Rocks Review: Wounded Rocks will be lifted by new faces
New faces are arriving at Nyewood Lane to boost a Rocks squad hit by departures, injuries, suspensions and a poor start to 2012.
Monday’s 3-0 defeat away to title rivals Whitehawk was only their second league loss of the season, but it has left the chasing pack breathing down their necks at the top of Ryman one south.
It also saw them lose utility man Ben Andrews to injury and James Crane to a red card which will see him banned at the same time as fellow defender Jon Marzetti.
And it’s likely to have been striker Jason Prior’s final game for the Rocks.
Those factors have sent the management into overdrive in their attempts to strengthen the squad - see our story on the latest activity in the transfer market.
The Rocks’ season might have been highly successful so far – they remain top and have a game in hand over their two closest challengers – but it is turning into a long campaign of transition for the team.
They have already lost Michael Birmingham and Luke Nightingale to retirement and James Fraser and Matt Whitehead to rival clubs – but now face filling the biggest void of all; that created by Prior’s almost-certain departure.
The striker, who has scored 28 goals this season on top of more than 40 last term, has headed for a two-week trial at Newcastle hoping to earn a contract with the Premier League side. But even if that doesn’t come off, the chances are a club lower down the leagues will take a chance on him.
But it’s not just up front where the Rocks need a boost.
Crane’s red card – for a tackle described as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unnecessary’ by joint manager Darin Killpartrick – means he will miss the Sussex Senior Cup clash with Brighton on Tuesday week and the league games with Corinthian Casuals and Faversham that follow it.
Marzetti, sent off against Worthing on Boxing Day, will miss the trip to promotion rivals Dulwich Hamlet on Saturday week plus the Brighton and Corinthian matches.
In addition, Andrews, who has been playing in central defence, will be out for the next few weeks after damaging medial ligaments in his left knee early on at Whitehawk. He was already awaiting a cartilage op on his right knee.
Another defender, Tim Bond, is set to play in the county league for Selsey on Saturday as he looks for match sharpness ahead of his return.
Joint boss Jamie Howell said: “We will miss Jason and Ben – they are both leaders out on the pitch and will be hard to replace.
“We always planned to strengthen the squad around this time but now perhaps the need is more obvious.
“We’d like to get players in for each area of the team. There are people in the squad who have a chance to step up and make a place their own, but we can’t just rely on them. I’ve said before: it doesn’t matter how good your first XI are – you need a squad.”
In the meantime the management want Terry Dodd and Steve Harper to show they can score the goals that will keep the team at the top.
Howell said: “There was no shame in getting beaten at Whitehawk – they deserved the win after we’d missed some great early chances – but now we must dig in and respond well to that result.”
Killpartrick said: “Everything that’s happened has left us a bit light on the ground.
“We have some wounds to repair and we’d like to get new players in to help us do that.”