Rocks fans who welcome in 2011 dreaming of a promotion year have been warned: There are big battles ahead.
Darin Killpartrick and Jamie Howell’s team go into a new year in great form and in the thick of the race to win promotion to the Ryman premier division.
But after twice battling back from behind to grab a point in the festive derby at Worthing, the management duo said they were not getting carried away by the prospect of a promotion or a title challenge.
The Rocks are unbeaten in the league for more than two months but the cold spell has hampered their hopes of making up their games in hand on their rivals.
They didn’t play a single Saturday game in December and have managed only 16 league matches so far – leaving them 26, plus at least one Sussex Senior Cup match, to cram into the final four months of the season.
The packed programme of games begins on Saturday – New Year’s Day – with a Sussex derby at home to Burgess Hill and continues on Bank Holiday Monday when Walton Casuals visit Nyewood Lane.
There are nine games scheduled for January, with another seven to follow in February.
Howell said although the Rocks had up to five games in hand over rival teams near the top of the division, no team could expect to win all their spare matches.
“It’s a critical period coming up,” he said.
“We can’t run before we can walk and we have to realise there will be games we expect to win that we lose, and games we don’t expect to win but do.
“Having so many games called off has affected our fluency but hopefully now we can get our rythym back.
“It promises to be an exciting second half of the season, but it will be tough.”
His sentiments were echoed by Killpartrick, who said they would continue to take the campaign a week at a time.
“There will be plenty of twists and turns to come in this league – I can say that with some certainty,” said Killpartrick.
“You look down our fixture list and they’re all tough games, starting with Burgess Hill and Walton Causals, who are both well-placed themselves.”
Killpartrick said the Rocks might strengthen their squad in January to ensure they were strong enough in quality and numbers to get through the season. “Again, we’ll look at that week by week,” he said.
“We might borrow a player here or there, and permanent signings are not out of the question.”
One loan going through this week will see the Rocks borrow young Brighton keeper Josh James to cover for Craig Stoner, who will sit out Saturday’s Burgess Hill game with a one-match ban for his red card at Whitstable.
Young Pompey defender Perry Ryan has another fortnight of his month’s loan to go, which should cover the remainder of centre-half Stuart Axten’s recovery from ankle ligament problems.
The Rocks have been boosted by the return to fitness of skipper Michael Birmingham, who proved his calf problem was behind him when he came through the second half at Worthing.
Winger Phil Turner is fit again after shaking off a hamstring problem.