Sunday, 26 February 2012

Plymouth Argyle 0-0 Daggers, One Point Gained

Dagenham & Redbridge came away from Home Park with a somewhat undeserved point, as the battle for survival in League Two continued yesterday. A thoroughly enjoyable day culminated in a share of the spoils in a game which the Pilgrims dominated throughout.
The journey began at 8am at Chadwell Heath Station, where I met Chaz & Bill, ready for the journey to Paddington to catch our Great Western service to Plymouth. After an over ground train to Liverpool Street & several tube trains, we eventually arrived at Paddington in good time, at 9:20, which gave us enough of a cushion to enjoy a McDonalds breakfast. A thoroughly good way to start a day of travelling. Our train to Plymouth took in a number of stops; furthermore it was an enjoyable journey and a good laugh. The best view was easily going past Exeter St David’s, where you're greeted with a wonderful view of the coast, just yards from the train line.

Chaz, Bill & Myself. Excuse the dodgy barnet, poxy wind!
 We eventually arrived at Plymouth station at around 1:20, where we went through the barriers and out onto the main road. The journey to Home Park was meant to take around twenty minutes; if you know the way that is. However with Billy, aka, Ray Mears at the helm, we endured a walk around the town, several back streets and through the infamous Central Park, before arriving outside the home turnstiles at around 2:00. After we took a couple of pictures of the turnstiles and were then snapped ourselves by a "Greens On Screen" photographer, we headed round to the back, where our entrance to the stadium was located.

We had a brief chat with a few chirpy stewards who were all in good spirits, before heading through after getting my bag checked. We encountered a cold concourse which to our disappointment, did not contain a TV to watch the lunchtime kick off between West Ham & Crystal Palace, meaning we would have to while away the hour until kick off with pictures and talking.

We walked out through the tunnel and were greeted with Home Park, and upon first impressions, I can safely say it was one of the favourite stadiums I've visited. It had a magnificent combination of modern & old which really goes well in a stadium for me. It has character, which so many grounds lack in this day and age, just look at Oxford & the Kassam, they may as well be playing in a park, it just lacks everything a football ground should have in my opinion.

Three sides of the ground, including the stand we were housed in, is all joined up, enabling a fantastic atmosphere to be created. Furthermore, it just looks stylish and slick. You then look at the Plymouth Argyle Main Stand and it oozes character, it may not be to everyone's liking, but it just gives a feel of "proper football."It doesn't fit in with the rest of the stadium, which gives it a unique & quirky feel, in fact, it looked like a grandstand from a racecourse, further enhancing its credentials to me.

That’s enough of me using superlatives to describe my love for the ground though. Up until the kick off, the stadium started to fill up at a good pace, the attendance would be improved by the "fan fest" which was going on outside. With just over half an hour we were introduced to the teams via the tannoy man, who finally made himself heard.

Plymouth Argyle: Cole, Purse, Blanchard, Bignot, Williams, Young, Wotton, Hourihane, MacDonald, Chadwick, Hemmings. Subs: Larrieu, Berry, Daley, Walton, Tsoumou.

Carl Fletcher made two changes to the side that defeated Accrington Stanley 4-0 in Lancashire last weekend, Zimbabwean defender Onismor Bhasera was away on African Nations Cup Qualifying duty. This meant he was replaced by the Rock DJ himself, Robbie Williams. Jake Cole was also available once more, meaning that veteran stopper Romain Larrieu dropped back to the bench.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Bond, McCrory, Arber, Spillane, Doe, Reeves, Ogogo, Saunders, Nurse, Woodall, Scott. Subs: Hogan, Rose, Edmans, Bimgham, Elito.

John Still made three changes to the side that lost heavily against Cheltenham last weekend, two of which were forced. Chris Lewington was serving the first of his two match suspension, meaning the real Bond; Jonathan Bond that is, would make his first appearance on loan from Watford. Femi missed out with a rumoured thigh strain, meaning that Damien McCrory would make his first league start since the dire 3-0 reverse at Accrington Stanley in November. The final change was that of new boy Ben Reeves on loan from Southampton, starting in place of Medy Elito on the right hand side.

From my contact back in Dagenham, Lee, I also learned that we were playing a 4-4-2 formation. But this was a 4-4-2 formation like no other. It would include Scott Doe playing at right back, which didn't fill me with joy, whilst Jon Nurse would play left midfield which was ok in my opinion.

After learning this, myself and several others proceeded to put up a couple of our flags, as you may know from our exploits at Accrington, these flags are sods to put up. And so it proved again. Taking us a grand total of 20 minutes to fix our two up rather shoddily, whilst a Plymouth fan stuck there's up in 5 minutes flat. If you ask me, that's just showing off.

Kick off was now approaching and the ground was now filled up nicely, a couple of tunes belted out over the PA system. In fact, I wager that even if you were deaf, you may have heard these songs, they were that loud. The Plymouth fans then unleashed their massive "Forza Verdi" flag which spanned about 15 rows, I won't lie, I stood in a degree of awe. What a fantastic effort from the club and fans, it was a sensational flag; furthermore it was accompanied well by their supporters in good voice.

The teams then came out and the Daggers supporters launched into song, although it was drowned out by the PA system once more. Kick off was nigh in one of the most important games of the season to date, it was the Daggersto kick off, and they would be attacking us in the first 45 minutes. We were off at Home Park.

The first action of the afternoon came in the form of a speculative free kick from Matthew Saunders, which Jake Cole was equal too, the former Barnet stopper getting down well to deny Saunders his first Daggers goal. We were then up the other end where we had a brief stoppage because of an injury to Mark Arber, the Daggers inspirational captain took a few minutes of treatment to the shoulder before carrying on.

Plymouth then really should have opened the scoring on the ten minute mark. Alex MacDonald dispossessed the ball from Ben Reeves on the left, before playing it through to Paul Bignot, who skipped gleefully past Damien McCrory and played it to an unmarked Nick Chadwick in the box. The former Everton youngster flashed his curling shot over the bar and down the tunnel, when he really should have hit the target. A real let off for the Daggers defence & Ben Reeves in particular.

We had a lull in play for ten minutes or so, before Alex MacDonald caused trouble again, this time getting the ball from Mark Arber, before hitting a shot past the left hand post. Another scare for the Daggers, as Plymouth threatened to over run our defence. On the half hour mark however, the Essex side threatened to take the lead. Damien McCrory made a good run down the left hand side, which ultimately saw him, put in a delightful ball to the middle of the box, which found Jon Nurse. The Barbadian couldn't get a firm connection on the ball, meaning his header went out of play for a goal kick.

Ben Reeves also began to show flashes of the quality that Southampton sees in him, with a couple of daring runs that caused the Pilgrims back line problems. However, we weren't getting the ball to him enough, for him to cause any real problems. The referee Dean Whitestone was also somewhat whistle happy, breaking up the game to give a lot of meaningless free kicks to both sides.

Plymouth were on top.
Plymouth spurned two more good opportunities just before the half time break. Firstly, Arber was once again in the thick of things, as his poor touch allowed a Plymouth midfielder to nip in. However, Arbs showed what a player he is, by recovering superbly to make a last ditch tackle from behind which cleared the danger. Plymouth were also looking to exploit Scott Doe at right back, however Doey showed good credentials and stood up to them, not allowing midfielder Luke Young to get past him at any stage.

Once again on 40 minutes, the Daggers defence was split open by some good Pilgrims play. MacDonald made another good diagonal run, which allowed him to tee up young Irishman Connor Hourihane, who scored against us in the previous fixture at Victoria Road. He was about 15 yards from goal and wasted a superb opportunity to give the Pilgrims the lead, missing another guilt edge chance, by putting it over the bar when Bond had no chance if it was on target.

The Daggers then pushed forward once more, with many of the opportunities coming from Damien McCrory who was providing the main threat. However, just before the break, it was Brian Woodall who went on a run down the right hand side, bringing the ball to the by line. The former Gresley lad then put in an immaculate ball which split the Plymouth defence, unfortunately Josh Scott or Jon Nurse could not get to it, meaning it was hoofed away to safety.

That was half time and Plymouth could and perhaps should have been 3-0 up. Three fantastic chances had been spurned, whilst the Daggers had produced next to nothing in an attacking sense. Saying that, neither goalkeeper was really called into any action, bar an early Bond scare where he nearly repeated Lewington's actions last week by handballing the ball outside the box. Thankfully though, the referee didn’t see it that way and Bond got away with it.

As for the atmosphere, it was extremely good, far better than the majority of grounds I've witnessed this season. Plymouth fans were in good voice, whilst the Daggers fans also decided to partake at times. Thing is, you can't really outnumber over 7,000 with 93 can you?

As with most grounds, I then decided to try some of the cuisine, once again as it was a "footlong", I went for a hot dog, priced at the season average £4.10. As usual it was very nice and of good quality, however the sauce was in sachets rather than bottle's, which once again annoyed me. After this I went for a chat with the Horan's for 10 minutes, before resuming to my standing position for the start of the second half.

Plymouth started the second half the better, with Hourihane cracking a shot towards the centre of the goal, which on loan Bond palmed away shakily for a corner. The Daggers then broke away, a move which resulted in Brian Woodall hitting a shot against the side netting of Jake Cole's goal. Plymouth were once again beginning to dominate, Williams hitting a shot over the bar from about 20 yards, their latest failed attempt at taking the lead.

On the 60 minute mark, the Daggers had their best chance of the match to date. A Damien McCrory corner on the left hand side was directed towards Scott Doe at the back post, the ball fell wonderfully for him on the deck. He was primed to shoot, when at the last moment he passed to Mickey Spillane who bottled it when going 50/50 with an Argyle defender. A moment which infuriated me in more than one way, he should have took on the shot; get the ball on target and he had a fantastic chance of scoring with all of the bodies in the way.

Then came the best part of the match, and funnily enough it didn't come on the pitch. Scott Doe cleared a ball into the old main stand and a supporter went to head the ball. It was one of those comical moments, he went for the header, got it, and then fell arse over tit over the barriers, before ending up dangling upside down. Fantastic comedy that had everyone on and off the pitch laughing, he dually received a deserved round of applause from all four sides of Home Park.

Plymouth then added another nationality to the field, bringing on Germany under 18 International Juvhel Tsoumou in place of Luke Young up front. On the 70 minute mark, Carl Fletcher made his second change, this time Luke Daley replaced the20 year old Ashely Hemmings who played a solid game.

Then came the biggest heart in mouth moment of the afternoon. Luke Daley got the ball just inside the right of the box and hit a wonderful shot which cannoned back off the post, enabling a Daggers defender to clear it. I genuinely thought it was in, so much so, that I turned away after it crashed against the post as I thought it hit the inside of the net. Much to my amazement there was no cheer, I turned back round again and it was a corner. Danger over? Not by a long shot.

From the resulting corner, Bond made a point blank save from a tame shot that was on target, before the ball was cleared to Robbie Williams who unleashed a corker of a strike that smashed back off the far post and out for a throw. How we were not behind was anyone's guess. Home Park was once more alive with atmosphere at the Pilgrims support got behind their team more than any other time in the afternoon. Relief.

I have even managed to find a clip of this online this morning, thank you to the Argyle fan that uploaded it.

It was then time for John Still to make a change. Brian Woodall was withdrawn on 73 minutes and replaced by Medy Elito. Brian didn't really get into the game yesterday, furthermore he didn't really have a clear cut chance to take; Medy on the other hand, could exploit the wide pitch dimensions and hopefully create an opportunity or two. Just minutes later and he did just that, playing a ball through to Abu Ogogo, who’s left foot scuffed shot caused Jake Cole no problems.

We then had around a 3 minute pause in play due to an argument on the touchline between Romain Larrieu, Carl Fletcher & the referee. The debate ended in goalkeeper Larrieu getting a booking for his troubles, whilst Fletcher was warned that any more and he'd be sent to the stands. That's a daunting prospect, especially when you considering how far a walk it is to the stands at Home Park from the dugout. The Daggers then made their second change, with Ben Reeves coming off for Rob Edmans to make his Football League debut.

With 82 minutes played, Jon Bond produced a heroic save to keep the scores level at 0-0. Alex MacDonald hit a curling shot towards the far post, but Bond made a superb dive and was equal to it, pushing the ball round the post for a corner, which came to nothing.

That was the last real action of the game, with more of the play broken up in the final 10 minutes through free kicks. Plymouth dominated largely and if I'm honest, deserved the three points, but their lack of finishing prowess and the right hand post done them up. I can't help but feel that if we actually attacked, we may have been able to get all three points as it was a very open game, but no. We defended resolutely in the second half and it was more of one point gained than two points lost from our perspective.

The players then came over and clapped the 93 of us hardy Daggers that made the trip, before doing their huddle, and going back to the dressing room and getting changed for the train back to London. Of the game, I was particularly impressed by McCrory & Doe. McCrory because he hasn't played for so long, he done very well against his old club, it will be interesting to see whether he keeps his place against Morecambe. Scott Doe performed extremely well in a somewhat unnatural position for him, another one where we'll have to wait until Tuesday to see what happens.

The whole team really performed pretty well, especially when put under pressure. Jonathan Bond did look a little bit shaky, often punching the ball away, rather than catching it though, something which I'm not particularly fond of. An average performance, but more importantly, a first clean sheet away from home in the league since August, furthermore it was against our relegation rivals. Also, it was our first 0-0 draw in the league since Torquay over two years ago.

As for Plymouth, credit to their fans who were superb throughout, probably the best home fans in the league that I've encountered. As for their team, if they can be more potent in front of goal, then I imagine they'll be fine. Their defence looked pretty resilient and their midfield has the ability to knock the ball around well at times. I wish them all the best, however if we stay up at the expense of them, then I won't complain.

Plymouth's own Wembley Way.
 We then made the journey back to the station, going through the Plymouth version of Wembley Way (Central Park), before getting to the station 40 minutes ahead of when our train was due to arrive. A 20 minute wait ensued before we ended up meeting the players who were incidentally on the same train back as us.

At this point I have to say thank you to Wayne Burnett & Terry Harris who took time to have a quick chat with us, along with Simmo who many of you know. I find it really makes a difference when the team do things like that, as it shows that you're support appreciated. Some of the players even took some time out for a couple of pictures which was a nice touch. One thing that disappointed me slightly was that John Still didn't acknowledge any of us. It would have been quite nice for the manager to give us some accreditation after all the backing he's received from us. But that's football I suppose.

The journey back took around 3 hours and it was filled with some songs and viewing what players of ours were on the drink. Adam Cunnington & Abu Ogogo being the main culprits. Arrival at Paddington was about 9:30, where all the players went separate ways. One of the best moments was when Medy Elito didn't have enough money on his card to get through the barriers. We ended up getting on a tube with Bingham, Medy & Dom, before arriving back at Stratford for 10:15. That's basically it for the day I’m afraid.

I would like to thank you for reading this Blog, whether you are a Plymouth, Dagenham or neutral supporter. I would also like to give a massive thank you"Greens on Screen", for letting me use some of their pictures from the day. It really is a great help to have the assistance of someone with a better camera than myself.

Next up for us is the mammoth Tuesday night trip to Morecambe, which I cannot get too. The next Saturday game is crucial, against Bradford City next week, let's hope we get a bumper attendance thanks to the ticket initiative.

I will leave you with an assortment of pictures of the day and remind you to follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy.

Forza Verdi Flag.

The 93 Daggers.

The Daggers Warm Up.
Home Park Fills Up.

A smaller selection of the Daggers Fans.
Spot me standing in the red & blue top on the left hand side.

Plymouth Argyles famous turnstiles.

The Mayflower Grandstand.

Pilgrim Pete makes an appearance.

If you wish to visit, "Greens On Screen", the link is,

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Daggers 0-5 Cheltenham Town, Pack Your Bags.

Abysmal. Gutless. Embarrassing. Horrendous. Terrible. Five words that still don't sum up what 1500 of us witnessed at Victoria Road this afternoon, as the Dagenham & Redbridge surrendered their dignity to high flying Cheltenham Town. There will be no vivid match report today, because to put it frank, Cheltenham destroyed us in every single aspect. We were thoroughly outclassed by a team far better than us. Not only were they good, but we majorly contributed to our own downfall.

Pre match and I wasn't particularly confident anyways, Cheltenham were a good team as I knew from visiting Whaddon Road in October, furthermore they had Steve Elliott available again. This, coupled with the midfield energy of Marlon Pack would ensure for a very tough afternoon against one of the top three sides in the division. I was however boosted by the fact that Brian Woodall was back in the starting eleven, as was Medy Elito following his brief, but superb cameo role against Oxford United on Tuesday night.

Dagenham & Redbridge Team: Lewington, Spillane, Doe, Arber, Femi, Elito, Ogogo, Saunders, Nurse, Scott, Woodall. Subs: Hogan, Rose, Cunnington, Green, Bingham.

Cheltenham Town Team: Brown, Elliott, Bennett, Garbutt, Jombati, Pack, Low, Penn, Summerfield, Goulding, Mohamed. Subs: Lowe, Smikle, McGlashan, Duffy, Spencer.

From the off it was pretty much atrocious. Cheltenham pressed forward quite a lot within the first ten minutes of the game, but they were not rewarded with a goal. The Daggers ventured forward once, courtesy of mazy Medy Elito. An absolutely superb 50 yard run, ended in his shot being blocked by a Cheltenham defender, which ensured we gained a corner. Somewhat positive stuff after a very droll first ten minutes of action.

However, Cheltenham continued to go forward, and Goulding was denied on twelve minutes by a superb save from Chris Lewington, the stopper palming away the fierce right foot drive for a corner kick. By the 15 minute mark, the Robins were the only team that looked like scoring, Mohamed & Summerfield each took turns to have a pop, and both failed to find the back of the net. It was just too easy for Mark Yates' men.

Cheltenham Town Celebrate going 1-0 up.
Sure enough, on the 19 minute mark Cheltenham took the lead. A corner was cleared to just outside the box where Luke Summerfield was waiting to lash in an unstoppable drive into the roof of Chris Lewington’s net. Nothing the keeper could have done about that. You can say it was a great strike, or on the flip side of things, you can say where was the closing down? He had far too much time and space, with everyone back, surely there should be a player back marking him. But no there wasn't and we were 1-0 down once again. Nonetheless a superb finish which drew applause from all four sides of Victoria Road.

Just two minutes later and Cheltenham had doubled their lead to two. Another corner from Luke Garbutt found the middle of the box, where a combination of poor defending and slack marking allowed Steve Elliott to nip in and fire home from eight yards to compound our misery. It was now 2-0 and to be perfectly honest, I'd lost all hope by now. It's difficult to come back from two down in any situation, but when you're playing one of the best teams in the division, you have next to no hope.

Dagenham then finally began to attack again, well, loosely described as attack. A half chance from Josh Scott went out for a corner and Femi's gut busting run ended in a tame strike on his weaker foot which unsurprisingly was gathered up welcomingly by Scott Brown. It says a lot for our strikers, that Medy Elito & Femi were looking like the best goal threat at the moment. Saying that, Woodall is in and out of the side like anyone’s business at the moment, so it's slightly unfair to blame him. With no game for the best part of a week, hopefully a rest for Woodall will make him 100% for next weekend’s crucial match.

Chris Lewington.
 We then had a bit of a lull in action, up until 40 minutes that is, where my heart sunk to a new depth. The ball was played forward towards Lewington’s box, the former Leatherhead 'keeper ran out to collect it. It looked to me as though he collected it inside the box, with his legs outside of the box. However, the linesman didn't see it this way. Thus, he discussed it with the referee and within seconds the game was beyond doubt & Chris Lewington was sent off for the second time this season.

The reality then hit me; our replacement goalkeeper was Dave Hogan. His only previous Football League experience was about 15 minutes away at Gillingham several years ago. He's not a very good goalkeeper, hence why we need a cover, and that's something Stilly got wrong. We needed a goalkeeper to have been brought in during January, because this was going to happen at some point and I feared we would pay the price. Hogan did infact replace Medy Elito, it's unlucky for Medy, but someone has to be withdrawn. Sorry Dave, I'm sure you're a great person, but in your heart of hearts you know you're not a particularly good 'keeper. A mixture of cheers & boo's could be heard in the Sieve as he took to the field.

Hogan faces the free kick.
 Hogan's first port of call was facing a free kick from Luke Garbutt. The power behind the free kick was astonishing, but Hogan pulled off a superb save at first glance, however he failed to palm it away to the side. This allowed Kaid Mohamed to nip in ahead of Hogan & Scott Doe to slot home Cheltenham’s third of the game. Unlucky on the big man who nearly became an instant Daggers hero.

Josh Scott then went into the referee's book, before Mark Yates made an early substitution. Jeff Goulding was replaced by on loan Huddersfield Town striker James Spencer, whether Goulding had picked up an injury or not I do not know. That was effectively the end of the first half and the teams went in to a chorus of jeers from some of the Daggers fans.

During the interval we had the pleasure of witnessing the "Take It Like A Fan" penalty shoot out. Our fan would be up against Youth team goalkeeper Cain Davis, if the supporter scores, he gets £500; if Cain saved it, he would win the £500. Find out what happened next week on the show itself.

Adam Cunnington Comes On.

I'm not going to go through the second half as it was a poor affair, Cheltenham really stepped off the gas which meant the tempo of the game was significantly slower. The Robins made it 4-0 on 61 minutes, when Femi misjudged the spin of the ball, enabling Spencer to nip in behind and smash home into the roof of the net, leaving Hogan with no chance. This also saw an exodus in the camp, not of the Geohaghan kind I may add.

It was 5-0, just five minutes later as a cross from Mohamed was deflected by Mickey Spillane into the back of the net. Game over if ever there was any doubt. The Daggers mustered up a few late chances through Cunnington, Femi & Nurse, but nothing that at all challenged the Robins 'keeper. The rain then began to come down even more so and in Dagenham fashion, the Sieve began to sing, "Call It Off", if only we were that lucky!

The Daggers players berate the referee.
 The final incident towards the end was a superb Abu Ogogo challenge. The converted central midfield slid in from behind on Alan Bennett, but got the whole of the ball. I was right in front of the incident so I assure you that he did get the ball. The referee however, who was having a shocker anyways, blew up and had the red in his hand. However, after some deliberation, he gave Abu Ogogo a booking, much to our disbelief. This was absolutely terrible inconsistency from a referee who really didn’t step up to the occasion.

That's all I have to say on the game itself, absolutely diabolical all round. The referee and his assistants were also absolutely atrocious today as well. You could tell it was the lads first ever game in the Football League, he showed no consistency and how six of our players were booked is anyone’s guess. The linesman was just as bad, if not worse. Lewington should not have been sent off in my opinion; moreover, he missed several blatant offside decisions. However, it's no excuse for the result itself.

Here we come to the bit where you either completely agree with me, or choose to ignore my opinions. John Still should not be sacked. Today, it was not John Still's fault that Lewington got sent off. Today, it was not John Still's fault that Mickey Spillane scored an own goal. Today, it was not John Still's fault that Femi misjudged a header due to the spin on the ball. What John & the team need to work on however, is marking, because that's what has really let us down this season.

Sacking John will do no good; this is for a number of reasons. For a start it's too late now. Secondly and most importantly, he is the right man for the job, I'm sure he has the players on board and he is the only man that can get us out of this. I just don't see the benefit we get out of sacking a man who cares more about the club than most of its fans on the terraces, the fact that he can get the best out of the players; he is the man for this scrap. I can promise you that.

I'm not for one second saying that the performance today was acceptable, because it wasn't, it was dreadful. I don't know where to go from here to be honest, I've already tried convincing several fans and they're having none of it, but trust me, sacking John Still would have a hugely detrimental effect. If he was to go now, it would be suicide of the highest order.

As for the players, the only ones to get any credit from me are Abu Ogogo, Femi, Adam Cunnington & Matt Saunders. They were the only ones that really gave it their all in my opinion, the only ones that performed. As for the criticism of Femi, I can only say to anyone that wants him dropped, you're talking out of your arse. He was probably our best player yesterday, bar a single mistake which everyone makes at some point, if he was taken out of the team, I guarantee you our left side would be exploited even more so.

At the end of the day though, I have to give massive credit to Cheltenham. Although we were absolutely god awful, they took advantage and played some fantastic football around the park, which ultimately tore us to shreds. They were by far and away the best team that have visited us in the league this season, further building upon their immaculate performance against us in October. If they don't go up it will be absolutely criminal.

One of the best passing sides in the division, with a superb manager at the helm and an absolutely fabulous player in Marlon Pack running the show. From all the teams I've seen this season, at this current point if I am to join up all the dots, they're the most worthy. Not only did they play it around the park, but their work rate was exceptional, furthermore their defence dealt with anything (it wasn't much), that we threw at them. Good luck to you for the rest of the season Cheltenham fans; I really do hope you make the progression into the next tier.

As for us, we have to bounce back from this. The players have apologised via Twitter, they know it wasn't good enough. They'll be hoping to rectify the performance in a vital away clash at Plymouth Argyle next week. It really is a massive game and one that I will be making the trip to once more, meaning you'll have an honest match report to read. I hope you enjoy your week and try to get over this demoralising afternoon.

Thanks for reading, whether you are neutral, Dagenham or Cheltenham. Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy.                                            

On the bight side, we may have a signing to look forward to this week in the form of a goalkeeper. Or maybe even, the return of Tony Roberts.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Oxford United 2-1 Daggers, Valentines Heartbreak.

Dagenham & Redbridge suffered another defeat, this time at the Kassam Stadium, to the hands of promotion chasing Oxford United, who won a tight affair 2-1.

A nice meet and greet.
 The journey getting to the Kassam with Bill & Chaz, via train I may add, took just under three hours, thanks to us arriving at Paddington over an hour early. The packed train from Paddington to Oxford took around an hour, and a cab took us to the ground from the station, which meant we arrived at the Kassam at around 7:10. For me, from the outside it had a kind of Northampton/ MK Dons feel around the place. This was due to the fact there was a shopping centre, complete with cinema and a restaurant about 100 yards from the ground. We went straight through the turnstiles after getting my bag checked, before being confronted with a mass of lifeless concrete, which was the concourse.

We then decided to head up a flight of stairs and have a butchers at the ground itself, in Ray Wilkins style, I have to say, it was one of the blandest grounds I've ever seen. It's your typical modern football stadium. All stands are effectively the same, they just look completely lifeless. The only thing that made it slightly more appealing is the West Stand, simply because there isn't a stand there at all. It's just a fence with a car park behind it. Thrilling.

We then moved on up towards the back of the stand, so we could actually stand up and watch the game without the intervention of the stewards. With about ten minutes to go until kick off, the teams flashed up on the scoreboard, they were as follows.

Oxford United: Clarke, Duberry, Wright, Whing, Hall, Leven, Wilson, Davis, Constable, Johnson, Rendell. Subs: Tonkin, Worley, McLaren, Holmes, Kerrouche.

Chris Wilder made three changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Burton Albion over two weeks ago. Midfielder Simon Heslop picked up an injury in the two week period without a game, meaning new signing from Doncaster, Mark Wilson partnered Asa Hall & influential midfielder Peter Leven in the midfield. Jon Paul Pitman & Alfie Potter also missed out, meaning that loan signing from Wycombe, Scott Rendell was given a full debut, whilst Oli Johnson started only his second game for The U's. Their two other January signings in Lee Holmes from Southampton & Mehdi Kerrouche from Swindon were on the bench, poised if needed.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Spillane, Doe, Arber, Femi, Saunders, Ogogo, Bingham, Green, Scott, Nurse. Subs: Hogan, Reed, Rose, Cunnington, Elito.

John Still made three changes from the side that defeated Rotherham in the last weekend in January. Ahmed Abdulla & Cristian Montano had been recalled by West Ham United, meaning there was a debut for former Fulham academy product Matt Saunders in midfield, whilst Josh Scott was restored up front after recovering from an injury. Brian Woodall was seemingly injured which was a major blow; he was replaced by Dominic Green who has the ability to change a game if he's on form.

The teams came out to a chorus of applause from three sides of the ground and lined up to do the pre match handshake. No controversy at the Kassam I assure you. We were all set for a crucial game at both ends of the table, the referee dually blew his whistle and we began the contest.

I have to admit, the first twenty minutes of this game were possibly the most unappealing and boring first twenty minutes of a match I've ever witnessed. It was a complete midfield battle with next to no forays into either penalty box. The only entertainment we were getting was singing about how we won the Conference there, something which seems so long ago now.

On the twenty five minute mark we were finally given the first goal mouth action of the evening. The ball fell to Asa Hall just inside the box, his volley flashed inches wide of the far post to give us an almighty scare. I think everyone in the ground, including Chris Lewington thought Oxford were a goal up. A lucky escape for the Daggers there.

The Daggers then began to get into the game themselves, courtesy of a corner thanks to good work down the left hand side from Dominic Green & Femi. The corner did unfortunately come to nothing, but minutes later Billy Bingham forced a superb low save from Ryan Clarke between the sticks to keep the scores level. Matthew Saunders was also playing his part on the right hand side, putting in a few decent balls which were headed away by the Oxford defence with ease. Another fantastic attribute he has is that he looks uncannily like Brian Woodall from a distance!

That was the first half finished essentially. It was about as interesting as a damp squid. With that, I decided to try out the overpriced Oxford cuisine. Tea's were charged at £2.20 from what I can remember and they were in a rather diddy cup. I opted for the hot dog, charged at an extortionate £4.10, however I have to say it was rather good! My other major qualm about Oxford was that they had no sauce dispensers, only sachets. Thoroughly unacceptable.

The teams came out for the second half to a rather muted crowd, after the first half I doubt many were particularly looking forward to the prospect of another 45 minutes. It was Oxford who started the better and five minutes into the second half, they took the lead. Midfielder Liam Davis skipped down the left hand side, before putting in a delightful ball which found the head of the unmarked Oli Johnson who headed home for his first goal for the U's. Chris Lewington was left with no chance and once more the goal was conceded thanks to slack marking, to be quite honest it left a bitter taste in the mouth as it's something I've become far to accustomed to.

John Still made an unusually early change.
The away side looked to get back into the match straight away, and they nearly done so, but Matt Saunders' speculative effort went wide of the mark. John Still then reacted by making an out of character early substitution, replacing Billy Bingham with Adam Cunnington as we went more attacking. This also heralded a change in formation, seeing Cunnington & Scott spearhead the attack, leaving Green & Nurse to play on either wing.

We all then thought we'd equalised. A corner from the near side was put into a superb area and Mark Arber attacked the ball. His "shot" was cleared off the line by Liam Davis as the ball went out for another corner which was once again taken by Dominic Green. Unfortunately this one came to nothing. There was then a bit of a lull in play, however the Daggers were still attacking down the wings, but with no end product.

John Still then made his second substitution of the evening. Dominic Green who had an average game was replaced by Medy Elito, who was also sporting a new haircut for good measure. Near enough instantly he created the best chance of the game so far, a superb floated ball in towards the back post found Jon Nurse whose diving header went straight into the hands of the thankful Ryan Clarke. If Nurse was able to get the technique right, he probably would have scored, extremely encouraging signs nonetheless.

On 71 minutes however, the Daggers did find a deserved equaliser. Matt Saunders laid the ball back to Medy Elito who put in a superb first time ball towards the penalty box. It found the head of Captain Mark Arber whose pin point header nestled into the corner of the net to send the 109 travelling supporters delirious. A fantastic goal, but more importantly a fantastic cross from a player who we'd been missing for a number of months.

Oxford sped up the other end from the kick off and Constable was denied going one on one with Lewington by a well timed sliding challenge from Arber who was in the thick of the action. If you ask me he really is back to his best. Minutes later and the action was back up the other end of the field. Femi played a superb ball from his own half over to Elito, who played a neat passing exchange with Jon Nurse before whipping in another first time delivery. This one was slightly behind the attackers, but Cunnington re positioned himself superbly and hit a wonderful half volley onto the post before it went out for a goal kick. A sumptuous effort from the former Kettering man, who really deserves to have scored his first Daggers goal.

Chris Wilder then decided to make his second change in an attempt to influence the sway of the game. Scott Rendell was replaced by the dangerous Mehdi Kerrouche on 79 minutes; a change that had real potential to give the U's an advantage. Just a minute later and Oxford regained the lead against the run of play. Scorer of the first goal Oli Johnson, played a neat diagonal ball over the top to James Constable, who took it down well before running at Lewington. Constable then seemingly gave Lewington, "the eyes", before lashing the ball in near post for a 2-1 lead. Upon reflection, Constable was in fact offside I can confirm after watching brief highlights of the game back.

We then had another flurry of changes from both sides. Oli Johnson was replaced by Anthony Tonkin for Oxford, whilst Jake Reed came on for Josh Scott for Daggers. The U's were more than content to try and play it around the middle of the park, with their final shot being one that was so sliced it went out for a throw in. Into added time and the Daggers nearly snatched a point, Adam Cunningtons speculative effort just going over the bar; causing everyone in the away end to wince.

That was the end of the contest, with several corners and free kicks being dealt with by the Oxford defence minutes previously. Another defeat that was unwarranted in my opinion, but that's the way it goes down at the bottom or if you support Dagenham at the moment. Sloppy marking cost us once more; I won't go all Spanish Inquisition on the defeat as we've heard it all before.

What I will say however, is that the signs are promising and that's a phrase I hate using. "Signs" are not good enough in my opinion, but Cunnington, Saunders & Elito bring something new to the team and something that we desperately need. I can't quite describe what it is, but I have to say, if we go down this season with this squad of players, I will be extremely disappointed.

The journey home was a long one, a cab back to the station ensured we caught our train at 22:10. We then took about an hour or so to get back to a deserted Paddington, at least it was a laugh. Several tube trains later saw us arrive back at Stratford for midnight, before we embarked on a mad dash down a flight of stairs and up another to catch the overground back to Chadwell Heath at around 12:20. All in all, a somewhat pointless evening, so onwards and upwards to Cheltenham Town at the weekend!

Thanks for reading and remember you can follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy. Here's a selection of pictures from the evening.
The Main Stand at the Kassam.

The Kassam from the outside.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Watford 2-1 Barnsley, Away from the Daggers.

Watford defeated Barnsley 2-1 with two superb John Eustace goals in a game which the hornets dominated from start to finish. Regular viewers will probably ask why I'm not doing a Dagenham & Redbridge report. Simple answer is, the Daggers match away at Morecambe was postponed due to a frozen pitch on Friday afternoon, meaning I had to find another game to entertain myself. As Watford were the only accessible home game in London and it was a ground neither myself, Billy, Charlie or Matt had ticked off; it was the obvious option.
Several trains from Chadwell Heath, Stratford, Bank & Euston meant we arrived at Watford High Street Station at around 14:20 where it was absolutely freezing. A short five minute walk down a crowded road and we were at Vicarage Road where we picked up our tickets, after a hunt for the ticket office; before finally getting through the automated turnstiles just before kickoff. A brief hunt around as to which way to go and we found ourselves moving to the right, which lead us straight through into the stadium complex.
The Rookery Stand.

First impressions, a very nice ground, bar the far side which was effectively abandoned. I assume this is due to safety concerns as it houses the old style terracing which is probably not considered safe anymore. The main stand (our one), looked fantastic and particularly modern which gave it a nice edge. The Rookery Stand to the right of us is where the vocal Watford supporters sit and it was largely filled up which gave the ground a decent atmosphere. It is akin to the Kop, but on a smaller level, still a very nice stand.

The final stand is the Vicarage Road Stand, as you may have guessed, it is situated along Vicarage Road. It houses both the away fans and a section of home supporters, from what I could tell the majority of the home support here was rather young. It is quite large and also gave a good atmosphere. As you may guess all of the used area's are under cover meaning the whole ground is enclosed, however if it was to rain in a particular direction you would get soaked.

Our view was magnificent, four rows up from the bottom in the dead centre of the pitch meant we had a panoramic view of the action. The teams came out dead on 15:00 to good applause and a rendition of Z Cars playing, coincidentally my favourite song that a team comes out too.

The teams were as follows,

Watford: Loach, Hodson, Mariappa, Doyley, Nosworthy, Eustace, Kacaniklic, Murray, Hogg, Deeney, Garner. Subs: Bond, Dickinson, Yeates, Bauben, Iwelumo.

Watford were infact completely unchanged from the side that defeated Millwall at The Den on Tuesday evening. Not only was the starting eleven the same, the substitutes were as well, something that I've rarely seen doing this Blog.

Barnsley: Steele, Edwards, Foster, Wiseman, McNulty, Done, Perkins, Smith, Tonge, Davies, Gray. Subs: Preece, Hassell, Golbourne, Doyle, Dagnall. 

Barnsley were also unchanged regarding the starting eleven after defeating promotion chasing Derby County at Oakwell during the week. Their only change was on the substitutes bench, where Noble Lazarus who holds the record for the youngest ever player to play in the Football League at 15 years and 45 days, was replaced by new signing from Exeter City, Scott Golbourne. Their other main signing, Stephen Dawson from Leyton Orient, was not fit so he will have to wait at least another week to make his debut for Keith Hills mid table side.

We were off at a freezing Vicarage Road, described as an "Ice Box" later in the day on the Football League Show. The opening phase of the game was very drab, with both sides finding their feet and their level. Watford were attempting to play some neat, on the floor football, but the final pass let them down on a couple of occasions in the early stages. Just before the ten minute mark and the first shot of the game was mustered by former Walsall man Troy Deeney. His effort from 20 yards out was well blocked Craig Davies to avert the danger.

Just before the 15 minute mark in the game, Watford came dangerously close to breaking the deadlock. The ball came in from the left hand side, but Joe Garner completely fluffed his lines, meaning the ball ran outside the box to an unmarked Nyron Nosworthy, formerly of Sunderland. He spotted an on running John Eustace and dually played the ball into his path. Eustace ran onto it and unleashed a right foot shot that just curled around the near post, an attempt that definitely gave visiting keeper Luke Steele a fright.

We then endured a lull in play, until Jim McNulty got himself into the referee's notebook for a poor challenge on Lee Hodson inside the Barnsley half. From the resulting free kick Alex Kacanikilic tried his luck; however his speculative effort went over the bar and out of play for a goal kick. Watford were dominating in this contest, but were as yet unable to find that all important breakthrough. Barnsley then managed to get away their first attempt of the match. An out swinging corner from Michael Tonge eventually found its way to Rob Edwards, whose unmarked header was saved comfortably by England Under 21 'keeper Scott Loach.

Match Action & Cringey Ball Boy Jacket.
 As with these sorts of games, the team that does all the attacking usually concedes first on the break away. But not today. Watford took a deserved lead on 32 minutes. Sean Murray’s free kick was deflected into the path of John Eustace in the Barnsley penalty area. Eustace was facing away from goal, but tried his luck with an acrobatic effort which found its way past Steele, off the post into the back of the net. An absolutely superb strike from Eustace, saw two & a half sides of Vicarage Road celebrate, myself included. Not only were Watford leading, I now had some feeling back in the lower part of my body.

After this I then decided to try the cuisine at Watford. After a leap across several seats we made our way up into the "teabar" area, where we only encountered a short cue. First thing, Watford are the only club I've ever seen offer haribo! I decided to have a hot dog that was priced at £3.20, it was of good quality although it was a little on the small side. Reports from the rest were that the Chicken Balti pies were good, as were the sausage rolls. As this was happening we also witnessed a yellow card for Michael Tonge after he made a rough challenge on Kacaniklic. That is possibly the worst name to have when you're trying to Blog!

Your resident Blogger at Vicarage Road.
 That was the last action of the first half in essence and Watford went into the break a goal to the good. One player whom I was particularly impressed with, but I haven't mentioned was Jonathan Hogg. He was doing the dirty work for Watford, making the tackles and really running the show. Not only that, but some bloke sitting two rows behind us was like his motivational speaker, he just didn't shut up about him! We were then treated to something that we will never see the likes of at Dagenham. Soccer Saturday on the Scoreboard! The main good news was that Plymouth were losing to Southend which helped our relegation endeavours.

As the teams came back out for the second half and I began to lose all feeling due to the cold, Keith Hill decided to make his first substitution of the match. Prolific striker Chris Dagnall, formerly of Hill's old side Rochdale; came on for the somewhat ineffective Matty Done. Near enough straight from the kick off and yet another yellow card was shown, once again to a Barnsley player. Stephen Foster made a mistimed challenge on Troy Deeney who couldn’t make himself vanish quick enough. Yellow card to Foster.

Match Action.
 Much like the first half, the game restarted at a very slow pace, with only some good Watford wing play brightening up the dreary spectacle. Keith Hill then decided to make his second change of the afternoon, with the introduction of new signing Scott Golbourne for the tiring Michael Tongue, as Barnsley pushed for an equaliser. The hornets then managed to get their first shot of the half away, a Sean Murray effort going over the bar, not troubling the scoreboard operator in the slightest.

Troy Deeney then should have really got his name on the scoresheet, and doubled the lead. An inswinging cross from the right hand side found Deeney unmarked about six yards from goal. All he seemingly had to do was position the ball into the back of the net, but he completely misjudged it, furthermore he ended up skying the ball over the bar. A fantastic opportunity wasted, but would it come back to haunt Sean Dyche's men later in the match?

The referee was then into his pocket once more as he gave Hogg a yellow card, Watford's first booking of the match for "petulance", as I like to call it. Keith Hill then made his third and final change of the afternoon as the Tyke's looked to become more attacking. Jim McNulty was replaced by pacey Derbyshire born midfield Nathan Doyle who could perhaps cause a new threat down the flanks.

However, it was not to be and just minutes after the change Watford seemingly put the game out of sight. A throw on the far side from Lloyd Doyley, found Joe Garner inside the box. Garner held off a Tyke's defender before succumbing to another who headed the ball straight into Eustace's path. Eustace got the ball, ran straight through the defence, before slotting home a neat right foot finish to all but seal the Watford victory. That was the captain's fifth of the season after yet more good combination play between himself & Garner.

Sean Dyche then finally made his first change of the afternoon; bringing off Alex Kacaniklic, who had played an exceptional game, causing various problems as well as being a threat from set pieces. He was replaced by Ghanaian midfielder Prince Bauben, who has previously won the Scottish Cup with Dundee United. Shortly after the change, both Troy Deeney & Lee Hodson shot over the bar as the Hornets looked to further increase their lead.

Yet more Watford pressure looked as though it would herald another goal for the home side. However, Barnsley weren't finished yet and with just over five minutes remaining, they gave their 522 supporters a glimmer of hope. Craig Davies delivered a ball into the box following a poor Watford clearance. The ball in, was nodded on by a Watford defender to the on rushing Scott Golbourne making his debut. The 23 year old made no mistake and side footed a first time shot into the far corner to make the score 2-1 and set up a frantic finale.

As you may expect, the Watford fans were now getting on their teams back whenever they didn't have the ball, but they did just about hang on. The only thing of note being a late scrap towards the end, involving both sets of players, this was triggered by a clash between Foster & Garner. The final score was 2-1, a deserved Watford victory in a very mediocre mid table affair.

Players that impressed me from Watford were Eustace obviously, with two exquisite finishes, as well as Hogg who continuously got stuck in and really drove the Hornets to victory. A rather enjoyable day at Vicarage Road as most football fans sat at home after their game was called off. Another ground ticked off, moreover I may consider watching a couple of more games at Watford if I can't make a Daggers match. On top of that there was a really friendly atmosphere around the ground.

As for the Daggers, Plymouth resurrected their old habit of scoring in the dying seconds, not once, but twice, to deny Southend. An unexpected point for the Pilgrims which hots up the fight for survival in League Two. Next up for us is a vital six pointer at home to Northampton Town next week, and remember its kids for a quid so let’s try and get a bumper attendance at Victoria Road for that one.

Watford face a trip to Nottingham Forest next Saturday, whilst Barnsley are at home to in form Birmingham City.

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

The Vicarage Road Stand.