Rocks Review: Bosses take pride - and upbeat end to season is in prospect

Dan Thompson celebrates his winner in the Nyewood Lane clash with Hastings  Picture by Tommy McMillan
Dan Thompson celebrates his winner in the Nyewood Lane clash with Hastings Picture by Tommy McMillan

The Rocks are set for an upbeat end to the season and their players have been told by the management: You’ve made us proud.

Suddenly the feelgood factor is back at Nyewood Lane after a run of three wins and a draw which has seen them get to the Sussex Senior Cup final and reach a 50-point tally in the Ryman premier.

The upturn in fortunes has come against a backdrop of continuing injury problems which have seen manager Jamie Howell struggle to put a team out.

And it has earned a trip to Brighton’s Amex Stadium for the county cup final which promises to be one of the club’s biggest days in recent years, one which will be a reward for fans and players who have stood firm through some tough times.

The Rocks were glad to see the back of February and March, when wins and goals were hard to come by. April, by contrast, has seen them take seven points from nine in home league games with Lewes, Hastings and Canvey Island and the 2-1 cup semi-final win over Hastings at Lancing.

Boss Howell said: “I’m really pleased with the way we’re playing and getting results again.

“No-one wanted the season to peter out into nothing and now it won’t. We have a cup final to look forward and there’s a renewed hunger about the team which we want to see continue until the final game.

“Everyone wants to be involved in the cup final and that’s given us something to aim towards. We had a bad couple of months when we should have done better - even with the injury problems we had - but we’ve stuck together and are now reaping the rewards.”

In particular, the young players who have found themselves regular starters because of the long injury list have risen to the challenge.

Midfielders Dan Kempson and Doug Tuck, strikers Ollie Pearce and Dan Thompson and defenders Daryl Wollers and Josh Warren have all played key roles in the revival after experiencing tough baptisms in the side during the winless run.

With senior players like Stuart Axten, Ben Johnson, Dan Beck and Terry Dodd suffering more than their fair share of injuries, the management have had no choice but to throw them in - and now they’re all showing they can be vital cogs in the club’s future.

Howell said: “We’ve told the younger players we’ve taken a gamble on them by using them more than we or they expected us to. But I enjoy watching them play. They’re all at the stage where they just want to play football and are enthusiastic about it.”

The cup semi-final awas one of those special Rocks nights when players, staff and fans celebrated together as the club reached their second Sussex cup final in four years.

They’ll face the Brighton development squad at the Amex, though Albion’s first team’s ongoing bid for a Championship play-off place has held up the naming of a date for the big game.

Howell said: “We were delighted for those fans. It was unbelievable there were so many there.

“We have had a terrible couple of months and all I hear about at a lot of other clubs is calls for the manager’s head. But we’re fortunate that’s not happened here. When we’ve most needed the fans’ support as a team and a management team, we’ve been given it.

“The final should be a great day out for everyone and a fantastic way to end the season.”

Killpartrick said: “The semi-final was one of the best nights I’ve had with the club. It’s an incredible achievement and we can’t wait for the final.”

Injury worries remain for Saturday’s trip to Thurrock. Dodd (shins), Jon Marzetti (severe bruising on foot), Craig Stoner (hamstring strain), Sam Pearce (tight hamstring) and Daryl Wollers (groin) will all be assessed tonight to see if they are fit.

The bosses want to give the likes of Ollie Pearce and Kempson a rest, but injuries to others may prevent this.

STEVE BONE