SHOLING’S central defensive kingpin Pete Castle is on the brink of a comeback after two weeks out with a knee injury.

But with a massive FA Vase last-16 tie against Larkhall Athletic to prepare for on Saturday, manager Dave Diaper is in two minds about risking him in tonight’s delayed Sydenhams Wessex League Cup semi-final against holders Alresford Town at Winchester’s Denplan City Ground.

Having lost their last two games at Blackfield & Langley in the league and at home to Conference South outfit Farnborough in the Russell Cotes Cup, the Boatmen couldn’t have picked a trickier fixture leading up to the Vase game.

Alresford completed a hat-trick of knockout triumphs last season and, as one of the Magpies’ biggest admirers, Diaper is all too aware that he daren’t rest too many players if he harbours realistic hopes of reaching the League Cup final.

Sholing should have played Larkhall on Saturday, but Friday night’s storms put paid to that, heaping yet another match onto the growing fixture backlog.

“It’s an absolute nightmare,” said Diaper. “All these disruptions stop your momentum, but it’s not just us, it’s the same for all teams.

“We could play Pete Castle tonight, he’s not that far off, but it seems pointless to risk him when he could have four days’ longer to recover for the Vase game.

“Pete’s a big player – personality-wise as well as physically – and he’s an important member of the squad.

“We’ve got Mike Carter out too (thumb tendons) and he and Pete are key losses against an Alresford side with such a good cup pedigree.

“At the moment the treble is still on for us (League, League Cup and Vase), but by the end of the week we could be out of all the cups. But that’s life.”

Alresford’s only immediate injury concern surrounds goalkeeper Jason Collins who misses tonight with a shoulder problem. Longer-term, they have been without influential midfielder and skipper Simon Everett for the bulk of the season, but there is hope on the horizon.

Magpies co-boss Danny Robinson confirmed: “Simon had a hernia operation two weeks ago last Friday and has also had a steroid injection. He’s started to jog ever so slightly and we’re hoping he’ll be back by mid-March.”

Looking forward to tonight, he added: “It will be interesting to see what Dave (Diaper) does given that the Vase is of such big importance.

“But, whoever he picks, it will be a strong squad.”