The Rocks were saluted for battling to a dramatic FA Trophy success – but their season is still threatened by an injury crisis that could get worse before it gets better.
They needed late goals in their first qualifying round clash at Bracknell and again in the Nyewood Lane replay to survive in the Trophy and secure a penalty shootout that they won 3-2.
That earns them £3,250 prize money and a visit to Walton Casuals in the second qualifying round – but they are sweating on the possibility they could be without as many as SEVEN first-team players for this Saturday’s vital league visit to Leatherhead.
Already in the treatment room are striker Dan Smith and defenders Keaton Wood, Corey Heath and Joe Dandy. And Tuesday night’s dramatic win over Bracknell has left Harvey Whyte with an injured foot and Jimmy Muitt also a doubt for Saturday.
In addition, manager Jack Pearce said his only remaining fit recognised centre-half – Chad Field – was struggling with a knock.
The injuries come at a hectic time for the club. After visiting Leatherhead, the Rocks host Seaford Town in the Sussex Senior Cup next Tuesday then head to Walton in the Trophy on Saturday week.
They also have rearranged home league games with Corinthian Casuals and Enfield to squeeze in during the next few weeks.
Pearce is worried about the injuries – and by the way his team are making life hard for themselves by letting in soft goals and missing huge numbers of clear-cut chances. Both will harm their hopes in the coming weeks if not sorted.
That said, Pearce said he was delighted by the effort they were showing to stay in games and put opponents under pressure.
He told the Observer: “I’m pleased for the lads to have won the Trophy tie because for all our shortcomings, they do work very hard. We went 2-0 down but kept going and then missed chance after chance after chance ... unless you were here you wouldn’t believe how many chances we created and missed.
“That is the worry. You can’t keep doing that because you will come a cropper.
“With the injuries, we’ve lost Keaton, Corey, Joe and Dan, and we’ve now lost – by the look of it – Harvey. He’s had a kick on the bone on his instep so he could be out. Chad is struggling with his knee and Jimmy Muitt has had a bit of a knock.
“It drags me down. I find it more difficult as I get older. I’ve seen it so much over the years. We have had so many good players who work hard and pick up so many injuries.”
On the pitch, missed chances are becoming a weekly theme. Pearce said: “When you see the number of times we go through and don’t score, it’s frightening – not just in the replay. It’s happened against Folkestone, Margate, Hythe and now Bracknell.
“In the past five games I’d estimate we’ve missed 32 chances where you are more surprised to miss than you would be if you’d scored.
“As a manager I couldn’t ask for more in the effort we put in and the way we try to play. But our decision-making and the final thing we do in the final third is beyond belief. Everyone who gets in on goal thinks they’re not going to score. It’s awful.”
The search for extra squad members goes on. "All we can do is dig in, keep working and try to find some players from somewhere who can play at this level,” Pearce said.
“We will have to go into debt to get players in. You have to pay the players who are injured and that could be as many as five this week, or even seven – half the squad.
“And every time the ball goes in our box, we look like conceding. We have to defend better than that. Some of our defending is awful. The spirit is good and the play between the two boxes is good – but defending in our box and attacking their box is shambolic at times.
“The next few games won’t be easy but we just keep going and see where it takes us.”
Coach Robbie Blake had mixed feelings after Bracknell were beaten. He told us: “We’re very pleased to go through. It was a long old night and we made it very difficult for ourselves. We were all over the place in the first half.
“We can’t go off how Jack and I want us to play the game. For some reason we seem to be lacking a bit of confidence, the body language doesn’t seem right. The only way you can get out of that is to work that little bit harder.
“It’s testament to the players that we do keep going but we can’t keep starting so slowly. In the first half it looked like they (Bracknell) wanted it more than us, which is not acceptable.
“We dominated the second half but when we are missing so many clear-cut chances that should be put away, the confidence can ebb away. But the players are giving us everything we ask for.
“If you look at games this season, we have completely taken over (a lot of games) in the second half which is testament to our fitness and down to other teams slacking off a little which will happen at this level.
“I have confidence that if we get to half-time and are in a game or at 0-0, we can go on to win.
“At 2-0 down on Tuesday night we were playing terribly for the first 30 minutes but I said to Jack ‘we’re still going to win this’.
“The lads have only lost two games. But we’re decimated by injuries and it’s difficult to bring in players who are better than what we’ve got.”
Blake said a Trophy run would be big for the club: “It’s a brilliant competition, it gives that little bit of spice. Walton will be a difficult tie but if we apply ourselves right we can take control of it.”
Blake said he hoped some of the injured players would be available again before too long.
He said Whyte’s foot injury was a ‘bang’ that had swelled up quickly but he hoped he would be okay after rest, and the same went for Muitt, who he hoped was not going to be absent from games.
Blake added: “With Joe (Dandy) I’m hopeful for Saturday; with Smudger (Smith), I’m hopeful for the following weekend, but Corey and Keaton are still relatively long-term.”