BEN JOHNSON is set to make it a happy new year for the Rocks by making a quick return to fitness and boosting their bid for a play-off place.
The influential winger has not - as feared - done serious damage to his knee and is hopeful of getting the all-clear from a consultant in a week’s time.
It is a big boost to the Rocks as they head into 2014 on the back of two straight wins over the festive period and ready for an assault on the top five.
Johnson was out for a year after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in September 2012. When he hurt the same knee at Harrow just over a month ago, he and the club feared it could be a repeat of the same injury.
But manager Jamie Howell said: “His cruciate is intact and the cartilage is intact. He will have fluid on the knee drained and is seeing the consultant next Thursday (January 9).
“If all goes to plan, we hope to see him back in action around the back end of January.”
Johnson’s return with three months of the season still to go would enhance Bognor’s hopes of turning their mid-season position just a few points off the top five into a play-off place come the end of the campaign.
Last year they were well-placed at this stage but fell away with a poor run of results in February and March, not helped by a bad run run of injuries, suspensions and the departure of striker Ashley-Paul Robinson.
Howell is delighted by their present position and says there’s no reason they can’t continue to fly high if they have better luck with injuries.
Speaking after back-to-back Christmas wins, both by 3-1, at home to Lewes and at Carshalton, Howell said: “We’d certainly have taken our present position at the start of the season, and we’ve played a lot of the top teams already, some home and away.
“I’m not worried about what happened in the second half of last season, I’m just concentrating on this season. Injuries were a big factor and if things go better for us in that respect, we ought to continue to do well.”
January promises to be a hectic month for the team. They host Lowestoft this Saturday before travelling to face Met Police next Tuesday night.
The month brings another four league matches - at home to East Thurrock and Billericay and away to Hendon and Cray - plus a Sussex Senior Cup third-round tie at home to Eastbourne United.
The squad begin the month with several players nursing niggles or the remnants of longer-standing injuries and Howell said he was pleased they were not in action yesterday, when most other teams in the division had a game.
The midfield is a worry with Doug Tuck suffering with a groin problem and struggling to be fit for Saturday and Dan Kempson having a knee problem.
Winger Arron Hopkinson should be okay despite a calf problem while defender James Crane came off at Carshalton with a tight hamstring.
Better news is that midfielder/winger Harvey Whyte will be in the squad to face Lowestoft after recovering from a long-running thigh problem.
Competition for places has been strengthened by the Christmas performances of striker Ben Godfrey and midfielder Scott Chamberlain, who both scored in each of the two wins.
Howell said: “Ben’s been on the bench a lot but has been patient and has now taken his chance well. It’s nice to have three in-form strikers.
“As for Scott, he was out of football for a long time before he came back to us earlier in the season and is now starting to show what a talent he is. That said, I think we’ll see even more from him next season.”
Howell expects a tricky encounter against Lowestoft, who are level on points with the Rocks just outside the top five. He said: “I expect them to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season, as they were last year, but if we play as we did at home to Lewes, we have a good chance.”
Get the first reports from Rocks v Lowestoft and Met Police v Rocks on this website