Rocks Review: Contracts for pair can boost ‘hands-off’ message

The Rocks have launched new bids to keep their key players at Nyewood Lane in the face of increasing efforts by some of their rivals to lure them away.

Kane Wills and James Crane have been put on contracts to make it harder for other teams to get their hands on them.

Wills has been the subject of interest from Whitehawk - who have already poached James Fraser from the Rocks this season - but was happy to sign a deal to stay at the Lane. Crane was similarly happy to commit himself to the Rocks.

They’re now in line with Jason Prior, who was given contracted player status earlier in the year after attracting interest from Football League clubs.

Although signing a contract doesn’t in itself stop any player leaving, it makes it harder for the Whitehawks of the world to tempt them away and will give the Rocks a cash injection should any of the players in question decide to move.

The Rocks lost Fraser around the same time as veteran duo Michael Birmingham and Luke Nightingale retired and the management are keen to avoid similar major disruption to the squad again as they aim to go one better than last season and secure the Ryman one south title and promotion to the premier division.

Joint manager Jamie Howell said: “We have put Kane and James on contracts. It’s about protecting our key players.

“With a successful team you’re always going to attract interest in your players from other clubs. You have to think ahead and do what you can to protect yourselves and protect the club.

“It’s no secret that we’ve had interest in and approaches for a number of players this season. It’s only to be expected but what we don’t want to happen is to lose a number around the same time, as happened earlier in the season.

“We don’t want to lose any, but there’s always the chance it could happen. We have to be alert to the danger.”

Wills has been a revelation since returning from injury and taking on the midfield guv’nor role that Birmingham used to hold. Crane has recently been moved from full-back into an attacking midfield role and his goals and asists have been pivotal in a league unbeaten run that now stretches back to October 4.

It was another solid week for the Rocks on the field, although there was frustration at their inability to score in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Walton & Hersham, which was followed by a comfortable 3-0 home win over Burgess Hill in the third round of the Sussex Senior Cup on Tuesday.

That’s set up a quarter-final away to Brighton reserves, which joint manager Darin Killpartrick welcomed as the best test it was possible to give the team in the competition.

Howell said the goalless visit to Walton was a slight let-down and added: “We were the better team and had the better chances but couldn’t score. But we made sure we didn’t concede and that’s seven straight clean sheets now which is very pleasing.”

Howell praised the defensive work done on the training ground by Killpartrick and fitness coach Neil Cockroft.

Killpartrick said: “We have worked hardon getting the players to work harder and press hearder when we haven’t got the ball, and that’s paying dividends in this run.”

Nearly 11 hours of football has been played since the Rocks last conceded - a record they take to Whitstable on Saturday.

Killpartrick said: “Whitstable drew 2-2 at our place a couple of months so we know they will test us.”

The rocks could have a problem in that high-achieving defence on Saturday. Chris Breach is suspended and Tim Bond still working his way to fitness after hamstring and calf injuries. With Ben Andrews doubtful as he awaits a January operation on a cartilage problem, that could mean Darryl Wollers switching to the centre from left-back, or a recall for Brighton youngster Callum Sheriff.

New recruit Callum Saunders has turned in some lively displays to give Howell and Killpartrick an extra option up front, where he is vying with Steve Harper for a place on the right.

Harper’s loan spell lasts until the turn of the year but Howell said if Met Police did not want him back, he would like to explore if a deal could be done to keep him.