IT remains to be seen whether this proves to be the catalyst for the biggest missed opportunity of their footballing careers.

But if Poole Town’s players end up looking back on their FA Vase campaign with regret rather than joy, they will not have to think too hard about where it went wrong.

Unless you play for Whitley Bay or go by the name of Taffy Richardson, the chance to play in a Vase final comes along once in a lifetime.

And if that moment never arrives for this Dolphins side, the closing minutes of this semi-final first leg encounter will be where the dream began to fade.

At the final whistle, the reaction of the two teams told its own story.

For the hosts, in control until the dramatic, unwanted finale, the sense of disappointment was clearly portrayed by head-shaking and glum faces as they trudged off the Tatnam turf.

At the other end of the ground, whether motivated by delight, relief or a mixture of the two, Whitley Bay were hand-shaking, smiling and heading back to the north east with the job half done.

And the phrase ‘job done’ is an apt one when trying to explain how the visitors emerged with a one-goal advantage following their afternoon of toil in Dorset.

Ian Chandler’s seasoned side, Vase winners in the past two seasons and on the back of 14 wins in all competitions, somehow did enough. Out of sorts, Bay needed to be resolute as, barring the opening 15 minutes and the last five, they were second best.

Dolphins, though, were slow out of the blocks. “I feared for us early on and I thought we were rabbits in the headlights,” said boss Tom Killick. He was not wrong.

As presentable openings went begging for both Paul Robinson and Paul Chow – both guilty of wayward finishing – it did not look good for the reigning Wessex Premier champions.

But things got better, primarily because of Carl Preston, who was a major influence on the left flank.

As Dolphins moved through the gears, their wariness of the highly-regarded visitors disappeared and, with that, confidence grew.

Lone frontman Dan Cann, a hard-working and skilled operator, crossed brilliantly for Richardson, whose header dropped agonisingly wide. Captain Carl Poore then sent a swerving effort just off target as Poole edged closer. With the pressure building, something had to give and Dolphins’ dominance paid dividends when Preston produced the magical moment his play had been promising.

With an exceptional turn of pace leaving defenders looking like statues, Preston arrived in the penalty area at speed, but kept his nerve to angle a right-footed shot past the despairing dive of keeper Kyle Hayes.

As the half drew to a close, busy box-to-box midfielder Dave Sturgess fired wide following a flowing move involving Micky Hubbard, Cann and, unsurprisingly, Preston.

The former Cherries trainee was released from Dean Court but, on recent evidence, looks like he should be plying his trade well above step five.

With a dip of the shoulder here and a burst of acceleration there, he posed problems throughout. Bay boss Chandler, generous in his praise of Poole, admitted as much. He said: “We had a plan, in terms of marking him, which the team decided not to bother with for the first 45 minutes!”

The second period began with a sight that had become all-too-familiar for Chandler – the blur of Preston’s blue boots flying down the touchline. He was worth the entrance fee on his own.

At the other end, Bay’s big name frontmen were causing less problems and it took until the 55th minute to test Nick Hutchings. But Chow’s header proved routine for the former Wimborne keeper.

As the game opened up, there was an increasing sense of inevitability that Dolphins might pay for not making the most of their long spell in charge.

Hubbard saw his low drive kept out by a combination of keeper and woodwork, while Hutchings parried a cross-shot from skipper Damon Robson as Bay showed signs of coming into it.

But with Dolphins in the ascendancy, Sturgess saw an effort hacked off the line, before Cann’s volley was kept out by Hayes.

Sturgess missed the target from 15 yards before seeing another fine strike beaten away by the over-worked Hayes. Was it going to be one of those days for Dolphins? The moment the majority of the Tatnam crowd must have feared came when ace marksman Chow, quiet throughout, broke on the right to feed the onrushing Robson, who buried his effort from close range.

It was a huge blow for Dol-phins – but worse was to come.

After Poore had handballed 25 yards from goal, Lee Kerr fired home the resulting free-kick. Poole were stunned and Bay, like their 200-strong following, were jubilant.

While Chandler admitted his side needed to play better in the second leg, Killick remained quietly confident.

Non-league legend Jimmy Sheppard, giving his views in Friday’s Echo, revealed that, 23 years on, he was still haunted by losing in the last four with Bashley in 1988.

Poole will be hoping that come 2034, they are recalling Wembley rather than Tatnam and Tyneside.