Bognor Regis Town 1 Lowestoft Town 2
By Terry Bullen
Lowestoft Town book their place in the play-off final with an impressive 2-1 victory away to Bognor Regis Town.
Bognor Regis Town: Smith, Hinshelwood, Crane, Tuck, Axten, Robson, Hopkinson (Johnson 24 mins), Wills, Dodd, Pearce, Chamberlain
Subs; Johnson, Sackman, Kempson, Wollers, Ender
Lowestoft Town: Jones, Jack Ainsley, Gleeson, Gaughran, Haynes-Brown, Henderson, Jarvis, Fisk, Eagle, Reed, Bammant (Frew 90 mins)
Subs; Smith, Frew, Stuart Ainsley, Bailey, Jessup
Lowestoft Town book their place in the play-off final with an impressive 2-1 victory away to Bognor Regis Town and will face Hornchurch on Bank Holiday Monday at the Crown Meadow.
Lowestoft effectively forced the home side to play out from the back with a phenomenal work rate that resulted in a comfortable victory. Which if not for a number of stops by the Bognor keeper Smith, the winning margin could have been even higher for The Trawlerboys.
Bognor came into the game with an impressive home record and boasting a 4-1 win when the two teams met in the league back in January. For the blues, it had been a long midweek trip and they came into the game as underdogs but full of confidence after losing just two games in their last nineteen.
The Lowestoft squad was missing Williams with a shoulder injury from Saturday and the suspended Okay, who will be now be available for selection in the final.
As always it was a very welcoming atmosphere by the home side and the pitch looked fantastic.
Both teams emerged from their dressing rooms with the theme tune of Rocky blasting out around the ground on a settled and pleasant evening at Nyewood Lane.
The game got underway with the Lowestoft fans behind the goal waving their flags and balloons, while singing loud and proud for their team.
Lowestoft were straight onto the front foot and with a Jack Ainsley delivery being headed out to the edge of the box, Henderson was at hand to volley a nicely dropping ball but his effort was wide when it probably should have found the target. Moments later the already attacking right back Jack Ainsley was involved again, as a nice touch put Reed in from a tight angle, with his shot forcing the keeper to save on the deck with his feet.
It had been a very good and high tempo opening ten minutes for Lowestoft, who's passing and movement were impressive with both Jack Ainsley and Henderson already getting heavily involved.
It was therefore a real shock to all those watching when Bognor suddenly took the lead against the run of play, punishing a mess at the back for Lowestoft. A header from Fisk put Gaughran under pressure at the back and with the defender making a mess of the back pass, Dodds stabbed the ball past Jones and into the goal off the inside of the post for 1-0 (11 mins).
Lowestoft to their credit didn't let the goal knock them back and continued to look sharp and effective with their play. Henderson burst forward to find Eagle to his left but the midfielders effort was blocked by the defence and shortly after a Jarvis header was headed off the line by a Bognor team who looked shaky at the back.
It had been a frantic opening fifteen minutes to the match and with both defences looking a bit shaky, it added to the pulsating start. Henderson stole the ball in midfield and hit a shot wide, when Bammant was possibly in a better position and could have been fed in. At the other end, a teasing cross from the right by Hopkinson went dangerously across the face of goal but Lowestoft captain Gleeson was well placed to hook the ball clear for a corner. The corner was the first of a flurry of corners for Bognor but with nothing coming from them and the home side also being dealt an early injury blow with Johnson replacing Hopkinson; Lowestoft got a handle on the game once again.
The intense work rate by the blues was forcing Bognor to play out from deep and with the goalkeeper and defence messing about with possession at the back, they gave away a needless corner, which Lowestoft fully punished them from with a deserved equaliser. The corner was sent in by Eagle and with the keeper Smith punching the ball away from the head of Reed, it only went as far as Haynes-Brown, who was lurking ten yards out to lash the ball into the roof of the net for 1-1 (28 mins).
Lowestoft were now getting to the ball much quicker than their opposition and with Reed and Bammant putting themselves about and both Eagle and Henderson getting on the ball, Lowestoft held the upper hand. However, much like the opening goal, Bognor nearly stole in for another goal against the run of play as Dodds sent a header crashing against the frame of the near post from close in but Lowestoft survived and both teams left the field at the break level.
The second half started with the home fans trying to urge their team on from behind the goal but the usual slick passing of Bognor was yet again avoiding them, as a number of passes went astray. Some of the misplaced passes were as a result of the tactics being shown by Lowestoft, who were pressing Bognor well and forcing the mistakes. A misplaced pass looked to have presented Lowestoft with an early chance to take the lead, as Henderson latched onto the ball to slip Reed in on goal but the keeper was down well to make a great save and keep his team level.
Lowestoft were now tacking firm control with great intensity to their play and with Eagle picking out Bammant, the striker flicked his boot at the ball, forcing Smith to make another great save in the Bognor goal to turn it behind.
The pressure being applied to the home side saw them continue to struggle when being forced to play the ball out from deep by the Lowestoft midfield and even when their wingers cut in from the flanks to try and attack the Lowestoft midfield and defence; their passing was letting them down and the Lowestoft defence were isolating the forwards Dodds and Pearce.
The heavily involved Eagle yet again found Bammant, as the big striker shaped himself and bent one fractionally past the far top hand corner of the goal. With the exception of their gifted goal and the header on half time, Bognor had been restricted to nothing and it was just a case of being patient for an in control Lowestoft side searching for their fourth play-off final place in as many seasons.
A powerful run by Reed down the right channel led to Bammant fighting his way into the box and just as he was about to pull the trigger and finally give Lowestoft a deserved lead, Hinshelwood made a tremendous blocking tackle to deny him.
Twenty minutes of the match now remained with nerves and fitness no doubt going to play their part but Lowestoft didn't falter and continued to control matters with Bammant finding space and showing great strength to keep the Bognor defence under pressure.
A swerving effort along the deck by Eagle just skimmed past the post as the final fifteen minutes arrived but finally the patience and sustained effort of the blues got its reward three minutes later. Eagle latched onto another loose pass by the home side and found Reed in the box but from a tight angle the striker had it all to do with the keeper coming out to him quickly but his finish was cool and controlled as he stroked the ball under the keeper to send the away fans wild and his side 2-1 ahead (78 mins).
Lowestoft were in full control and with an audacious Henderson chip from distance hitting the bar, Bognor looked beaten. To add to the misery for the home side, Henderson and Johnson tangled on the touchline and off the ball a crazy stamp on Henderson by Johnson left the linesman flagging and the referee with no choice but to show a straight red card to reduce Bognor to ten men.
There were just a few minutes remaining as Lowestoft kept control and even when four minutes of stoppage time were shown, the blues played keep ball and didn't give the home side a sniff. A late change by Lowestoft saw the yet again impressive Bammant replaced by Frew but the job was done and on the final whistle the delight of the management, players and supporters was clear to see.
It had been a performance of epic proportions by Lowestoft, who had snuck into the play-offs somewhat unnoticed following an inconsistent start to the season. However, with just two defeats in their final nineteen games and a team who's determination and togetherness was second to none; they could hold their heads high after yet again doing the club and themselves proud.
The tactics and approach to the game by Lowestoft were perfect and nobody could argue with the result against a Bognor side who finished high in the table on merit.
I could easily highlight great individual performances but the truth of the matter is that the whole team were outstanding in their preparation, focus, ability and desire on the pitch.
As for Man of the Match..............well that's simply..........EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM!!!
The club would like to say a huge thank you to all of those who travelled to the game and for their amazing support, which really does make a difference. This is only half-time though in our goal of promotion, so please keep that support going and let's get the Crown Meadow rocking on Bank Holiday Monday, when Hornchurch will be the team standing in the way of us reaching our goal of conference football.
Post-match reaction from Craig Fleming to follow.