ROCKS REVIEW: Rocks 2 Walton Casuals 0
The Rocks are just five points behind Ryman one south leaders Whitehawk after Jason Prior's two second-half headers put paid to Walton Casuals' resistance at Nyewood Lane.
Prior headed in crosses from Ben Johnson and Jon Marzetti midway through the second half to relieve pressure which had been building with the hosts’ inability to break down a hard-working but ordinary Walton side.
It strengthened the Rocks’ position in fourth place and sets them up nicely for the visit to Whitehawk on Saturday.
The Rocks were without Dan Royce (trapped nerve) and Phil Turner (hamstring) but welcomed back Craig Stoner in goal after his one-match ban.
The first decent chance went Walton’s way but Danny Buckle sidefooted a weak shot that Stoner held comfortably after Charlie Ide got away down the left and crossed.
Luke Nightingale and Johnson caused some early problems for Walton down the Rocks left but the best chance came when Marzetti swung in a superb cross from the right that a Walton defender had to desperately head behind for a corner as Johnson lurked.
A flowing move involving Johnson, James Fraser and James Crane ended with the full-back forcing Casuals keeper James Warrington into a good save that deflected his shot into the side netting.
Prior tested Warrington with a rising shot from the edge of the box after running on to Fraser’s pass on 21 minutes. Then it was Dan Beck’s turn to draw an athletic save out of Warrington with a rising effort from 15 yards.
Walton had their moments although Perry Ryan and Tim Bond repelled anything the Casuals could throw at them.
After a rather sterile period, Johnson’s cross from the left fell to Birmingham 12 yards out and his shot was almost touched in by Prior.
Too often the Rocks were being let down by poor delivery from the wings.
Crane was the first name in the book on 37 minutes after his boot caught keeper Warrington as the pair challenged for Nightingale’s slide-rule pass.
The Rocks should have opened the scoring five minutes before the break when another Johnson cross wasn’t held, but Nightingale’s shot was blocked and Fraser screwed his follow-up wide.
Nightingale, presumably because of an injury, did no reappear for the second half, his place taken by Kane Wills.
The first meaningful attack at the scrappy start of the second half came when sub Wills found space down the right that Prior was all set to head home at the far post before a defender flicked it away from him.
Prior was close to a connection again from Perry Ryan’s lofted ball into the box but it ran out for a goal kick.
Then Johnson was fouled as he tormented his man down the left and when Fraser sent over the free-kick Beck was inches away from glancing in a header.
Prior threatened again when played in on the right side of the box at the end of a four-man move but Warrington beat his fierce drive away for a corner.
Top scorer Prior was on the end of everything for the Rocks and he sent another towering header only inches wide from Marzetti’s pinpoint cross from the right.
It was almost inevitable that if anyone scored it would be Prior – and he did just that on 63 minutes, heading home his 12th league goal of the campaign, and 17th in all competitions, from yet another Johnson cross.
The Rocks almost committed the cardinal sin of conceding straight away when Ide had a free-kick played quickly to him and forced a scrambled save out of the outrushing Stoner.
Birmingham was then booked for dissent after asking the referee in perfectly civil fashion why he had played an advantage where there was not one in evidence.
Three minutes after Prior’s first, he doubled his tally and the Rocks’ with - what else? - another headed goal. This time it was a Marzetti cross from the right and Prior had more to do than with his first goal as he beat his marker in the air to direct an excellent header into the top corner.
Prior’s excellent afternoon turned a little sour with 15 minutes left when he was booked for an off-the-ball incident that seemed like six of one, half-a-dozen of the other after he went down in the box but didn’t get a penalty.
Michael Barima replaced Craig Lewington for Walton and the visitors ought to have given themselves a lifeline a minute later but contrived to hit the woodwork when it looked easier to score in a goalmouth scramble.
Birmingham set up Prior for what might have been his hat-trick on 81 minutes. The skipper lost possession then won it back again and played in the striker, but his hurried shot drifted wide of Warrington’s near post.
Fraser’s volley at the far post following a left-wing cross was cleared off the line by a defender.
Walton’s second change saw Kristian Webb replace Mark Nicholls five minutes from the end.
Prior was unsurprisingly named man of the match by match sponsors Ryan Cars.
Walton’s Alex Brown was yellow-carded after the referee lectured two visiting players when the ball was kicked into the crowd after the whistle had blown.
Rocks: Stoner, Crane, Marzetti, Fraser, Ryan, Bond, Beck, Birmingham, Prior, Nightingale, Johnson. Subs: Wills, Marshall, Wood, Maynard, James.
Report by Steve Bone