Rocks suffer play-off heartache

Dan Royce was drafted into the Bognor team for the crunch play-off clash with Dulwich Hamlet
Dan Royce was drafted into the Bognor team for the crunch play-off clash with Dulwich Hamlet
Craig McAllister. Picture: Keith Woodland

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Bognor suffered play-off misery as they crashed to a 3-1 defeat in the Ryman division one semi-final against Dulwich Hamlet at Nyewood Lane last night.

Denied automatic promotion on the final day of the regular season on Saturday, the Rocks missed out altogether on a night of drama.

It was a cruel end to a largely successful campaign for Bognor, who topped the table in recent weeks and missed out on the title by just a single goal, having finished level on points with champions Met Police.

The Rocks suffered a blow before kick-off, with skipper Michael Birmingham and Kane Wills both ruled out of the crunch clash with knee problems.

Perry Ryan and Dan Royce were drafted into the starting line-up.

The early minutes proved typically cagey, although Royce fired a volley wide of the upright in Bognor’s first attack.

At the other end, Matt Whitehead’s nervous miskick presented the visitors with a chance but Nyren Clunis fired into the side netting.

After the disappointment at missing out on automatic promotion at the weekend, it was a nervous start from the home side.

Jason Prior’s curling shot was saved easily on nine minutes. And seconds later, the Rocks were stunned as Dulwich capitalised on poor defending to take the lead from a corner.

The ball was swung deep to the far post where Lewis Goncalves rose unmarked to bury a downward header into the bottom corner.

Almost immediately, home keeper Craig Stoner raced out of his area to hoof the ball away from the onrushing Ray Powell.

The Rocks needed something to lift their spirits and Ben Johnson went close with an acrobatic effort.

A surging run by James Crane down the right ended with Prior heading narrowly over the top.

The Rocks were showing signs of getting their passing game together and Luke Nightingale had a shot blocked on the edge of the area.

On 28 minutes, though, the Rocks were left with a mountain to climb as the away team extended their lead.

A free-kick was hoisted into the area and Gary Drewett rose unchallenged to loop a header over Stoner and into the net.

It was desperate for Bognor but they gave themselves a lifeline two minutes before the break when Johnson curled a stunning free-kick into the top far-hand corner.

After making a sluggish start to the second period, Bognor finally started to get forward momentum. Just before the hour mark, they were desperately unlucky not to find themselves on level terms.

Johnson burst forward to the edge of the area and fired in a cracking shot which beat the keeper, only to crash back off the crossbar.

The Rocks continued to push for an equaliser and twice inside a minute, visiting keeper Stuart Robinson denied them with superb point-blank saves to keep out efforts from Royce and Tim Bond.

With Bognor pushing forward, there was always the danger they would be caught on the counter attack, though.

And on 75 minutes that proved to be the case.

A quick break down the left ended with Powell heading past Stoner from six yards.

The tension showed 10 minutes from time when the game erupted into a 10-man brawl after a visiting defender went down in the area off the ball.

Bognor: Stoner, Crane, Whitehead, Ryan, Axten, Bond, Royce, Beck, Prior, Nightingale, Johnson.

Subs: Maynard, Marzetti, Turner, Wood, James.