A worsening injury crisis is threatening to derail Bognor’s new-year bid for a great escape before it has begun.
Three key players are likely to be out for the season and another trio remain short of full fitness – while forward Ben Swallow will start a three-match ban next week for a sending-off in the 3-0 New Year’s Day defeat at home to Havant.
Central defender Chad Field is the latest to join the injured list, sustaining a knee injury in a second-half challenge against Havant that has left him needing a scan and the Rocks fearing the worst.
He joins fellow central defender Corey Heath (ankle) and full-back James Crane (shoulder), both of whom are set for surgery and are unlikely to pull on a Rocks shirt again this season.
In addition, incredibly, two more centre-halves have been on the sidelines.
Keaton Wood could return for Saturday week’s big FA Trophy tie against Leyton Orient after an ankle injury while Gary Charman – who has rejoined from Eastbourne in a move popular with fans – may be pitched straight into action at Whitehawk on Saturday despite having been out injured himself.
He will be assessed at training tonight but looks likely to have to go straight into the bottom-versus-second-from-bottom clash at the Enclosed Ground, a game the Rocks need to win if they’re to start to climb away from the National League South relegation zone.
Striker Ollie Pearce is still no nearer naming a return date as he struggles with a groin injury.
Manager Jack Pearce said: “I’ve never known anything quite like it. To have had so many players picking up serious injuries is unbelievable.
“This is not an easy league to compete in and it’s certainly not when you’re not at full strength. We have signed players to cover injuries only for the new players to get injured too. We have to keep paying those who are injured and that stretches the budget.”
Bognor have decided against appealing over Swallow’s red card for a challenge on Matt Tubbs that most at Nyewood Lane did not think worthy of the punishment.
Pearce said a club had to be confident they could demonstrate a referee had made a clear mistake and officials did not think, after viewing video footage, they had a strong case. Swallow will miss the Orient tie and league clashes with Wealdstone and Hungerford.
The Rocks were more upset with another refereeing decision on Monday – the one that let Havant sub Brian Stock off with a yellow card after his elbow caught full-back Calvin Davies square in the face during a Bognor attack.
But Pearce said the focus now was on Whitehawk and the need for a win against a side who notched their first league victory of their campaign away to Jamie Howell’s Eastbourne Borough with a 4-1 wi on Monday.
The manager said: “It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. We have a big challenge ahead of us from now until the end of the season but I like a challenge. It’s what football is all about.
“I don’t think we played that well (against Havant) because football’s about creating chances before the opposition. I thought Havant deserved to win. They started the game better than us, got on the front foot earlier and worked very hard to shut us down and stop us playing. “The wind had a major influence on the game and we were against it in the first half which made it very difficult to clear your lines. “But the most important thing was we were reduced to ten men very early. I thought we gave a good account of ourselves with ten men. There were times in the game you wouldn’t have known we had ten men.”
On the bid to climb away from the wrong end of the table, Pearce said: “Monday’s results have made it more difficult. But there’s a good spirit in the camp and we’ll keep working.”
Get first news of Whitehawk v Rocks on this website on Saturday evening