View from the Pressbox
In such a competitive league, the margins between failure and success, victory and defeat, will be even tighter than ever before.
Despite the unchanged league line-up, the landscape of the division has shifted- clubs used to middling seasons strengthening, experienced promotion chasers chomping at the bit.
Gosport and Farnborough – two of Poole’s opponents so far – will certainly be there or there abouts. Gosport seemingly have the core of the team that took Havant & Waterlooville up from the Isthmian Premier to the National League top-flight, whilst Farnborough are a side teeming with attacking talent.
It’s no surprise then that the above teams did massive damage against the Dolphins, with clinical attackers punishing sloppy mistakes.
On paper, Poole shouldn’t be having these issues at the back – centre-half pairing Jamie Whisken and Will Spetch have over 700 appearances at the club between them, most of those coming at this level or above.
Of course, Dolphins’ defensive woes don’t solely lie at the feet of their centrehalves – or their defence as a whole. As Tommy quite rightly told me, Poole win as a team, and they lose as one.
Going forward, the team works well – Poole are clearly having no issues with generating chances.
Some fans may question the free-flowing attack that sees Tony Lee drop deep and Luke Holmes allowed to roam, but combined with Poole’s full-backs bombing forward, Dolphins quickly overwhelm their opponents in wide areas.
It’s effective, but it isn’t in these areas where Poole are punished for having men forward – players know their roles, and track back accordingly.
It’s second balls – or, rather, their inability to win them in key areas. Poole’s midfield usually sit higher up the field, meaning when the Dolphins’ defence clear the initial ball, teams can often recycle posession on the edge of the area.
This is where Bradley Tarbuck’s late winner came from, the same scenario that allowed Jordan Rose to score, as well as Olaf Koszela’s consolation goal in the victory over Tiverton.
The general inability to win the second ball also impacts Poole, with Farnborough’s third coming from a ball begging to be cleared first time. Instead, Reggie Young nipped in a head of Spetch, poking the ball through to Simpson to score.
Alarm bells don’t deserve to be rung at this stage, but as Killick pointed out prior to the season, playing catch-up to the division’s big-hitters can quickly turn into an impossible task.
However, with only five cleansheets since January 2020, Poole need to get a handle on their flaws at the back if they are to truly compete this season.
Mitigating circumstances such as a lack of gametime and match fitness will slowly disipate, meaning Dolphins will soon have to take responsibility and sharpen up at the back.
Fans will be quick to recall the defensive stability that formed the bedrock of Poole’s most recent Southern League success, and with key components of that defence still in place, there is hope Poole can return to a tightly run ship at the back.