Odokonyero sets sights on silverware
The final of the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup is set to be played on Thursday 11 May 2023 between Worthing and Bognor Regis Town.
Worthing vs. Bognor Regis Town
Sussex Senior Challenge Cup Final
Date: Thursday 11 May 2023
Venue: American Express Community Stadium, Village Way, Brighton, BN1 9BL
For Bognor Regis Town’s Nathan Odokonyero, it’s been a remarkable season on the pitch, with the striker's 34 goals in all competitions a key factor in the Rocks' run to Sussex Senior Challenge Cup Final.
Of course, for Odokonyero, it helps having former Premier League striker, Robbie Blake, as your manager.
“Robbie has played a huge part in my development as a player, there’s no doubt about that,” said Odokonyero, “he’s taught me how to use my body better, and where I can improve in my positioning.
“He’s really acted as a mentor for me over the last couple of years, and as a striker having him there to go to for advice is invaluable.
“But then on the flipside, when I come off and don’t score but haven't done so, he’s always the first to let me know!”
Born in Hackney, East London, Odokonyero’s route to the Rocks wasn’t exactly straight forward.
His football journey started with Chelsea when he was seven years-old, eventually leaving for Brighton & Hove Albion when he was 13.
Three years with the Seagulls followed, before a switch up north to Lincoln City, where he featured for their Under-18s side, before moving back down to Sussex to play for Bognor in 2021 in the search of regular football.
After taking a season to adapt and find his feet in his new environment, Odokonyero has flourished in Blake’s side, in a year where the fortunes of the team overall haven’t always been what the fans would hope for.
“It’s been a real mixed bag of a season, and one where I think we’ve definitely deserved more,” said Odokonyero, “we’ve put in a lot of work over the campaign, I think it’s just the fine margins that have cost us a bit, but that’s football.”
Yet the fans have had plenty to cheer about thanks to Odokonyero’s goal scoring endeavours over the season, something he’s quick to attribute credit to the players around him for.
“I definitely wouldn't have reached the number of goals I have without the help of the team around me,” he said.
“The likes of Sam [De St Croix], Alfie [Bridgman], and Harvey [Whyte], there have been so many who’ve helped me out on the pitch this season.”
Indeed, with so many goals to choose from, is Odokonyero able to pick out his favourite?
“I’d have to say the one I got against Bishop’s Stortford in the 90th minute,” he said, “they were the league leaders at the time, and that result did a lot for our confidence as a team and reminded us that, on our day, we were capable of getting those wins.”
In the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup, Bognor put in a number of impressive displays on their journey to the final, from overcoming Brighton on penalties in the semi-finals, to a 6-1 win over Bexhill United in the quarter-finals.
“Yeah, that Bexhill game was a really enjoyable one looking back,” said Odokonyero, “I think it was definitely one that gave us the belief that maybe we could go on a run here in this competition.
“The Brighton game was one where we put in a really strong team performance, and coming in as underdogs, to get in the win in the way that we did, was just a great feeling.”
Of course, going into the final against Worthing, Bognor will, once again, be looked on as something as of the underdogs by some.
Indeed, Odokonyero is well aware of the tough test that awaits him and the rest of the side on Thursday night.
“You just have to look at how they’ve done in the league this year, the fact the nearly made it into the play-off final shows just how much quality they have in that side.
“So we know that we’re going to have to be at our best if we’re going to come away with a result, but at the same time we’re looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
Odokonyero and the rest of the Bognor front line are going to have to be at their best on the night if they’re going to get past a Worthing defence, featuring the likes of Joel Colbran and skipper Aarran Racine.
“They’ve got a strong defence and they’re certainly well organised, there’s no doubt about that,” he said, “but I believe in what we can do as a team, and in our game, and I know we can cause anyone problems, so I’m just excited for the challenge.”
Of course, whilst this might be Odokonyero’s first Sussex Senior Challenge Cup Final, for many of the Bognor players and staff, they’ll be filled with memories from their triumph over Burgess Hill Town back in 2019.
“It’s great to have people around the dressing room who have been there and done it before,” he said, “it helps to instil that belief that we can do it, because they know what it takes to get over the line, so it’s been great having them around.”
Yet whilst Odokonyero arrived two years after that triumph, it won’t be his first time playing at the Amex Stadium.
“I remember when I was at the Brighton academy, they had an end of year celebration, where all the age groups got to play on the pitch,” he said.
“Unfortunately, my group lost that day, so I’ll definitely be looking to put the record straight come Thursday night!”
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