Rocks Review: Perfect start - but team can still improve

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The Rocks have won their first five games of the season – but are warning their rivals: We’re not at our best yet.

Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick’s side have won four out of four in the league and eased past Camberley with a 5-1 FA Cup win at home to Camberley on Saturday.

Now the matches are coming thick and fast, with league and cup clashes with Sittingbourne on the next two Saturdays sandwiching a league visit to Nyewood Lane by last season’s Sussex League champions Crawley Down.

But Rocks fans buoyed by the good start to the season will be further heartened to hear the management do not yet believe the team are playing to their full potential.

Joint manager Howell said: “It’s been a fantastic start but we’ve ridden our luck at times.

“I don’t think we’re playing 100 per cent as well as we can yet. I think there could be a couple of gears to move up yet.

“There’s always room for improvement.”

As much as last season was one of success for the Rocks – they missed the Ryman one south title by just one goal after amassing 96 points and a near-century of goals – they started the campaign slowly and dropped points in two of their first five league games.

Howell said the difference this year was the squad had only a couple of new faces and were used to playing together – and used to how the management wanted them to play.

“It’s like we’ve had a head start compared to last year.

“Dabba and I can stand on the sidelines and trust them to do what we want them to do. It’s fantastic to see them playing the way we want them to.

“At the start of last season it was quite a new-look squad and it took time to get our methods working.

“The players are now more assured and confident in how they’re playing.”

No-one at the Lane is getting carried away by the perfect start, with the old adage of ‘taking one game at a time’ never more evident than at a club who have been hit by more than their fair share of ill luck in recent years.

Howell’s management partner Killpartrick said: “Everyone wants to beat us this season. The hunters have become the hunted.

“We will never take any match for granted – whether it’s in the league, cup or whatever.

“We’ve got Crawley Down at home next Tuesday and while some fans might think winning that is a formality, we know it’s not. If we take a side like that lightly, we will come a cropper.”

Competition for places has helped the Rocks get off to a flyer – nowhere more than up front, where Jason Prior, Luke Nightingale and Terry Dodd are all scoring regularly but are not assured of a starting place.

Against Camberley Prior had to settle for a substitute’s role and Killpartrick said last season’s striker ‘wasn’t best pleased’.

But the boss added: “He knows it’s all about having a squad and he knows he will get plenty of games. We’ll probably play 50 games this season and can’t rely on just 11 players.”

Prior made an impression when he did come on – scoring the Rocks’ fifth – and will hope to start on Saturday at Sittingbourne, where he scored four last season in a 5-0 win.

There are no new injury concerns for the long trip to Kent, where the Rocks are happy to be going early in the season.

Killpartrick said: “When we went there in April the pitch was a dustbowl.

“It should be better now and hopefully that will suit us.”