JUST 24 hours after one promotion dream almost went up in smoke in Dorset, another was well and truly extinguished as weary Poole were powerless to prevent their big day getting away from them.
While Ipswich’s defeat resuscitated Cherries’ play-off ambitions ahead of tomorrow’s trip to the Tractor Boys, this defeat turned Dolphins’ derby date with Bashley into a dead rubber with their rivals’ results less forgiving.
With six of the top seven facing each other and favourable fixtures ahead for each of the contenders, this was always likely to be Poole’s date with destiny.
Much like Thursday’s vital 1-0 victory over Chesham – a result which had truly revived hopes of a top-five finish – Tom Killick’s charges exerted cautious control and dominated Cambridge City during the first half.
However, Poole’s Achilles heel came back to haunt them. Profligacy, coupled with a tendency to pass instead of shoot in good areas proved a toxic combination. As resolute as the Lilywhites were, they had been somewhat let off the hook during the first-half stalemate.
In the build-up to this decider, Killick bemoaned the damaging effect injuries to his strike force had had on his side's quest.
How he must have wished Richard Gillespie could have laced his boots and been on the pitch, if only for the split second when Luke Burbidge’s low centre was laid off by Ekow Elliott to Marvin Brooks, who smashed over the crossbar from close quarters within the first five minutes.
The lively Burbidge continued to pose a threat as a series of testing crosses and smart exchanges with Brooks and supporting full-back Sam Clarke gave visiting centre-backs Will Lawton and Lee Chaffey plenty of food for thought during the opening exchanges.
Poole were enjoying most of the possession and swiftly snuffed out any danger at the other end as the likes of Clarke and Lamin Dibba snapped into tackles with assurance and authority.
And as the half wore on, fortune appeared to be smiling on the hosts.
Following Dibba’s meaty challenge, deemed fair by referee Tim Wood who was right on top of the action, City’s 40-goal top scorer Adam Marriott was withdrawn through injury.
With Dolphins on top, news filtered through that play-off rivals Hungerford were behind and that there was no score between Stourbridge and Chesham. One precious goal would put Poole on course for the top five.
It very nearly arrived three minutes before the break. After a free kick had been worked into the middle, Exeter City loanee Jacob Wannell’s delicate touch set up Jon Davies’s blast from the edge of the area which visiting keeper Zac Barrett did well to push away.
But it was a rare glimpse of goal. As the whistle approached, Dolphins’ failure to pull the trigger in promising positions only compounded a strangely subdued atmosphere at Tatnam, while Steve Devlin fired over when well-placed right on half-time.
The old adage that goals change games has always been a go-to phrase in the book of managerial lexicon, but how true it proved in Poole’s sloppy, and ultimately decisive, start to the second half.
Within 35 seconds of play resuming, Cambridge were awarded a penalty as referee Wood rather hastily pointed to the spot following Dibba’s tangle with substitute Kelvin Bossman.
However, the home side’s dream was handed a reprieve as Andrew Phillips passed his meek effort from 12-yards into the grateful arms of Nick Hutchings. The sense was that justice had prevailed.
That joy, though, was short-lived as Poole became overrun once more as left-back James Brighton bombed into space and fired in an angled drive. Hutchings parried the effort but Josh Beech was on-hand to nudge home on the rebound.
Burbidge thumped wide a header from Davies’s centre seconds after the opener but from there, the dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
City were quite content to shut up shop and run down the clock, a luxury man in the middle Wood was a little too willing to afford the visitors, failing to clamp down on a series of disruptive, time-wasting tactics.
Beech, already on a booking, should have been dismissed for a cynical slide on Devlin as the savvy visitors sought to utilise every possible advantage. Burbidge’s desperate appeals for the match officials to ‘have a word’ fell on deaf ears.
However, it would be harsh to make out Poole were robbed. They lacked conviction and looked beaten as soon as the opener went in.
On the day that mattered most, the fatigue of 20 matches in 46 days along with the vast travelling that involved finally caught up with the whole club, not just the 11 on the pitch.
It was a flat end to a determined push in trying circumstances, but ultimately, the play-offs proved a bridge too far.
STAR MAN - LUKE BURBIDGE
WHILE it didn’t quite happen for Burbidge or his team, the wideman’s tenacious attitude carried the fight for Poole throughout. If anyone was going to make it happen, it was him.
Much maligned for the manner of his closed-season departure to Weymouth, this display proved why Tom Killick was right to take back a flexible talent.
So much of Dolphins’ success in recent years has been built on the drive of characters like Taffy Richardson, Michael Walker and, more recently, Keith Emmerson.
Burbidge has that in abundance and his presence could be crucial in Poole’s second shot at promotion from the Southern League next season.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Dolphins: Hutchings 7, Clarke 7 (Chiedozie, 59), Martin 6.5, Dibba 7, Wannell 6.5, Pettefer 7, Burbidge 7.5, Devlin 6.5, Elliott 6, Davies 6 (Charles, 71), Brooks 7 (Davis, 57).
Unused subs: Lowes, Thomas (g/k).
Cambridge City: Barrett, Pepper, Brighton, Lawton, Chaffey, Beech, Lewis, Martin, Kelly (Beasant, 90), Marriott (Bossman, 36, Burns, 81), Phillips.
Unused subs: Dawkin, Ramm.
Booked: Beech, Martin.
Referee: Tim Wood (Gloucester).