STUART AXTEN has handed the Rocks their biggest pre-season boost yet by coming through his long-awaited return from injury unscathed - but Kane Wills could be on his way to Crawley Town.
Central defender Axten played an hour of the clinical 4-1 win at Pagham on Monday night without suffering any adverse reaction to his ankle.
He has been out since the end of February with ankle ligament damage but the Rocks see him as pivotal to their hopes of success this season.
His return comes as the management insist they remain calm about the way the squad is shaping up for the new Ryman premier campaign - despite the potential loss of captain Wills to Crawley.
Wills, once on Brighton’s books, has been a consistent figure in the Rocks’ midfield for the past three seasons and Crawley are keen to have a look at him in Saturday’s friendly versus Crystal Palace.
Rocks boss Jamie Howell said: “Kane is a contracted player but we’ve always said we won’t stand in the way of players who are able to move to higher-placed clubs.
“It would be a blow to lose him - he’s been fantastic for us - but it could be a great move for him. We’ve asked Crawley to make a decision quickly.”
The Rocks are delighted to have Axten fit again and tried a new defensive partner alongside him at Pagham - Craig Robson, an ex-Havant player who is just back from a spell in Australia.
They have also been playing Moneyfields full-back Rob Evans and want to continue to keep tabs on him while he plays for his Wessex League club.
Howell said: “I’d like to bring in another four places. If we can, we will be able to do something this season and have a real go.
“I realise a lot of fans will be getting a little uneasy that we’ve not made many signings yet, but I’m fairly relaxed about it because I know what we are doing behind the scenes to get players in place.”
Terry Dodd’s form - he got the Rocks rolling with a double at Nyetimber Lane - is a bonus and Howell and Darin Killpartrick have been experimenting by playing him as a striker with a supporting attacker rather than as part of a straightforward pair. Harvey Whyte did the job at Pagham and Ollie Pearce and Ben Johnson can do it too.
And in a shock development, the Rocks even put away a penalty at Pagham - Doug Tuck scoring from the spot after the team had missed NINE in a row.
The next pre-season test is at home to Havant next Tuesday but they will be without a number of players, with Axten, keeper Mark Zawadski, defender James Crane and midfield pair Dan Kempson and Dan Beck all unavailable, for different reasons.
“Stuart is away from us for two weeks now but hopefully that will give his ankle time to strengthen and he will be just right for the start of the season.
“It’ll be frustrating to have so many missing against Havant but it will be chance for more of our younger players to show what they can do - something some of them have been doing very well in recent times.”