The Rocks recovered from a bad day at the office to return to the top of the Ryman League – but were warned they face plenty more ups and downs yet.
Their 2-0 defeat to Hendon on Saturday was their first home loss since the opening day of the season and saw lose the lead at the head of the premier division.
But on Tuesday night the reverse was forgotten as they turned in a clinical performance to beat old rivals Kingstonian 2-0 and reclaim first place thanks to Ollie Pearce’s penalty and a Darren Budd goal.
They have been boosted by the return to the squad of utility man Harvey Whyte after his recovery from knee ligament damage suffered in a pre-season game, and other key men are likely to be fit for a return to the team in the next two or three weeks.
But they will be without right-back Calvin Davies, who starts a three-game ban this weekend after being shown a red card for violent conduct late in the Hendon game.
The Pompey youngster ptotested his innocence after the referee ruled he had struck an opponent as they fell to the ground in a challenge near the corner flag, but the Rocks decided they did not have clear-enough video evidence for an appeal.
If you’re closer to the top, you’re closer to the chop.Darin Killpartrick
Manager Jamie Howell admitted the Hendon and Kingstonian performances were chalk and cheese.
“Against Hendon it was just a bad day – men against boys, in fact,” Howell said. “We lacked leadership and a physical presence and you will always struggle when that’s the case.
“We started well but gave an unfortunate goal away and it was uphill after that. I can’t fault the players’ efforts.
“But against Kingstonian I couldn’t have been more delighted. It was the perfect response to Saturday’s result. We spoke before the game about how we were in a difficult period with injuries and so on and I was thinking I’d be happy with a point.
“We were excellent. We played well in the first half and deserved to be ahead at the break. Kingstonian had a go at us but Ed Sanders and Sami El-Abd were excellent and it was great to keep a clean sheet.
“We got the second goal and could have had more and it’s lovely to be back on top of the table, though again we won’t be going around shouting about it because it can change quickly.”
Coach Darin Killpartrick said: “If you’re closer to the top, you’re closer to the chop – teams will be out to knock us off our perch. But Tuesday night’s performance was very pleasing and I’m so glad we won for the 400 people who turned out to support us on such a cold night.”
The bosses are delighted to have Whyte back in the fold. He has come off the bench in each of the past two games and is likely to make his first start of the campaign soon.
Centre-half Chad Field is recovering well from his hamstring strain and could return for Saturday’s trip to Tonbridge, while another central defender, Gary Charman, is only two to three weeks away from fitness after a broken bone in his foot.
Midfielder Dan Beck is still a couple of weeks away from putting a hip flexor problem behind him, although the form of Italian Lorenzo Dolcetti in recent games has been a plus – his part in the build-up to Budd’s goal against Ks a particular highlight.
Up front it’s one in, one out: Jimmy Muitt is out for two to three weeks with a hamstring problem but Jimmy Wild is close to a full recovery from a cheekbone injury.
Howell said Tonbridge on Saturday and Harrow, who visit Nyewood Lane on Tuersday, would both offer stiff tests.
“Tonbridge will be there or thereabouts as the season goes on and we know they will give us a difficult game. And no-one should look at Harrow’s position in the table and think that will be straightforward – no game is in this division.”
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