Rocks Review: Popular Pearce is back to solve defensive injury crisis

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The Rocks have re-signed former club captain Sam Pearce after losing Stuart Axten to an injury that’s likely to be season-ending.

Manager Jamie Howell has moved quickly to replace Axten, who suffered torn ligaments and suspected ruptured tendons following a collision in Tuesday’s Sussex Senior Cup win over Eastbourne Borough - although has not broken a bone, as was feared.

Ex-Rocks captain Pearce has signed from Havant & Waterlooville - it’s initially on a one-month loan deal, but if Pearce impresses and all parties are in agreement this could be extended for the remainder of the season. He will go straight into the side for Saturday’s ome league clash with Concord.

The 26-year-old began his career in the Hawks youth set-up and played a number of first-team games as a teenager before joining Fleet Town. He then spent time out of football, pursuing a cricketing career in South Africa.

On returning to the UK he joined Bognor and spent most of the 2008-09 playing for the Rocks in the Conference South, taking on the mantle of captain.

Bognor lost him to Salisbury City, then in the Conference Premier, towards the end of that season, and he went on to rejoin Havant & Waterlooville later that year. He has made 107 appearances for the Hawks over the past three years. He has spent the past month on loan at Gosport Borough, but is delighted to have the chance to rejoin Bognor, describing the move on Twitter as ‘going home’.

The Rocks also have goalkeeping worries, with their first and second-choice keepers ruled out. Craig Stoner is in considerable pain with a knee injury while Nick Jordan has hamstring and back problems.

Jordan may return on Saturday but Tom Boyle, who deputised against Eastbourne after returning from his loan spell at East Preston, may continue between the sticks.

These are the latest in a long line of major injuries which have hit the Rocks this season, and Axten’s overshadowed one of the team’s best displays of the season as they overcame their higher-placed county rivals to earn a place in the last four of the cup.

The other semi-finalists will be Hastings, who beat Crawley 3-0 on Wednesday night, and the winners of the matches between Brighton and Three Bridges and Eastbourne Town and East Preston.

A goal for Terry Dodd in his first game back after a month’s loan at East Preston was the highlight of a win for the Rocks which meant they could put behind them last Saturday’s fourth league defeat in five - a 2-0 loss at Bury Town.

Dan Thompson and Harvey Whyte were also on target as Borough were blown away by a first-half blitz.

It leaves the Rocks 90 minutes from the final at Brighton’s Amex Stadium.

Howell and Darin Killpartrick admitted it was a mixed night for the club. Howell said: “The good news is that Stuart’s ankle isn’t broken. He’s torn ligaments and may have ruptured tendons.

“We won’t know bad it is until the swelling goes down but we wouldn’t expect to see him again this season.

“Ben Andrews is only just getting over a bad thigh injury. He did really well when he replaced Stuart on Tuesday but ideally we wouldn’t expect him to play every minute of every game.

“Louis John has tweaked him hamstring again and could be a couple of weeks away, so we needed to look around and see who else we could bring in as cover.

“Daryl Wollers has been superb filling in at centre-half but he’s not 100 per cent fit either.”

Killpartrick described Axten’s injury as devastating and said: “He’s been outstanding this season. His commitment and attitude is spot-on and we’ll miss him badly.”

Howell said he was delighted to see Dodd return with a goal - and he felt the Dodd-Thompson partnership could be one to bear fruit.

“Terry can give Dan the help he needs up front and together they can be a real handful. If we can keep Harvey Whyte playing as well as he is, and use James Crane in midfield, we can prosper - as Tuesday night proved.”

March’s fixture list contains eight league games, starting at home to Concord Rangers on Saturday.

The Rocks won 3-1 at Concord on the season’s opening day but Killpartrick said: “Concord will have improved since then. They’ll look at our recent league results and fancy their chances. It’ll be a tough game.”

Get the first report from Rocks v Concord on this website