Agony... Rocks miss out on Ryman premier title by one goal

So near - yet so far. The Rocks could barely have got any closer to winning the Ryman premier title without actually winning it.

Saturday, 22nd April 2017, 6:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:21 pm
Dan Beck tries his luck for the Rocks against Met Police / Picture by Tim Hale

For 13 minutes Bognor led 1-0 against Met Police, which, with Havant drawing at Kingstonian, was enough to take the crown.But one slack moment at the back allowed the Coppers an equaliser - and try as they might the Rocks could not find a winner.Right up to stoppage time they knocked on the door - when James Crane went down under a challenge in the box, it seemed it must be a penalty. The referee thought otherwise and waved play on - and that was that. And when Gary Charman's head met a cross, it also seemed the script was written. But it flew over the bar.The title is Havant's and Bognor go into a home play-off semi-final - not the outcome they wanted on the day but still a hell of an achievement for a club who most tipped to struggle or finish at best in mid-table this season.The scene was set for a nervy afternoon, and one ending in joy or anguish. For Bognor or Havant, the Ryman premier title would be the afternoon's prize - for the team finishing second, the prospect of a home play-off semi-final on Thursday evening.The sun was out on a cool spring afternoon and as expected a large crowd filed into the ground, with the supply of match programmes selling out by 2.30pm.Sami El-Abd was the notable absentee from the Rocks starting line-up, ruled out in a fitness test, but defender Charman had made a quick recovery from a foot injury to slot into his place in the centre of defence.Met Police arrived on the coast still needing points to be sure of staying in the Ryman premier.The Rocks were the ones putting on the early pressure, with Dan Beck unleashing a long-range shot with his left foot that drifted high and wide and then a couple of through-balls causing Met keeper Daly Brannon to come out and hoof clear.Charman rifled a shot goalwards from 25 yards but it was deflected up in the air by a defender. Then a nice move involving Dylan Barnett, Doug Tuck and Beck ended in James Fraser's cross from the right side of the box just eluding Ollie Pearce.The Met's first threat came on 13 minutes when Dan Lincoln had to move quickly to deny Ollie Robinson as he met a cross to the near post after good work by Charlie Collins and Lloyd Macklin.Bognor were close to the opener on 16 minutes when Pearce set up Jimmy Wild to cross to the far post, where Jimmy Muitt's volley was hacked away close to the goal-line.Muitt was next to chance his arm but his half-volley from outside the box was well over.Met Police were having the odd breakaway but it was Bognor doing most of the attacking and Tuck shot over from 15 yards when the Coppers failed to clear a cross. The shots kept on coming - and kept on flying out the ground, with Beck the next to fire over from outside the area.Bognor were on the back foot on 28 minutes as Met Police twice had shots blocked during a scramble in the area that ended with Robinson being booked for reasons not known.The Rocks went straight to the end and Wild's point-blank header was kept out brilliantly by Brannon as Muitt cut back a cross to him at the near post.Macklin was causing Bognor all sorts of problems in the Met's forward play but the next chance fell at the other end to Wild, whose volley was diverted for a corner after good work by Fraser set up the young centre-forward.A succession of corners as the first half entered its final ten minutes almost brought reward. First Chad Field was close to bundling in Barnett's right-sided corner - then when a Pearce corner was cleared to Barnett, his cross was met by Fraser, his header beat the keeper but came back off the bar and was cleared with Harvey Whyte lurking.As well as some wayward shooting, the offside flag was the other factor denying Bognor as the first half drew to a rather pedestrian-paced close.HT 0-0Bognor began the second half as they had ended the first - on the attack. But too often the final ball was not up to standard.A Coppers break almost ended in them taking the lead but when Macklin was played in with only Lincoln to beat, the Rocks stopper made a tremendous save to parry away his fierce shot.Whyte weaved into the area in a Rocks foray down the right and drew a good low save from Brannon. Fraser couldn't put away the loose ball but the flag was up anyway.Then Pearce robbed his man and beat two players before releasing Tuck for a shot from an angle that Steve Sutherland headed off the line into the arms of Brannon.Rocks hearts were in mouths when Barnett headed a Met cross back to Lincoln and almost headed it past him and in - happily the keeper plucked it out of the air.Finally the hosts' breakthrough came on 59 minutes - the Rocks had three efforts at goal in one spell of pressure and after two were blocked, Tuck had the composure to square to Muitt who lashed a fine shot into the top corner.It sparked great scenes around the ground - and with Havant still drawing at Kingstonian, that put Bognor top of the 'as it stands' table. Could the dream be on?The Met immediately made a change, replacing Ahmed Abdulla with Ola Sdgbanmo.Field picked up a knock while trying to halt a Met attack on 65 minutes and he hobbled off to be replaced by James Crane.Pearce almost set up number two by jinking his way to the byline and sending a low cross right across the face of goal that no-one could get on the end of. Met sub Sdgbanmo curled a shot just too high and wide after a Coppers free-kick was lofted into the box.Then disaster struck. On 71 minutes the Met stunned the crowd of 794 with an equaliser. Bognor were slow to shut down a Met attack down the left and when the cross came in Will Salmon got up to head down and past a scrambling Lincoln.Bognor responded with another change, with Alex Parsons coming on for Muitt as the crowd came to terms with the massive setback of the equalising goal.Parsons was almost an instant hero, going close with a diving header.Whyte and Macklin were booked for a bad-tempered entanglement on 77 minutes as tensions rose.The Rocks were still seeing most of the play but were now desperate for a second goal and the ball was not falling for them. Fraser headed over from a Barnett cross as the Rocks pushed.Darren Budd replaced Beck in the Rocks' final change with ten minutes left and Roman Michael-Percil was yellow-carded on 88 minutes for hauling down Whyte.Parsons and Pearce created an opening that ended with Barnett shooting but it was a comfortable save for Brannon. Then Parsons was sent clear but had too tight an angle to seriously test the keeper with his shot.The Coppers made another change, Rylan Myers coming on for Robinson.Macklin broke away in the first minute of injury time and looked he must score as he bore down on Lincoln, but Barnett denied him with a superbly-timed tackle - hurting himself in the process.A final Met change had Macklin going off for Anthony Kozakis. In stoppage time, Charman headed over from a cross when nine times out ten you'd have backed him to score - and when Crane went down under a trailing Met foot in the foot it seemed it must be a penalty, but the referee - to the fury of the home fans, management and players - was having none of it. That was as close as the Rocks came to a winner - and when the whistle went, there was a feeling of utter deflation all around the ground.Rocks: Lincoln, Whyte, Barnett, Tuck, Charman, Field, Fraser, Beck, Wild, Pearce, Muitt. Subs: Davies, El-Abd,Budd, Parsons, Crane.Met Police: Brannon, Salmon, McLaughlin, Sutherland, Robinson, Bartley, Abdulla, James, Collins, Macklin, Michael-Percil. Subs: Sdgbanmo, Myers, Kozakis, T Smith, O Smith.