THE ROCKS are aiming to ride out an injury crisis and cling on to their outside hopes of a play-off place.
But boss Jamie Howell has warned they’ll not succeed if there’s any repeat of the poor attitude that almost led to defeat at struggling Witham last weekend.
The manager said his pre-match team talk proved ‘a complete waste of time’ as the Rocks turned in one of their worst halves of the season to go in at the interval 2-0 down.
He told the players at the break they had made it a miserable afternoon for fans and club staff – and they responded with a much-improved second half display which earned a 2-2 draw.
With games coming up against Met Police, Enfield and Lewes in a ten-day spell, they can’t afford to let standards slip again if they’re to keep alive their hopes of scrambling into fifth spot and their fourth play-off semi-final in five seasons.
Their injury list worsened at Witham, where wide man Alex Parsons pulled up with a hamstring tear that could have ended his season.
We were all over the shop and at half-time I just said ‘do what you want – you’ve ruined my afternoon and that of everybody who’s come to watch.Jamie Howell
But midfielder Doug Tuck and forward Stuart Green are both set to return to the squad for Saturday’s home clash with the Met, fellow play-off chasers.
Howell said: “In the first half at Witham, our attitude was poor and we got what we deserved. We were two down and it could have been more.
“We’d spoken before the game about keeping it tight and making it difficult for them, but telling them that was a complete waste of time.
“Our decision-making was poor. I know the players didn’t set out to be poor, but they were.
“We were all over the shop and at half-time I just said ‘do what you want – you’ve ruined my afternoon and that of everybody who’s come to watch’. It was as poor as I’ve seen us.
“Our best player by a mile had been Jake Thomson. His attitude had been spot-on.
“If we’d had 11 with the same attitude from the start, we’d have won. He single-handedly kept us alive.
“The second half was much better and in the end we might have won it.”
Despite taking only four points from their past five games, the Rocks remain only four points off fifth place.
They still have to play four of the five sides currently standing between them and fifth – starting with the Met.
Howell said: “There’s a lot of teams with plenty to play for and we’re one of them.
“We just have to keep going and hope our injury problems don’t hurt us too much or get any worse.”
Parsons and utility player and Harvey Whyte, who has knee ligament damage, are both out for four to six weeks, probably meaning they won’t feature again this term.
Striker Ollie Pearce faces another three to four weeks out with an ankle problem and now another forward, Callum Overton, has a hip problem. That could see Terry Dodd start alongside Jason Prior on Saturday.
The Rocks are also talking to Pompey about borrowing another couple of their Academy players for the rest of the campaign.
One bright spot at Witham was the sight of full-back Daryl Wollers on the bench for the first time since surgery on a hip problem that has seen him miss most of the past three years.
Howell said: “Daryl’s got himself in good shape and has done some five-a-side.
“He hasn’t trained much yet and we mustn’t rush him, but he’s likely to be in the squad on Saturday. It’s great to see him back.”
Howell said he was a big admirer of what Met Police had achieved in recent years, establishing themselves in the premier division like the Rocks. “It’s always a good game against them and we’ll have to do a lot better than we did in the first half at Witham, “ he said.