen and immediately went into the forward line to see if he could inspire a Rocks goal.
One Grimsby attack seemed certain to end in a goal as Amond was played clear but Smith advanced with perfect timing to block his shot.
Charman then very nearly did deliver with a well-hit curling shot from 25 yards but McKeown made a good diving stop.
The Mariners restored their two-goal advantage in the tie in the 78th minute through Amond. He just had to dink the ball past Smith from close range after a long ball into the box ended with the striker playing a 1-2 with full-back Richard Tait to set up the chance.
A flashpoint on the main stand touchline ended with Beck and home sub Omar Bogle - on for Hoban - being booked. Then two-goal Amond was yellow-carded for blocking a Pearce free-kick resulting from the dust-up.
As time ran out on the Rocks dream, Grimsby had a couple of half-chances for a third as crosses flashed across the six-yard box - but a third home goal would have been cruel on Howell’s team.
Mariners’ goal hero Amond replaced by Josh Venney before El-Abd got into the box to fire a Pearce cross only narrowly over the bar.
That was the last meaningful action as the curtain came down on the Rocks’ long and entertaining Trophy run - but there were memorable scenes at the end as the Rocks fans kept on singing and were joined by the players for some mutual appreciation.
They can be proud of what they have achieved - and reaching the play-offs would be the perfect end to a memorable season, though the hectic schedule of games, beginning at Harrow on Tuesday, will test the squad to the limit.
Grimsby: McKeown, Tait, Pearson, Gowling, Disley, Amond, Arnold, East, Nolan, Horwood, Hoban. Subs: Robertson, Bogle, Clay, Venney, Nsiala.
Rocks: Smith, Davies, Crane, Field, El-Abd, Robson, Nilsen, Beck, Prior, Pearce, Parsons. Subs: Charman, Rutherford, Whyte, Green, Wollers.
Ref: M Heywood
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