JAMIE HOWELL believes inexperience at both ends of the pitch is all that has prevented the Rocks ending the season with a serious play-off push.
They go into their final game at Hampton & Richmond on Saturday likely to finish 12th or 13th and perhaps casting a glance at the teams who will battle it out in the play-offs.
East Thurrock look favourites to take the final play-off spot with a fifth-place finish, yet in mid-February, the Rocks were minutes from a 4-3 away win against them and the two teams were locked together in the top half of the table.
It was a wretched run in February and March that saw the Rocks slide, but Howell and coach Darin Killpartrick believe they can still be proud of a mid-table finish given the number of serious injuries the squad have suffered and the over-reliance on youngsters they have been left with.
Howell said the defeats against sides going for promotion - 3-2 at Met Police last Wednesday and 2-0 at home to Lowestoft on Saturday - showed where the difference was between the leading teams and the Rocks.
“They followed a similar pattern to the one we’ve seen often this season,” Howell said. “We played really well in both games but got beaten because of inexperience - making wrong decisions at the wrong time.
“As we’ve said, we have had to bring in a number of young players quicker than we’d have liked and it takes time for them to learn. It doesn’t happen overnight but there are signs they are learning.
“We are fine in the middle third of the pitch but it’s inexperience in both penalty boxes that is costing us.”
Howell said he could not fault the effort or attitude of the players and, although they were disappointed to end their home league campaign with a defeat, he felt they had a good go at second-placed Lowestoft in the second half.
Killpartrick said there were ‘massive positives’ despite the Rocks having lost those two games, especially from the performance at Met Police, which he described as one of the best of the season.
“We pushed them all the way and were unlucky not to get a point, or even three,” Killpartrick said.
“What we need to work on, and it’s something I’m looking at with our video analyst, is how we can convert good amounts of possession into more chances.”
The injury list continues to be lengthy ahead of the final game although it should look a lot healthier in time for the Sussex Senior Cup final against the Brighton development team at the Amex on Saturday, May 18.
James Crane (foot), Jon Marzetti (foot), Dan Thompson (groin) and Dan Beck (ankle) are the latest casualties. But all are due to be fit for the cup final and winger Harvey Whyte will also come into contention for the showpiece end to the season as he is recovering well from a broken collarbone.
The Rocks are investigating whether Thompson and Sam Pearce will still be with them for the cup final. Their loans run out at the end of the season.
One other piece of good news on the injury front is that winger Ben Johnson, recovering well from the cruciate knee ligament injury he suffered in September, will soon be able to start jogging.
Get the the first report from Hampton at www.bognor.co.uk