Despite the loss of Dwight Gayle to Peterborough United in the week, Dagenham & Redbridge soldiered on to secure an important 1-0 victory in a scrappy game against Fleetwood Town on Saturday afternoon. Despite the driving rain and freezing cold conditions, it was perma-tanned Sam Williams who slotted home a penalty in the 90th minute to seal a frustrating day for the Cod Army.
Despite the fact we've never played Fleetwood in our history, everyone knew this was going to be a tough match. Mickey Mellon's men are notoriously tough to beat on their travels, losing just one game away from Highbury all season - and even that was back in August. In contrast the Daggers are becoming increasingly hard to beat on their own patch; we were without defeat at Victoria Road since mid September. The form and stats between the two sides all pointed to the same thing - a draw.
As the ground began to fill up, the conditions contrived to get even worse with sweeping rain cause the majority of supporters to head for the Sieve. No such problems for the 14 Fleetwood fans that were in the ground at this stage who were enjoying the luxurious corner of the Traditional Builders Stand. The teams were then announced as follows...
Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Ogogo, Doe, Wilkinson, Femi, Howell, Spillane, Saunders, Elito, Williams, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Hoyte, Wakefield, Scott, Bingham, Woodall, Maher.
John Still made a single change from the side that was defeated so dramatically at Burton last weekend. Sam Williams was brought in up front to partner Jake Reed following Dwight Gayle's midweek loan switch to Championship outfit Peterborough. Loan signing Josh Wakefield made it onto the bench at the expense of Jake Caprice, whilst there was no place for Dominic Green once again.
Fleetwood Town: Davies, Beeley, McNulty, Brown, Goodall, Mawene, Nicholson, Johnson, Ferguson, Ball, Barkhuizen. Subs: Maxwell, McLaughlin, Milligan, Fowler, McGuire, Branco, Titchiner.
Mickey Mellon was forced into a quadruple change due to four members of his squad being struck down with illness before the trip to Essex. Former Crawley left back Dean Howell was missing, as was Curtis Obeng and Alex Marrow, meanwhile Jamie McGuire dropped to the bench. They were replaced by Shaun Beeley, Alan Goodall, Barry Nicholson and former Hereford frontman Tom Barkhuizen. Former Scotland captain Barry Ferguson started in
After assuming that the Daggerettes had been flooded and hence unable to perform, the teams advanced onto the pitch to brief applause. Due to the poor conditions, no one was quite anticipating this fixture for obvious reasons. Once again the Daggers would be shooting towards the TB Stand in the first half, whilst Fleetwood faced the rather sparse Bury Road Terrace.
With the referee's whistle we begun, although with the first 20 minutes worth of action you wouldn't have known it. Neither side was looking particularly threatening, with Femi and Luke Howell dragging poor shots wide of the target in the opening 10 minutes. The visitors were gradually easing themselves in the game and created a good opportunity when Nicholson slid a ball across the six yard box that was just ahead of Junior Brown. David Ball then came close on 21 minutes, but his shot flew wide of Lewington's post.
As the half wore on, the hosts began to look more and more dangerous. First Luke Wilkinson thundered a head wide of the post, and then Mickey Spillane drove a shot that Scott Davies done well to hold on to. The best opportunity of the half though fell to young Jake Reed. Former Great Yarmouth forward Reed beat the well built McNulty for pace before latching onto the ball and firing a shot against the post. The rebound didn't fall kindly for Reed who then fired over the bar as the scores remained level.
The half ended as it has started, with very little quality and a half chance to open the scoring. Alan Goodall flashed a shot wide of the upright for Fleetwood, whilst it was Jake Reed again who went close for Daggers. The pacey forward raced through once more, but again his touch let him down allowing for Scott Davies to come out and smother the ball. In a nutshell, that was the first half. A very scrappy and wet affair with few chances. Fleetwood were enjoying the better of the possession whilst the Daggers had the better of the chances.
The teams re-emerged for the second half to very little, if any applause. Both sets of supporters had the same mentality – let’s just get this over with so we can all go home and get warm! Fleetwood started the better with the lively Junior Brown seeing his clever shot stopped well by Lewington. David Ball was next to try his luck but defensive rock Luke Wilkinson was in the way to block.
As everyone inside the ground expected, with 60 minutes played the energetic Jake Reed was replaced by fans favourite Brian Woodall. His first piece of action was narrowly missing a well flighted ball into the box as the game became grittier. Similarly up the other end of the pitch Alan Goodall who seemed to be involved quite a lot during the match forced Chris Lewington to clamber on to a looping cross towards the back post. Medy Elito then fired a shot goalwards that bounced off the rather large backside of McNulty.
Fleetwood were extremely well organised and tight for 80 minutes, but as the match entered its final stages the game became stretched. The best chance of the second half fell to Luke Wilkinson. A Matt Saunders corner flew across the area where a flapping Scott Davies misjudged the ball, however Wilkinson was just too slow and failed to connect as the ball went out for a goal kick.
Alex Titchiner was then brought on for the Cod Army as they readdressed the attacking balance and advanced forward. It was Titchiner himself who nearly netted the opening goal, luckily though Chris Lewington was on hand to gather following his miscued strike from Brown's centre.
The fourth official stuck up his board to show two minutes of injury time for the second half. It would probably be fair to say the two additional minutes were the most pulsating and exciting minutes of the entire match. Following a Fleetwood attack, the Daggers broke away down the left through Sam Williams. Our own big Sam drove into the box before being nudged by Mawene and going down somewhat theatrically. All eyes darted towards the referee who blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Penalty.
The Fleetwood players berated the referee for several minutes which resulted in two bookings. The big question was who would take the penalty following a succession of two Spillane misses from the spot in recent weeks. To everyone's surprise it was Sam Williams himself who stepped up. I and others around me weren't confident, but after several anxious minutes of waiting the referee blew his whistle. Sam Williams stepped up...and slotted it into the opposite corner of the 'keeper to give the Daggers a surprise 1-0 lead.
It wasn't over yet though as we were all certain the hosts would make hard work of the final few minutes. And so we did, Chris Lewington was alert to make a superb diving save to deny Junior Brown's header which looked destined for the bottom corner. From the resulting corner the ball was cleared and the referee blew his whistle once more, this time to single the end of a poor encounter. Intense relief from 1500 odd home supporters and despair for the 118 loyal travellers.
Did we deserve the win? Probably not. Will I take the win? You bet! It makes a change to get a bit of luck where 90th minute goals are concerned, and a goal like that against a side with the quality of Fleetwood could be telling towards the end of the season. Big credit has to go to Sam Williams and Chris Lewington today. Both were called upon after quite anonymous performances and both produced the goods when it was needed.
It was a gritty performance in poor conditions from both sides and a draw would have been the fair result, but a bit of luck won it. Fleetwood will definitely be at the top end of the league come the end of the season. When you bear in mind they were missing several key players this afternoon - they were still a resolute team who had opportunities to take all three points. Their away form will be key and so far this season it has been superb. One bit advice I would give them though is that they need to be sharper up front, very rarely was Chris Lewington tested yesterday. That however, could be down to several key forward players being missing for the Trawlermen.
As for us, it was such an important victory and an important three points as I've emphasised. No one in particular stood out, although Femi looked like our most creative outlet down the left. Matt Saunders was also pretty good in the middle of the park, acting as the calm member of the team who’s not afraid to put his foot on the ball. The back four were all commendable and Jake Reed done well to make the runs to create opportunities, he just needs to work on his composure.
We follow this game up with a difficult trip to Torquay United next week, before we then travel to Bristol Rovers. It's doubtful that I'll be in attendance for either of those games, so the next time I speak to you will probably be following the home game with Barnet on the 15th! Once again, thanks for reading and have a good half of December!
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