Season 4 (November Update): Oh Dear!

Poole Town are playing in the fifth tier of English football for the first time in their history. We have a brand new stadium that holds over 3000 fans. Everything is coming up Milhouse. Well, that’s what I thought before our season opener at Boreham Wood. 18 games, 3 formations, 4 panic buys, 1 horrific injury and 1 win later, I’m starting to think we’re not cut out for this level.

The Results

As you might have gathered by now, things are not going great. We opened the season fairly positively. Boreham Wood were expected to finish mid-table, and picking up an away draw seemed a solid enough starting place. However, our tough start then began to hit.

We then hosted relegated Grimsby for the first game at our brand spanking new stadium, and, well… we scored. The less said about the rest of the game the better. We went 3-0 down within 36 minutes, and despite having 11 shots (5 on target) to their 15 shots (5 on target), despite having 53% possession, we could only find solace in a late James Daly consolation. Three more defeats followed against middle of the pack opponents, and last season’s player of the year Robbie Burton broke his leg against Forest Green. Great. But finally, something came along that we could celebrate.

5-3-1-1

Gateshead were our opponents. The 4-3-3 hadn’t been working so I switched it up to a rather Italian looking ‘Narrow 5-3-1-1’. For the first 7 minutes I felt like Antonio Conte. “What a genius” I heard one of our 6 away fans cry. It was going brilliantly, until, rather predictably, Gateshead went and scored. But we were not deterred. We are Poole Town, the team that made Charlie Austin who he is today. Those hardened 6 away fans hit the roof on the half hour mark, as Harvey Knibbs, who I was starting to wonder still knew what a goal looked like, found himself some space in between the two centre backs and slotted home. For the rest of the game we carried out our Italian gameplan to a tee. We didn’t give the hosts a sniff…if you don’t count the 12 shots, 3 clear cut chances, 1 off the post, and 9 corners that they had after our goal.

Seems it worked so well in our last game, I kept it Italian at home to Woking. It worked again! It worked so well in fact, that they got so frustrated that they had 7 players booked and 1 sent off. We limited them to not a single clear cut chance (we didn’t have one either, but who need goals). This was it. I had found how we would stay up. We were going to draw every game of the season 0-0. What’s that? For each of the last 3 seasons 46 points hasn’t been enough to stay up. And we’ve already lost 4 games. Damn it!

4-5-1

I then made a huge tactical blunder. We had picked up 2 points from 3 games, and were facing fellow promoted club (and smugly mid-table) Torquay. We did alright against Torquay last year, I half-remember, I think we’ll try and score today. I switched to a 4-1-2-3 (DM) with Daly and Conneh on the flanks. We match them in every department. They have 11 shots, we have 9. They have 5 shots on target, we have 2 (ok I’ll give them that). We dominate them on possession 58%-42%. But they have Nathan Blissett – a striker who is not completely incompetent. We lose 1-0. That’s what I get for trying to score goals.

A loss and a draw (Harvey Knibbs scored a brace!) later and we faced FC United of Manchester. They, like us, were new to this divison, but unlike us they were annoyingly doing alright. We continued in our new attacking formation, and for once it actually worked. Louis Hall found himself at the byline and lofted in a deep cross. Harvey Knibbs challenged the keeper, who could only flap it in to the path of Charlie Owens, who drilled home from the edge of the box. Charlie Owens can score! I thought he was only good for getting needless bookings. More importantly, we can win. If I switch back to the Italian formation now we can pick up…41 points. Shit, we need to win 3 more games.

only win

What followed was a run of games where we alternated between losing and drawing. To make things worse, a brief moment of joy in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round was soon extinguished by Ebbsfleet in the First Round. We just aren’t cut out for this level.

We now sit bottom of the league, 1 win and 7 draws for 18 matches. To be fair, the other teams in the relegation zone have been equally shit, it’s just the ones outside that are worryingly pulling away.

The Transfers

As I mentioned in the intro, I have been splashing the panic cash. Robbie Burton’s injury led me to bring in Eroll Ujkani, a 19 year old Kosovan deep-lying playmaker. I also brought in Josh Smile, a happy young fellow who is a natural at both defensive and centre midfield. You can’t have too many midfielders.

My decision to attack left me with a problem too, as I have no natural left wingers. Sure Abdulai Bell-Baggie and James Daly can play there, but I could do with an actual left sided player. So I got two: Colin Daniel, a 31 year old who used to play for Stevenage, and Taylor Morrison, a 19 year old released by Gosport. Wait, didn’t Gosport get relegated from the Vanarama South last season. Oh well, can’t be any worse than what I’ve already got.

The Stars

Can I still use that sub-title when we have 1 win in 18? Daniel Ballard tops the average rating charts with a 7.04, with the injured talisman Robbie Burton second with a 6.98 from his 4 games. Only 5 players have scored goals. Harvey Knibbs has 6, James Daly 2, and Lewis Gill, Charlie Owens and Colin Daniel all have 1. Charlie Owens is the only man with multiple assists, claiming 3. Schofield, Knibbs, Burton, Bell-Baggie and Hall all have 1 to their name. Poor Nick Tzanev has 3 clean sheets in his 19 appearances, whilst Emmanuel Idem has 1 from his only game.

What’s To Come?

As you can probably work out, this was about the time I took a month away from FM. Turns out losing all the time is not that fun. Anyway, we have an important double header against Braintree and Dartford coming up, both of whom are in the relegation zone along with us. 6 points would hugely improve our position, especially as they are both at home. We also have the FA Trophy coming up at the start of December, so maybe we can have a run in that.

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End of Season 3 Review

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.

The Results

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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.

table

The Stars

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.

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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.

Season 2 End of Season Review

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?

The Results

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.

gatter

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.

4-3-3The 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.

The Awards

best-xi

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.

Season 2 (March Update): The Wheels Have Come Off

It was all going too well. We were fourth. A group of players that considered staying up a success were fourth. But of course it couldn’t last. Just like last season, we suffered a horrendous drop off in form in the middle of the season, winning just 6 games in four months.

The Results

We opened November with a glamour FA Cup tie against League 2 Grimsby. Despite dominating possession, we fell behind to a Tyler Cordner own goal. Grimsby’s superiority showed, as they doubled their lead just after half-time. Harvey Knibbs pulled one back for us late on to make the score respectable, but in truth Grimsby deserved their win. Wins against Chelmsford and Bishop’s Stortford made it look like that FA Cup defeat had not knocked us off our stride. Not learning from our FA Cup scares earlier in the season, we played a rotated side against Canvey Island in the FA Trophy, and lost 1-2.

Two more league wins in the next three games saw us rise to second in the table, but it was from there our form plummeted. In a run that started with a 1-2 loss to East Thurrock, we won 2 of our next 11. These games were mostly against our promotion rivals, playing 6 of the top 10.

A 3-0 win against rivals Basingstoke sparked hopes of a revival in form. Yes, it was an even game, but we were solid at the back and took our chances. This is the result we needed. Or not, as it turned out. The next match saw us thoroughly dismantled by Havant & Waterlooville. At least we were starting to score goals…

Three more losses, to Gosport, Weston-super-Mare and Maidenhead, saw us slump to tenth. But we are still only three points off the play-offs. Surely something needs to be changed if we are to stop the rot and get our promotion push back on track.

Lewis Gill continues to be our top scorer, with 20 goals in 38 games. Harvey Knibbs picked up over the winter though, having now scored 12 in 32 games.

What’s To Come?

With 10 games to go in the league, we can still push for the play-offs. We face a slightly easier run of games, facing only Hemel Hempstead, St Albans and East Thurrock from the top 10 teams. Being out of the cups means that we can focus completely on stopping our horrendous run of form.