Bad news follows good for the Rocks

Kane Wills hits the winner against Cray  Picture by Tommy McMillan
Kane Wills hits the winner against Cray Picture by Tommy McMillan

The Rocks’ celebrations over their fifth straight win have been tempered by a looming defensive injury crisis.

Manager Jamie Howell risks going into Saturday’s home clash with Billericay with just one recognised centre-half.

It is a major headache for the management after Tuesday night’s 2-1 win at Cray, which left the Rocks just three points behind Ryman premier leaders Kingstonian.

Stuart Axten had to come off at half-time after rolling his ankle and while he should be okay for Saturday, there are no guarantees.

With Craig Robson suspended for the Billericay game after his red card against East Thurrock and Louis John currently back at Crawley following the end of his loan spell, that could leave Dan Sackman as the club’s only fit and available central defender.

Options being pursued are a new loan for John to keep him at Nyewood Lane until the end of the season or recruitment of another centre-half from elsewhere.

Howell said: “It’s a blow and we’re hoping Stuart will be okay. From having four centre-halves, we could suddenly be down to one.

“We could do without that against Billericay, who are a big, strong team and will test us in that area.”

The other side of the selection coin is that Harvey Whyte proved his fitness after a long-standing thigh problem with an excellent 70-minute performance against Cray.

He gave the hosts plenty of problems with his dribbling and driving forward from midfield and Howell said: “It’s fantastic to have him back and fit. He gives us aspects to our play that our other midfielders maybe don’t.”

Whyte’s return gives the Rocks more width at a time when Ben Johnson is still about a month away from action as he recovers from a knee injury, though with Arron Hopkinson in fine form wide on the right, Howell may soon have a job fitting all three into the side.

The other big change to the squad in the past week has been in goal, with Mark Zawadski released following the arrival of 18-year-old Southampton prospect Will Britt.

The Rocks have completed a long-term loan deal for 6ft 2in tall Britt, who joined Southampton two years ago. Having graduated from the academy he has signed a Southampton contract and has played already for the under-21s this season against Liverpool and Stoke.

Last season he went on loan to Norwich City, helping them win the FA Youth Cup, playing in both matches of the two-legged final against Chelsea.

Howell said: “We always want the best possible player in each position and although Mark Zawadski has done really well for us this season, we have an opportunity to take a young player who has the potential to make it at a higher level.

“I am extremely grateful to Mark for all his efforts for the club. He has taken our decision brilliantly and we wish him well wherever he goes.

“We are also very grateful to Southampton for allowing us the opportunity to take such a good prospect who will stay with us until the end of the season.”

Meanwhile, full-back Michael Weir’s registration has been cancelled by the club to allow him to sign for Dulwich Hamlet.

The Rocks will be aiming for a double when Billericay visit - they won 2-1 in Essex in September.

Howell said: “That game was a big turning point for us. We got a late winner then went to Kingstonian and beat them too.

“We are in good form but just need to keep on doing what we’re doing, relax and enjoy our football. We’re a young squad - we’ve now no-one over 25 on the books - and we don’t want to put pressure on them.

“There’s a lot of the season left and we will lose games we expect to win, but if we do it won’t be all doom and gloom.”

Next Tuesday, Bognor host county-league side Eastbourne United Association in the third round of the Sussex Senior Cup. Reduced prices will see adults pay £6, under-18s and students £2.

STEVE BONE