Rocks ready for date with destiny

Bognor coach Darin Killpartrick and boss Jamie Howell    Picture: Tommy McMillan
Bognor coach Darin Killpartrick and boss Jamie Howell Picture: Tommy McMillan
Scott Hamilton scores Fareham's second goal. Picture: Neil Marshall (171158-8)

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Bognor head into their FA Trophy date with destiny against Grimsby tomorrow being told to strike a balance between playing their normal game and ‘staying in the tie’.

The Rocks can begin the home first leg with confidence after disposing of Altrincham and Torquay – who play in the National League premier division alongside the Mariners – in earlier rounds.

But they have been warned Grimsby are a step up from the challenges presented by the other higher-division sides Bognor have beaten on the way to this stage.

The hosts are sweating on the fitness of two key men – centre-half Craig Robson and midfield maestro Dan Beck. Both picked up nasty bruising to the foot in Saturday’s draw at VCD and will be given as long as possible to prove their fitness.

Otherwise boss Jamie Howell has a fully-fit squad which will include fit-again right-back Harvey Whyte, who could have featured had Wednesday night’s league game at Burgess Hill not been called off. They may also make a loan signing to boost numbers before tomorrow.

A crowd of around 3,000 is expected at Nyewood Lane – including about 500 Grimsby supporters – to see if the Rocks can keep alive the Wembley dream.

Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick want players and fans to enjoy the big day as the club make a last big push to get to the final. Howell said: ‘We’ve been looking forward to it since the draw was made and now it’s here.

‘I watched Grimsby play Forest Green live on TV on Friday. Did I learn anything? Yep – they’re a very good side.

‘No disrespect to other teams we’ve beaten but Grimsby are the next level up.

‘We have to take them on with confidence and with the run we’ve had, we can do that. We can’t be gung-ho and think we are going to brush them aside. We will give them the respect they deserve but focus on our strengths and maybe their weaknesses.

‘We want to be still in the tie going up to Blundell Park for next week’s second leg.’

Howell has played at Wembley himself. Aged 15 in the early 90s, he captained England schoolboys in drawn games against Italy and Holland – with a certain Francesco Totti the opposing skipper against the Italians.

He has had plenty of banter with Bognor’s players about his footballing past but won’t be reminding them of it again in tomorrow’s team talk.

‘Playing at Wembley is the pinnacle of English football. There’s no greater motivation than the chance to do it. But there’s a time for that sort of talk and what you can’t do is think too far ahead.

‘In many ways the team talk tomorrow will be like the one at VCD last Saturday and Burgess Hill last night – it will be about getting the lads focused on that one game and the jobs they have to do in it.’

For coach Killpartrick, this year’s Trophy run lays to rest a demon from 20 years ago. ‘We lost 3-1 at home to Radcliffe in the second round and one goal was my fault. We’ve never got to the third round since, until this year.

‘Tomorrow should be another great occasion. We are big underdogs with nothing to fear. We’ve given a good account of ourselves against some very good teams in the Trophy but this will be the toughest test yet.’