Rocks Review: We’re desperate for experience

The Rocks celebrate Kane Wills' goal at Burgess Hill  Picture by Tommy McMillan
The Rocks celebrate Kane Wills' goal at Burgess Hill Picture by Tommy McMillan

Frustrated Rocks boss Jamie Howell surveyed his thinner-than-ever squad and admitted he was desperate to bring in experience.

A depleted team slipped to only their third league defeat of the season at Eastbourne Town on Tuesday night to leave the title race on a knife-edge.

As injuries continue to hit them hard, the management were spending much of the week scouring the leagues for reinforcements, but say it is nigh-on impossible to add quality players to the squad at this stage of the season.

The transfer deadline is on March 31, giving the club only a fortnight to boost their squad for the run-in, which looks set to involve the Rocks, Dulwich Hamlet and Whitehawk fight to the death for the sole automatic promotion spot.

The latest blow came on the day of the Eastbourne game, when utility player Ben Andrews was struck down with illness as he prepared to return to the starting line-up.

He may be fit to return to the side for the visit to Chipstead on Saturday, although is still feeling his way back to fitness after knee surgery.

Also still out are striker Steve Harper, midfielders Dan Beck and Lewis Ide and defender Tim Bond - with Harper the only one of that quartet likely to play again this season. The Rocks are particularly keen to add another striker to the squad with no other cover for Ashley Robinson or Terry Dodd until Harper – two to three weeks away from full recovery from an Achilles problem – returns.

One plus is the return on loan for another month of centre half Osa Obamwonyi, who was impressive in the four weeks he played for the Rocks.

But Howell and Darin Killpartrick say getting useful additions to the ranks at this time of year is tough.

Howell said: “When we have our first-choice starting XI we’re okay. But we don’t have any strength in depth so when we lose one or two, we are struggling.

“For five or five weeks we’ve known we need extra quality but we’re not having a lot of luck bringing anyone in. We get offered plenty of young and inexperienced players, but what we need now is experience and quality.

“We need another Beck, another Andrews, another Harper, another Bond, another Ide - I could go on.

“We will keep on trying but in the meantime we mustn’t forget what we’ve achieved this season. The players have been fantastic and just need to keep doing the things that have got us into the position we are in.”

Killpartrick added: “Our geographical position doesn’t help tempt players. They look at the travelling they’d have to do and don’t fancy it. And generally speaking, good and experienced players are settled with clubs now until the season is over.

“We need to get the message through to the players that they need to be mentally strong.”

The defeat at Eastbourne – who were also one of only four clubs to beat the Rocks in the league last season – left the top three in the division closer than ever.

It was a disappointment after Saturday’s 4-0 victory stroll at Burgess Hill.

It’s still in the Rocks’ hands and Dulwich and Whitehawk have to play each other in mid-April, but one more slip-up could knock the Rocks off top spot.

Their problem at The Saffrons on Tuesday night was not turning possession into goals - or even into decent efforts on goal.

Killpartrick said: “We had three excellent chances but didn’t take them. We have to be more ruthless.

“We’ll be working on set-pieces at training tonight because on hard pitches between now and the end of the season, that may be where goals come from. We had 17 corners at Eastbourne but didn’t give their keeper enough to do.”

Chipstead welcome the Rocks on Saturday with promotion ambitions of their own. They are just five points off a play-off spot.

Howell said: “They will make it tough for us, as they did when we beat them 2-1 on the opening day of the season. But we have got players in form and the team’s effort and attitude can’t be faulted at the moment.”