THE ROCKS are back in action with a familiar squad - and winger Ben Johnson is being tipped to have the impact of a new signing.
Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick put their squad through their pre-season paces for the first time last night and are promising the players an intensive few weeks to make sure they are fully fit and match-sharp for another tilt at success in the Ryman premier.
And although they have made only one signing so far - goalkeeper Mark Zawadski coming in to replace Craig Stoner - they are hoping the return of injured duo Johnson and Stuart Axten will give the squad a significant boost.
Axten missed the final three months of the season through after picking up a serious ankle injury in a Sussex Senior Cup win over Eastbourne Borough, while Johnson missed all but the first month of the season with cruciate knee ligament damage sustained in September.
Manager Howell said it was fantastic to have both back in training.
“They’re both training with us again and we’ll obviously be monitoring them closely,” he said.
“Depending on their progress, they may need individual sessions where they can do different work to the rest of the squad. But they’re making good progress for us and can be vital players for us again this season.”
Killpartrick said: “I can’t wait to see them both playing again.
“Johnno, in particular, has been out a long, long time so to use the old cliche, it’ll be like having a new player with us.
“Some people may have forgotten how influential he had been for us in the two years before he got injured, but they’ll soon remember when they see him playing again.”
The focus for the first few training sessions will be on seeing how fit the players have kept themselves and working to strengthen them further.
They’ll train every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the friendlies begin in just under a fortnight.
Killpartrick, speaking before last night’s opening session, said: “It will be interesting to see what shape they’re in. They’re good lads and we’re confident they will have been sensible during the break.
“We need to make sure they’re prepared for the season and must hope for a minimal number of injuries this time - we are due some good luck on that score.”
The only new face at present is the former Horsham, Crawley Down, Basingstoke and Burgess Hill keeper Zawadski, but the search for another striker and central defender goes on.
In a slight change to the programme of friendlies, the Rocks will travel to Woodside Road to face Worthing on Thursday, August 1 (7.45pm) - 24 hours earlier than originally planned.
The friendlies kick off at Selsey on Wednesday, July 10 (7.45) at Selsey and continue at home to Pompey on July 13 (2pm), away to Pagham on July 22 (7.45), home to Havant & Waterlooville on July 30 (7.45), away to Worthing, then away to Gosport (7.45) on August 5.
For the Pompey clash, adults will pay £9, under-16s and student card-holders £3. Against Havant, it’s £6 for adults while under-16s and students pay £2.