Rocks Review: Don’t give up on the season or the team

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The Rocks are urging fans to be patient with them as they try to come through a wretched period on and off the pitch.

A 3-0 Ryman premier defeat at Margate - their sixth in seven league games - was followed by news another two players were leaving Nyewood Lane because of injury.

Defender and former skipper Ben Andrews is retiring after failing to get over persistent injury problems, while goalkeeper Nick Jordan is taking a break from the game because of shoulder trouble.

In terms of the Rocks’ recent problems, it’s a fairly typical week. But the management have praised fans for staying behind the team - and have urged them to keep believing happier times will soon return to the club.

The Rocks have slipped from fourth to 13th in the past two months and still need a couple of wins to make sure they don’t get dragged into a relegation battle.

Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick remain confident those victories will come soon to take the pressure off, but say any club would have struggled to cope with the injuries and departures from the squad they have to contend with.

Wingate & Finchley arrive at Nyewood Lane on Saturday - six days after they had FIVE players sent off in a 1-0 home defeat to Thurrock - with the Rocks not having scored a home league goal or won a home league point since January 5.

The management have at least been able to secure two additions to the squad.

After recruiting prolific Portchester striker Simon Woods on dual registration forms, they have boosted defensive cover with help from Pompey, who have offered them the services of teenage centre-half Josh Warren.

Warren is likely to partner Sam Pearce against Wingate with Andrews gone, Stuart Axten out for the season and Louis John still working his way back to fitness with his parent club Crawley.

Howell revealed John was about ten days from fitness and Crawley had indicated he would be allowed to return to the Rocks - something that looked unlikely a week ago.

Woods, who could feature on Saturday, will add competition in attack with Terry Dodd and Dan Thompson - and the rest of the side - struggling for goals.

The loss at Margate was the sixth Saturday in a row they had lost and failed to score, although strangely their midweek form is much better.

Howell said: “In patches we played quite well at Margate but we’re not taking our chances and we’re letting opponents take theirs.

“I’ve said all along I wouldn’t get carried away by a few defeats any more than I would by a few wins, but the current run is concerning.

“Two months ago, when we had our strongest side available, we would have gone second if we’d beaten Wealdstone. But since then, we’ve not had anything like our strongest team.

“I maintain that when we get people back - some later this season and others like Stuart and Ben Johnson at the start of next season - we will do well. I just hope the fans can continue to be patient in this difficult spell.

“In an ideal world we’d be able to make three quality signings. But our medical bill alone this season has run into thousands of pounds and we don’t have any slack in the budget.”

Killpartrick said if anyone at the start of the season had offered the Rocks 13th place in the league in mid-March, they’d have taken it.

“You have to be realistic about the level we’re playing at,” he said. “And I think the fans are realistic. Look at how many went to Margate and at the support they gave us - they were incredible and we really do appreciate their backing.

“Our luck with injuries this season has been unbelievable - even worse than last year.”

The Rocks are hopeful first-choice keeper Craig Stoner is over a knee problem and can return to the side for Saturday’s game and Tuesday’s home tussle with Hampton & Richmond - good timing considering Jordan’s departure. Tom Boyle stands by to deputise.

Meanwhile, a Sussex Senior Cup semi-final against fellow Ryman premier outfit Hastings stands between the Rocks and an appearance in the final at Brighton’s Amex Stadium. It will be played on Wednesday, April 3, at Culver Road, Lancing.

STEVE BONE