Keep calm – that’s the message from their bosses as the Rocks head into the next stage of their FA Cup adventure on Saturday.
Darin Killpartrick and Jamie Howell say one of the keys to success this season will be their ability to play with confidence in possession despite the retirement of their ‘calmest player’ Michael Birmingham.
And they were encouraged by the signs they saw in Tuesday night’s 5-1 home demoltion of Crawley Down – not that they’ll be getting carried away by a straightforward win over the league’s bottom team, who have yet to secure their first point.
The Rocks suffered their first blip of the season last Saturday, drawing 0-0 in a below-par performance at Sittingbourne, but made up for it as Jason Prior’s hat-trick and Terry Dodd’s double sank Crawley Down to put them second in the table.
Now they’re expecting another tight tussle with Sittingbourne in Saturday’s first qualifying round tie in the Cup at Nyewood Lane.
They look like again being without Luke Nightingale, who has a trapped nerve in his neck, while Louie Castles and Duncan Jupp have left the club – although a return for either at a later date or in an emergency isn’t impossible.
Nightingale’s absence from the starting line-up was felt on Saturday as they struggled to create chances.
But after he suffered a trapped nerve in his neck, he wasn’t missed in midweek as Prior and Dodd found their form.
Howell said he was disappointed to see young winger Castles move on to Wessex League side Blackfield & Langley in his search for regular football, but added that the door wasn’t shut on a return.
Jupp has found it difficult committing to the Rocks since taking a teaching job at Ardingly College and is likely to come back only if the Rocks run out of defensive cover.
For now, the management are happy with the squad they have – and they are hopeful of Cup progress on Saturday.
Killpartrick said: “I was pleased with the way we kept the ball against Crawley Down. We showed we can keep possession, probe away and be patient.
“We have more and more players looking calmer on the ball – not just the midfield three. That’ll be important as the season goes on as we have to prove we can play our style of football without Birmy, who was the calmest man on the ball you could imagine.
“It’s still a work in progress and the Sittingbourne game showed there’ll be days when it doesn’t come together.”
Howell is expecting a tight Cup tie between two sides whose meeting last week means they know each other well.
“It would be nice to get through another round although Cup games always worry me because unexpected results happen.
“Sittingbourne will fancy their chances after the 0-0 draw and will be hard to break down. But we want to go through, and we don’t want to have to go all the way to their place for a replay next Tuesday.”
Centre-half Stuart Axten is back in the squad after missing Tuesday’s win through work.