The Rocks are confident they have finally solved their goal drought by recruiting exciting young Pompey duo Bradley Lethbridge and Dan Smith.
The teenage pair played against Bognor in a Pompey XI’s 5-1 friendly win at Nyewood Lane on Tuesday – then signed on work-experience forms for the season afterwards.
Boss Jack Pearce and coach Robbie Blake – who knows the pair from his time at Fratton Park – believe their goals and physicality will give the Rocks the firepower they lacked in last season’s struggles in the National League South.
Smith, 19, and Lethbridge, 17, will be at Bognor for the season and the Rocks said the deal would not have happened without their relationship with the Blues.
Both will play a part in the Rocks’ two final pre-season friendlies – at Salisbury on Friday and at Gosport a week later – as the management weigh up how to accommodate the young pair and Jimmy Muitt, who scored a fine goal against Pompey.
Pearce said: ““We’ve known all along we’re weak up front. Both Bradley and Dan are very highly thought-of within the Pompey management structure and we are delighted to welcome them to the club.
“Pompey are keen for both to play regular football at a good level to help them develop so the loans suit all parties – they can attain game time while we benefit from their talent.
“To have such a relationship with a club of Pompey’s stature says a lot about our club and the trust they have in us. We look forward to helping the players develop and boosting our own ambitions.
“Robbie tells me they are good players and they will definitely give us some physical presence.
“Jimmy Muitt did well against Pompey so having him and the two youngsters will give us good options. We may play thbridge up the middle, Jimmy wide right and see where that takes us.”
Blake said the recruitment of Lethbridge and Smith was ‘absolutely huge’ and added: “We’ve only really had Jimmy Muitt as an attacking player. The two coming in will make us so much stronger in that area. We need that physicality up there.”
Pearce and Blake’s squad is by no means complete. Keeper Dan Lincoln will play at Salisbury but he is still not certain to re-sign for the Rocks, who have run the rule over trialist Giordano Zabotti in the friendly defeats to Pompey and Horndean.
Pearce is also keen to recruit a left-back to free up Calvin Davies, who has been filling in on the left superbly, to play on his natural right side.
He was delighted to see a crowd of 1,240 swell the club’s coffers at the Pompey game but was concerned to see his team gift the Blues four of their five goals.
Pearce said: “It was a useful night – I just wish we could have played a bit better. We probably had as much possession as they had and our goalie didn’t have to make many great saves, but we have gifted them four goals out of five.
“You cannot conceded four goals like that and expect to win any game of football because goals change games and it’s psychological.
“I was so upset with the type of goals we conceded and it’s the timing - within five minutes of the kick-off you’re one down and within five minutes of the second half starting you’re 4-1 down.
“At no stage were we under siege but the result was horrendous. You can’t dodge the fact that a team hasn’t had to put much together to score five goals against us. They’re almost all self-inflicted.”
Pearce said it was a shame Pompey had not put out a full first team but added, half-jokingly: “That might have been lucky for us!”
Blake has seen progress over the three friendlies played. “We’ve had a lot of trialists in so it’s been tough but by the start of the season we’ll have bodies in of good quality,” he said.
“I’m not too downbeat because it’s still early doors. We need to get our shape right. We’ve got two friendlies left, realistic games for the standard we are at. Once we get a settled team we’ll be fine.”