The search for Jason Prior’s replacement is on – but the Rocks say they are not about to start paying out silly money to get the right man.
After scoring 95 goals in just 124 appearances in two-and-a-half seasons at Nyewood Lane, a deal has been agreed verbally for the striker to join Eastleigh in a deal worth £12,500.
That could yet be overtaken for Prior has been invited to a trial at Newcastle United, but whatever happens it looks like he is on his way out of Nyewood Lane.
The Rocks didn’t want to sell him mid-season, but Prior felt it was a good opportunity for him to progress, with Conference South side Eastleigh benefitting from new investors aiming to take them up the football pyramid.
Rocks bosses Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick are already hunting for a new goalscorer – but they won’t break the club’s wage structure nor rush into buying the first forward available.
They hope to keep loanee Steve Harper – scorer of the winner in the Boxing Day win over Worthing – at the club and have challenged Terry Dodd to take the chance to step up and become the club’s new goal king.
Prior was always likely to move after a sensational season-and-a-half in which he has scored more than 70 goals.
Football League clubs including Bournemouth, Swindon and Carlisle have shown interest but Eastleigh were the only club to make a firm offer.
Rocks fans are wishing Prior well and are convinced he can be a success at a higher level.
Joint boss Jamie Howell said: “It was inevitable Jason would move on at some point with the number of goals he has scored.
“We want to get a replacement, but it’s not as simple as just finding another forward of his calibre.
“We have Terry Dodd, Steve Harper and Ben Andrews in the squad at the moment who are all proven strikers – it’s not like we have an acute shortage there.
“But we do want to bring another. Recently we’ve looked to bring in young players who we can improve and bring through but perhaps this time we will be looking for someone with experience – the finished article.
“Jack Pearce has always supported what we want to do with the squad but we’re not going to pay silly money for a player. We’ll stick to our wage structure.”
Howell’s management partner Darin Killpartrick said Prior had worked hard in training to improve his all-round play and deserved his chance higher up.
“He’s been a pleasure to work with. He’s one of the best centre-forwards technically I’ve seen at Bognor. The way he finishes from inside or outside the box or with his head is superb.
“I’m gutted he is leaving but it’s the way the food chain works.”
Speculation among fans has begun about where the club should look for a new striker. Some believe they should go for a proven Ryman League hitman and others want them to try a county league prospect.
Prior’s departure has taken some of the gloss off the victory over Worthing at Nyewood Lane which took them six points clear at the top.
Worthing missed a late penalty and probably deserved a point.
Killpartrick said: “We rode our luck at times but there will be games we deserve to win and don’t, so we’ll not worry about winning any we don’t deserve to.”
The Rocks have no game on New Year’s Eve but head to Whitehawk on Monday to face a team the bosses are certain will be involved in the title mix for the rest of the season.
Ex-Rocks favourite James Fraser is likely to face his old team-mates on Monday and Killpartrick said: “They’ll want revenge on their turf for us beating them at our place. They’re an extremely good, strong side.
“But we won’t get big-time just because we are top.”
Defender Jon Marzetti can play ahead of a three-match ban for his red card against Worthing. He is likely to miss league games with Dulwich and Corinthian Casuals plus the Brighton cup clash.
Midfielder Dan Beck should return at Whitehawk after missing Boxing Day through sickness, but Lewis Ide is still out with knee problems and Tim Bond may get a game with a county league team to build up his fitness after a calf injury.