Rocks can have a sweet 16

JAMIE HOWELL says the Rocks squad are in great shape for a bid for 2016 glory.

Jason Prior places the ball for the free-kick that gave him his second v Lewes / Picture by Tommy McMillan
Jason Prior places the ball for the free-kick that gave him his second v Lewes / Picture by Tommy McMillan

They ended the old year with a 4-0 thumping of old rivals Lewes to complete their first double over the Rooks for many decades.

They aim to start the new year with more Sussex-derby success when they go to Howell’s old team Burgess Hill on Saturday.

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The Boxing Day victory was a timely one, coming after a run of five league games in which Bognor took only one point.

It keeps them in and around the pack of clubs chasing promotion and sets them up for a hectic January in which they are due to play eight games in three different competitions.

As well as six league matches, the Rocks go to Eastbourne Town in the Sussex Senior Cup next Tuesday and have an FA Trophy second-round home tie against Altrincham or Leamington on Saturday 16.

Howell is content with the season so far and does not accept the view of some fans that the squad needs a host of new faces.

Praise for the Rocks has come from the next boss to take them on – Burgess Hill manager Ian Chapman.

He said: “We have a big test against a Bognor side who I feel will challenge for an automatic promotion place.

“Without their good cup run I honestly believe they would already be top. But I also feel at home we are a proper handful as we have proven in our past few fixtures.”

Howell said it was nice to hear kind words about his team but there was a tough second half of the season to come. “I’m happy with where we are,” he said.

“We’ve done well in the cups and it’s difficult to re-create that form every week.

“We’ve lost a few away league games that have followed good cup wins and sometimes you can understand that.

“I’ve seen comments that we’re not being ambitious enough because we’re not getting all sorts of new players in, but it’s not that straightforward.

“There’s not a lot of quality players kicking around looking for a move in the middle of the season – and if we were to find someone good enough to add quality to the squad, who do we leave out?

“It’s not like we’re a failing team. Jack (Pearce) is very good and if we need to bring a player in, generally we do.

“But we don’t want to sign players just for the sake of it.”

Howell has a virtually-full squad to select from this week, with Gary Charman (illness) and Sami El-Abd (groin) the only two doubts.

Snorre Nilsen is back in light training at Pompey after a hip flexor problem and could be back in the Rocks squad on Saturday week for the home league game against Needham Market.

Attacking duo Stuart Green and Alex Parsons both look fit and in form after their respective recent injury problems.

Alfie Rutherford is now on dual-registration forms with Chichester City but picked up a minor ankle knock as he helped them to a 3-0 win over Pagham on Monday. He should be fit to face the Hillians.

Howell is looking forward to taking his team to the club he managed before his 2009 switch to Nyewood Lane.

“It’s a nice club and Ian Chapman and Stuart Tuck have done a great job there this season,” he said.

“They’ve a chance of getting in the play-offs if they carry on as they are. They’ll give us a tough game.”

Meanwhile, Jason Prior’s Boxing Day hat-trick took his Rocks goal tally to 131 in 179 starts and seven appearances off the bench.

Howell said: “It’s an incredible strike-rate at any level of football.

“Jason had had a short run of games where he hadn’t scored but you knew the next goal wasn’t far away.

“Miles Rutherford, who knows Jason well from his Moneyfields days, said before the Lewes game he’d probably end his run with a hat-trick – and that’s exactly what he did.

“He’s been a superb signing for us.”

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