Harvey Whyte’s return to Nyewood Lane has been hailed for breathing new life into the Rocks’ season - and there are high hopes Pompey striker Dan Thompson’s arrival will lift things further.
Winger Whyte has signed an 18-month contract with the Rocks just three weeks after his recall to Havant & Waterlooville left fans thinking they might have seen the last of him.
Whyte went straight into the starting line-up away to Cray on Tuesday night and helped inspire a 3-1 victory, the Rocks’ first win away from home for two months, with a goal and an excellent all-round performance.
Now the Rocks have secured the services of youngster Thompson - who has played for Pompey’s first team and also done well in spells at Havant and Dorchester - for the next month.
Thompson was signed just after this week’s Observer went to press on Wednesday afternoon.
Both new men are likely to feature in Saturday’s clash at home to Canvey Island, which has turned into a fourth-versus-fifth tussle after Tuesday’s win lifted the Rocks back into the play-off positions.
Manager Jamie Howell was delighted to get Whyte and Thompson on board - and with the win over Cray - but said being in fourth place was irrelevant.
“There are only two points between us and Kingstonian, who are ninth, so it would be wrong for anyone to get carried away by where we are,” he said.
“But it was an excellent victory and showed we are continuing to make good progress as a team and as a club.”
Whyte’s reintroduction - this time as a permanent member of the playing staff after two successful loan spells at the Lane - enabled boss Jamie Howell to play a new formation, with one central striker supported by two wide attackers.
It’s something he is keen to try again although if another striker does arrive, that will add to his options further.
Howell said wide duo Whyte and Jordan Clarke’s pace in attack had livened up a team who had needed to start scoring more goals and complemented Ashley-Paul Robinson’s intelligent play in the centre. And he said all three were players who could switch positions.
“It gave us a lot and we caused problems for Cray all night because of it,” Howell said. “Harvey was sensational - unplayable at times.
“The whole team did their jobs, to be honest, but Lewis Stockford was another to have an outstanding game. He gets better and better and set up the first two goals.”
Another familiar face to return to the starting XI against Cray was Ben Andrews, fit again after knee problems to start alongside Stuart Axten in the heart of defence. The pair hadn’t started a game together since September.
Howell said: “He did well. He gives us a dominance in the air that we sometimes don’t have without him.”
Andrews’ comeback saw Louis John switch effectively to right-back, where he may stay for Saturday’s game as Jon Marzetti’s gashed leg is not healing as quickly as expected.
Howell said he was relaxed about his options in the squad. “We’re lucky we have a number of very versatile players in the squad,” he added.
“For example, people like Dan Beck and James Crane are as at home in midfield or defence. Then we have the youngsters like Dan Kempson and Doug Tuck who can play in a variety of positions.”
Howell predicts Canvey, managed by ex-Southend and Lincoln boss Steve Tilson, will give the Rocks a firm test at the weekend, saying his team’s visit to Essex earlier in the season was one of the rare occasions this campaign when they have come away with a point and felt fortunate to do so.
And in a week where wingers have proved so important to the Rocks, it was fitting that Ben Johnson should also be the source of more good news.
A cancellation allowed his cruciate knee ligament operation to go ahead on Tuesday and all the signs are it went well.
Howell said: “He’s been such an important player to us and it’ll be fantastic to see him on the road to recovery. We look forward to having him ready for the start of next season.”
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