Bognor boss: We should be in top third - but even Liverpool or Arsenal would struggle with our issues

Rocks boss Jack Pearce has responded to criticism by supporters of recent form - saying the team are not far off where they should be in the Isthmian League pecking order.

Bognor players salute their fans after a recent home draw with Enfield / Picture: Martin Denyer
Bognor players salute their fans after a recent home draw with Enfield / Picture: Martin Denyer

Festive-period defeats to Worthing and Lewes have intensified disillusionment among the fan-base which was already growing because of the Rocks' poor home form.

Pre-season hopes of a play-off and promotion push were high but a week into 2022 the Rocks are 13th - nearer to the relegation zone than the top five. And those back-to-back Sussex derby defeats - which Pearce himself admitted could have been heavier - have left fans feeling that promotion is further off than ever.

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Bognor have been back in the Isthmian premier for four seasons - two of which have been unfinished - since one season in National South in 2017-18 that ended in relegation.

Pearce said no-one was more frustrated than him or coach Robbie Blake with their present league position, but there were reasons for it. And he insists there IS hope for the future at the Nye Camp, both this season and beyond

He told us: "We're at the halfway stage of the season and prior to our two games with Worthing and Lewes, two of our local rivals, we had played 18 league games plus numerous cup games and in all those games we were competitive. No team outplayed us in any of those games and we certainly deserve more points than we have.

"I'm disappointed with our present position. In fact no-one is more frustrated than Robbie and me on that. I thought at the start of the season we were a top-third-of-the-table club with a chance of finishing fourth or fifth.

"We have had a lot of things against us - from Craig Robson's red card in the very first game, to Joe Cook, a key player, missing much of the first half of the season.

"But now two of the biggest games for our spectators - against Worthing and Lewes - have gone against us and we could have lost either game by more than we did.

"We need to look at the minuses as well as the plusses. If we look at the players we had available are we surprised we lost both games? No. Both were against in-form teams in the top three - one are top - and even with a full team we could have lost those two games. But we didn't have anything like a full team - we had about four players unavailable who would have started those games.

"Against Worthing I felt sorry for our fans because we didn't give them much to cheer. But that was the first time that XI had played together - the front two met each other for the first time at 1.15pm! It was the first time that midfield had played together and we had two 17-year-olds making their debuts for the club.

"One of our defenders has been out for six weeks, one for eight weeks. And for that game one had to come straight back in because we had four or five regulars not available.

"I don't care who you are - even if you are Liverpool or Arsenal, take four or five regulars out and you won't perform to such high standards.

"We had a couple come back in at Lewes but lost two more. For me the most pleasing part of the game at Lewes was when we went down to 10 men (when Charlie Bell was sent off). We were more in the game than we had been with 11. We could have jacked it in with 10 men but showed desire and character.

"I'm very pleased with Dan Gifford up front, one of the lads we have brought in from Pompey. He's shown the desire to influence a game. But the squad is very young - probably too young. We have been fielding a team with five players who are 19 or younger. The 21 and 22-year-olds are almost he senior pros.

"There are a number of clubs in our division with much bigger wage bills than ours. With our wage bill we should be in the top third but to achieve that you do need luck with injuries.

"We've not got great depth of squad. When everyone is fit we are not far away being able to upset anyone in the league. But we have to manage expectations. Our job as custodians of the club is to make sure there is a club for people to support in the future. And that means a balance between spending on players and facilities, something we always try to balance.

"The only way we can do things is to invest in young players and I want fans to understand that. We do well to attract the players we do on the budget we have. We have players who travel from Christchurch, Reading, London, Southampton. That is asking a lot of them but they do it for us and show great commitment.

"There are not players living close to us who we could afford to bring in and who would improve the squad. There are not players in our locality who other teams at our level are snapping up.

"I've said before and I'll say again, I'm delighted with the level of support we have had this year. And I can assure those supporters we wish to give them a better and more successful team. That is what we'll continue to work towards and if we can have good fortune over the rest of the season with injuries - and of course this latest problem with Covid has been another big setback - let's see what we can achieve."

Bognor have had two games postponed this week because they have players and staff members - seven in total - isolating after positive Covid tests. The home game against Merstham was called off last Monday and the trip to Carshalton on Saturday has also been postponed. These games will now be played on February 8 and 21 respectively, while the Rocks hope to have a clean bill of health to be able to play at Cray Wanderers next Wednesday (Jan 12).