JAMIE HOWELL has challenged his team to show the desire that was missing from their potentially-fatal draw with Walton & Hersham.
The joint Rocks boss was upset at a lack of passion throughout the side in a game they desperately needed to win to stay in pole position to win the title.
The two dropped points look likely to force the Rocks into the lottery of the play-offs for a second year - and Howell has challenged his players to show him how much they want success by performing to a higher standard in the last planned league game at Maidstone and in any play-off games.
Although Howell and joint boss Darin Killpartrick believe a squad deprived of more than half of last season’s star performers have done well to stay in the top three, there was still a very flat feeling around Nyewood Lane after the Rocks failed to beat W&H.
Now they go to Sittingbourne (where Maidstone play) on Saturday knowing only a win for them and failure to win by both leaders Whitehawk and second-placed Dulwich Hamlet will hand them the title.
More likely is that they’ll finish third and host Folkestone in a play-off semi-final at Nyewood Lane next Tuesday.
And typically, the Rocks head to Kent with another major injury blow - skipper Ben Andrews has a swollent toe which may be broken and is unlikely to play.
Howell said: “There’s still a chance to win the league and we must go for that, but I’d be surprised if both Whitehawk and Dulwich Hamlet both failed to win their final games. All we can do is make sure we give ourselves a chance.
“But as it stands we are expecting to be in the play-offs. We’re going to put out a strong team against Maidstone but we are thinking ahead too.
“Our objective at the start of the season was to gain promotion, whether through the title or the play-offs. That hasn’t changed. But I can’t deny I was upset by us failing to win last Saturday.
“There was a lack of passion on Saturday and I couldn’t find any reasons or excuses for it.
“At Worthing the other week, conditions weren’t great and you can say that played a part. But against Walton & Hersham, we were on a lovely pitch with a big supportive crowd watching. We shouls have been able to beat them - yet we went out with a whimper.
“Every player can have a bad game or an off-day but if you show effort it is excusable. But for the first time on Saturday, I felt we didn’t show that effort.
“I was upset by that - upset, not angry - and I felt for the fans too. It’s not that the players don’t want to repay the faith the fans have shown in them - they do. But now they need to show it more than ever.
“The next two weeks could be the greatest the club have had in a long time but it’s down to the players as individuals now. They need to show the desire to win. I think as a group they have that desire - but they need to be showing it in big games.
“I’ve had a conversation with them at training and they understand.”
Killpartrick said: “There’s no question Walton & Hersham deserved their point last weekend. If we could put a reason on it, we’d be able to solve everyone’s problems. There was a lack of desire - we didn’t have it in any area of the pitch.
“But now’s the time to be upbeat and think about what we could still achieve for the fans, who have been outstanding all season.”
Andrews’ toe problem is the latest in a long line of losses of key personnel at key times. His absence would probably mean Callum Sheriff and Sonny Cobbs being paired at the heart of defence.
Howell said: “At the end of March we had five centre-halves - now we have one.”
Dan Beck missed training on Tuesday through sickness but should be okay and everyone else involved last week is fit, but Stuart Axten has another two games of his ban to sit out.
Teenage ex-Pagham striker Dan Simmonds, who has been registered with the Rocks for a while, is likely to be in the squad to face Maidstone.