Sunday, 19 August 2012

Cheltenham Town 2-0 Daggers, Slow Starters

Dagenham & Redbridge opened their League Two campaign with a disappointing 2-0 reverse at Whaddon Road against their bogey side - Cheltenham Town on Saturday. Whilst you may or may not begrudge the Robins the win, there were certainly a lot of positives and some negatives to take out of the opening encounter in the intense August heat.

I have to admit when the fixture list came out, seeing Cheltenham away on the opening day was not particularly inspiring considering our recent record against them. However as the morning wore on, and I began my trip from Chadwell Heath to Stratford and then onto West Ham via the Jubilee Line, I began to get more excited. At West Ham I met Lee & Mike, our journey then continued to Baker Street and eventually Paddington where our train would be departing from.

Following a brief wait, our train departed towards Swindon with a heavy Daggers contingent on board. With just over an hour gone we arrived at a not so picturesque Swindon where we were forced to change onto what was effectively a toy train for the final leg of the journey to Cheltenham Spa. Despite some worries when the train went backwards at Gloucester Station, we arrived at our destination for around 13:30 as expected.

After a cheap taxi ride to the stadium, we went straight into the Robin's Nest clubhouse, (I may have just made that name up), where we met Cheltenham supporter Maxi Hobbs (@MaxiHobbs) for a few drinks. A good 45 minutes was spent in his and other Cheltenham supporters' company, we were made to feel very welcome and I look forward to welcoming you into our clubhouse in early February.

We then made our way into the Hazlewood's end of the ground; this was my second visit to Whaddon Road so it was all very familiar! As previously said Cheltenham is one of my favourite away days, and grounds purely because of the stadium. It has a very encompassing feel to it; it lets the supporters connect with the players more than any other ground in the division. Not only that but a very good noise can be created, plus it incorporates standing with seating in a unique main stand.

As we arrived and found our standing positions in the seated area, the teams were announced...

Cheltenham Town: Brown, Jones, Hooman, Elliott, Jombati, Pack, Deering, McGlashan, Penn, Harrad, Zebroski. Subs: Roberts, Lowe, Andrew, Graham, Hanks, Duffy, Goulding.

I was under no illusions; this was an extremely good and creative Cheltenham line up. The combined trickery of Deering & McGlashan would cause serious problems, whilst on loan Shaun Harrad who had previously scored twice in his career against the Daggers, came in for the injured Kaid Mohammed. Alan Bennett was also ruled out with injury which meant that Harry Hooman filled the void, whilst Sido Jombati & Marlon Pack are two exceptional players the Daggers would have to be wary of.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Hoyte, Doe, Spillane, Femi, Bingham, Howell, Ogogo, Elito, Woodall, Gayle. Subs: Seabright, Wilkinson, DJ Green, Williams, Scott, Reed, Dennis.

Seven of the Daggers' starting XI on the final day against Bristol Rovers last season started, whilst new signing Gavin Hoyte was given his league debut. Dwight Gayle was also making his Dagenham debut following an exceptional 42 goal season in the BSN last year with Bishops Stortford. An attacking bench was named with no less than four strikers available for John Still to call on if needed, meanwhile new goalkeeper Jordan Seabright replaced the ever-present Dave Hogan as a sub. The Daggers would be lining up in their preferred 4-3-3 formation.

The clock reached 15:00 and the team's came out and lined up for the first game of the new league campaign - a mixture of tension, excitement and anticipation greeted all of the 2655 people in the ground. The European Championships & the Olympics may have been good filler during the summer, but this is what everyone was waiting for once again.

We were off and despite the humid temperatures the game started with quite a high tempo, both sides looking to attack from the off. It was the Daggers who looked the more threatening first off with some neat wing play on the right hand side resulting in Luke Howell firing a good cross into the box that was just a touch above Woodall's head. Despite this attempt, the Robins came even closer just six minutes in when danger man McGlashan flashed a half volley wide of Lewington's post - it looked for the world that it was heading in.

After a brief lull in forward action, the home side once again looked threatening as Harrad got around Femi on the right before playing a low ball across the face of goal that was prodded dangerously wide of the far post. John Still's men weren't without their own chances though, as Medy Elito fired a shot towards goal from some way out that was palmed away well for a corner by Scott Brown.

The visitors were enjoying a good spell of pressure and it showed when good closing down from the Daggers' forwards forced Harry Hooman into a wayward back-pass towards goal that nearly went in, luckily for him though it went out for a corner. The front line continued to look threatening as Brian Woodall teed up Dwight Gayle - with his second touch he hammered the ball goalwards, unfortunately though it was blocked by two heroic Cheltenham defenders to clear the danger.

Following that good spell from the away side, they were soon on the back foot once again as Mark Yeates' side came forward with a vengeance. First Chris Zebroski had a tame effort saved by Lewington, whilst minutes later Sam Deering's deflected effort rolled agonisingly against the post, only for the flag to go up for offside.

The Daggers though were looking good on the right hand side and some neat play between Howell & Hoyte released Dwight Gayle into the box at a tight angle, where he unleashed a powerful strike directly at Brown's midriff which was pushed away once more. The tempo increased further as the Robins went straight down the other end and nearly took the lead. A clever head on from Zebroski released Deering whose thunderous strike cannoned back off of the post for Lewington to gather.

Shaun Harrad "taunts".
 Just as I uttered those fateful words, "I think this may be our day", as we approached half time, Cheltenham, and in particular Shaun Harrad, opened the scoring. Sam Deering broke down the right hand side after escaping his marker before putting in an inviting cross along the deck which was dually converted by Harrad who continued his celebrations by angering the away support - many swear words were directed at him I assure you.

That was half time and bar a lapse in defending at the end of the half, something that has been present before - we had matched our opponents. This level has become better over the years though and you have to take your chances when presented with them like Harrad did to give the Robins the lead. Dwight Gayle was looking threatening for us as expected, having tested the goalkeeper a number of times.

I headed down to the burger bar at half time to buy what the name suggests...a burger. I have to say it was of a good standard, far better than the hot dog that I had last year! One consolation was that whilst we may have been losing, so were both Barnet & Orient, something that always makes me happy.

After something of a prolonged wait, the teams were back out for the second half just after 16:00. The Daggers would be attacking the Hazlewood's Stand, whilst the home side would be facing their own supporters in the 2100 capacity, Speedy Skips Stand. Neither manager made a change at half time.

The game restarted with the tempo of the previous half, and it showed as Zebroski attempted an early effort that was saved comfortably by Lewy. Cheltenham did bag their second though in the 49th minute, in sensational fashion as well. Jermaine McGlashan is one of the best players in the division if you ask me and it showed, he took two touches before firing an unstoppable effort into the top corner of Lewington's net from 25 yards out.

I was right behind the strike and I have to say what a strike it was, with the amount of sheer power on the shot, Chris Lewington had absolutely no chance. One thing that could have been improved though was the closing down, it was extremely slow and we ultimately paid for it in the worst possible way.

Both sides were still looking for goals, predominantly in the air as both Brian Woodall & Harry Hooman headed efforts from close range over the bar. The game then became rather scrappy with both sides reverting into a midfield battle - Cheltenham though did have two claims for penalties rightfully turned down, something that cranked up the atmosphere slightly. Femi then received a booking for bringing down McGlashan, the winger's searing pace evidently causing problems.

The Daggers continued to look for a way back into the game and it nearly came with 25 minutes left as Gavin Hoyte spurned a good chance, whilst Gayle later fired over the bar from an ambitious overhead kick just inside the box. Minutes later and goalscorer Harrad was looking to add to his tally, however his low strike went just wide of the far post.

John Still made his first change on 68 minutes as the tiring Woodall was brought off in place of Sam Williams up front. Within minutes of the change the Daggers were denied what looked at the time, a stonewall penalty. Gayle broke into the box and was seemingly bundled over by Elliott. The referee blew his whistle for a penalty...surely? Alas no, the referee pulled a yellow out of his pocket and almost unbelievably booked Gayle for diving. Everyone looked around in disbelief as our 51 game wait without a penalty continued.

Pack failed to make an impact
Mark Yeates then decided to make his first change of the afternoon as Jeff Goulding replaced former Barnet winger Sam Deering, who enjoyed a successful debut. The away side continued to press after the change as Billy Bingham's speculative goalbound effort was deflected wide for a corner. From the resultant corner, Scott Doe knocked it down wonderfully for Mickey Spillane who could only find the advertising hoardings beside the goal - the best chance of the match for us.

We were then treated to a double change as Daryl Duffy, who was Cheltenham's top scorer last season with 15, was brought on for Shaun Harrad. John Still made what could be described as an attacking substitution as Danny J Green made a cameo appearance, replacing midfield battler Luke Howell.

The final opportunity of the game fell to Sam Williams who fired directly at Scott Brown after a neat lay off from Medy Elito. Just before the referee's whistle rang out around Whaddon Road to signal the end of the encounter, there was just enough time for Sido Jombati to find his way into the book after a poor challenge on Danny Green.

That was it then, we opened the new season with a defeat, albeit not particularly surprising given the quality of Cheltenham's squad and our recent record against them. Following a good first half we really failed to get out of the traps in the second and as a result we paid the price. Our lack of potency in front of goal was once again a worry, saying that though Dwight Gayle equipped himself well in his league debut and I'm sure Brian Woodall will have many better days.

I can't really fault the performance of any players, although Luke Howell's touch was a bit off in the second half. Personally, I'd give the man of the match award to Femi - his tireless running and last ditch tackles really stood out for me, although his tracking back was poor at times.

As for Cheltenham, it's what I expected really. Both Jermaine McGlashan & Sam Deering had good games which was key to their success, whilst Sido Jombati's long legs (something we were told about pre match by Maxi), saved the home side on a number of occasions. Scott Brown also looks like a top 'keeper, meanwhile Marlon Pack vanished a bit in the middle of the park.

As we walked out of the ground and waited for our taxi we were greeted with several words and signs from Cheltenham cars, who would have thought it? Nothing like being gracious in victory eh? I realise this is the minority though and I wish Cheltenham the best for the rest of the season as they're a very likeable club, furthermore the majority of their fans are a good bunch as well!

We now move onto Plymouth Argyle at home on Tuesday night, another side that we’re yet to beat in the League. Best to get these bogey sides out of the way early I suppose!

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

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