Rocks Review: Play-off final will be a day for bravery
Be brave '“ and let's have one last push for the big prize.
That’s the message to the Rocks as they gear up for Sunday’s huge play-off final against Dulwich Hamlet.
They reached the final with a heart-stopping win on penalties at the end of a thrilling 4-4 draw with Godalming in Tuesday night’s semi-final.
Many present said it ranked alongside the club’s most famous FA Cup nights of the 1980s – but they know Sunday could be an even greater occasion if the Rocks can see off the challenge of Dulwich Hamlet, who finished a place below the Rocks in the final Ryman one south table.
A crowd well in excess of 1,000 is expected at the Lane for the 3pm kick-off.
Joint managers Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick have spoken of their pride in their players for reaching the final and are urging the squad to raise themselves for one last push over the line.
Howell said: “What pleased me most about the past two games –the Godaling game and Saturday’s win against Maidstone – was the passion and desire the players showed.
“I said last week that’s what had been missing from the draw with Walton and Hersham but we knew they had it in them and they have shown that to be the case.
“Tuesday night was the best I’ve experienced at the club and there were quite a few others saying the same.
“As an advert for the club and for non-league football, you couldn’t have bettered it.
“The football was brilliant – if nerve-wracking – and the atmosphere was too.
“Play-offs can be like that – a slugfest. Both teams are going to attack and you’ll get gaps at the back. Neither team ever gave up. Godalming have tremendous spirit, but then so have we.
“If there was a disappointment it’s that we had to work hard for our goals but we gave them three of theirs too easily. We were too open and will need to tighten up against a good side like Dulwich Hamlet.”
The weary Rocks players won’t train again before Sunday. The bosses feel resting their legs and minds is more important.
And Howell said a play-off final was one of those matches where the importance of the game was motivation enough.
“I just hope we perform,” he said. “It needs one more performance like we saw on Tuesday night, and then we can have an enjoyable summer.
“Whatever happens, Dabba and I are proud of the lads. It’s been a long, challenging season and to still be in with a great shout at this stage is fantastic.”
Killpartrick said: “The final starts with a clean slate. What’s happened in the league season counts for nothing now. It’s a cup final really and it’s about who can be bravest. It’s about getting hold of the ball and being brave.”
Both bosses praised the fervent home support – there was a crowd of 866 in the ground for the semi-final – for cheering the team on and helping them fight back from going 2-1 down and then, in extra-time, 4-3 down.
Killpartrick said: “They’ve been our 12th man all season and have never let us down. On Tuesday they were outstanding and we know they will be again on Sunday. They’re a vital part of what we’ve achieved and what we’re trying to achieve.”
The Rocks have a full squad to select from. With Stuart Axten’s three-match over, he will be keen to break up the central-defensive pairing of Ben Andrews and Sonny Cobbs and start the final.
Tuesday’s hat-trick hero Ashley robinson and in-form Terry Dodd seem certain to continue their partnership up front.