The worst fears of the Rocks and their fans have been realised with news that Ben Johnson is out for NINE months.
A specialist has confirmed the winger has ruptured his cruciate ligament, which is likely to mean he won’t be seen until 2013-14 pre-season – at the earliest.
It’s the latest major blow to a squad already without star striker Ashley Robinson because of cartilage damage and facing an extended period without full-back Daryl Wollers, who will need surgery for a hernia.
And with thousands of pounds being spent on operations and the need to keep paying contracted players while they are injured, there is precious little money left to bring in reinforcements.
The Rocks management will continue to scour the football world for loans and work-experience recruits.
Manager Jamie Howell said the news on Johnson was a huge setback.
“He had a scan and the specialist has confirmed it’s his cruciate ligament. He will be out for nine months from the date of the operation - and we don’t even have that date yet,” Howell said.
“We are all gutted for Ben. It’s frustrating for the management, the whole club, the fans. Everyone knows what a key player he’s been for us over the past couple of years. He’ll be impossible to replace.”
Darin Killpartrick joined Howell in wishing Johnson a speedy recovery and said: “He’s so influential – not just as a player but as a character around the club. The service we get from Ben and the support from his family, who come to matches, is fantastic.”
Killpartrick said the current run of bad luck with injuries was staggering. “In all my years I’ve never experienced anything like it. You just wonder when it will end,” he added.
As the Rocks recover from their FA Cup exit at Maidenhead and gear up for a stab at another knockout competition, the FA Trophy, this weekend, the management are in danger of spending more time in the treatment room checking on their casualties than on the training pitch.
One piece of good news is that skipper Ben Andrews’ thigh injury is clearing quickly. He could be back in contention for the visit of Ilford this weekend in the Trophy, although is more likely to make his comeback a week later in the home league game against Wealdstone.
Hernia victim Wollers may play this weekend but at some point soon needs surgery which will keep him out for a spell.
Robinson is still three or four weeks away from a return after his knee op.
Also absent for the next two games is keeper Craig Stoner. His deputy Tom Boyle is likely to be given a chance to shine in his absence.
Howell said: “We’re being hit with all sorts of injury problems but we just have to take them on the chin and get on with the job of trying to win games.
“We’re not a club who can afford to go out and replace like with like when we lose a player to a long-term injury.
“The good thing is a number of players have come into the team and squad and have done really well. We need them all – the youngsters and the more experienced players – to keep on reaching high standards.”
Teenage Crawley defender Louis John is the latest to be drafted in. He had a baptism of fire at Maidenhead but showed signs of promise.
The likes of striker Carl Walshe and midfielder Dan Kempson are also likely to get further chances to impress in the coming weeks.
The management were pleased with how the Rocks made Maidenhead work for the whole game on Saturday but were disappointed at some elements of their side’s play.
And Howell is warning against complacency when Ryman division one north strugglers Ilford arrive at the Lane on Saturday.
He said: “I want Bognor to become a team again who are known for doing well in cup competitions and not always going out at the first hurdle. And the FA Trophy is a big part of that.
“There’s a much-needed financial reward if we get through and it’s part of trying to take the club to the next level. We’ll be favourites but we’ll need to treat Ilford with respect.”