Top dogs Rocks are keen to get back to their best

The Rocks head for a week on the road with boss Jamie Howell insisting he is relaxed about their struggle to find their best form.

Friday, 10th March 2017, 10:26 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 8:14 pm
Sami El-Abd wins a header against Leatherhead - but he will miss the games with Leiston and Burgess Hill / Picture by Tim Hale
Sami El-Abd wins a header against Leatherhead - but he will miss the games with Leiston and Burgess Hill / Picture by Tim Hale

They are grinding out results without playing as well as they can –and Howell says that’s fine by him.

Although he’d like to see more fluent displays, Howell says every team experiences spells when they are below par and all you can hope is you come through them without dropping too many points.

Saturday’s home game with Leatherhead was a case in point. The Rocks, particularly in their second half, were below their best but recorded a 1-0 win that kept them a point ahead of Havant at the top of the Ryman premier.

Now Howell takes his troops to Leiston on Saturday and Burgess Hill next Tuesday hoping to continue the unbeaten run that has kept them ahead of their rivals.

The job has been made tougher by news that Sami El-Abd will miss both games through suspension after totting up ten bookings for the season, while left-back Dylan Barnett could be out for five to six weeks with a foot injury which an X-ray has failed to fully diagnose.

There’s a fear Barnett has a broken metatarsal, but it may be only ligament damage – though either way he is looking at a spell on the sidelines. James Crane is the obvious contender to replace him at full-back while Gary Charman is set to partner Chad Field at the heart of the back-line in El-Abd’s absence.

It’s another week when the Rocks are top of the pile and Howell admitted nerves over their lofty position could be affecting the players’ performances.

He had a chance to run the rule over some of his fringe players – including youngsters Tommy Block, Oscar Haynes-Brown and Will Robinson – in a Nyewood Lame 2-1 friendly win over the Army on Tuesday which also featured some first-teamers.

Charman was substituted in the first half on Tuesday but it was precaution and he should be fine to face Leiston.

The manager said: “It wasn’t a vintage display against Leatherhead. We’re a little stop-start at the moment and it was nice to have a look at a couple of things in the Army game.

“In an ideal world we’d be getting the results we have been getting and playing really well too, and I can’t tell you why we’re not at our best.

“Every team has times like this and the good thing is we’re staying solid. We have the best defensive record in the division and hopefully over the final ten games we will see a bit of a return to the way we can play.

“I think nerves over where we are in the league could be coming into it. No matter what you say to players about not being nervous, it can happen. It’s not going to be easy being top of the league.”

Howell fears the Rocks will face playing on a poor pitch at Leiston, who ended their bad run of form by beating promotion rivals Tonbridge 2-0 at home on Tuesday night.

Their surface has become quite churned up in places and Howell said it would be testing.

Tuesday brings a much shorter trip to Burgess Hill, which the Rocks expect to bring a different sort of examination against a side who’ll be keen to claim the premier-division Sussex bragging rights.

Howell said: “We have five difficult away games to come, but after these first two we have three straight home games, which will be welcome. It’s exciting.”

Coach Darin Killpartrick said: “This will be a very tough week for us. The pitch at Leiston could be cut up and we may need to change our game plan. But we know a lot of our fans will be making the long trip and we will do our best ot make it a worthwhile journey for them.”


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