JAMIE HOWELL toasted the Rocks’ perfect six-point start to the season – but warned there’ll be no letting it go to their heads.
Wins at home to Merstham and at Staines put Bognor in the early top three – a far cry from last season, when it took until September 9 to chalk up two league victories.
Howell had talked in the Observer last week about the need for a winning start to set the tone for the campaign, and said he was delighted to see the team triumph in each of the first two games.
Jason Prior’s hat-trick and a debut goal for former Horsham midfielder Gary Charman clinched a nervy 4-3 win over promoted Merstham on Saturday while James Crane was the scorer in a resilient display that earned a 1-0 win at relegated Staines on Tuesday night.
The perfect start delighted but didn’t surprise Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick, who have been working with an almost-complete squad since they returned to training – as opposed to building the team throughout pre-season and the early league games, as they did in each of the previous two years.
Howell said: “I’m delighted to start with two wins. With continuity and stability we always felt we had a chance of hitting the ground running.
“We’re not the finished article yet but I’m over the moon to start positively. There’s a long season ahead of us, though, and we’re not getting carried away. We have to build on it now.
“Going into your third game with six points on the board will be very different to last year, when we were scratching around for weeks for our first point and then our first win.”
Prior has made an instant mark after returning to Nyewood Lane and being made captain. His hat-trick grabbed the first-day headlines but Howell said: “It’s his all-round contribution that is so brilliant and so important to us.
“Against Merstham our defending was woeful but Jason’s goals got us out of trouble. Then at Staines we went with a different approach, letting them come at us and trying to hit them on the break. We defended much better and looked more solid at the back.”
A series of hamstring injuries have hit Howell’s selection plans. New centre-half Sami El-Abd came off with a tweak in the first half against Merstham and Dan Beck and Doug Tuck both out for another two weeks or so with similar injuries.
In addition, utility man Harvey Whyte is still getting back to full fitness after an injury-plagued 2014-15 while Terry Dodd will be absent for a couple of weeks following a family bereavement.
But Howell is pleased to have brought in Horsham stalwart Charman, and he will have young Moneyfields striker Alfie Rutherford in the squad for Saturday’s visit to Canvey Island.
“Gary is a player I looked at last season. I’ve known him a long time and he gives us a lot of experience in midfield. He’s not fully fit yet but will be a valuable addition.
“Then we have Jamie Horncastle, who’s come in from the Brighton academy, who he captained last season, and I’m delighted with how the lads from Pompey – Chad Field and Snorre Nilsen – are faring.” Field has deputised for El-Abd alongside Craig Robson in defence and is likely to do so again at Canvey, while Nilsen replaced Alex Parsons in midfield at Staines.
The pair are with the Rocks as part of the arrangement with Pompey, which also saw the Blues’ development team play a league-cup tie at Bognor on Tuesday.
But Brazilian full-back David Rocha da Silva won’t be appearing for the Rocks because of complications over the terms of his visa.
Howell said Canvey would be dangerous opponents on Saturday after starting the season with a 3-0 loss at highly-fancied Dulwich Hamlet and a 1-1 draw at home to Leiston.
“It’s always tough at Canvey and they will be desperate to get their first win. But we can go there with the extra confidence that comes from a couple of wins.”
See a Canvey Island v Rocks report on this website on Saturday evening
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