CRAIG STONER has called time on his Rocks career after close to 500 games.
He is retiring from the game although has not closed the door on the possibility of playing at county-league level next season.
The Rocks have moved quickly to cover his absence by agreeing with Littlehampton Town that highly-rated stopper Johnny Hendrick will play for them in pre-season with a view to a move to Nyewood Lane.
Stoner’s retirement could also be a chance for his long-time deputy, Tom Boyle, to try to stake a claim for the No1 spot.
Stoner, who is 31, first joined the Rocks in 2001 from Pompey’s youth set-up. He has been a tremendous servant to the Rocks in two spells since then - his time at the lane broken only by a spell at Burgess Hill in 2008-09.
He has racked up more than 480 appearances and has long been a firm crowd favourite, but has been troubled by a series of niggly injuries over the past year or so.
Manager Jamie Howell said: “Stoner will be greatly missed. Apart from anything else, his distribution skills have been a key part of how we play. I had thought this might happen, although had hoped it wouldn’t.
“We’re going to take a look at Johnny Hendrick in pre-season. He’s only 23 or 24, lives in Angmering and is very highly-rated. But the No1 goalkeeping position is vacant so it’s a chance for someone.”
Meanwhile the Rocks fear defender Daryl Wollers could miss a big chunk of next season unless his groin problem is cleared up quickly.
With doubts over the exact nature of the injuries, the fans’ player of the year will see a surgeon on July 6 to discuss options. But Howell said: “It could be a long process before he is operated on and he recovers. These things can drag on but obviously we need to get him fit.”
Long-term casualties Stuart Axten and Ben Johnson are making good progress. Axten should be fully fit for the start of pre-season but Johnson may take a little longer to reach 100 per cent.
* Five Rocks friendlies have been arranged so far. They host Pompey on July 13 and Havant & Waterlooville on July 30, and visit Selsey on July 10, Pagham on July 22 and Gosport on August 5.