Rocks’ FA Trophy excitement must be put aside

Chike Kandi got the winner at Maidstone / Picture by Tim Hale

Chike Kandi got the winner at Maidstone / Picture by Tim Hale

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ROCKS boss Jamie Howell admitted there was little time to reflect on another FA Trophy day of glory with the team needing to rediscover their winning league form.

The club reached the last 32 of the Trophy with a superb 1-0 win away to National League South high-flyers Maidstone on Saturday.

It was their fourth victory in five knockout games against higher-tier opposition this season and has set up a home second-round tie against non-league top-tier side Altrincham or Southern League outfit Leamington.

But the Rocks and their fans were brought back to earth on Tuesday night with a 2-1 defeat at Hampton and Richmond which ended with two players injured and skipper and top scorer Jason Prior sent off.

The Rocks have collected only one point from their past four league games and Howell says the priority now is to get the promotion bid back on track.

They have league games at Billericay and Burgess Hill and at home to Lewes before their next foray into cup land.

Howell said he was proud of his players for the win at Maidstone, which he felt was fully deserved.

“To a man we were superb,” he said.

“I actually thought our FA Cup win over Oxford City, from the same division as Maidstone, was better.

“We knew Maidstone would be strong and direct. When we went there in the league last season we got bullied – and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.

There were some decisions we certainly weren’t happy with but the fact is we lost, and we now need to start picking up points to stay there or thereabouts in the table.

Jamie Howell

“Craig (Robson), Chad (Field), Sami (El-Abd) and Grant (Smith) made sure it didn’t happen.

“The team were superb in dealing with Maidstone. It’s fantastic to get this far in the Trophy. But we’ll have to wait now to see whether we play Altrincham or Leamington – we’ll relish either one – and the focus now is on the league.”

Wet conditions and fatigue from Saturday didn’t help the Rocks at Hampton on Tuesday night but Howell admitted they were poor in the first half, which they ended 2-0 down.

He was heartened by the way they battled back and ended up unlucky not to snatch a 2-2 draw – with one solid penalty claim in particular leaving the Rocks camp irked on a night when most felt the young referee looked out of his depth.

“We were excellent in the second half and 2-2 wouldn’t have been unfair in the end,” Howell said.

“There were some decisions we certainly weren’t happy with but the fact is we lost, and we now need to start picking up points to stay there or thereabouts in the table.”

Howell had sympathy for Prior, sent off for the first time in a Bognor shirt for an altercation with defender Moussa Diarra in injury time.

The manager felt Prior had been provoked and said the red card was completely out of character.

Because it was a second yellow, Prior is likely to get just a one-match ban, probably the January 2 trip to Burgess Hill.

Better news is that the problems that forced El-Abd and Gary Charman off at the Beveree are not serious.

El-Abd suffered a groin twinge and should be fine for Saturday’s visit to another of the Rocks’ promotion rivals, Billericay.

Charman was concussed and spent the night in hospital as a precaution. He may miss the trip to Essex, but won’t be out for long.

Utility man Snorre Nilsen is back at Pompey, responding well to treatment for a hip flexor problem.

Forward Stuart Green is still suffering nerve problems but winger Alex Parsons is back in contention.

Howell is reluctant to bring in youth players just to bolster numbers on the bench – he feels they are better-served staying with their other clubs and actually playing.

He said the Billericay game was important: “There are six points separating the top ten and we’re right in there, but we’ve dropped a few points lately and need to start winning league games.”

STEVE BONE

* The Rocks’ Sussex Senior Cup tie at Eastbourne Town, postponed last Tuesday, will now be played on Tuesday, January 5 (7.45pm).

The Ryman League match scheduled for Saturday, January 16, at home to VCD Athletic will be played on Tuesday, February 9.

The club also applied for the league match at Tonbridge Angels on Tuesday, January 12, to be postponed, in line with Ryman League rules designed to provide as much support as possible to Ryman clubs who reach the latter stages of the FA Trophy and FA Cup.

This has been rearranged for Tuesday, January 26, with a 7.45pm kick-off.

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