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.

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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.

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Season 3 (November Update): Deja Vu?

Just like last season, we have started the season very strongly. In fact, we have actually started even stronger this year, as we sit second in the league. With 8 wins from 15 games, we sit a point behind the leaders Dulwich Hamlet. Joe Parker has come in from the cold to lead the scoring charts, netting 12 times from 14 starts. With just 2 points covering the top 6, the league is looking incredibly tight at the moment, but only Torquay have lost less games than us and our goal difference puts us in a good position.

The Results

We opened the season away at Dulwich Hamlet. Despite being newly promoted, they were favourites for the title. Even with all our new signings, it was the old guard that saw off the hosts. Lewis Gill opened the scoring, and Harvey Knibbs added a second minutes later. Daniel Carr pulled one back immediately for the hosts. The game turned rather bad tempered, with both sides picking up four bookings, and sure enough, just after the hour mark Dulwich had a man sent off. Harvey Knibbs completed the scoring late on to confirm the 3-1 win.

dulwich-hamletWe lost the next game to Maidenhead before Lewis Gill rescued a late draw in our first game at the Victoria Park. Back to back 3-0 wins against Whitehawk and Eastbourne we followed up by another win and two draws. Despite dominating the game, we lost 0-1 to Staines, before a strong team saw off East Thurrock in the FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round thanks to a Joe Parker hat-trick.

We went another six games without defeat, overcoming promotion rivals Torquay, as well as getting revenge on Canvey Island for dumping us out of the FA Trophy last season. This run did include a 3-3 draw with Weston-Super-Mare, where we bottled a 3 goal lead against the relegation candidates. Of course it would be Concord Rangers who knocked us out of the FA Cup, meaning that we had only beaten then twice from 8 games. In the last game of October we were completely dismantled by lowly Wealdstone, managing just 4 shots in a 1-4 loss. Our 1 shot on target wasn’t even our goal, a David Arrowsmith own goal was about as potent as we got.

The Stars

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The stand out player this season is Joe Parker, who has come in to the team from being a back up last season and has topped our scoring charts with 12 goals. Lewis Gill has again been on form, netting  7 goals and providing 5 assists. With a 7.1 average rating, Robbie Burton has been the stand out of the new players, despite only providing 2 goals and 1 assist from his Deep-Lying Playmaker role. In goal, Emmanuel Idem has 7 clean sheets in 15 games, whilst Jonathan Miles has 2 in 3 games. It is worth noting that without James Granger we haven’t had a player sent off this season, however hard Charlie Owens has tried.

What’s To Come?

We are out of the FA Cup, but a FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round game against Eastbourne is coming up. Although the league is the priority this season, a cup run would be nice. In the league we face a number of the worse teams, but then have a run of four games in December against other promotion challengers.Will this finally be the year where we don’t do an Arsenal and collapse over Christmas.

 

 

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.

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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

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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.

 

Season 2 (November Update): Promotion Hopefuls?

After the wholesale changes that I made in the summer, I was unsure at how my squad would react. But it is fair to say that the team has hit the ground running. By the start of November, we sit in fourth place, having lost just 3 games. Lewis Gill has continued where he left off last season with 15 goals from his 20 appearances, and we look well in the promotion contention.

The Results

After a steady start, a 0-0 draw with tipped play-off contenders Whitehawk, our new winger James Waite saw off the relegated Torquay. We did lose the following game, but that would prove to be a rare occurrence. A Lewis Gill hat-trick saw off Welling as we scored 11 goals in the next 4 games, taking 3 out of 4 wins. Two mad games followed, a 1-6 defeat to 20th placed Havant & Waterlooville, cancelled out by a 6-1 thumping of Gosport.

Both games were surprisingly equal, with one team being more clinical than the other. As you can see from the Havant game, they had 6 shots on target and scored 6 goals – good work Emmanuel Idem! Interestingly our goal came through an own goal from centre back Charlie Gatter – remember that name. Gosport did get a red card, but we were well in control before they went down to 10 men so they can’t use that as an excuse.

After the Gosport game, we went a further 6 games unbeaten, although this did include two FA Cup replays against lowly Frome Town and Merstham. Joe Parker bailed out our rotated team against Frome, scoring a 92nd minute equaliser to take it to a replay. We then let the lead slip twice against Merstham, with a 90th minute own goal from Lewis Tallack taking us to penalties in the replay. As a result of these scares, I played a strong team against Truro, and was rewarded with a 4-1 win, including two from Gill.

Although we are sitting comfortably in fourth, key winger Abdulai Bell-Baggie picked up an injury in the replay against Merstham, and will be out until mid-January.

The Tactics

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This season we have settled on a 4-2-4 formation. The four at the back have proved very reliable (apart from the 6-1 demolition by Havant), with James Granger sitting in front of the defence. I like to keep the instructions fairly limited, so as not to over-complicate things for the players. We play fairly narrow, making the defensive unit very compact and hard to break down, whilst when attacking the wingers will tuck in to give support to the strikers, with the full backs providing the width with the ‘look for overlap’ instruction on. I also look to play at a higher tempo and to press more, as we look to win the ball back higher up the pitch to start attacks.

The Stars

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As we look at the player stats, there are very few players that have an average rating higher than a 7. Only the defence, Lewis Gill, and the injured Bell-Baggie have averaged over a 7, which, given our positive results, is a bit concerning. Gill’s 15 goals put him well in the lead as our top scorer, with no-one else getting more than 3. Gill’s 5 assists also puts him top of the assists charts, one ahead of Bell-Baggie.

What’s to come?

Our next game is an FA Cup 1st Round match against League 2 Grimsby, and being at home could see an upset at the Tatnam Ground. We face Canvey Island in the FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round, so should progress comfortably there. In the league, we have a favourable run of fixtures until the new year, but face a tough run of promotion contenders in January.


Thanks for sticking with the blog despite this long absence. I’ve not had the time to play much FM with essay deadlines and having a dissertation to write. But the uploads should be a lot more regular from now on. Thanks for reading and hopefully we will see Poole in the Prem very soon!