Josh Carmichael battling in the two sides’ last meeting – (Photo Credit: Jon Ashwroth / Side of the World)
Poole Town welcome unbeaten Hayes & Yeading to the Black Gold this weekend in what is undoubtedly Dolphins’ toughest test of the season so far.
Despite playing four fewer league games than Poole, Hayes sit one point above the Dolphins in second – meaning victory is almost essential if Dolphins have any ambitions of a title charge.
It may seem premature after just 13 league games to make sweeping predictions about Poole’s title credentials, but manager Tom Killick has stressed since the start of the season how important it is to keep within touching distance of the sides topping the table.
What makes Hayes’ record even more impressive, withstanding the fact they have won eight from nine league games, is that they are unbeaten in all competitions – beating two National League South opponents to advance to the FA Cup proper for the third year in a row.
Whilst yet to take part in the Southern League Cup or FA Trophy, Hayes have advanced in their County cup competition, alongside their impressive FA Cup run.
In contrast, Poole already have been knocked out of the FA Cup and Southern League Cup.
Poole will perhaps take confidence in the perceived advantage of extra rest, with Hayes’ midweek tie with Dorking needing extra time and then penalties to seperate the two sides.
However, reaching the 1st Round of the FA Cup may also serve as a big confidence boost for Hayes – and with their next cup tie now on the far horizon, allow them to focus back on the league.
Earmarked by Killick as a side with title aspirations at the start of the season, Hayes’ mean defence has only allowed six goals conceded in the league. They have also outscored the Dolphins, with 25 goals compared to Poole’s 23.
Both sides do enter the game in decent form, but Hayes will have to fancy themselves as favouites despite lacking home advantage.
Dolphins will be near full strength – Tony Lee trained midweek, and whilst Will Spetch did not, he is expected to feature.
Jez Bedford is still out due to COVID, whilst Sam Jackson could return to contention.
Questions still loom over Luke Burbidge’s future and there has been no final decision made ahead of Saturday’s game.
No new signings are expected prior to kick-off either.
With Hayes merging with Yeading this millennium, meetings between the two clubs had been relatively infrequent, mainly due to the two sides sharing different leagues over the past decade or so.
In fact, Poole never met either prior incarnation of Hayes or Yeading.
Their first meeting highlights that difference, with Wessex Premier Poole pushing then National South Hayes & Yeading all the way in the Fourth Qualifying Round, with two late suckerpunches from Hayes denying Poole a fairytale run to the First Round.
Prior to becoming league opponents, Poole beat Hayes in the FA Cup Second Qualifying Round, a game which saw Corby Moore make his debut. There was also a repeat of that Fourth Qualifying Round heartbreak two seasons ago.
In the league, the sides have only met twice – both during the curtailed seasons, with Poole winning 2-1 home and away.