Sunday, 30 December 2012

Daggers 2-3 Port Vale, Feed The Pope

Dagenham & Redbridge succumbed to a disappointing 3-2 defeat at home to Port Vale on Saturday afternoon to end 2012 on a two game losing streak. Despite efforts from Sam Williams in the first half and Scott Doe late on, Daggers never really managed to get going. Micky Adams’ men were simply clinical, with a fantastic volley from Louis Dodds following up strikes from Tom Pope and Jennison Myrie-Williams. 

Before the match I wasn't particularly optimistic. We've never beaten Vale at home; moreover they were 2nd in the league which obviously brings its own problems. After the way we were dismantled by Southend on Boxing Day I feared for us against the even more clinical Tom Pope and co. Saying that however, we always tend to end the year well and were unbeaten against the Burslem outfit in our last two matches.

An overcast sky greeted us at Victoria Road where a significantly fewer number of people had turned out for the second of the two Christmas home games. The teams were swiftly announced with a couple of changes in store...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Spillane, Maher, Howell, Elito, Williams, Scott. Subs: Seabright, Hoyte, Bingham, Wakefield, Caprice, Woodall, Reed.

John Still wielded the metaphorical axe following a lacklustre display against Southend on Boxing Day. The most significant change was that of Josh Scott replacing Jake Reed alongside Sam Williams. Kevin Maher was also recalled for the first time since his appearance against Oxford, he came in for Matt Saunders who had picked up a knock in the warm up. Dominic Green continues to be deployed as Paul Daniels' new assistant and as a result, is still missing, presumed vanished.

Port Vale: Neal, Yates, McCombe, Duffy, Chilvers, Myrie-Williams, Morsy, Burge, Dodds, Pope, Andrew. Subs: Johnson, McDonald, Taylor, Shuker, James, Lloyd, Williamson. 

With the chance to go top with a win due to Gillingham not playing, Micky Adams would have been looking to keep the same team that defeated Rotherham United on Boxing Day. Unfortunately though the Valiants were forced into a single change, captain and former Dagger Doug Loft was missing through a suspected stomach bug which allowed Calvin Andrew to replace him. Ashley Vincent was also missing once again.

As the 256 Vale fans took their place in the Traditional Builders Stand, the referee blew his whistle to signal kick off. It was the home side who were quickest out of the blocks with Kevin Maher forcing Chris Neal into a low save following a partially cleared corner. It was déjà-vu soon after though as Daggers conceded an early goal. Chris Lewington once again made a rash judgement to collect the ball when he wasn't entitled to which allowed Adam Yates to cross for Tom Pope to nod home with 4 minutes played. Terrible defensive mistakes were punished once again.

Just as John Still's men had regrouped, they were hit with a sucker punch in the 9th minute. Myrie-Williams bypassed the Daggers defence before latching onto a beautifully weighted through ball and finished coolly past the onrushing Lewington to make it 2-0. With less than 10 minutes played it was looking like an impossible task for the Daggers, who were staring down the barrel of a second successive home defeat,

The game then took a more relaxed tone for the ensuing five minutes with Vale looking more than content with their lead. With 17 minutes played - controversy. Sam Williams burst into the box on the right hand side before being upended by Liam Chilvers. To everyone inside the ground it looked like a perfectly time challenged, the direction of the ball had clearly changed and barely anyone claimed for a penalty. The referee though had others ideas, after consultation with his official, he pointed to the spot.

Everyone looked in disbelief; even the Daggers players looked a bit embarrassed. As Ryan Burge limped off for treatment up one end, Sam Williams sent Chris Neal the wrong way at the other to reduce the deficit to 2-1. Whilst it was completely undeserved, some credit should go to Medy Elito for two crunching tackles to set up Williams' run down the right hand side. They were superb and really got the crowd going.

Both sides became more frantic in their approach. Liam Chilvers and Myrie-Williams both had shots blocked; meanwhile Tom Pope somehow squandered a marvellous headed chance by hitting it into the ground. Calvin Andrew also headed over from a corner before a period of Daggers pressure where Luke Howell saw his shot from outside the box deflected wide for a corner. Also, have you ever wondered what life would be like if Josh Scott had a right foot? Me too.

Then came Port Vale's third that was the knife in the Daggers coffin. Micky Spillane gave the ball away after being crowded out on the edge of the Vale box allowing the Valiants to spring a breakaway. Calvin Andrew played in Louis Dodds who rather than having a foot race against Femi, fired home an unstoppable volley from outside the box that flew past Lewington and into the back of the net. The strike drew applause from the Sieve as it was of genuine quality. The real question though, was why there were only two defenders in our own half - not good enough.

The Daggers ended the half in the ascendancy but were unable to make it 3-2. Luke Howell saw another shot blocked; meanwhile Chris Neal was on hand to prevent Micky Spillane finding the net from a tight angle. Despite a rather dodgy defensive display, Daggers weren't playing that bad like some of our supporters made out. If we could nick an early goal in the second half, I was confident we could make a game of it and maybe even push on for the draw.

As a reduced number of Daggerettes performed at half time, the Vale players wearing their Fulham replica kits returned to the pitch. To dampen spirits further, the rain also began to lash down causing tricky conditions as we started the second half. The hosts nearly pulled one back instantaneously. John McCombe's challenge brought down Sam Williams which allowed Medy Elito to swing in a wonderful free kick that went through everyone before clipping the outside of the post.

Chances were now coming thick and fast with Luke Wilkinson narrowly missing the target from outside the box. Then it was Vale's turn to attack once more and they would have gone 4-1 ahead had it not been for a last gasp goal-line clearance from Scott Doe. Nevertheless Vale continued to push forward with Louis Dodds' thunderous volley flashing just wide of the target. Tom Pope who saw a header blocked a few minutes earlier then tried his luck again, this time however he failed to hit the target.

Daggers though weren't giving up and had it not been for a back peddling Chris Neal tipping Micky Spillane's wondrous chip over the bar, they may have had their equaliser. Josh Scott who was lagging with his fitness was then replaced by Brian Woodall which received a large roar of approval from the Sieve. We then had a mini break in play for treatment to Chris Lewington after he dived at Myrie-Williams' feet to collect a loose ball, only to get a face full of leather in the process.

Kevin Maher hadn't really lived up to his pre match billing upon his return and was duly replaced by tricky winger Jake Caprice on 73 minutes. Maher has the ability to control the midfield and influence a game with his vast experience, unfortunately on Saturday afternoon too many mistakes cost the former Southend captain. Vale were continuing to soak up Daggers pressure as Caprice was involved straight away, firing in a well weighted cross into the box that was cleared.

Caprice was continuing to cause problems on the right hand side as his pin point cross was met by Woodall whose header was pushed wide thanks to a superb stop from Neal. Port Vale were still looking dangerous on the breakaway and may have extended the lead if not for superb tracking back from Luke Wilkinson. 

With 83 minutes played, it was looking like a lost cause for Daggers unless they got a goal back sharpish. As luck would have it, they did. Luke Howell's free kick was knocked on by Brian Woodall into the path of centre half Scott Doe who controlled the ball and executed the finish in superb fashion. Chris Neal was left with no chance as the score was reduced to 3-2. The Sieve was now rocking in hope of a possible 3-3 draw.

Try as they might, the hosts couldn't find that elusive equalising goal. Brian Woodall nearly dragged the ball around Chris Neal, but the 'keeper acted superbly to deny the substitute. The visitors rode both the literal and metaphorical storm to see out what you would probably credit to them as a deserved victory. Despite dominating possession in the second half, Daggers couldn't make it count and as a result the sheer clinical finishing of Vale shone through.

John Still will be disappointed by the fashion in which the first was conceded, but unfortunately it was down to individual error. Chris Lewington's judgement was poor and hopefully it's something that he's learning from and addressing. The third goal wasn't good enough defensively, the ease at which Dodds was allowed into the Daggers half was poor. Usually we’re pretty sound in those sort of situations, but today for whatever reason it wasn’t there. Then again, that's what we get for pushing men forward at that stage in the game.

One massive plus point this afternoon was the performance of Medy Elito. He showed real grit and determination, the like of which we've very rarely seen from him in a Daggers shirt. One passage of play where he won the ball, gave it away, then won it again and ultimately gave it away again seemed to sum up his season up to this point. Luke Howell was also impressive as ever, whilst Scott Doe didn't have a bad game either. 

As for Port Vale, the main point I'm getting across here is that they were extremely clinical. Any error that we made, they punished. Their defence was sturdy for the large part and if they manage to keeps their attack together I can definitely see them getting promoted. You can see how much they missed Doug Loft however, as they were left extremely exposed at left back when Jake Caprice was introduced.

We now move on to Northampton Town on New Year’s Day, a team against which the Daggers have never won - so hopefully we'll change that stat. I'd also love to see Jake Caprice given a starting berth on NYD as he really seems to trouble the full backs. On the other hand, Akinfenwa will more than likely score a hat trick against us and we'll trudge home despondent and wondering what went wrong. 

Until then, have a good New Year! Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickdrfcMurphy

Friday, 28 December 2012

Daggers 0-3 Southend United, Cold Turkey

Dagenham & Redbridge crashed to a first home defeat since mid September as Southend United dismantled the hosts in this disappointing Essex Derby. The villain of the show was once again Gavin Tomlin who despite only scoring twice in 35 appearances for Daggers, managed two in 15 minutes for the Shrimpers to effectively kill the game off. Kevan Hurst added gloss early in the second half with an emphatic strike, but in truth John Still's men never got going.

Taking everything into account, this fixture looked like it would be a tight affair on paper. As previously alluded to the Daggers were unbeaten at home in 7 games and had won 5 of their last 7 overall. Southend on the other hand were on an impressive 13 game unbeaten streak, the longest in the division and hadn't lost to the hosts in 2012. Stats of course are completely meaningless depending what team turns up on the day.

Victoria Road was looking very much packed as I strolled in close to 12:45, and with all seats supposedly sold out it was looking like a terrific atmosphere as well. Just before the teams emerged, the line ups were announced...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Ogogo, Wilkinson, Doe, Femi, Howell, Saunders, Spillane, Elito, Williams, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Maher, Caprice, Scott, Hoyte, Woodall, Bingham.

Unsurprisingly John Still kept with the same team that defeated Barnet over a week ago which meant the partnership of Sam Williams & Jake Reed was maintained. New striker Gianluca Gracco wasn't included in the 18, whilst Dwight Gayle had completed a £470,000 deal to join Peterborough United in the week. 

Southend United: Smith, Clohessy, Cresswell, Prosser, Barker, Mkandawire, Tomlin, Hurst, Laird, Assombalonga, Tomlin. Subs: Bentley, Straker, Phillips, Martin, Donnelly, Eastwood, Corr.

Paul Sturrock also opted for consistency which allowed the same 18 that defeated Chesterfield on Friday night to be named once more. The deadly pairing of Assombalonga and Tomlin remained meanwhile former O's star Tamika Mkandawire was set to marshal the midfield. Complete with the league's best defender in Ryan Cresswell, this was going to prove to be a stern test for Still's men.

Dagenham & Redbridge were immediately on the back foot as Southend piled on early pressure. Spurred on by 1300 vibrant visiting supporters, the Shrimpers took the lead within a minute. Luke Wilkinson misjudged a bouncing ball on the half way line which allowed Gavin Tomlin to advance forward into the box before lashing a finish that somehow found its way past Chris Lewington. 

The game took a more leisurely approach for the ensuing ten minutes or so as both sides found their feet in the contest. The hosts who were recovering from the early setback nearly found a way back into the game just before the 10 minute mark. Timlin gave the ball away in the centre circle allowing Luke Howell to pick up and dart forward before shooting wide with his left foot.

With 15 minutes played Southend extended their lead. Assombalonga played a neat one two with Laird at the expense of Scott Doe before the former squared for Tomlin to once more fire home into the net. You could argue that Chris Lewington shouldn't have been so rash in closing Assombalonga down, but in truth it was a wonderful flowing move from the Blues who thoroughly deserved their 2-0 lead.

At this point it already looked like an impossible job for Daggers as Southend have proved to be astute in holding their lead this season. The home side never looked like scoring in the first half. A Matt Saunders free kick caused some panic but was eventually cleared; meanwhile Sam Williams' header didn't trouble Paul Smith in the slightest. Captain Chris Barker than flashed an effort wide of the upright as the Shrimpers looked intent on adding to their lead.

Just before half time Still's men nearly pulled one back. A wonderful flowing move on the left hand side culminated in Medy Elito tamely shooting at Smith which as you can guess caused no problems. It was an extremely disappointing half from Dagenham who looked as though they were still feeling the effects of the Christmas day sherry. 

John Still's feathers were clearly ruffled as we approached the second half as the boss of 8 years made an uncharacteristic double change at half time. Brian Woodall was introduced for Jake Reed, whilst an unknown quantity in Jake Caprice replaced Mickey Spillane who had seemingly picked up a knock.

Before the Daggers were allowed to get going, Southend continued to knock on the door. The ball fell wonderfully for Tomlin 40 yards out and looking for his hat trick, volleyed a sporadic shot goalwards that forced a top draw save from the back peddling Lewington. Why couldn't you ever do that for us Gavin? 

Almost 50 minutes after the game had begun; the Daggers finally looked dangerous going forward. Caprice was causing problems down the right hand side, whilst Luke Howell saw his volleyed effort rebound off of Prosser's backside. Nevertheless, Southend continued to look dangerous and added a third soon after. Kevan Hurst was set up by Tomlin and with a lack of pressure Hurst fired a wonderful strike into the top corner leaving Lewington with no chance whatsoever. 54 minutes played and you'd wager - game over. 

From that point on Southend sat back as you would expect and allowed the home side to dominate. Unfortunately though, the Daggers were blunt and couldn't even muster a consolation. Luke Howell soon flashed another dipping volley wide of the upright, whilst left back Femi saw his looping header fall onto the roof of the net.

Josh Scott was later brought on for Medy Elito as the Daggers made their final change. And with that the hosts finally looked as though they'd managed to get going. Josh held up the ball well, dragged players away from their man and generally caused some degree of havoc. Alas it was too late, despite his impact there would be no chance of Daggers rescuing anything from this match.

In the final 80 minutes the 3500 strong crowd were nearly treated to a goal, but Sam Williams' header back across goal bounced off the bar and over for a goal kick. Michael Timlin continued to look menacing, first testing Chris Lewington with a strong right footed strike, and then flashing one wide of the post. Jake Caprice who looked lively after coming on squandered two late chances when really he should have found the target at the very least, which basically summed up the afternoon.

A real lack of urgency and just an off day in general for Daggers who were outclassed from start to finish by one of the main promotion candidates. Femi, Abu & Josh deserve some credit for at least creating some chances and remaining consistent - although it's becoming slightly worrying how Femi is our only source of creativity down the wings.

We move on to Port Vale on Saturday hoping to return to winning ways before the year is out. I'd quite like to see Josh Scott come in for Jake Reed, moreover Jake Caprice for Medy Elito who isn't providing many, if any crosses for the front pairing. 

Thanks for reading and I'll be back with a more detailed report following the Port Vale match. 

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Wigan 0-1 Arsenal - An Unexpected Journey

As far as a footballing nightmare goes, Saturday afternoon was it. The original plan was to go to Morecambe vs Dagenham & Redbridge - and enjoy our final away game (and victory) of the season. But oh no. Mother Nature had other ideas in store and as the clock struck 11:20am, about 40 minutes from Warrington, Morecambe called the fixture off. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but with the predicted weather patterns you'd have thought the fixture would have bitten the dust earlier.
Our Train to Glasgow was packed.

This ultimately left us in a conundrum. Do we waste £30 and just turn around, or do we find another match in the North to go to. The choices were Blackburn vs Brighton, or Wigan vs Arsenal. Having been awake since 7am I was determined to see some kind of football somewhere. At this point I should also point out the awful service given by Virgin Trains. Paying £30 for tickets and being forced to sit on the floor is unacceptable, so much for the "higher prices are improving our train system" rubbish.

With a mass of Arsenal fans around us, the option was simple - Wigan vs Arsenal it was. Off we got at Wigan North Western station to be greeted by; yep you guess it, yet more persistent drizzle. No disrespect to the people of the town, but Wigan didn't look like a particularly enticing place. There were several boarded up buildings, a flooded car park and a man in a hoodie that didn't appear to be the most savoury of characters. After a 20 minute walk we arrived at the DW Stadium.

We were now faced with another problem. Over Twitter it was alluded to that to purchase tickets at Wigan on the day, you need to have a history of buying tickets. This seemed quite odd as Wigan don’t usually fill up their ground, and like a fat bird at a bar you’d have thought they’d be grateful for the attention.

Luckily, thanks to my long list of contacts I knew a Wigan/Bolton supporter who managed to help us out (@JoeBillGibbo.) At a discounted rate of £5 per person, it actually worked out cheaper than what Morecambe would have charged – and somehow our accents didn’t give us away! Who said football wasn't affordable?
Dreary Looking DW.

The ground itself is situated on the outskirts of the town, meaning you have to walk past an Asda and through a car park to get there. With little fuss we progressed through the turnstiles and into the stadium concourse which was pretty rammed. With news that the Supporters Coach were also taking in this game, Wigan's attendance almost doubled (I like Wigan really.) 

The DW is effectively your generic modern build almost, furnished with modern seats and catering facilities. The main stand is extremely similar to Leyton Orient's in shape and stature, whilst the East Stand we were in created the majority of the home noise and was the largest in size. The Arsenal fans were housed in the North Stand which accommodates a shade under 5500 supporters and for the large part was full. 

The ground began to expectantly fill up as Wigan were looking as though they would garner their biggest attendance of the season. Meanwhile down the road, Accrington Stanley vs Plymouth was still on and their attendance was aided by around 1000 stranded Brighton fans. Who says us football lot aren't a welcoming and generous bunch? With the time approaching 12:45, the unfamiliar faces of Cazorla et al entered the field of play.

From an afternoon of watching Femi, Kevin Ellison and Izak Reid, we had been promoted to Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kieran Gibbs. I was especially looking forward to seeing Oxlade-Chamberlain first hand once more, at least two years after we were first acquainted with him. With the Premiership music playing overhead, the Arsenal supporters were in full voice and the game began.

As you may expect in poor conditions with sweeping rain overhead, the match took a while to get going. Both sides were attempting to knock the ball around on the slippery surface, whilst chants were exchanged between the two sets of supporters. Despite the loss of Gary Caldwell & Alcaraz through injury, Wigan were looking surprisingly dominant during the opening stages. 

Despite the home side’s possession, it was Arsenal who registered the first shot on target. Mikel Arteta was allowed time on the ball and the midfielder crafted a wonderful ball through to the on-rushing Oxlade-Chamberlain who saw his shot parried wide by unorthodox goalkeeper Al-Habsi. Lukas Podolski then worked some space and also tested Al-Habsi who was once again equal to the effort. Inbetween that however, Arouna Kone forced a good stop from Szczesny as both sides looked to assert their dominance in the opening quarter of an hour.

The Superb Arsenal Fans
Just before the 25 minute mark Wigan should have taken the lead. Kone beat the offside trap with ease and outpaced the lagging Mertesacker, unfortunately though he dragged his shot agonisingly wide of the post when it would have been easier to score. It was an excellent piece of play by the Latics who had Arsenal on the ropes for a period. If their wingers were more adept at crossing the ball, they may well have taken the lead.

Theo Walcott who has pleaded with Arsene Wenger to make him a striker was enjoying a torrid afternoon. The converted forward was seeing all of his efforts blocked by a stern Wigan back line. The main incident of the first half came just before half time. Jack Wilshere made a perfectly timed challenge on the tricky Shaun Maloney; Jon Moss however took an indifferent view and opted to book the midfielder to the delight of the Wigan support.

There was just enough time for Franco Di Santo to fire over before Moss blew his whistle to signal the half time interval. A very even first half saw few chances hit the target, whilst the hosts were enjoying the majority of the possession. As Slade blurted out over the tannoy for the second time in the afternoon, the teams remerged for a second half of football at the DW.

The teams line up.
(Ok, it was the 1st half)
It was Arsenal who began the second half the better and Oxlade-Chamberlain brought the game to life. The Southampton academy graduate shot down the right before crossing in for Walcott to fire against the arms of Al-Habsi when he really should have found the net. This was not the sort of display that was going to convince Wenger that he was the number 9. Arsenal are looking for.

Despite a long range effort from Figueroa, Arsenal was the more dominant side in the second period. A neat interchange in the middle of the park between Cazorla & Wilshere released The Ox down the right once more, this time however the ball in was cleared by the resilient Wigan defence. 

With half an hour to go, the visitors got the break they were looking for. A clever one two released Walcott into the Wigan box where he was brought down under a clumsy challenge from Beausejour. My first instinct was penalty, the Gunners supporter’s first instinct was penalty, and Jon Moss agreed - awarding a penalty. Mikel Arteta took the spot kick with supreme confidence and sent Al-Habsi the wrong way to give Arsenal a 1-0 advantage.

The Latics thought they had been unfairly treated, and with that they set about levelling the scoreline. Figueroa was the first man to force Szczesny into a save following a speculative effort from outside the area. It was Kone minutes later that had hearts in mouth as he was released down the right before drawing a wonderful stop from the Polish 'keeper at his near post.

With 75 minutes played, the Wigan fans reverberated a noise around the DW like no other. Franco Di Santo was seemingly forced off to take a piercing out; however referee Jon Moss didn't allow him back onto the field of play. Latics supporters became more and more irate, much to the enjoyment of their Arsenal counterparts who loved every minute of it. After several minutes had passed he was allowed back on which was greeted with ironic cheers from the home support.

Despite Oxlade-Chamberlain turning in a man of the match performance, he was replaced by current cult villain Aaron Ramsey with 15 minutes left. Almost immediately Arsenal lost that level of invention that they had previously had, furthermore with the introduction of Francis Coquelin, it was clear what Wenger's intentions were. 

True to form, Wigan bombarded the Arsenal penalty area. David Jones saw his strike from outside the box whistle inches wide of the post, whilst Mertesacker had to be alert to clear a low ball across the six yard box from Beausejour. Despite fervent pressure, Wigan was unable to find that elusive equaliser as the referee blew for full time, meaning Arsenal have still only lost once at the DW.

On the balance of play Arsenal could say they deserved the victory, however I'd be inclined to say a draw would have been the fair result. Ultimately though that doesn't matter, it's the three points that do and they went to the Gunners which lifts them up to 3rd, if only for a limited time. Even with all of the rumours surrounding Wenger, he's still the right man for the job in my opinion and if Arsenal continue to do well away from home and pick up at the Emirates they should have no problem finishing 4th.

Wigan on the other hand suffered from not being good enough with their crossing. There were so many wasted opportunities and poor decisions which cost them in the end. What was admirable though was the way they play football, much their London counterparts. Both sides attempted to knock the ball around in difficult conditions and did so to the best of their abilities. Had they exploited Vermaelen a bit more who was having something of an off day, the scoreline may have been different.

With that, we headed off home. The train back to Euston was far less busy on the journey down which allowed for a comfortable trip. The only two downsides from then on was being conned £10 by TFL and falling down the metal steps at Euston Square. I'm not a safety expert, but surely metal + rain = slippery. In the traditional British way, I feel like putting in a complaint to both Virgin & TFL for the way I was treated on Saturday afternoon. I'd encourage anyone else who had to endure the awful Virgin service to do so as well!

As far as clichés go, it was "one of those days." Thank you for any Arsenal/Wigan fans reading this, I hope you've enjoyed a different account of events for a change! For any Daggers giving this a glance, normal service will be resumed at home to Southend & Port Vale, whilst should Northampton not fall foul to the weather on New Year’s Day, there'll be a report for that too.

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

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Daggers 1-0 Barnet, Matt Puts The Gloss On It.

Dagenham & Redbridge vs Barnet
Not many people will be aware of this, but Dagenham & Redbridge's 1-0 victory over Barnet on Saturday bore a minor significance. Matt Saunders' strike ensured all three points, but it also means we eclipse the Football League point’s tally of Boston United in the same year we destroyed a team managed by Steve Evans. The victory itself lifts the Daggers to a season high 12th position in League Two, with just three games of 2012 remaining.

Traditionally the Daggers usually do well at home to Barnet. It's the fixture every year that usually provides a victory for the hosts. This year was looking like no different. We were unbeaten since mid September on our own patch, whilst Barnet were coming into this on the back of a five match winless streak. Just to stoke the already burning fire, former Daggers legend Jon Nurse would also be returning along with Ollie Lee.

After a brief stay in the clubhouse and with all bets placed, we headed inside the ground for what was sure to be a dull and frivolous encounter. The Sieve felt unusually packed, but not that packed. Barnet who may as well just give up playing away from home were only given a quarter of the Traditional Builders Stand and in all honestly they struggled to fill that. Just as the festive Christmas lights began to flicker at the teabar, the teams were announced...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Saunders, Howell, Spillane, Elito, Williams, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Hoyte, Bingham, Wakefield, Scott, Maher, Woodall.

John Still named an unchanged side for the umpteenth game in succession which meant the in form Sam Williams would once again start alongside Jake Reed. Dominic Green is still in hibernation which allowed Medy Elito to continue in a role somewhere between the midfielder and the forwards. 

Barnet: Stack, Fuller, Kamdjo, Johnson, Stephens, Pearce, Yiadom, Davids, Nurse, Holmes, Hyde. Subs: Cowler, Fortune, Iro, Lee, Abdulla, Edgar, Weston.

The Daggers 'B' side had three former players in their ranks, only one of which started. Jon Nurse who has legendary status at Victoria Road began the match, whilst the midfield pairing of Ollie Lee & Ahmed Abdulla would have to be content with a spot on the bench. Former Champions League winner Edgar Davids also started, meanwhile Clovis Kamdjo & Andrew Yiadom were also brought in following last week’s defeat.

After the pre match pleasantries and a rousing reception for Jon Nurse, we began. To some surprise, it was the Bees who started on the front foot. Almost immediately Nurse drove down the right hand side before crossing for an unmarked Kamdjo who fired his header over the bar. Jake Hyde and Andrew Yiadom both had efforts that forced Chris Lewington into action as the visitors started the match positively.

With the Daggers' first real attack of the game, they were ahead. Femi fed the ball into Sam Williams who laid it back perfectly for Matt Saunders to curl a first time strike into the top corner. A wonderfully flowing move that saw three of the Daggers key men this season involved to give the home side a perhaps undeserved lead. The finesse of which Saunders had stroked the ball home was truly something to behold.

From there, the hosts didn't look back. Michael Spillane wasted a good chance by heading over from close range, meanwhile tricky forward Jake Reed was also causing problems for a fragile Barnet defence. Soon after and Luke Wilkinson nearly doubled the lead as he saw his header rattle off of the crossbar following Matt Saunders' pin point delivery. The Daggers were in the ascendancy and Spillane came close once more before the half time whistle, however his strike went wide of the post
Barnet fans (Pre Match)

Upon reflection at half time, I think most would agree we deserved our lead. Apart from a spell of Barnet pressure at the beginning of the half where they probably should have scored, we had dominated. Edgar Davids wasn't as yet making much of an impact, and as alluded to by several others, Jon Nurse was playing a fine 12th man role for the hosts. Meanwhile in other scores, it was looking as though Mark McGhee's time as Bristol Rovers boss was over as his side trailed 4-1 at Bootham Crescent against York City.

As we began the second half, Medy Elito made his sole contribution to the game by crossing straight into the arms of Graham Stack. Matt Saunders was enjoying a terrific game and such was his confidence he attempted to add a second. The midfielder progressed forward before firing a shot over that didn't trouble Stack in the slightest. 

John Still's men continued to dominate despite there being very few chances in the contest. Jake Reed fired a terrific ball into the box from a difficult position that met Sam Williams whose looping header crashed against the crossbar to deny the Daggers once more. 

Barnet and Davids himself then briefly woke up. The Dutch maestro slalomed inbetween the Daggers defensive line before fizzing a wonderful ball across the six yard box that Lewington dealt with at the back post. Minutes later after a period of possession, Davids was released once again. This time however, his goal-bound strike was blocked by the backside of Luke Wilkinson.

The seemingly annual substitution of Brian Woodall on for Jake Reed then commenced as the Daggers began to sit back. The hosts were later denied a half hearted penalty appeal as Kamdjo appeared to handle inside the box - however the referee waved it away. Mark Robson then introduced Curtis Weston for Barry Fuller as the Bees looked to capitalise in the later stages. Minutes later Abu Ogogo spurned a fantastic opportunity as he went for power rather than placement, with his shot ultimately going narrowly over the bar. 

As Dagenham sat back, Barnet began to pour forward in search of an equaliser. Jon Nurse wasted a golden opportunity at the back post from Holmes' ball in, whilst a late free kick was fired directly into the wall. Try as they might, the visitors couldn't find that elusive goal to draw the scores level, despite the home side resting on their laurels somewhat. Following some late pressure from Still's men, the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the encounter.

The victory extended the home unbeaten run to seven games since the mid September defeat to Northampton Town. It's also the third straight 1-0 home victory; moreover it's now been just over 6 & a half hours since the Daggers have conceded a home goal. That's a vital quality for a side that's pushing towards the Play Off places like us - defensive sturdiness and the ability to grind out results. 

As for the performance, apart from the opening 15 minutes and the final 5, we pretty much dominated a poor Barnet side. It wasn't a vintage display, but it was enough and that's what counts at the end of the day. Matt Saunders orchestrated it perfectly from the midfield, whilst the defensive line was resolute. Jake Reed also deserves some credit following his constant pestering, one moment in particular in the first half where he got down the left and kept the ball in sticks in my mind.

Barnet on the other hand, were largely poor. Despite attempting to knock the ball around, there was no real purpose to it. The strikers were blunt, with no real service going up to dangerman Ricky Holmes in particular. The defence was fragile and backed off far too much on many occasions. The midfield often went missing, however when they had prolonged periods of possession they felt dangerous, as though they could cause something. Unfortunately for them though, they lacked a killer ball.

Next week we travel to Morecambe for a 2pm kick off at the Globe Arena in our final away game of 2012. We started the year with a point at Southend, so hopefully we can do just as well, if not better in Lancashire. For the first time in some while I'll be travelling, so hopefully I'll have something to write home about!