We have done it! At the third time of asking Poole Town have been promoted to the Conference! All I can feel is relief – thank god we’re not resigned to another year in the bottom tier. We finished unbeaten in our last nine games – picking up 7 wins. But Dulwich were miles clear – they really bottled it, finishing the season with three straight defeats. But who cares about Dulwich Hamlet – the Dolphins will be in the Vanarama National next time out. Not only that, but we have delivered a new division for our first year in our new ground – The Killick Arena.
As I mentioned, we finished very strongly. We started our run-in with a trip to free-scoring Torquay. Nathan Blissett put the hosts ahead with 20 minutes to go, but Lewis Gill rescued a point, slotting home a Theo Widdrington through ball. Relegation threatened Weston-Super-Mare started their survival bid by beating us 3-2, the only real highlight being Robbie Burton’s sublime 30 yard free-kick. The next game saw a draw with Margate, which wasn’t a good result for either side.
A Lewis Gill brace saw us overcome Bishop’s Stortford and rise to second, and Harvey Knibbs and Mike Conneh secured a 2-0 win over Wealdstone. Robbie Burton bossed the 4-1 win over Basingstoke, getting a 9.2 thanks to a goal and an assist. Three goals in the next two games from James Daly saw two more wins, and I thought that had practically saw off Maidstone’s threat. It now had to be between us and Dulwich Hamlet, they were on 79 points with three games left, we were on 73. It was unlikely, but still possible.
A draw with mid-table St Albans was not the ideal start. They had 12 shots, 5 on target. We had six shots, two on target. But Harvey Knibbs just happened to have one of those shots on target, equalising in the 80th minute.
We responded in style though in our trip to Maidstone. The hosts were level on points with us on 74 points. We put out practically our strongest team, with the exception of in-form Mike Conneh at right-back and the upset Abdulai Bell-Baggie playing the deep-lying playmaker role. We shot out of the blocks, immediately looking like we wanted it more. But it took until the 40th minute for us to take the lead. We hit the hosts on the counter with a long ball down the left wing, which James Daly drilled across for Harvey Knibbs to tap in at the back post. It was Daly who provided the second too, as he pulled the ball back to the edge of the box for the onrushing Robbie Burton, who drilled the ball through a crowded penalty area and in to the bottom corner. And it was Lewis Gill who completed the rout, flicking the ball out wide to Conneh, before turning and powering the return ball in to the opposite top corner.
Dulwich Hamlet had lost their last two games. They were still on 79 points, whilst our win over Maidstone had us on 77, with Maidstone three points behind us. Dulwich travelled to fourth placed Maidenhead, Maidstone hosted bottom side East Thurrock, and we hosted mid-table Havant and Waterlooville.
Maidenhead scored two early goals, but at half time we were unable to capitalise. 64 minutes gone and Maidstone went behind to Thurrock. Minutes later Dulwich pulled one back at Maidenhead. It wasn’t going to happen. But in the 79th minute, our dominance paid off. Havant had a rare sight of goal, but Robbie Burton hoofed the ball as far as he could. Joe Parker latched on to the ball out on the left wing and hooked the ball to the back post where Harvey Knibbs bundled the ball in. And a Robbie Burton free kick curled in from the left side of the 18 yard box sealed the win just three minutes later. The next seven minutes were the tensest in my time at Poole, but Maidenhead held on to gift us the title.
Torquay will join us in the Vanarama National, as they saw off Maidstone 3-1 in the play-off final.
Robbie Burton was our player of the season, securing 35% of the fans’ votes. Burton finished the season very strongly, ending up with 9 goals and 8 assists, with an average rating of 7.25. December signing Daniel Ballard came second, with an average rating of 7.24 from his 27 games. Joe Parker finished as top scorer with 18 goals, whilst Lewis Gill and Harvey Knibbs netted 16 apiece. James Daly also broke double figures, with his four in one game against Bath helping him to 13 for the season. Daly and Gill led the assists charts with 11 and 10 respectively, with Knibbs (8), Burton and full back Tyler Cordner (both 7) also performing well. At the back, Emmanuel Idem kept 17 clean sheets in 40 appearances, letting in just 36 goals all season.
What’s To Come?
Next season will be Poole’s first in the Vanarama National League, and the first at our new Killick Arena. We will undoubtedly be odds on to come straight back down, but we’ve seen those odds before. I tell the lads that we’ve done great to win the title, and we should aim to stay up next year. For the first time in forever, they agree with me. Not one person in that dressing room says I’m being too ambitious. This is what it must feel like to be the poor bastard who replaces everyone’s favourite teacher but who eventually wins around the class. Maybe I should just retire now.