The Rocks roared back to top spot in their promotion push – and now believe they’re better-equipped to stay there for the final five games.
Tuesday night’s thrilling win over Leatherhead inched them two points clear of Met Police at the top of Ryman one south, with the destiny of the title clearly in their hands.
Last time they moved into pole position, it sparked a few nerves which led to a run of three home draws.
But bosses Jamie Howell and Darin Killpartrick believed the squad have learned from their earlier spell in first place and will be able to cope better with the pressure.
There’s one blot on the landscape, though: skipper Michael Birmingham is out of the clashes with Sittingbourne and Worthing after picking up his tenth booking in the win over the Tanners.
The Rocks and the Met Police, who drew 1-1 at the weekend, have five games each left and an almost-identical goal difference.
The Rocks have three of their last five at home – starting on Saturday, when Whyteleafe visit the Lane.
Whyteleafe held the Rocks to a goalless draw at home in the FA Trophy earlier in the season before the Rocks won the replay 6-1, and Howell reckons they could be hard to break down again.
“We now have five games that will be very tough, but I think we are ready for the challenge,” he said.
“Top is where we want to be but I think it did affect us a little when we were previously in first place. Now I think we have come to terms with it and know teams will be out to knock us off our perch.
“After three home draws in a row, we’ve now had three home wins on the bounce, and we need to continue that.
“It’s not rocket-science now – it’s about holding our nerve, playing as we know we can and not doing anything silly.
“We’ve played two teams in the top four and taken four points out of six from them. That has to give us confidence.”
Killpartrick agreed the hard work was still ahead of the Rocks but said: “This team have matured and learned to be psychologically strong – partly through the experience the club have been through over the past couple of years.
“I think Whyteleafe could give us a harder test than even Leatherhead gave us. Anyone who thinks there are now easier games to come or the job is half-done couldn’t be more wrong.”
Birmingham will miss two of the last three after an early booking against Leatherhead.
Six of his ten yellows have been for dissent and Howell said: “It’s disappointing to lose an experienced player for that reason. But no-one will be more disappointed than Birmy that he can’t play in those games.”
His ban comes on top of news that midfield pair James Fraser and Dan Beck’s seasons are over because of knee and shoulder injuries.
The good news is young ex-Brighton midfielder Conor Wilkins – son of Dean – has returned to Nyewood Lane and done well against the Met and Leatherhead.
And the Rocks hope to get the go-ahead next week for Pompey loan defender Perry Ryan to be available for the final four games as he gets over a hairline fracture of the wrist. Full-back James Crane missed the Leatherhead game because of a holiday but is back for this weekend, although Jon Marzetti and Matt Whitehead made it difficult for the bosses to drop them with committed displays against the Tanners.
Fans continue to get behind the team in increasing numbers. Nyewood Lane welcomed a 500-plus crowd for the second time this season on Tuesday and the home average for the season looks set to top 400 – that’s 100 more than they were getting for much of their time in Conference South.
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