JASON PRIOR has breathed new life into the Rocks’ season – but now the rest of the squad are being challenged to show they can reach their new heights without him.
The on-loan striker is almost certain to miss Saturday’s trip to Leiston after suffering a hamstring injury in the dying stages of Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw at home to Tonbridge Angels.
But the team have played with a new-found confidence in the three games in which Prior has featured – earning seven points from nine and keeping three clean sheets – and manager Jamie Howell says there’s no reason they can’t continue in the same vein with Prior injured.
The former Moneyfields and Dartford forward, back at Bognor on loan from Margate, had a fairytale return to Nyewood Lane last Saturday when he scored a hat-trick in the 3-0 defeat of Hampton and Richmond.
He has now scored 98 goals for the club in 122 starts and seven appearances from the bench.
But he will have to wait to reach the big 100 after suffering what’s thought to be a minor tear in his hamstring in – ironically – injury time in Tuesday’s stalemate.
Fit-again Stuart Green, who like Prior has played for both Moneyfields and Gosport, is likely to replace him alongside Ollie Pearce and Alex Parsons in the forward line away to sixth-placed Leiston at the weekend.
Howell said: “We’ve got our confidence back – there’s a better feel about the place again. We played okay against Hampton on Saturday but we have played better than that and drawn games this season. In fact I’d say we played better against Tonbridge on Tuesday.
“But it makes such a difference when you have someone putting the ball in the net. Jason has brought us that goal threat but he has given us extra physical presence.
“He holds the ball and brings others into the game and I think players like Alex Parsons and Jake Thomson have benefitted from him coming in. He complements other players and other players complement him.
“But the confidence we now have isn’t all about Jason. One person doesn’t make a team. It has flowed through the whole team and if he misses out on Saturday, as looks almost certain, it’s up to the rest of them to show they can do it.”
The Rocks feared they might have seen the last of Prior when he hobbled off on Tuesday but Howell said the injury did not appear as serious as at first feared.
Green’s return to fitness to replace him is timely and there’s brighter news of winger Ben Johnson, who is only a week or two away as he gets over his latest knee injury.
Midfielder Charlie Oatway has a cartilage problem that may need surgery but could play before any op, and it’s a similar story with Paul Hinshelwood, who is booked in for cruciate ligament surgery in January but may be allowed to feature before then.
Defender Curtis Da Costa has returned to Swindon following the end of his month’s loan while left-back Harry Medway is due to go back to Havant in a fortnight after his three-month spell at Nyewood Lane finishes.
For now, Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick are enjoying looking up not down as far as the league table goes. Just a couple of weeks after sitting 20th, one place above the relegation zone, Tuesday’s point took them tenth, three points behind the Suffolk side who host them on Saturday.
Howell said: “We’re going in the right direction and three clean sheets has been a big step. The defence deserve great credit for that although a lot of the pressure they were under has been lifted by the fact we’re doing more attacking.”
Next Tuesday, Bognor begin their bid to reach a fourth Sussex Senior Cup final in six years at home to county-league division-two team Rustington. Howell is likely to field a number of fringe players and youngsters.
Get the first report from Leiston on this website on Saturday evening