The Rocks believe their pre-season form is peaking at just the right time – despite a minor injury crisis that could hit their line-up for the first league game.
They were comfortable 2-0 winners at Leatherhead – one of the teams who pipped them to promotion – in a game that saw midfielder James Fraser and strikers Jason Prior and Luke Nightingale back to full fitness and their best form.
It was a big boost for the team after an at-times disjointed build-up which has seen them suffer with injuries and player unavailability.
But Tuesday night’s win at Fetcham Grove also came at a cost as Stuart Axten, Michael Birmingham and Terry Dodd all came off injured, adding to a casualty list already featuring Tim Bond, James Crane and Matt Whitehead.
And Duncan Jupp faces a three-game ban for being sent off retaliating against Greg Andrews, who had incensed the Rocks with a series of nasty tackles.
Bosses Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick remain hopeful their wounded stars will be fit for Saturday week’s opening league game at home to Chipstead.
The injuries are likely to mean a weakened team in the final friendly this Saturday away to Met Police, which should go ahead despite the force’s involvement in dealing with the London riots and their aftermath.
Scorers at Leatherhead were Prior and Nightingale – a fitting outcome given they were playing their first game together since the end of last season.
Their performance and that of Fraser, playing for the first time since the shoulder damage that ruled him out of the end of last season, gave particular pleasure to the management.
Killpartrick said: “We were excellent at Leatherhead. We controlled the game for 75 minutes. We won’t get carried away by one result but it gives us great heart for the campaign ahead.
“Jason and Luke played ever so well; Luke’s movement is something else. And James Fraser is a massive player to have back. He, Michael Birmingham and Dan Beck worked brilliantly as a midfield three.
“It’s nice to see things coming together but there’s a long way to go.”
Howell said Tuesday’s performance in Surrey was easily the Rocks’ best of pre-season. “It was closer to the line-up we’re likely to have when the season begins and the pitch suited us. We’ve missed JJ Fraser’s energy and it seems to be coming together at the right time.”
The Rocks are still in the hunt for another winger following Ben Johnson’s departure, although Louie Castles is battling hard to put himself in contention for a regular spot.
Defender Darryl Wollers looks likely to be taken on from Littlehampton, although the Rocks are still weighing up other trialists, including another ex-Littlehampton man, striker Peter Beadle, scorer in last Thursday’s 1-1 draw at Selsey.
Most on the injured list are defenders.
Bond (bruised foot) is the biggest worry but should be okay for Chipstead, Whitehead (thigh) is about a week from fitness, Crane’s groin strain is almost past him and Axten (thigh strain) should also recover for the first league game. Chris Breach (calf) played 42 minutes at Leatherhead without problems.
Birmingham jarred a knee at Leatherhead but it’s not serious, and Dodd got a whack on the heel but should be okay soon, although is suspended for the league opener in any case. Jupp is likely to miss the first three league games because of his red card.