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.

1 comment:

  1. Home crowds of 500 next season.You got what you wanted internet cop!