The Rocks believe they will find out the true strength of this season’s squad by the way they respond to their first defeat.
And the management have faith in their players to put Tuesday’s poor performance and 3-1 loss at Corinthian Casuals behind them quickly as they head into an eight-day period of FA Trophy, Ryman League and FA Cup action.
The defeat came in their 12th game after nine wins and two draws. Now the aim must be to bounce straight back with a win – as they did after almost every defeat last season.
They have plenty of opportunity to consign the Casuals game to history: they host Southern League Mangotsfield in the FA Trophy on Saturday, visit Ramsgate on Tuesday, unless they have a trophy replay on Monday, then go to Conference South high-flyers Sutton a week Saturday.
Bosses Darin Killpartrick and Jamie Howell know they’ll probably lose all three if they defend like they did on Tuesday, but the duo are confident that won’t happen.
Casuals’ goals were from a free header, a free run at goal and a Craig Stoner error. That came after the Rocks had almost surrendered a three-goal lead in their FA Cup win away to Maidstone on Saturday.
Killpartrick said: “If anyone had said we’d get to the first week of October before we lost a game, we’d all have taken it, so I won’t publicity slate anyone.
“But it was poor and the whole team have to take responsibility. We’ll point fingers behind closed doors but the players have been magnificent so far.
“It was unacceptable and it can’t happen again. Everyone’s out to beat you when you get into the position we’ve been in but Corinthian Casuals had more desire to get the ball than we did.
“If we want to be title contenders that can’t happen again – if it does, changes will be made.
“But I think this year’s team are psychologically stronger because of what we went through last season. If we only lose one in every 12 we will be up there.”
Howell added: “Our frailties got exposed against Corinthian and perhaps things that have gone for us in other recent games didn’t this time.
“The number of goals we’re conceding is a worry. It’s almost like it’s a bonus and a surprise when we get a clean sheet and I’d rather that was the norm, not the exception.
“We’re too cavalier. At Maidstone we didn’t close out the game at three up and almost paid for it. We have to be tighter.”
Mangotsfield bring an unknown challenge to the Lane in the Trophy. They’re eighth in the Southern League’s equivalent of the Rocks’ division.
The Rocks will consider making changes, with defender Matt Whitehead, midfielder Lewis Ide and striker Luke Nightingale all pushing for starts after coming off the bench for an improved second-half display against Casuals.
Any replay will take place on Monday but if the tie is decided on Saturday, the Rocks head for a tough test at Ramsgate on Tuesday.
Then it’s a trip to fourth-placed Conference South side Sutton in the FA Cup, a draw that wasn’t what the Rocks wanted with the first round proper now two stages away.
Howell knows Sutton assistant boss Alan Payne and gave them some intelligence on Dulwich before they beat them in the second qualifying round.
“We joked that he might be asking me for inside info on Bognor for the next round so it was ineivtable we’d draw them. It will be a huge test for us but we’ll give it a good go,” Howell said.