The Southern League could not have planned it better – a final day shoot-out between the top two for the Premier Division title. It’s almost as if the TV planners have hi-jacked the fixture list. Ever since 1989, when Arsenal won the title at Liverpool in the final game, league administrators, TV directors and the media generally have hankered for a “cup final” to end the league campaign. Poole v Corby may not have the cachet of Arsenal v Liverpool, but all roads will lead to Tatnam this coming weekend. As they say, “It’s up for grabs”.
There’s no disputing that these have been the two best teams in the Southern League this season. They also met in the two-legged Red Insure Cup final, with both games ending in a draw but Poole winning on away goals after their 1-1 draw in Northants was followed by a goalless game in Dorset. In the league, they met in December and Corby won 1-0, so it’s been very tight between them.
Last season, Poole finished seventh and Corby 11th. Both had arrived in the Southern League Premier from different directions: Poole had won promotion from Southern League South & West and Corby were coming to terms with relegation from the Conference North. Poole completed the “double” over Corby in 2013-14. There were no great indicators that both would be title contenders in 2014-15.
Over the past decade, both clubs have experienced something of a roller-coaster ride. Corby climbed from step four to two, Poole came through the Wessex League (three divisions) to the Southern League. Who will claim an automatic step two place this time?
Form guide – Poole
Poole have done their best to try and blow their chances. April has been a mixed month, with defeats at Chippenham, Dorchester and Cirencester and a home draw with Hitchin. Before drawing 0-0 at Weymouth on April 21, their last two games have resulted in wins, 2-0 at home to Banbury and 3-1 at Chesham.
Against Chesham, Poole came from behind to win, thanks to two goals from leading scorer and a sparkling performance from new signing Tom Whelan, who joined the club from Verwood Town. Poole manager Tom Killick has been singing Whelan’s praises and told the local media: “We are incredibly pleased with Tom. He started Tuesday’s game against Banbury and really stood out so we felt he deserved his chance at Chesham. He is only 19 and has fitted in seamlessly so far. He warranted his place and made a significant contribution.”
Poole’s home form is the best in the division, just two defeats (Redditch and Bideford) and three draws. At times they have given the impression of being goal-happy – 7-0 at home to Frome, 5-4 at Paulton, 6-0 at Bideford and 4-0 away at Slough. Away from home, they have lost six games, three of those coming on the trot in April, which suggests nerves may have been getting to Killick’s team.
Devlin, with 15 goals, is Poole’s man to watch, but midfielder Luke Burbridge has also found the net regularly this season, and then there’s Richard Gillespie who is also in double figures. Another notable name is Mason Walsh, the son of former Tottenham and Luton striker Paul.
Poole’s squad should feature the following: Nick Hutchings, Lewis Tallack, Will Spetch, Matt Butcher, Jamie Whisken, Lewis Lindsay, Michael Walker, Carl Pettefer, Luke Burbridge, Steve Devlin, Tom Whelan, Harrison Gilkes, Billy Lowes, Keith Emmerson, Joe Quigley, Luke Roberts, Richard Gillespie, Mason Walsh.
Form guide – Corby
Corby’s recent form has been better than Poole’s, with four wins in their last six games, including a 1-0 success at Weymouth last Saturday. Corby boss Tommy Wright has seen his side put together an outstanding run in 2015, but the game at Weymouth was tense. “It looked like it was going to be a frustrating 0-0 draw and, to be honest, we probably didn’t do enough to earn the win,” he said after the game. “It was a fantastic win, especially after losing to Truro.” Greg Mills, described by Wright as a “big game player”, hit the winner eight minutes from time. “He was the hero on this occasion, but there may well be another hero next weekend, but to me these lads are all heroes for getting us to this stage.”
Corby’s away form is the best in the Southern League Premier, with 14 wins, two draws and five defeats. They are also the top scorers in the division with 83 goals. At home, they have been beaten three times.
Greg Mills and Spencer Weir-Daley are Corby’s leading marksmen, with almost 40 goals between them. Mills is only 24 but had been around, starting his career with Derby County. He doesn’t stay anywhere very long, but seems to be in the best goalscoring form of his career. Montserrat international Weir-Daley is a little more experienced and on a one-year contract after being released from Boston United.
Corby’s squad should comprise: Paul Walker, Sam Donkin, Connor Kennedy, Kalem Thomas, Jamie Anton, Herve Pepe N’Goma, Stephen Morley, Shane Byrne, Wilson Carvalho, Ben Miles, Claudio Hoban, Brad-Lee Gascoigne, Greg Mills, Spencer Weir-Daley, Cleveland Taylor.
Nothing like it
The Southern League hasn’t been so tight for a while. Last season, Hemel were champions by 10 points, the year before, Leamington had a 12-point gap and in 2011-12, Brackley had eight to spare. The last time it was so close, ironically, was when Corby last won it in 2008-09 and that was a one point margin over Farnborough. The prize for the winner is automatic promotion, with a play-off place for the loser, albeit with home advantage. The two top sides, the best home team against the best away team. Corby have to win, Poole can draw and be champions. Who would bet on it?
If there’s an omen – “It’s up for grabs now” were the never-to-be-forgotten words uttered by Brian Moore as Michael Thomas went through and scored Arsenal’s winner in 1989 – Corby have a player called Thomas. Defender Kalem Thomas.