Time for an inquest – (Photo Credit: Jon Ashworth / Side of the World)
Defeat to Weston-super-Mare followed a recent trend of performances at the Black Gold that has gone beyond a blip and grown into concern.
Losses to Hayes & Yeading, Truro and Weston were so similar in fashion that it almost feels as if the last 270 minutes at the Black Gold have been a footballing version of Ground Hog Day.
Dolphins will start decently against a well-resourced side, fail to create proper chances and then find themselves a goal behind in somewhat controversial circumstances.
Against Hayes, the two stark red cards missed, the soft penalty awarded. For Truro, an apparent handball leading to a free kick. And for Weston, another iffy penalty.
Despite the backdrop of poor refereeing decisions, there is no one else at fault for Poole’s complete capitulation three home games in a row.
Tommy Scott should never be in a position where he is left lunging to clear an awful backpass from Jack Dickson. Poole should have dealt with the free-kick that lead to Truro’s opener.
But above all else, all of these set-backs should have produced a response. Not in the following game, not in training, away from the public view, an immediate response in the same game.
I’ve noticed during these three games that the dreary events on the pitch slowly sap the energy out of the crowd, leading to quiet patches when you can hear most of what is said on the pitch.
Very rarely do you hear Poole voices. You’ll hear Tony Lee bellowing from up-front, calling for others to match his pressing efforts. From the other senior players? Not much. You’ll hear Corby Moore offer a running commentary to any official within earshot, but there are numerous senior players, some with hundreds of Poole appearances under the belt, who are noticeably quiet.
The absence of captain Jamie Whisken is felt at the back in terms of leadership, but even when he plays there is not the same amount of loud voices throughout the side as there was in the Southern League winning side.
Midfield maestro Steve Devlin was in attendance on Tuesday night, and I wondered what he must have made of the midfield showing.
A player of Devlin’s quality in his prime certainly wouldn’t go amiss in any squad, but his other characteristics were also lacking for Poole. Whilst you certainly can’t deny that Devs was one to offer his own mind to match officials, he was also a frequent communicator that led by example with both his body language and by putting his body on the line.
His grit, determination and never-say-die attitude pulled Poole out of many holes in the past, but when I look to a similar figure in Poole’s current squad, I cannot say there is a like-for-like replacement.
Tony Lee comes closest – as mentioned, his constant shouts for support, but also in how he leads the line. There’s been a few games when he has served as an injection of energy for Poole, his constant harassment of defenders highlighting the effort needed to win games.
It’s not just one player – Poole’s title winning side had experience and leadership all over. Nick Hutchings, Michael Walker, Jamie Whisken, Steve Devlin were vocal all over the pitch.
One of the other stark differences is the body language from players. During the 2015-16 season, both Jamie Gleeson and Alan Connell struggled for form and game time – but rarely did they show frustration, or if they did, it wasn’t targeted towards teammates.
This is a younger Poole squad, but I feel that senior players are setting bad examples in terms of body language and attitudes. It’s not uncommon to see exaggerated reactions when Poole concede, and slowly these bad habits will seep into the more impressionable members of the side.
Despite the promotion-capable calibre of player Poole boast, their budget is probably closer to that of the lower reaches. The one thing that can help bridge the gap of resources is desire.
A willingness to fight for the shirt and each other. Too many times this season have I seen senior players’ heads drop when things get tough, whilst the younger members of the side plough on.
That was clear with Declan Rose against Weston. 3-0 down and with nothing apart from pride to play for, you could see the effort and passion across Rose’s face as time and time again he flung himself into challenges.
With a card happy referee, perhaps not the smartest of decisions. But at least it showed that Rose was up for it, no matter the scoreline. Was it part frustration? Perhaps, but at least he was one of a few players getting frustrated.
There is a very good team somewhere in that Poole dressing-room. One that perhaps could prove me wrong, and even go unbeaten for the rest of the season. Unlikely? Yes, but the individual talent, the experience and pedigree, it’s all there.
The only things missing is consistency, and mental strength. When Poole lack the first they quickly run out of the second – leaving them exposed and susceptible to damage.
From what we have seen from the big hitters in this division, there is no side miles clear of Poole. Big spenders Farnborough and Hayes were only allowed to cruise to wins due to Poole’s self-inflicted damage and inability to convert chances.
But that’s where it has to improve for Poole. They constantly find ways to undermine themselves. This Jekyll and Hyde-esque lurching between strong performances and lacklustre showings has to stop. It becomes a vicious circle – low confidence breeding low confidence.
What becomes even more damning is that these performances come at home. Most Dolphins fans don’t get to see the improved performances away from home, and instead, are quickly seeing only the rough side of Poole.
If Poole are to continue their topsy-turvy form of winning four then losing four, they stand little to no chance of taking momentum into the playoffs. How can a side that look shell-shocked against midtable sides at home hope to play with confidence with everything on the line at the end of the season?
It is time for older, more experienced heads to lead by example – and sort out the mental fragility that threatens to undermine Poole’s season.