Sunday, 30 December 2012

Daggers 2-3 Port Vale, Feed The Pope

Dagenham & Redbridge succumbed to a disappointing 3-2 defeat at home to Port Vale on Saturday afternoon to end 2012 on a two game losing streak. Despite efforts from Sam Williams in the first half and Scott Doe late on, Daggers never really managed to get going. Micky Adams’ men were simply clinical, with a fantastic volley from Louis Dodds following up strikes from Tom Pope and Jennison Myrie-Williams. 

Before the match I wasn't particularly optimistic. We've never beaten Vale at home; moreover they were 2nd in the league which obviously brings its own problems. After the way we were dismantled by Southend on Boxing Day I feared for us against the even more clinical Tom Pope and co. Saying that however, we always tend to end the year well and were unbeaten against the Burslem outfit in our last two matches.

An overcast sky greeted us at Victoria Road where a significantly fewer number of people had turned out for the second of the two Christmas home games. The teams were swiftly announced with a couple of changes in store...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Spillane, Maher, Howell, Elito, Williams, Scott. Subs: Seabright, Hoyte, Bingham, Wakefield, Caprice, Woodall, Reed.

John Still wielded the metaphorical axe following a lacklustre display against Southend on Boxing Day. The most significant change was that of Josh Scott replacing Jake Reed alongside Sam Williams. Kevin Maher was also recalled for the first time since his appearance against Oxford, he came in for Matt Saunders who had picked up a knock in the warm up. Dominic Green continues to be deployed as Paul Daniels' new assistant and as a result, is still missing, presumed vanished.

Port Vale: Neal, Yates, McCombe, Duffy, Chilvers, Myrie-Williams, Morsy, Burge, Dodds, Pope, Andrew. Subs: Johnson, McDonald, Taylor, Shuker, James, Lloyd, Williamson. 

With the chance to go top with a win due to Gillingham not playing, Micky Adams would have been looking to keep the same team that defeated Rotherham United on Boxing Day. Unfortunately though the Valiants were forced into a single change, captain and former Dagger Doug Loft was missing through a suspected stomach bug which allowed Calvin Andrew to replace him. Ashley Vincent was also missing once again.

As the 256 Vale fans took their place in the Traditional Builders Stand, the referee blew his whistle to signal kick off. It was the home side who were quickest out of the blocks with Kevin Maher forcing Chris Neal into a low save following a partially cleared corner. It was déjà-vu soon after though as Daggers conceded an early goal. Chris Lewington once again made a rash judgement to collect the ball when he wasn't entitled to which allowed Adam Yates to cross for Tom Pope to nod home with 4 minutes played. Terrible defensive mistakes were punished once again.

Just as John Still's men had regrouped, they were hit with a sucker punch in the 9th minute. Myrie-Williams bypassed the Daggers defence before latching onto a beautifully weighted through ball and finished coolly past the onrushing Lewington to make it 2-0. With less than 10 minutes played it was looking like an impossible task for the Daggers, who were staring down the barrel of a second successive home defeat,

The game then took a more relaxed tone for the ensuing five minutes with Vale looking more than content with their lead. With 17 minutes played - controversy. Sam Williams burst into the box on the right hand side before being upended by Liam Chilvers. To everyone inside the ground it looked like a perfectly time challenged, the direction of the ball had clearly changed and barely anyone claimed for a penalty. The referee though had others ideas, after consultation with his official, he pointed to the spot.

Everyone looked in disbelief; even the Daggers players looked a bit embarrassed. As Ryan Burge limped off for treatment up one end, Sam Williams sent Chris Neal the wrong way at the other to reduce the deficit to 2-1. Whilst it was completely undeserved, some credit should go to Medy Elito for two crunching tackles to set up Williams' run down the right hand side. They were superb and really got the crowd going.

Both sides became more frantic in their approach. Liam Chilvers and Myrie-Williams both had shots blocked; meanwhile Tom Pope somehow squandered a marvellous headed chance by hitting it into the ground. Calvin Andrew also headed over from a corner before a period of Daggers pressure where Luke Howell saw his shot from outside the box deflected wide for a corner. Also, have you ever wondered what life would be like if Josh Scott had a right foot? Me too.

Then came Port Vale's third that was the knife in the Daggers coffin. Micky Spillane gave the ball away after being crowded out on the edge of the Vale box allowing the Valiants to spring a breakaway. Calvin Andrew played in Louis Dodds who rather than having a foot race against Femi, fired home an unstoppable volley from outside the box that flew past Lewington and into the back of the net. The strike drew applause from the Sieve as it was of genuine quality. The real question though, was why there were only two defenders in our own half - not good enough.

The Daggers ended the half in the ascendancy but were unable to make it 3-2. Luke Howell saw another shot blocked; meanwhile Chris Neal was on hand to prevent Micky Spillane finding the net from a tight angle. Despite a rather dodgy defensive display, Daggers weren't playing that bad like some of our supporters made out. If we could nick an early goal in the second half, I was confident we could make a game of it and maybe even push on for the draw.

As a reduced number of Daggerettes performed at half time, the Vale players wearing their Fulham replica kits returned to the pitch. To dampen spirits further, the rain also began to lash down causing tricky conditions as we started the second half. The hosts nearly pulled one back instantaneously. John McCombe's challenge brought down Sam Williams which allowed Medy Elito to swing in a wonderful free kick that went through everyone before clipping the outside of the post.

Chances were now coming thick and fast with Luke Wilkinson narrowly missing the target from outside the box. Then it was Vale's turn to attack once more and they would have gone 4-1 ahead had it not been for a last gasp goal-line clearance from Scott Doe. Nevertheless Vale continued to push forward with Louis Dodds' thunderous volley flashing just wide of the target. Tom Pope who saw a header blocked a few minutes earlier then tried his luck again, this time however he failed to hit the target.

Daggers though weren't giving up and had it not been for a back peddling Chris Neal tipping Micky Spillane's wondrous chip over the bar, they may have had their equaliser. Josh Scott who was lagging with his fitness was then replaced by Brian Woodall which received a large roar of approval from the Sieve. We then had a mini break in play for treatment to Chris Lewington after he dived at Myrie-Williams' feet to collect a loose ball, only to get a face full of leather in the process.

Kevin Maher hadn't really lived up to his pre match billing upon his return and was duly replaced by tricky winger Jake Caprice on 73 minutes. Maher has the ability to control the midfield and influence a game with his vast experience, unfortunately on Saturday afternoon too many mistakes cost the former Southend captain. Vale were continuing to soak up Daggers pressure as Caprice was involved straight away, firing in a well weighted cross into the box that was cleared.

Caprice was continuing to cause problems on the right hand side as his pin point cross was met by Woodall whose header was pushed wide thanks to a superb stop from Neal. Port Vale were still looking dangerous on the breakaway and may have extended the lead if not for superb tracking back from Luke Wilkinson. 

With 83 minutes played, it was looking like a lost cause for Daggers unless they got a goal back sharpish. As luck would have it, they did. Luke Howell's free kick was knocked on by Brian Woodall into the path of centre half Scott Doe who controlled the ball and executed the finish in superb fashion. Chris Neal was left with no chance as the score was reduced to 3-2. The Sieve was now rocking in hope of a possible 3-3 draw.

Try as they might, the hosts couldn't find that elusive equalising goal. Brian Woodall nearly dragged the ball around Chris Neal, but the 'keeper acted superbly to deny the substitute. The visitors rode both the literal and metaphorical storm to see out what you would probably credit to them as a deserved victory. Despite dominating possession in the second half, Daggers couldn't make it count and as a result the sheer clinical finishing of Vale shone through.

John Still will be disappointed by the fashion in which the first was conceded, but unfortunately it was down to individual error. Chris Lewington's judgement was poor and hopefully it's something that he's learning from and addressing. The third goal wasn't good enough defensively, the ease at which Dodds was allowed into the Daggers half was poor. Usually we’re pretty sound in those sort of situations, but today for whatever reason it wasn’t there. Then again, that's what we get for pushing men forward at that stage in the game.

One massive plus point this afternoon was the performance of Medy Elito. He showed real grit and determination, the like of which we've very rarely seen from him in a Daggers shirt. One passage of play where he won the ball, gave it away, then won it again and ultimately gave it away again seemed to sum up his season up to this point. Luke Howell was also impressive as ever, whilst Scott Doe didn't have a bad game either. 

As for Port Vale, the main point I'm getting across here is that they were extremely clinical. Any error that we made, they punished. Their defence was sturdy for the large part and if they manage to keeps their attack together I can definitely see them getting promoted. You can see how much they missed Doug Loft however, as they were left extremely exposed at left back when Jake Caprice was introduced.

We now move on to Northampton Town on New Year’s Day, a team against which the Daggers have never won - so hopefully we'll change that stat. I'd also love to see Jake Caprice given a starting berth on NYD as he really seems to trouble the full backs. On the other hand, Akinfenwa will more than likely score a hat trick against us and we'll trudge home despondent and wondering what went wrong. 

Until then, have a good New Year! Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickdrfcMurphy

Friday, 28 December 2012

Daggers 0-3 Southend United, Cold Turkey

Dagenham & Redbridge crashed to a first home defeat since mid September as Southend United dismantled the hosts in this disappointing Essex Derby. The villain of the show was once again Gavin Tomlin who despite only scoring twice in 35 appearances for Daggers, managed two in 15 minutes for the Shrimpers to effectively kill the game off. Kevan Hurst added gloss early in the second half with an emphatic strike, but in truth John Still's men never got going.

Taking everything into account, this fixture looked like it would be a tight affair on paper. As previously alluded to the Daggers were unbeaten at home in 7 games and had won 5 of their last 7 overall. Southend on the other hand were on an impressive 13 game unbeaten streak, the longest in the division and hadn't lost to the hosts in 2012. Stats of course are completely meaningless depending what team turns up on the day.

Victoria Road was looking very much packed as I strolled in close to 12:45, and with all seats supposedly sold out it was looking like a terrific atmosphere as well. Just before the teams emerged, the line ups were announced...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Ogogo, Wilkinson, Doe, Femi, Howell, Saunders, Spillane, Elito, Williams, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Maher, Caprice, Scott, Hoyte, Woodall, Bingham.

Unsurprisingly John Still kept with the same team that defeated Barnet over a week ago which meant the partnership of Sam Williams & Jake Reed was maintained. New striker Gianluca Gracco wasn't included in the 18, whilst Dwight Gayle had completed a £470,000 deal to join Peterborough United in the week. 

Southend United: Smith, Clohessy, Cresswell, Prosser, Barker, Mkandawire, Tomlin, Hurst, Laird, Assombalonga, Tomlin. Subs: Bentley, Straker, Phillips, Martin, Donnelly, Eastwood, Corr.

Paul Sturrock also opted for consistency which allowed the same 18 that defeated Chesterfield on Friday night to be named once more. The deadly pairing of Assombalonga and Tomlin remained meanwhile former O's star Tamika Mkandawire was set to marshal the midfield. Complete with the league's best defender in Ryan Cresswell, this was going to prove to be a stern test for Still's men.

Dagenham & Redbridge were immediately on the back foot as Southend piled on early pressure. Spurred on by 1300 vibrant visiting supporters, the Shrimpers took the lead within a minute. Luke Wilkinson misjudged a bouncing ball on the half way line which allowed Gavin Tomlin to advance forward into the box before lashing a finish that somehow found its way past Chris Lewington. 

The game took a more leisurely approach for the ensuing ten minutes or so as both sides found their feet in the contest. The hosts who were recovering from the early setback nearly found a way back into the game just before the 10 minute mark. Timlin gave the ball away in the centre circle allowing Luke Howell to pick up and dart forward before shooting wide with his left foot.

With 15 minutes played Southend extended their lead. Assombalonga played a neat one two with Laird at the expense of Scott Doe before the former squared for Tomlin to once more fire home into the net. You could argue that Chris Lewington shouldn't have been so rash in closing Assombalonga down, but in truth it was a wonderful flowing move from the Blues who thoroughly deserved their 2-0 lead.

At this point it already looked like an impossible job for Daggers as Southend have proved to be astute in holding their lead this season. The home side never looked like scoring in the first half. A Matt Saunders free kick caused some panic but was eventually cleared; meanwhile Sam Williams' header didn't trouble Paul Smith in the slightest. Captain Chris Barker than flashed an effort wide of the upright as the Shrimpers looked intent on adding to their lead.

Just before half time Still's men nearly pulled one back. A wonderful flowing move on the left hand side culminated in Medy Elito tamely shooting at Smith which as you can guess caused no problems. It was an extremely disappointing half from Dagenham who looked as though they were still feeling the effects of the Christmas day sherry. 

John Still's feathers were clearly ruffled as we approached the second half as the boss of 8 years made an uncharacteristic double change at half time. Brian Woodall was introduced for Jake Reed, whilst an unknown quantity in Jake Caprice replaced Mickey Spillane who had seemingly picked up a knock.

Before the Daggers were allowed to get going, Southend continued to knock on the door. The ball fell wonderfully for Tomlin 40 yards out and looking for his hat trick, volleyed a sporadic shot goalwards that forced a top draw save from the back peddling Lewington. Why couldn't you ever do that for us Gavin? 

Almost 50 minutes after the game had begun; the Daggers finally looked dangerous going forward. Caprice was causing problems down the right hand side, whilst Luke Howell saw his volleyed effort rebound off of Prosser's backside. Nevertheless, Southend continued to look dangerous and added a third soon after. Kevan Hurst was set up by Tomlin and with a lack of pressure Hurst fired a wonderful strike into the top corner leaving Lewington with no chance whatsoever. 54 minutes played and you'd wager - game over. 

From that point on Southend sat back as you would expect and allowed the home side to dominate. Unfortunately though, the Daggers were blunt and couldn't even muster a consolation. Luke Howell soon flashed another dipping volley wide of the upright, whilst left back Femi saw his looping header fall onto the roof of the net.

Josh Scott was later brought on for Medy Elito as the Daggers made their final change. And with that the hosts finally looked as though they'd managed to get going. Josh held up the ball well, dragged players away from their man and generally caused some degree of havoc. Alas it was too late, despite his impact there would be no chance of Daggers rescuing anything from this match.

In the final 80 minutes the 3500 strong crowd were nearly treated to a goal, but Sam Williams' header back across goal bounced off the bar and over for a goal kick. Michael Timlin continued to look menacing, first testing Chris Lewington with a strong right footed strike, and then flashing one wide of the post. Jake Caprice who looked lively after coming on squandered two late chances when really he should have found the target at the very least, which basically summed up the afternoon.

A real lack of urgency and just an off day in general for Daggers who were outclassed from start to finish by one of the main promotion candidates. Femi, Abu & Josh deserve some credit for at least creating some chances and remaining consistent - although it's becoming slightly worrying how Femi is our only source of creativity down the wings.

We move on to Port Vale on Saturday hoping to return to winning ways before the year is out. I'd quite like to see Josh Scott come in for Jake Reed, moreover Jake Caprice for Medy Elito who isn't providing many, if any crosses for the front pairing. 

Thanks for reading and I'll be back with a more detailed report following the Port Vale match. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Wigan 0-1 Arsenal - An Unexpected Journey

As far as a footballing nightmare goes, Saturday afternoon was it. The original plan was to go to Morecambe vs Dagenham & Redbridge - and enjoy our final away game (and victory) of the season. But oh no. Mother Nature had other ideas in store and as the clock struck 11:20am, about 40 minutes from Warrington, Morecambe called the fixture off. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but with the predicted weather patterns you'd have thought the fixture would have bitten the dust earlier.
Our Train to Glasgow was packed.

This ultimately left us in a conundrum. Do we waste £30 and just turn around, or do we find another match in the North to go to. The choices were Blackburn vs Brighton, or Wigan vs Arsenal. Having been awake since 7am I was determined to see some kind of football somewhere. At this point I should also point out the awful service given by Virgin Trains. Paying £30 for tickets and being forced to sit on the floor is unacceptable, so much for the "higher prices are improving our train system" rubbish.

With a mass of Arsenal fans around us, the option was simple - Wigan vs Arsenal it was. Off we got at Wigan North Western station to be greeted by; yep you guess it, yet more persistent drizzle. No disrespect to the people of the town, but Wigan didn't look like a particularly enticing place. There were several boarded up buildings, a flooded car park and a man in a hoodie that didn't appear to be the most savoury of characters. After a 20 minute walk we arrived at the DW Stadium.

We were now faced with another problem. Over Twitter it was alluded to that to purchase tickets at Wigan on the day, you need to have a history of buying tickets. This seemed quite odd as Wigan don’t usually fill up their ground, and like a fat bird at a bar you’d have thought they’d be grateful for the attention.

Luckily, thanks to my long list of contacts I knew a Wigan/Bolton supporter who managed to help us out (@JoeBillGibbo.) At a discounted rate of £5 per person, it actually worked out cheaper than what Morecambe would have charged – and somehow our accents didn’t give us away! Who said football wasn't affordable?
Dreary Looking DW.

The ground itself is situated on the outskirts of the town, meaning you have to walk past an Asda and through a car park to get there. With little fuss we progressed through the turnstiles and into the stadium concourse which was pretty rammed. With news that the Supporters Coach were also taking in this game, Wigan's attendance almost doubled (I like Wigan really.) 

The DW is effectively your generic modern build almost, furnished with modern seats and catering facilities. The main stand is extremely similar to Leyton Orient's in shape and stature, whilst the East Stand we were in created the majority of the home noise and was the largest in size. The Arsenal fans were housed in the North Stand which accommodates a shade under 5500 supporters and for the large part was full. 

The ground began to expectantly fill up as Wigan were looking as though they would garner their biggest attendance of the season. Meanwhile down the road, Accrington Stanley vs Plymouth was still on and their attendance was aided by around 1000 stranded Brighton fans. Who says us football lot aren't a welcoming and generous bunch? With the time approaching 12:45, the unfamiliar faces of Cazorla et al entered the field of play.

From an afternoon of watching Femi, Kevin Ellison and Izak Reid, we had been promoted to Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs. I was especially looking forward to seeing Oxlade-Chamberlain first hand once more, at least two years after we were first acquainted with him. With the Premiership music playing overhead, the Arsenal supporters were in full voice and the game began.

As you may expect in poor conditions with sweeping rain overhead, the match took a while to get going. Both sides were attempting to knock the ball around on the slippery surface, whilst chants were exchanged between the two sets of supporters. Despite the loss of Gary Caldwell & Alcaraz through injury, Wigan were looking surprisingly dominant during the opening stages. 

Despite the home side’s possession, it was Arsenal who registered the first shot on target. Mikel Arteta was allowed time on the ball and the midfielder crafted a wonderful ball through to the on-rushing Oxlade-Chamberlain who saw his shot parried wide by unorthodox goalkeeper Al-Habsi. Lukas Podolski then worked some space and also tested Al-Habsi who was once again equal to the effort. Inbetween that however, Arouna Kone forced a good stop from Szczesny as both sides looked to assert their dominance in the opening quarter of an hour.

The Superb Arsenal Fans
Just before the 25 minute mark Wigan should have taken the lead. Kone beat the offside trap with ease and outpaced the lagging Mertesacker, unfortunately though he dragged his shot agonisingly wide of the post when it would have been easier to score. It was an excellent piece of play by the Latics who had Arsenal on the ropes for a period. If their wingers were more adept at crossing the ball, they may well have taken the lead.

Theo Walcott who has pleaded with Arsene Wenger to make him a striker was enjoying a torrid afternoon. The converted forward was seeing all of his efforts blocked by a stern Wigan back line. The main incident of the first half came just before half time. Jack Wilshere made a perfectly timed challenge on the tricky Shaun Maloney; Jon Moss however took an indifferent view and opted to book the midfielder to the delight of the Wigan support.

There was just enough time for Franco Di Santo to fire over before Moss blew his whistle to signal the half time interval. A very even first half saw few chances hit the target, whilst the hosts were enjoying the majority of the possession. As Slade blurted out over the tannoy for the second time in the afternoon, the teams remerged for a second half of football at the DW.

The teams line up.
(Ok, it was the 1st half)
It was Arsenal who began the second half the better and Oxlade-Chamberlain brought the game to life. The Southampton academy graduate shot down the right before crossing in for Walcott to fire against the arms of Al-Habsi when he really should have found the net. This was not the sort of display that was going to convince Wenger that he was the number 9. Arsenal are looking for.

Despite a long range effort from Figueroa, Arsenal was the more dominant side in the second period. A neat interchange in the middle of the park between Cazorla & Wilshere released The Ox down the right once more, this time however the ball in was cleared by the resilient Wigan defence. 

With half an hour to go, the visitors got the break they were looking for. A clever one two released Walcott into the Wigan box where he was brought down under a clumsy challenge from Beausejour. My first instinct was penalty, the Gunners supporter’s first instinct was penalty, and Jon Moss agreed - awarding a penalty. Mikel Arteta took the spot kick with supreme confidence and sent Al-Habsi the wrong way to give Arsenal a 1-0 advantage.

The Latics thought they had been unfairly treated, and with that they set about levelling the scoreline. Figueroa was the first man to force Szczesny into a save following a speculative effort from outside the area. It was Kone minutes later that had hearts in mouth as he was released down the right before drawing a wonderful stop from the Polish 'keeper at his near post.

With 75 minutes played, the Wigan fans reverberated a noise around the DW like no other. Franco Di Santo was seemingly forced off to take a piercing out; however referee Jon Moss didn't allow him back onto the field of play. Latics supporters became more and more irate, much to the enjoyment of their Arsenal counterparts who loved every minute of it. After several minutes had passed he was allowed back on which was greeted with ironic cheers from the home support.

Despite Oxlade-Chamberlain turning in a man of the match performance, he was replaced by current cult villain Aaron Ramsey with 15 minutes left. Almost immediately Arsenal lost that level of invention that they had previously had, furthermore with the introduction of Francis Coquelin, it was clear what Wenger's intentions were. 

True to form, Wigan bombarded the Arsenal penalty area. David Jones saw his strike from outside the box whistle inches wide of the post, whilst Mertesacker had to be alert to clear a low ball across the six yard box from Beausejour. Despite fervent pressure, Wigan was unable to find that elusive equaliser as the referee blew for full time, meaning Arsenal have still only lost once at the DW.

On the balance of play Arsenal could say they deserved the victory, however I'd be inclined to say a draw would have been the fair result. Ultimately though that doesn't matter, it's the three points that do and they went to the Gunners which lifts them up to 3rd, if only for a limited time. Even with all of the rumours surrounding Wenger, he's still the right man for the job in my opinion and if Arsenal continue to do well away from home and pick up at the Emirates they should have no problem finishing 4th.

Wigan on the other hand suffered from not being good enough with their crossing. There were so many wasted opportunities and poor decisions which cost them in the end. What was admirable though was the way they play football, much their London counterparts. Both sides attempted to knock the ball around in difficult conditions and did so to the best of their abilities. Had they exploited Vermaelen a bit more who was having something of an off day, the scoreline may have been different.

With that, we headed off home. The train back to Euston was far less busy on the journey down which allowed for a comfortable trip. The only two downsides from then on was being conned £10 by TFL and falling down the metal steps at Euston Square. I'm not a safety expert, but surely metal + rain = slippery. In the traditional British way, I feel like putting in a complaint to both Virgin & TFL for the way I was treated on Saturday afternoon. I'd encourage anyone else who had to endure the awful Virgin service to do so as well!

As far as clichés go, it was "one of those days." Thank you for any Arsenal/Wigan fans reading this, I hope you've enjoyed a different account of events for a change! For any Daggers giving this a glance, normal service will be resumed at home to Southend & Port Vale, whilst should Northampton not fall foul to the weather on New Year’s Day, there'll be a report for that too.

Thanks for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Daggers 1-0 Barnet, Matt Puts The Gloss On It.

Dagenham & Redbridge vs Barnet
Not many people will be aware of this, but Dagenham & Redbridge's 1-0 victory over Barnet on Saturday bore a minor significance. Matt Saunders' strike ensured all three points, but it also means we eclipse the Football League point’s tally of Boston United in the same year we destroyed a team managed by Steve Evans. The victory itself lifts the Daggers to a season high 12th position in League Two, with just three games of 2012 remaining.

Traditionally the Daggers usually do well at home to Barnet. It's the fixture every year that usually provides a victory for the hosts. This year was looking like no different. We were unbeaten since mid September on our own patch, whilst Barnet were coming into this on the back of a five match winless streak. Just to stoke the already burning fire, former Daggers legend Jon Nurse would also be returning along with Ollie Lee.

After a brief stay in the clubhouse and with all bets placed, we headed inside the ground for what was sure to be a dull and frivolous encounter. The Sieve felt unusually packed, but not that packed. Barnet who may as well just give up playing away from home were only given a quarter of the Traditional Builders Stand and in all honestly they struggled to fill that. Just as the festive Christmas lights began to flicker at the teabar, the teams were announced...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Saunders, Howell, Spillane, Elito, Williams, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Hoyte, Bingham, Wakefield, Scott, Maher, Woodall.

John Still named an unchanged side for the umpteenth game in succession which meant the in form Sam Williams would once again start alongside Jake Reed. Dominic Green is still in hibernation which allowed Medy Elito to continue in a role somewhere between the midfielder and the forwards. 

Barnet: Stack, Fuller, Kamdjo, Johnson, Stephens, Pearce, Yiadom, Davids, Nurse, Holmes, Hyde. Subs: Cowler, Fortune, Iro, Lee, Abdulla, Edgar, Weston.

The Daggers 'B' side had three former players in their ranks, only one of which started. Jon Nurse who has legendary status at Victoria Road began the match, whilst the midfield pairing of Ollie Lee & Ahmed Abdulla would have to be content with a spot on the bench. Former Champions League winner Edgar Davids also started, meanwhile Clovis Kamdjo & Andrew Yiadom were also brought in following last week’s defeat.

After the pre match pleasantries and a rousing reception for Jon Nurse, we began. To some surprise, it was the Bees who started on the front foot. Almost immediately Nurse drove down the right hand side before crossing for an unmarked Kamdjo who fired his header over the bar. Jake Hyde and Andrew Yiadom both had efforts that forced Chris Lewington into action as the visitors started the match positively.

With the Daggers' first real attack of the game, they were ahead. Femi fed the ball into Sam Williams who laid it back perfectly for Matt Saunders to curl a first time strike into the top corner. A wonderfully flowing move that saw three of the Daggers key men this season involved to give the home side a perhaps undeserved lead. The finesse of which Saunders had stroked the ball home was truly something to behold.

From there, the hosts didn't look back. Michael Spillane wasted a good chance by heading over from close range, meanwhile tricky forward Jake Reed was also causing problems for a fragile Barnet defence. Soon after and Luke Wilkinson nearly doubled the lead as he saw his header rattle off of the crossbar following Matt Saunders' pin point delivery. The Daggers were in the ascendancy and Spillane came close once more before the half time whistle, however his strike went wide of the post
Barnet fans (Pre Match)

Upon reflection at half time, I think most would agree we deserved our lead. Apart from a spell of Barnet pressure at the beginning of the half where they probably should have scored, we had dominated. Edgar Davids wasn't as yet making much of an impact, and as alluded to by several others, Jon Nurse was playing a fine 12th man role for the hosts. Meanwhile in other scores, it was looking as though Mark McGhee's time as Bristol Rovers boss was over as his side trailed 4-1 at Bootham Crescent against York City.

As we began the second half, Medy Elito made his sole contribution to the game by crossing straight into the arms of Graham Stack. Matt Saunders was enjoying a terrific game and such was his confidence he attempted to add a second. The midfielder progressed forward before firing a shot over that didn't trouble Stack in the slightest. 

John Still's men continued to dominate despite there being very few chances in the contest. Jake Reed fired a terrific ball into the box from a difficult position that met Sam Williams whose looping header crashed against the crossbar to deny the Daggers once more. 

Barnet and Davids himself then briefly woke up. The Dutch maestro slalomed inbetween the Daggers defensive line before fizzing a wonderful ball across the six yard box that Lewington dealt with at the back post. Minutes later after a period of possession, Davids was released once again. This time however, his goal-bound strike was blocked by the backside of Luke Wilkinson.

The seemingly annual substitution of Brian Woodall on for Jake Reed then commenced as the Daggers began to sit back. The hosts were later denied a half hearted penalty appeal as Kamdjo appeared to handle inside the box - however the referee waved it away. Mark Robson then introduced Curtis Weston for Barry Fuller as the Bees looked to capitalise in the later stages. Minutes later Abu Ogogo spurned a fantastic opportunity as he went for power rather than placement, with his shot ultimately going narrowly over the bar. 

As Dagenham sat back, Barnet began to pour forward in search of an equaliser. Jon Nurse wasted a golden opportunity at the back post from Holmes' ball in, whilst a late free kick was fired directly into the wall. Try as they might, the visitors couldn't find that elusive goal to draw the scores level, despite the home side resting on their laurels somewhat. Following some late pressure from Still's men, the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the encounter.

The victory extended the home unbeaten run to seven games since the mid September defeat to Northampton Town. It's also the third straight 1-0 home victory; moreover it's now been just over 6 & a half hours since the Daggers have conceded a home goal. That's a vital quality for a side that's pushing towards the Play Off places like us - defensive sturdiness and the ability to grind out results. 

As for the performance, apart from the opening 15 minutes and the final 5, we pretty much dominated a poor Barnet side. It wasn't a vintage display, but it was enough and that's what counts at the end of the day. Matt Saunders orchestrated it perfectly from the midfield, whilst the defensive line was resolute. Jake Reed also deserves some credit following his constant pestering, one moment in particular in the first half where he got down the left and kept the ball in sticks in my mind.

Barnet on the other hand, were largely poor. Despite attempting to knock the ball around, there was no real purpose to it. The strikers were blunt, with no real service going up to dangerman Ricky Holmes in particular. The defence was fragile and backed off far too much on many occasions. The midfield often went missing, however when they had prolonged periods of possession they felt dangerous, as though they could cause something. Unfortunately for them though, they lacked a killer ball.

Next week we travel to Morecambe for a 2pm kick off at the Globe Arena in our final away game of 2012. We started the year with a point at Southend, so hopefully we can do just as well, if not better in Lancashire. For the first time in some while I'll be travelling, so hopefully I'll have something to write home about!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Daggers 1-0 Fleetwood Town, The Codfather

Despite the loss of Dwight Gayle to Peterborough United in the week, Dagenham & Redbridge soldiered on to secure an important 1-0 victory in a scrappy game against Fleetwood Town on Saturday afternoon. Despite the driving rain and freezing cold conditions, it was perma-tanned Sam Williams who slotted home a penalty in the 90th minute to seal a frustrating day for the Cod Army.

Despite the fact we've never played Fleetwood in our history, everyone knew this was going to be a tough match. Mickey Mellon's men are notoriously tough to beat on their travels, losing just one game away from Highbury all season - and even that was back in August. In contrast the Daggers are becoming increasingly hard to beat on their own patch; we were without defeat at Victoria Road since mid September. The form and stats between the two sides all pointed to the same thing - a draw.

As the ground began to fill up, the conditions contrived to get even worse with sweeping rain cause the majority of supporters to head for the Sieve. No such problems for the 14 Fleetwood fans that were in the ground at this stage who were enjoying the luxurious corner of the Traditional Builders Stand. The teams were then announced as follows...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Ogogo, Doe, Wilkinson, Femi, Howell, Spillane, Saunders, Elito, Williams, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Hoyte, Wakefield, Scott, Bingham, Woodall, Maher.

John Still made a single change from the side that was defeated so dramatically at Burton last weekend. Sam Williams was brought in up front to partner Jake Reed following Dwight Gayle's midweek loan switch to Championship outfit Peterborough. Loan signing Josh Wakefield made it onto the bench at the expense of Jake Caprice, whilst there was no place for Dominic Green once again.

Fleetwood Town: Davies, Beeley, McNulty, Brown, Goodall, Mawene, Nicholson, Johnson, Ferguson, Ball, Barkhuizen. Subs: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Milligan, Fowler, McGuire, Branco, Titchiner.

Mickey Mellon was forced into a quadruple change due to four members of his squad being struck down with illness before the trip to Essex. Former Crawley left back Dean Howell was missing, as was Curtis Obeng and Alex Marrow, meanwhile Jamie McGuire dropped to the bench. They were replaced by Shaun Beeley, Alan Goodall, Barry Nicholson and former Hereford frontman Tom Barkhuizen. Former Scotland captain Barry Ferguson started in
midfield whilst Jon Parkin was missing as the Trawlermen looked to avenge a 3-1 midweek defeat.

After assuming that the Daggerettes had been flooded and hence unable to perform, the teams advanced onto the pitch to brief applause. Due to the poor conditions, no one was quite anticipating this fixture for obvious reasons. Once again the Daggers would be shooting towards the TB Stand in the first half, whilst Fleetwood faced the rather sparse Bury Road Terrace.

With the referee's whistle we begun, although with the first 20 minutes worth of action you wouldn't have known it. Neither side was looking particularly threatening, with Femi and Luke Howell dragging poor shots wide of the target in the opening 10 minutes. The visitors were gradually easing themselves in the game and created a good opportunity when Nicholson slid a ball across the six yard box that was just ahead of Junior Brown. David Ball then came close on 21 minutes, but his shot flew wide of Lewington's post.

As the half wore on, the hosts began to look more and more dangerous. First Luke Wilkinson thundered a head wide of the post, and then Mickey Spillane drove a shot that Scott Davies done well to hold on to. The best opportunity of the half though fell to young Jake Reed. Former Great Yarmouth forward Reed beat the well built McNulty for pace before latching onto the ball and firing a shot against the post. The rebound didn't fall kindly for Reed who then fired over the bar as the scores remained level. 

The half ended as it has started, with very little quality and a half chance to open the scoring. Alan Goodall flashed a shot wide of the upright for Fleetwood, whilst it was Jake Reed again who went close for Daggers. The pacey forward raced through once more, but again his touch let him down allowing for Scott Davies to come out and smother the ball. In a nutshell, that was the first half. A very scrappy and wet affair with few chances. Fleetwood were enjoying the better of the possession whilst the Daggers had the better of the chances.

The teams re-emerged for the second half to very little, if any applause. Both sets of supporters had the same mentality – let’s just get this over with so we can all go home and get warm! Fleetwood started the better with the lively Junior Brown seeing his clever shot stopped well by Lewington. David Ball was next to try his luck but defensive rock Luke Wilkinson was in the way to block. 

As everyone inside the ground expected, with 60 minutes played the energetic Jake Reed was replaced by fans favourite Brian Woodall. His first piece of action was narrowly missing a well flighted ball into the box as the game became grittier. Similarly up the other end of the pitch Alan Goodall who seemed to be involved quite a lot during the match forced Chris Lewington to clamber on to a looping cross towards the back post. Medy Elito then fired a shot goalwards that bounced off the rather large backside of McNulty.

Fleetwood were extremely well organised and tight for 80 minutes, but as the match entered its final stages the game became stretched. The best chance of the second half fell to Luke Wilkinson. A Matt Saunders corner flew across the area where a flapping Scott Davies misjudged the ball, however Wilkinson was just too slow and failed to connect as the ball went out for a goal kick. 

Alex Titchiner was then brought on for the Cod Army as they readdressed the attacking balance and advanced forward. It was Titchiner himself who nearly netted the opening goal, luckily though Chris Lewington was on hand to gather following his miscued strike from Brown's centre. 

The fourth official stuck up his board to show two minutes of injury time for the second half. It would probably be fair to say the two additional minutes were the most pulsating and exciting minutes of the entire match. Following a Fleetwood attack, the Daggers broke away down the left through Sam Williams. Our own big Sam drove into the box before being nudged by Mawene and going down somewhat theatrically. All eyes darted towards the referee who blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Penalty.

The Fleetwood players berated the referee for several minutes which resulted in two bookings. The big question was who would take the penalty following a succession of two Spillane misses from the spot in recent weeks. To everyone's surprise it was Sam Williams himself who stepped up. I and others around me weren't confident, but after several anxious minutes of waiting the referee blew his whistle. Sam Williams stepped up...and slotted it into the opposite corner of the 'keeper to give the Daggers a surprise 1-0 lead.

It wasn't over yet though as we were all certain the hosts would make hard work of the final few minutes. And so we did, Chris Lewington was alert to make a superb diving save to deny Junior Brown's header which looked destined for the bottom corner. From the resulting corner the ball was cleared and the referee blew his whistle once more, this time to single the end of a poor encounter. Intense relief from 1500 odd home supporters and despair for the 118 loyal travellers.

Did we deserve the win? Probably not. Will I take the win? You bet! It makes a change to get a bit of luck where 90th minute goals are concerned, and a goal like that against a side with the quality of Fleetwood could be telling towards the end of the season. Big credit has to go to Sam Williams and Chris Lewington today. Both were called upon after quite anonymous performances and both produced the goods when it was needed. 

It was a gritty performance in poor conditions from both sides and a draw would have been the fair result, but a bit of luck won it. Fleetwood will definitely be at the top end of the league come the end of the season. When you bear in mind they were missing several key players this afternoon - they were still a resolute team who had opportunities to take all three points. Their away form will be key and so far this season it has been superb. One bit advice I would give them though is that they need to be sharper up front, very rarely was Chris Lewington tested yesterday. That however, could be down to several key forward players being missing for the Trawlermen.

As for us, it was such an important victory and an important three points as I've emphasised. No one in particular stood out, although Femi looked like our most creative outlet down the left. Matt Saunders was also pretty good in the middle of the park, acting as the calm member of the team who’s not afraid to put his foot on the ball. The back four were all commendable and Jake Reed done well to make the runs to create opportunities, he just needs to work on his composure.

We follow this game up with a difficult trip to Torquay United next week, before we then travel to Bristol Rovers. It's doubtful that I'll be in attendance for either of those games, so the next time I speak to you will probably be following the home game with Barnet on the 15th! Once again, thanks for reading and have a good half of December!

Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Burton Albion 3-2 Daggers, Billy The Kee

Dagenham & Redbridge suffered their first ever defeat at the Pirelli Stadium on Saturday afternoon as they were downed 3-2 by an impressive Burton Albion side. Goals from Dwight Gayle & Sam Williams were not enough for the Daggers, as Damien McCrory, Matt Paterson and Billy Kee sealed an impressive victory for the Brewers. After such an impressive performance against Rotherham United last weekend, John Still's men can't really have any complaints over this result.

Taking into account our impressive record over the Brewers, a run which includes only three defeats I was pretty optimistic over the game ahead. When you factor in that we've never lost at the Pirelli coupled with the fact we'd only lost three away games prior to this, we had good cause to be optimistic! Burton were also dealt a tough hand considering they were only in action on Thursday night against Altrincham, a game that they won comfortably 2-0.

The journey up wasn't particularly action packed, with two changes at Rugby and Tamworth before we finally arrived at Burton-On-Trent station. A gloomy and overcast sky awaited us as we were forced to make the 25 minute walk to the ground along a straight and extremely long road. After passing several annoying roundabouts we arrived at the ground just before 14:20.

The exterior is pretty modern which is rather obvious as the ground was only built in 2005, making it one of the newest in English football. We were given the corner part of the main stand such was our low number of travelling fans. We shared this with the Burton supporters, although the majority were from a local football club so the stewards didn't bother with any barriers to separate the clubs.

The stadium itself is quite nice; whilst it may be modern it retains a sort of charm that makes it feel more traditional. It's probably helped by the fact that it has three sides that are composed of terracing which allow for a good atmosphere. Otherwise the seating option is available to supporters who want it. The majority of the noise comes from the Rotala Stand, whilst the majority choose to congregate along the nPower Family Stand.

With not long until kick off the muffled PA system finally announced the teams as follows...

Burton Albion: Lyness, Stanton, Diamond, O'Connor, Weir, Palmer, McCrory, Maghoma, Bell, Kee, Zola. Subs: Atkins, Holness, McGrath, Taylor, Dyer, Richards, Paterson.

Burton opted to make several changes from their 2-0 cup victory on Thursday night, with Dean Lyness making his full football league debut in place of the injured Mark Oxley. Daggers hate figure Nathan Stanton also returned, as did forward Billy Kee. This meant Marcus Holness, and Cleveland Taylor dropped to the bench, whilst Damien McCrory started at left back against his former employers.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Ogogo, Doe, Wilkinson, Femi, Spillane, Saunders, Howell, Elito, Gayle, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Caprice, Woodall, Williams, Bingham, Hoyte, Maher.

John Still kept with the same side that defeated Rotherham 5-0 in convincing fashion last week; this meant loan signing Jake Caprice had to settle with a place on the bench. Mickey Spillane who netted in this fixture last season lined up in midfield alongside Saunders and Luke Howell, who after some confusion last weekend was available to play in this match. 

The ground continued to fill up as the referee led the teams out onto the pitch under the guise of the floodlights. With the pre match rituals completed and a despairing "Thriller" dance routine waded through, the game began in earnest. The opening five minutes or so were scrappy as you may expect. The Daggers were edging the corner count whilst Burton were looking dangerous out wide, in particular Chris Palmer.

As the game wore on Burton looked the far more likely to open the scoring. A poor header back to Lewington from Femi gifted Kee the chance to open the scoring, however his attempt rebounded back off of the post. Minutes later and the Daggers defence were under pressure once more as Lewington made a superb double stop from Calvin Zola and Robbie Weir to somehow keep the Brewers at bay. 

The visitors had somehow managed to ride the storm without conceding and went on an attack of their own soon after with Abu Ogogo firing wide of Lyness' post. The Daggers were given a boost on 20 minutes as the dazed Calvin Zola had no other choice but to be substituted, he was replaced by Matt Paterson. Lewington was forced into action once more directly after the change, pushing Chris Palmer's curling free kick wide of the post to preserve the 0-0 scoreline.

As we reached the half hour mark, all attention turned to Albion debutant Dean Lyness. The 'keeper made a good stop from Medy Elito's rasping effort, however it all went horribly wrong for the 'stopper just minutes later. A superb through ball released Jake Reed who was in turn brought down by Lyness for a clear penalty as he raced towards the ball. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, giving Lyness a lenient yellow card in the process.

Mickey Spillane who had been hit and miss from the spot so far this season stepped up in confident fashion to take the spot kick. Initially it looked as though Lyness had made amends, pushing Spillane's spot kick onto the post. However, inn somewhat cruel fashion the rebound fell to a delighted Gayle who tapped home for a 1-0 lead and his seventh goal of the season. Cue a sense of disbelief amongst Daggers fans as to how an earth we were leading this contest.

The away side were now looking more confident and nearly doubled the lead minutes later. A shot from the left hand side was parried well by Lyness and the follow up header from Saunders was clutched admirably by the 'keeper who was being given a stern workout on his debut. Abu Ogogo then went into the referee's book for a poor challenge as the Stanton/Ogogo rivalry amongst the supporters reignited once again.

Without a doubt it was John Still's men who ended the first half in the ascendancy as Matt Saunders twice went close to doubling the lead. Jake Reed was then released thanks to some clever play from Gayle, but the inexperienced forward got overexcited and overran his touch. Burton had one last attempt before the end of the half with a tricky looking ball running across the six yard box begging to be put into the back of the net - but alas there was no one to steer it in.

Almost inconceivably given how the opening half an hour had gone, the Daggers went in 1-0 up at the break. The standout player of the half was Chris Lewington without a doubt, without him inbetween the sticks we could have been 3 or 4-0 down going into the break. No one had really impressed for the Daggers as yet, although Elito was looking somewhat sprightly on the left hand side.

With the half time break, I took the chance to sample some of Burton's cuisine, aka the burger bar. Annoyingly they ran out of sausage rolls at half time, much to dissatisfaction of one supporter who took the chance to vent his spleen at the catering staff...who proceeded to have a good bitch about him after the customer left. In the end I settled for a tea which was pretty horrible. 

Upon returning to the stand everyone was optimistic of an improved second half where the Daggers would hopefully push on and extend the lead. The teams emerged from the main stand back onto the pitch, ready for what promised to be a pulsating second 45. 

With six minutes of the second half gone, Burton Albion found a deserved equaliser. As fate would have it, former Dagger Damien McCrory was the man who scored it. Jake Reed foolishly tried to keep the ball in play when a better option would have been to boot it into row Z. This allowed McCrory to interchange with Maghoma before firing a deflected strike over a helpless Lewington to compound the misery. Of all of the times to net your first goal for your new club eh?
Lewy left with no chance

Just as we recovered from that setback, we were sent reeling once more as a defensive mix up allowed Burton to take a 2-1 lead. Luke Wilkinson didn't get enough on his header back to Lewington which allowed substitute Paterson to nick in before anyone else and slide home to give the Brewers the lead. Cue the 10 year olds sitting next to us celebrating like 10 year olds do - getting a rise out of some of our supporters in the process.

The visitors now went in search of an equaliser, with Medy Elito & Femi both coming close on the left hand side. Dwight Gayle should have done better when allowed space in the box, however the forward decided to open a box of tricks rather than attempting to get a shot away when the time was right. John Still then made his first change; Billy Bingham was brought on for Matt Saunders in the midfield.

Almost immediately a Bingham corner nearly led to a goal, Dwight Gayle rose highest but his header went high over the bar. A good opportunity that really should have tested the 'keeper. Sam Williams was also introduced for the tiring Jake Reed; his first attempt was easily gathered by Lyness who was enjoying a quieter second period.

Within minutes of that attempt, the Daggers drew level in spectacular fashion. The ball was played forward to Luke Wilkinson who nodded it down for Sam Williams to finish emphatically into the top corner of the net. Cue delirium amongst the travelling support and songs of, "Sam Williams, he scores when he wants." Now I don't mean to ruin this moment...but I told you so!

Burton kicked off the game once more and within seconds the Daggers were brought back down to earth with a bump. A ball was lumped towards Kee who chested it down, took a touch and advanced forward before unleashing an unstoppable shot that rifled past Lewington and into the corner of the net. With a strike like that, there's nothing that you can do but applaud it really. The defending from Scott Doe could have been better perhaps, but there's no denying the sheer quality of the goal.

You may have expected the Daggers to put Burton under relentless pressure from this stage, but in reality it wasn't the case. The brewers held onto the ball admirably and restricted the Essex side to speculative efforts, none of which challenged Lyness in the slightest. In fact it was Burton who looked the more likely to extent their lead with Billy Kee firing just wide during the five minutes of injury time.

The referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the match, the end of our unbeaten run and the end of our unbeaten streak at the Pirelli. All good things come to end I suppose. All credit to Burton though, they deserve the win and Billy Kee's strike deserved to win any game - utterly superb. The best way to describe our performance is ordinary really, as John Still said after the game it was naivety that cost us.

As some have alluded to it's going to be a long season as it's unlikely the squad will be consistent for long periods. But that's to be expected. You have to remember we have a young squad who will both impress us and irritate us in equal measure this season. The important thing is that we have the basis of a good squad of players who will continually improve both performance and results wise. I said before the start of the season I'd be happy with a mid table finish and that's where we are at the moment. 

Chris Lewington deserves a lot of praise for his first half performance and realistically there's not a lot he could have done regarding all of the Burton strikes. The left side didn't impress me yesterday either, with Femi being caught out far too many times for my liking. This left Medy in a lot of trouble trying to cover when Femi galloped forward which ultimately didn't work. Here's hoping Luke Wilkinson enjoys a quick recovery as well as he clearly wasn't at the races with his heading yesterday due to the amount of staples in his head.

As for Burton, as I say I can't really begrudge you over the three points. Chris Palmer tormented us all afternoon and Billy Kee's strike was superb and deserved to win the points. Considering it was his League debut, Lyness also put in a decent display. I have no qualms with Burton so wish you and Damien McCrory good luck for the season ahead. Unless it comes down to us two for a final Play Off spot, in which case here's hoping we get it!

That's it for another week and another 3-2 away defeat as well. My next game is Fleetwood at home next week, before we take on Torquay & Bristol Rovers - both of which I won't be attending. 

Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy is what you need...thanks for reading!

Here's a little gallery of other pictures from the day as well...

North Stand (nPower Family Stand)