THE ROCKS’ hectic end to the season continues with the players being told: Play like you did at Margate and you’ve every chance of success.
Yet another postponement - the late call-off of Monday’s Sussex Senior Cup semi-final againat Horsham YMCA - has worsened the club’s fixture congestion.
Last night’s league visit to Grays was the first of seven games in 17 days which will determine whether they make the play-offs and the cup final. Perversely, there’s then a 22-day break before the final.
But manager Jamie Howell said he was encouraged by the way the team recovered from a bad night at Enfield last Thursday to produce an excellent performance which earned a 1-1 draw at big-spending Margate, where all that was lacking was a winning goal.
They produced the best and worst of performances in one game last night - going 3-0 down at Grays in the first 38 minutes but hitting back in sensational style to win 4-3 with Dan Sackman scoring before the break, and Kane Wills, Ollie Pearce and Arron Hopkinson getting the goals in the second half that took them back up to fourth.
Speaking before that game, Howell said the squad were in good spirits ahead of the run-in.
“Enfield was a bad night,” he said. “We were cruising and allowed ourselves to be bullied.
“We didn’t earn the right to play in the second half and the way we lost - the way we crumbled - left me, and I dare the say the fans who made the journey, feeling let down.
“I asked for a response at Margate and thought we were brilliant. Margate now have a manager and a lot of players who have operated at a higher level but we controlled the game brilliantly - it was as controlled a performance as I’ve seen from us. We just aren’t as potent in the final third as we were earlier in the season.
“But it was a brilliant turn-around in attitude between the two games, and now we need to keep playing like that and see where we end up.”
The Rocks were frustrated at the torrential rain which saw their semi-final at Lancing called off shortly before the scheduled kick-off.
The Sussex FA wanted them to play it next Monday or Thursday, but with a league visit to Hampton due on Tuesday, the club managed to avoid that. But they will have to play it on Thursday, April 24 and at Whitehawk - giving them three league matches plus the semi-final to cram in between April 19 and 26.
Asked why the county FA couldn’t help the semi-finalists and their fans by putting the game off until after league programmes had finished, chief executive Ken Benham said it wouldn’t leave enough time to organise the May 18 final. And he said Whitehawk was the best venue available.
The FA’s rescheduling of the semi will leave many Rocks fans unhappy - given that they are already puzzled at why the final is programmed so long after the league has ended.
For now, though, the focus is back on the bid to reach the Ryman premier play-offs an Howell expects tough tests at home to Wingate and Finchley on Saturday and at Hampton and Richmond.
Howell said: “We need to concentrate on winning our final couple of home games and picking up what we can on the road.”
They’ll be without midfielder Harvey Whyte, whose ankle damage - which is not a break - cannot be assessed until swelling has reduced. Defender Stuart Axten is back after missing the Grays trip.
Striker Ollie Pearce has overcome a tight hamstring but is fit to fight for one of the striking spots with Terry Dodd and Dan Thompson.
Pompey forward Ashley Harris has returned to Fratton Park after a month’s loan in which he struggled to make an impression at Bognor. Howell thanked Harris and Pompey for the spell but said all parties agreed he should return.
Get first news from Rocks v Wingate & Finchley on this website on Saturday evening.