Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Gillingham 1-2 Daggers, Out Of The Red & Into The Green.

Dagenham & Redbridge all but assured their place in League Two next season following a dominant 2-1 victory over Gillingham at the wet and windy Priestfield Stadium on Easter Monday. The game was far from a classic, but a Dominic Green screamer saw the Daggers on their way after Rowan Vine cancelled out Brian Woodall's opener early in the second half.

The day started in a wet and windy fashion and that's how it would continue throughout the trip to Kent. I started by meeting Sam & Charlotte in Romford at around 11am where we eventually got on the 269 to Newbury Park Station. After a wait we got on the Tube and headed to Stratford - or so we thought. We arrived at Gants Hill Station where we were greeted with an announcement that the Central Line had been suspended due to a point’s failure at Liverpool Street; this meant we would have to find an alternative route to Stratford or risk waiting for the Tube to start moving again.

Being my quick thinking self, I realised that we would get a 150 to Ilford before changing onto an 86 which would see us to Stratford in decent enough time. We arrived at Stratford for about 12:30 where we proceeded to get the DLR to Stratford International before eventually getting the 12:58 service to Gillingham. Finally we had a chance to rest, even though we did have to pay an exorbitant £1.65 extra as we'd jumped on a fast train; the liberty eh?

After a pretty quick journey that entailed very little in the way of action, we arrived at Gillingham for 13:40 where the police were gathered to control the hoards of travelling Daggers supporters. With plenty of time to spare we headed to get something to eat at the local McDonalds, a very high class eating establishment, I'm sure you'll agree. With 30 minutes of not so valuable time wasted, we headed towards the Priestfield via a long winding road and a glutton of houses.

As we approached, you can see the ground from a distance, its massive floodlight and the not so enticing backside of the away stand. We headed through the thin, rusty old turnstiles and were greeted with a mass of metal and bolts which kept the stand upright, although I was reliably informed that the stand does shake with a battering of wind or a possible celebration from us.

We headed up to steps into the authorised death trap where we were greeted with quite a nice remainder of the stadium. To the left was The Medway Stand, this is the main stand at Priestfield with several executive boxes to boot, it was opened in 2000 and at the time caused severe financial difficulties for the club, at least it looks nice! Opposite us is The Rainham End, a slightly smaller stand that houses 2400 spectators and once again is all undercover; this is where the more vocal of the home support are located.

Finally we head to the Gordon Road Stand which has a distinct feel of Luton about it for some reason. The stand itself is all undercover and houses 2600 supporters, it’s also significantly lower than all of the other home sections creating a weird stoop to the ground as a whole, this also makes it unique and luckily for Gillingham, I like unique. Bar the end we had, it was a nice enough stadium to be quite honest, furthermore the stadium is all seated.

As I clambered up to my seat high in the sky trying not to slip on the mixture of plastic and metal flooring, the tannoy man read the teams out and they were as follows:

Gillingham: Gazzaniga, Frampton, Martin, Fish, Jackman, Essam, Whelpdale, Payne, Montrose, Kedwell, Vine. Subs: Evans, Spiller, Lee, Oli, Kuffour.

Gills boss Andy Hessenthaler named an unchanged side from the one that drew 2-2 against Bristol Rovers on Good Friday meaning the menacing attack of Rowan Vine & Danny Kedwell would remain a threat. Former Daggers Danny Spiller & Ollie Lee were also given a place on the bench.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Doe, Arber, Baudry, McCrory, Elito, Ogogo, Bingham, Spillane, Parker, Woodall. Subs: Hogan, Wassmer, Akinde, Scott, Green.

John Still opted to make two changes from the side that drew with Burton Albion on Friday afternoon. John Akinde & Dominic Green were replaced by Billy Bingham and the pacey Josh Parker as the Daggers changed to a more rigid 4-5-1 formation away from home.

As the rain began to steadily come down and the wind began to pick up, the Brian Moore Stand slowly began to fill up with the climax coming as the Gillingham cheerleaders took to the field. Whilst Pulse may be equally good dancers, the Gills cheerleaders win the looks contest with ease. I then received a message from Lee who was stuck on the train with several other supporters who wouldn't be able to make it to the game due to a fault on their line; that’s what I call karma!

As the time approached 15:00, the assortment of classic music finished and the teams came out from the tunnel located next to our stand. As I became increasingly cold, the teams swapped ends and we began the match that could well see the Daggers book their place in League Two next season and the Gills consolidate a play off place.

The game started very slowly which may have had something to do with the poor conditions, one main feature was several players slipping which could have suggested that they were wearing the wrong type of boots. The first opportunity for the Gills came when Chris Whelpdale found some space on the right hand side, however his cross was not up to standard and it drifted out for a goal kick.

The first attempt of the match came from the boot of Brian Woodall, the former Gresley man who netted at the weekend was forced into an early shot inside the box following good pressure from Andy Frampton, and unfortunately it hit the side netting as the scores remained level. That was followed up five minutes later by two fierce drives from Abu Ogogo that looked to be on target, but for a couple of superb blocks by Danny Kedwell, the makeshift midfielder could have opened the scoring.

After some good Daggers pressure it was the turn of the home side to turn up the metaphorical heat with Lewington dealing with an enticing Jackman cross before Rowan Vine blasted a shot over the bar from distance. Mark Arber then reeled Matt Fish in as he deflected the defenders cross for a corner which eventually came to nothing.

The game then began to get a bit tedious with poor play and the only efforts on goal coming from speculative positions. Firstly Josh Parker committed a foul throw which angered many a Dagger, whilst a Whelpdale shot from 20 yards called Lewington into action, the 'keeper making a good save after the ball had skidded along the damp surface. The game was very scrappy now with neither side really dominating; as a result the main outlet was Elito for the Daggers and Payne/Whelpdale for the Gills when an attack was formed.

With ten minutes to go until the half time the away side endured an almighty scare after Baudry continued his poor form with an unfortunate slip 35 yards out. This allowed 20 year old midfielder Jack Payne to get a run on goal; however Lewington came out and thwarted the danger by diving at the young man’s feet and smothering the ball calmly to extinguish the danger.

The Customary Brian Woodall Photo
With just seven minutes until the half time interval, the away side took the lead in the contest. Mickey Spillane played a delightful ball through to Ogogo who continued his run into the Gillingham box which resulted in a shot that was parried, but only to the eager Woodall who got there ahead of his marker to slot the ball home into an empty net. Cue wild celebrations in the rain which triggered the song, "1-0 up and we're soaking wet."

Woodall now brimming with confidence looked to add to his eighth league goal of the season by flashing a shot wide from outside the box as the Daggers looked to build and consolidate their lead. Just before half time and Gillingham nearly made it all square; but for an important Baudry block that could have been the scenario as Kedwell's fierce drive looked to have been on target, sterling defending from the currently under fire Frenchman.

That was the end of the first half and it was the Daggers who went in ahead following a very even first 45. Abu Ogogo & Billy Bingham were the star performers, getting around the pitch and doing the running amidst difficult conditions for both sets of players. I was quite obviously very pleased with the slender lead; however we knew Gillingham had a threat which meant we needed a second goal to kill off the game early in the second half.

The majority of my half time was spent standing and talking as I was too cold and too lazy to move to get something to eat or drink. The hot dogs were extremely tempting, but I resisted the temptation as I was keeping myself in shape for the very trim Gillingham cheerleaders who were bravely back out to perform in the slowly dwindling rain.

The teams came back out for the second half to a warm ripple of applause from all sides of the ground as both sets of fans looked to make an impact with their endearing support. We kicked off and within minutes it was nearly 2-0 to the away side. A neat passing move in the middle had set Elito through on the left where he beat his man and cut a ball back to Parker who was waiting just inside the box. The Oldham loanee took on a first time strike that drew a good save from Gazzaniga to keep the scores the same. Some very encouraging play by the away side.

Rowan Vine
Andy Hessenthaler's men then came extremely close to finding the equaliser when Chris Whelpdale lifted the ball over Lewington, only for Baudry to head away on the line for a corner. Minutes later though and the Gills did have their equaliser, courtesy of former Luton man Rowan Vine. A ball forward was inadvertently knocked on by Scott Doe into the path of Vine who took two touches before opening his body and curling a sublime strike just inside the post leaving Lewington with no chance. Some may see that as a communication failure between Baudry & Doe, but it was a magnificent strike nonetheless.

That didn't dampen the away sides spirits though as Dagenham went on the attack straight after the restart, only a quick thinking Gazzaniga denying Josh Parker by heading the ball away outside of the box. John Still then made the games first change, bringing on Dominic Green who was ineffective on Friday for Josh Parker in a move that would see fresh impetus on the wing.

Then came a frustrating moment when the idiots who were behind me on Friday piped up once more with a ludicrous comment. This time it was, "why didn't you pick that up Lewington," as the 'keeper booted one clear outside of the box and over the stand. These people were a cause of annoyance throughout the game, the level of abuse they directed at Arber once more was nearing intolerable.

Dagenham & Redbridge then sprung a neat counter attack following a Gills set play with Elito spearheading the move forward. The winger bamboozled an opposing midfielder who eventually tripped over a blade of grass as he continued his assault along the left hand side. Elito then played a neat ball across the park towards Green who slowed down the move by cutting inside where he eventually curled a deflected left foot strike straight at opposing 'keeper Gazzaniga who was thankful it wasn't a yard either side.

Gillingham then looked to make an influential change of their own as ex Dagger Danny Spiller was introduced for Manchester born midfielder Lewis Montrose. Former Redbridge Forest player Hessenthaler wasn't finished ringing the changes and a couple of minutes later dangerous attacker Jo Kuffour was brought into the equation  for Joe Martin as Gillingham reverted to a 4-3-3 formation in an attempt to salvage their playoff bid.

(Yes I recorded this off of SkySports this morning)
On 73 minutes, a superb solo effort from Dominic Green sent the Daggers back in front and on their way to the win that would effectively assure safety. He picked the ball up on the half way line, sliding the ball through the legs of Danny Jackman before beating Jack Payne and cutting inside. With this he unleashed a low left footed drive that was enough to beat Gazzaniga and make the net at The Rainham End ripple, much to the 313 Daggers' delight as they began to Poznan and jump up and down with joy.

Along with Green's sensational goal of the season contender, news filtered through that both Macclesfield & Barnet were losing whilst Hereford were being held at Acccrington, creating a fantastic atmosphere in the uncovered stand. Gillingham were looking to get back into the game as you may expect and they came close as Danny Jackman flashed a free kick wide of the post that had Lewington scrambling across the slippery surface.

With just over ten minutes left to play, Hessenthaler made his final throw of the dice, bringing on Dennis Oli for goalscorer Rowan Vine in an attempt to get the equaliser. With three minutes left, it looked as though the Gills has equalised, a fantastic ball in from Oli reached Whelpdale whose shot went a yard wide of the post as the 5773 spectators inside Priestfield held their breath.

Brian Woodall received a rapturous round of applause and a chorus of singing as he was replaced by Josh Scott with just minutes left. The away side were now defending frantically, Doe hooked a ball clear, whereas Arber produced a fantastic last ditch tackle and Baudry managed to get in a goal saving block. The ball was hooked clear once more as Elito was replaced by Akinde, another lump by Spillane saw the referee call time on the enthralling match, it also called time on the relegation battle as the Daggers were now surely safe from the drop.

As the joyous 313 applauded and sang the names of their heroes, news filtered through that Barnet, Hereford & Macclesfield had all lost meaning we were nine points clear of the drop zone with twelve left to play for. We all know that it's not officially over, but it'll take something extraordinary for us to be caught now which only brightened the mood in the damp surroundings.

Some players deserve to be singled out for a fantastic display. The first pair of these is Billy Bingham & Abu Ogogo who were simply scintillating in the middle of the park, winning every 50/50 and creating opportunities. The beauty of Bingham is that not only does he tackle, he has the eye for a magnificent pass and that was shown as he set Elito free a number of times during the course of the afternoon. Ogogo was also fantastic, once again making the challenges and getting around the park.

To be perfectly honest, the whole team performed as a unit which is something we've lacked at stages this season, Mark Arber proved some of the doubters once more by putting in a resolute defensive performance, whilst Dominic Green silenced me with a wonder goal. In short, it was a good performance and a warranted Daggers victory.

As for Gillingham, I’m afraid to say they were one of the poorest playoff contenders that I’ve seen us play. Danny Kedwell didn’t really offer a threat when going forward, furthermore full backs Matt Fish & Joe Martin (somewhat ironically from Dagenham), had torrid afternoons against Elito, Parker & Green when introduced. I wasn’t particularly impressed and I can see why you Gills fans may be unhappy about the performance and ultimately the result.

We left the ground in high spirits about ten minutes after the final whistle which meant we got back to the station which was experiencing delays at around 17:20. A twenty minute wait ensued before we jumped on the fast train home, arriving back at Stratford for around 18:30 where we got an 86 back home, a fantastic day bar the earlier travel disruption!

This victory also extends our various runs in different guises. We've now won two away games on the bounce, the first time that's happened in the league since the start of the season. It extends our away form to three without defeat in the league as well, something which last happened in March 2011. We're also now six games unbeaten, picking up 14 points from the last 18 available, you can look at that in another way; we've picked up just under a third of our points this season in the past month, just imagine where we'd be if we played like this earlier in the season.

This also backs up my argument that John Still was the right man for the job all along; furthermore I'm glad that the club shared this view and stuck with him. It would have been wrong for Stilly to get the boot after his years of loyal service, especially when you consider he's one of the only man that could have steered this club out of trouble and he's done so successfully. We shouldn’t forget the backroom staff that are part of the team as well in Terry Harris & Wayne Burnett who sometimes go unrewarded. Hopefully we can enjoy the four games left and play with some freedom and relaxation, knowing that we're basically safe.

Thanks to Gills fan on Twitter Alan Collins for this picture.
At this point I’d also like to congratulate my fellow 312 Daggers at the Priestfield who created a decent enough noise considering the horrid conditions. You’d imagine that we have a core 1500 home support excluding away fans, if you equate that into a percentage for yesterday, we had around 22% of our home support travel to Kent which I feel is a superb effort.

I'll leave you on a tweet by someone that formerly worked at the club in Billy Taylor that sums it all up perfectly, "On March 13th, Dagenham were bottom, four points from safety. Six games later, they are nine points clear of the drop zone. Turnaround."

Next up is a trip to The Recreation Ground on Saturday against Aldershot where we'll inevitably go 2-0 down only to come back and win 3-2.

Remember to follow me on Twitter; @NickDRFCMurphy is what you'll need.

Here are some other pictures from the day.

The KM Medway Stand

Gillingham Turnstiles

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