After a dismal run over the winter which saw us plummet from 2nd to 10th, we really needed something to change. We had ten games left, we were 3 points off the play-offs and we were definitely not going down. Could we finish higher than last season’s 12th place, and possible challenge for a play-off position?
After two wins in the previous eleven games, I needed to switch things up. We switched back to our 3-4-1-2 formation from last season, and scraped a 1-1 draw at home to lowly Hungerford. I could tell that this wasn’t the answer, but at least we didn’t lose.
The threat of returning to a three at the back formation seemed to do the trick though. A 2-1 win over promotion chasing Hemel Hempstead, with goals from both strikers, saw us get back on track. Another 2-1 against Bath showed that the Hemel Hempstead win wasn’t a one-off, and the next game saw a clean sheet! This came at a price though, as Lewis Tallack went off with a torn hamstring. In came centre-back Charlie Gatter from Havant & Waterlooville, who had previously scored an own goal for us in our 1-6 defeat earlier in the season.
Two more goals from Harvey Knibbs against Tonbridge made it 5 in 4 games for the striker. But even Knibbs in this form couldn’t stop a shock 1-4 loss to Chelmsford. We had 11 shots, they had 9. We had 4 shots on target, they also had 4. 4 goals from 4 shots on target, what was Idem doing? We then drew two and won one of our next three, putting us in sixth place, just one place off of the play-offs, and crucially, just one point.
We faced top of the table East Thurrock in the final game. They needed a win to secure the title, we needed a win to secure a play-off place. In a game that could decide our fate, I decided to switch formation to the narrow 4-3-3 that my assistant had been insisting on since the start of last season.
The reason for this switch, mostly, was the amount of injuries to my wingers. Abdulai Bell-Baggie and Steve Devlin were my only fit wingers, with injuries ruling out James Waite, as well as new recruits Mike Connah, and Jay Rollins.
I packed the centre of midfield, with James Granger playing as the Central Midfielder on Defend, with Curtis Young (Central Midfielder (Support)) and Theo Widdrington (Deep- Lying Playmaker (Support)) on either side. Up front, Harvey Knibbs played as an Advanced Forward, with Lewis Gill doing the leg-work as a Defensive Forward. Also up top, Danny Clifton returned to the side as the Poacher after Joe Parker was looking out of sorts.
The Switch looked to be paying dividends. We took the lead through Harvey Knibbs in the 20th minute, but Thurrock pegged us back almost straight away. At half time it was 1-1, we were finishing 6th and East Thurrock were not winning the league. 19 seconds in to the second half Lewis Gill slotted home to give us the lead. It took 10 minutes for Thurrock to equalise, but substitute Joe Parker put us back in front with 20 minutes to go. As we switched to contain, trying to close out the result that would see us rise to 5th, East Thurrock scored from a free header from a corner to snatch a draw for the hosts. That would be the last action of the season. We didn’t make the play-offs, but be had maybe found a new formation for next season.
Although a little disappointed that we didn’t make the play-offs, I was pretty happy that we were even in with a shout thanks to our form in the last 10 games. I was handed a new contract and was met by a surprise steam achievement…
Yes, we’re leaving the Tatnam Ground. Poole’s stadium does not meet the requirements for the Conference South, and the board have decided that building a new stadium is easier than buying the Tatnam Ground from the council and upgrading it. We will be moving in to the Killick Arena, named after Poole Legend Tom Killick, who managed the club in the rise through the leagues from 2004 until my appointment. Our next season, and hopefully our last in the Conference South, will be played at Victoria Park, home of local team Bournemouth Poppies, of the Wessex Premier.
Lewis Gill finished as our top scorer with 25 goals. Harvey Knibbs was close behind, netting 19 goals in 41 games. Joe Parker was our next highest scorer with 6. Abdulai Bell-Baggie topped the assist charts with 11, followed by Gill and Knibbs, who had 8 and 7 respectively. Only Lewis Tallack (7.14 from 42 games) and Ryan Case (7.03 from 13 games) had average rating over a 7. At the other end, Emmanuel Idem kept 10 clean sheets from 33 games, and Jonathan Miles kept 4 in 16 games.
Lewis Gill was voted our Player of the Season with 35% of the fans’ votes, ahead of Lewis Tallack (31%) and Louis Hall (23%). Emmanuel Idem was our Signing of the Season, whilst Gill was also given our Young Player of the Season. Special mention has to go to James Granger, who picked up 19 yellow cards, and one red.
After guiding Poole to a 7th place finish, when we were predicted to finish 20th, I was awarded the Vanarama National League South Manager of the Season award.
What’s To Come?
So after solid finishes of 12th and 7th in my first two seasons, next year we really have to get promoted. Of course I didn’t tell my players this. I’ve learnt my lesson after two seasons.
“I think we can finish in the top half next season lads”, I say to the team.
“We completely agree with your targets and think they are realistic”, replies Jonathan Miles on behalf of my team.
At least they actually think we can stay up next year.