Rocks Review: Toughest test comes first as friendlies begin

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The Rocks dive into the deep end of pre-season on Saturday when they kick off their programme of pre-season friendlies on Saturday against a side fresh from a tussle with a Premier League team.

They had been due to start their warm-up games at Selsey on Monday but the match was postponed because the pitch was not ready, which leaves the Rocks going straight into battle against League Two team AFC Wimbledon.

Joint Rocks boss Jamie Howell admitted it was not ideal and warned fans not to read too much into the result, but said the game would at least give management an early indication of their squad’s fitness.

It’s the first of six games in three weeks aimed at getting the Rocks in good shape for the new challenges presented by their Ryman premier campaign, which kicks off in Essex on Saturday, August 18, with a trip to Concord Rangers.

Howell said the players had been working well in training, some of which had been held with the help of staff at The Arena Sports Centre in Bognor, who had offered use of their 3G pitches, with rain making many grass surfaces in the area unplayable.

And he revealed the Rocks line-up for the opener was likely to include striker Ashley Robinson in a further indication he will stay with the club for the new season.

A number of the youngsters who the bosses hope will be part of the first-team squad this season will also feature. Dan Simmonds, Dan Kempson, young midfield player Doug Tuck and Havant youngster Liam Flanaghan could all play some part in the game.

Forward duo Terry Dodd and Steve Harper will be absent on Saturday, although Harper is another player who looks likely to remain at the Lane.

Howell said: “Fans will see most of last season’s players on Saturday with some of the youngsters involved too.

“It’s not the end of the world that we lost the Selsey match because the games come thick and fast now. But I suppose it’s maybe not ideal we’re going straight into what will be a very tough game.

“We have AFC Wimbledon first, and they’ve just come out of a game against Reading, who beat them quite convincingly. They’ll probably be pleased to be playing us next! You’d expect their superior fitness to show, especially as the game goes on, but hopefully we will put on a good show. After that we go to Havant, which will be a stiff test.”

Howell is jubilant that Robinson looks likely to continue a Rocks career that saw him score 13 goals in the run to promotion via the play-offs last season after arriving in January.

“We’ve spoken to him and we’re just trying to finalise a few things. I know many people didn’t expect him to stay but I think he’s a bit misjudged.

“I didn’t know before I signed him but he was recommended to me by Danny Bloor at Eastbourne, who said I’d get on well with him.

“Ashley’s a good lad who loves his football.

“He has the ability to play at a higher level but hasn’t always enjoyed his football. If he were to get a great offer, he may well take it, but for now I think he’s happy to stay.”

Howell said the search for one or two new players was continuing but there were few good players available at present and the Rocks weren’t panicking.