Tuesday, 26 February 2013

John Still - Once A Dagger, Always A Dagger.

Today is a sad day in the history of Dagenham & Redbridge Football Club. Today, marks the end of an era. Today marks the day when John Still finally stood down as Dagenham & Redbridge manager after almost 9 years in charge at Victoria Road. And that day, is a sad day. He moves on to pastures new at Luton Town where I hope he'll be successful, but it's almost hard to comprehend the unbelievable work he did in this part of Essex for the past eight and a half years.

There have been times in his tenure, when some supporters thought it best he leave. But he never did. He remained loyal until the end and we remained loyal to him. As a supporter of the club, it was a bond that he felt he couldn't break again. At one of the lowest ebbs last season, we remained faithful to eachother and as John always seems to do, he performed a miracle. Him and his backroom staff masterminded a run that saw us retain Football League status and avoid a second successive relegation. Could any other manager have done that? I doubt it.

His commitment to the club should never be questioned by anyone. He has notably turned down job offers from Bradford and Colchester to name but two clubs. He loves this club and that should never be questioned. 

But his reign over the Daggers was defined by much more than that, namely by his ability to churn out non league players into hard working professionals. The names to have walked out of the Victoria Road tunnel in recent years owe a lot to John and I'm sure they've thanked him many times. The likes of Danny Green, Romain Vincelot, Scott Griffiths, Sam Saunders, Danny Foster and Dwight Gayle - all of whom were signed under John Still and developed as players before being sold on at a large profit to keep the club afloat.

The one player who really defines Stilly's ability to nurture gems though, is one, Paul Benson. The forward who is now on loan at Cheltenham Town, was plucked from non league obscurity, the Essex Olympian League to be precise where he was playing for White Ensign. Still and his team of scouts found him, signed him, developed him and in that time both Still and Benson have become club legends.

Dave Andrews and Steve Thompson have said it themselves, John Still has effectively kept the club afloat with the development and selling on of diamonds in the rough. And that's surely one of the biggest compliments that the man can have. He has revolutionised the way we, as a club, operate and has taken us forward from a mid table Conference outfit to a near established Football League club - something few would have thought possible 15 years ago.

The two promotions he masterminded were both unexpected and magnificent. To get the club from the Conference into the Football League was an achievement in itself, but to take it a step further and take a place in League One was extraordinary. Would any other manager have been able to do that? I doubt it. And that's what he offers. Something no one else does. He has that magic ability to almost transform a club given the time.

John Still builds character, he is a man motivator. He has the ability to inspire faith in players and the supporters. Opposition managers don't have a bad word to say of him, in fact a large number look to him for advice. That's surely one of the biggest accolades, being respected by your peers - and he has that in abundance. 

Not only that, he was a man of the club, a man of the people if you like. Very few managers would come into the away end and shake the hands of the travelling supporters - but he did. 

To be quite honest, I don't blame him for taking the Luton hotseat if the monetary benefits that are reported, are true. He'd be mad not too. I'm not sure it's the right job for him, but that's my own personal opinion. The resources available there blow us out of the water so you can see why he'd take it. Nothing however, will ever eclipse what he achieved at Victoria Road and I'm sure he'll agree with that himself.

We have always said that this club will be in a worse state the day that John Still leaves, and it looks like that day is today. Do I blame him for taking the Luton job? No. Do I wish he hadn't have taken it? Of course and any Daggers fan who says otherwise is mad. John Still is my memory of Dagenham & Redbridge Football Club. Ever since I supported my local team, he has been the man in charge. And today, with him no longer being the fourth longest serving manager in English football, it is a desperately disappointing and gut-wrenching end to what has been a fairy-tale story under his guidance. 

Perhaps the most important thing is that he defined what it was to, "Be A Dagger." He always said that to play for this club, you have to be a Dagger. You have to show those desirable qualities that make you unique as a player. You have to want to play for the club and above all, you have to put your heart in 100% of the time. They don't just describe his players, they describe him. Both as a character and a manager. And he'll forever be endowed as a Dagenham & Redbridge legend.

But now, we have to look to the future as well as remember the past. And in true John Still fashion, we have to remember above all, "Never too high with the highs, never too low with the lows." You'll be missed John, but you'll never, ever be forgotten. 

For any comments, you can tweet me at @NickMurphyDRFC.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Daggers 0-1 AFC Wimbledon, Sainte-Luce Sends Daggers Down.

It may have been the inauguration of the newly christened; District Line Derby at Victoria Road on Saturday afternoon, but it was the same old story on the pitch as Daggers continue to look for an inaugural win against their South West London opponents. Kevin Sainte-Luce scored the solitary goal as all 3 points returned to Kingsmeadow for the second year on the bounce, leaving the hosts with the increasing possibility of being dragged into the relegation mire.

The Sieve (NorthTerrace) before kick off.
But before all of that woe and despair, there was some enjoyment to be had from the afternoon.  After getting a bus to Victoria Road which contained Daggers forward Jake Reed, we headed for the clubhouse where friend of the club (well, us), Joe (@JoeBillGibbo) was waiting. Our Northern acquaintance was down to continue his pursuit of the completing the 92 football league grounds and we gave him a good reception in the clubhouse! Well, we had a couple of pints and he bought a cut price home top, what's not to love?

After that, we headed through the turnstiles and into the newly acclaimed Estadio De LBBD, where the teams were duly announced;

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

Following two more than satisfactory performances against Cheltenham & Gillingham, unsurprisingly John Still named an unchanged side. This meant Abu Ogogo continued in central midfield whilst Gavin Hoyte remained at right back. Billy Bingham had to be content with a place on the bench once more as the midfield trio of Luke Howell, Abu Ogogo & Matt Saunders continued to impress.

AFC Wimbledon: Sullivan, Balkestein, Meades, Bennett, Hussey, Moore, Pell, Dickenson, Midson, L Moore, Alexander. Subs: Jaimez-Ruiz, Cummings, Mitchell-King, Long, Sainte-Luce, Yusseff, Darco.

Neal Ardley was made two changes from the side that drew with Northampton Town in midweek. The enforced change saw Peter Sweeney replaced by Sammy Moore in the midfield, whilst the tactical change concerned loan signing Brennan Dickenson making his full debut in place of Toby Ajala. Jack Midson & Gary Alexander continued up front, whilst on the bench the attack of the double barrelled surnames was primed and ready if needed.

And with that, the teams emerged to soft applause from the 2200 odd supporters inside Victoria Road. Rather annoyingly the Wimbledon captain then decided to switch ends to take away the possible second half emphasis/advantage that we may have had. The slightly stumpy referee then blew his whistle to signal the start of this cross-London derby.

As expected from two sides at the lower end of the table, the game started rather slowly. Ben Strevens tested Neil Sullivan after 30 seconds, but the Wimbledon stalwart was more than equal to his tame drive. Jack Midson was next to try his luck from close range. Midson, who previously had a loan spell at Daggers latched onto the end of a Sammy Moore lofted ball over the top before lashing into the side netting. A good opportunity - squandered.

The game continued in the same vain as the first half wore on, with both Scott Doe & Jack Midson taking turns to warm the gloves of the opposition 'keeper. The clever link up play of Alexander & Midson was causing problems, and the latter came close once again soon after with his off balance effort being skewed wide of the mark. The hosts on the other hand continued to be restricted to long range efforts that didn't really trouble the 67 year old Sullivan in the Wimbledon goal.

Despite it being a quiet opening quarter of the match, on the 30 minute mark it burst into life. Harry Pell burst down the left hand side before looping a ball to the back post where Gary Alexander crashed a volley goalwards. Chris Lewington produced a brilliant fingertip save to deny Alexander as the scores remained at 0-0. Only minutes later Lewington had to be alert once more. This time Scott Doe sold him short with an underweight back pass meaning Lewy had to race out of his goal to deny Midson a clear run into the 18 yard box.

Wimbledon were clearly looking like the better side through a combination of mistakes at the back from Daggers and good link up play from the midfield onward. Then, in a near carbon copy of the previous attempt, Harry Pell swung a ball into the box once more but this time Alexander could only fire at the side netting much to his frustration.

Reading the first half analysis tells a sordid story for Daggers who were stifled going forward and under pressure at the back. The Wimbledon defence was coping admirably with what we had to offer. Ben Strevens had the best of the chances if you can call them that, whilst Abu Ogogo continued the trend of tame shots just before the half time whistle. 

Gary Alexander was looking like the most prominent threat as we went in for half time, whilst Jack Midson was also holding his own. The Wimbledon midfield appeared to be dominating the game whilst also winning the majority of the second balls and headers - a key aspect you need to master in League Two if you want to be victors over any team. The only solace as we went into the second half was that the Daggerettes had seemingly disappeared. Or maybe they were put into a findus lasagne, who knows? All I know is that my throat was hoarse after eating my burger before the game.

The second half began with more impetus from the hosts. On 49 minutes Matt Saunders picked up the ball on the edge of the box before firing a rasping strike just wide of the post that had Neil Sullivan beaten all ends up. Wimbledon were then forced into a change when Jonathan Meades limped off injured. He was replaced by Mat Mitchell-King who nearly scored within 10 minutes of coming on, however his goalbound header from a corner was blocked inside the box amidst appeals for a penalty.

Neal Ardley then opted to throw all of his eggs in one basket, using up his full quota of substitutes before the 65 minute mark. Jesso Darko & Kevin Sainte-Luce came on in place of Gary Alexander and Brendan Dickenson. A bold move you might say, but would it pay off? Well, it almost backfired instantly as the subs failed to acquaint themselves into the game, allowing Luke Howell time and space to flash a shot over the crossbar.

John Still then made his first change of the afternoon as Daggers looked to freshen up their attack. Jake Reed, who scored in a development game during the week was brought on for Matt Saunders which effectively triggered the end of any creative influence we may have had going forward. In fairness though, Matt didn't have the best of games and his set piece delivery in particular really wasn't up to scratch during the whole afternoon.

As the game reached a crucial point, it looked as though Wimbledon had scored a decisive goal. A quick throw into the box caught Daggers off guard which allowed Luke Moore to slip in and fire into the side of the net. Fortunately for us and unbeknown to the travelling supporters, it had hit the outside of the net. Cue ironic cheers from the Sieve as Wimbledon fans celebrated their side taking a false 1-0 lead. A minor plus point in a drab afternoon.

Minutes later though, there was no joking as Wimbledon did take the lead. A ball in from a corner was hammered towards goal and initially blocked not once, but twice. The Daggers defence could only partially clear before it fell beautifully for Kevin Sainte-Luce who volleyed home past a crowd of players and a helpless Chris Lewington. How quickly your career can change in a month. From, escaping jail for assaulting one female and punching another to scoring a possibly decisive goal at Victoria Road, who'd have thought it?

Sammy Moore
From that moment on, it was a daunting task for Daggers to get back into the game. The introduction of Dominic Green for Medy Elito improved spirits though; hopefully the tricky winger could cause more problems than the ineffective Elito. Luke Howell & Sammy Moore then had something of a falling out, with one clipping the others heels before a degree of verbal before it ultimately coming to nothing. Sam Williams then came close, but his powerful volley was blocked superbly by the head of a Wimbledon defender to preserve the away sides lead.

A flurry of late penalty appeals was then waved away as the hosts were looking increasingly devoid of options going forward. So much so that as the fourth official raised his board to announce the injury time, Chris Lewington was thrust forward for a corner. The ball came in and Lewington connected with a glancing header but it was cleared agonisingly off of the line by Chris Hussey as Wimbledon held on for both a crucial and deserved victory.

And that my friends, is the tale of the tape. I wish I could bring you a Daggers win with a performance of any kind, but it just didn't come! It's disappointing as we played very well against Gillingham last week and lost, moreover you feel that sort of performance this week would have seen us take a point at the least.

A good indicator of how well we've played in the game is the performance of Femi. Even the cult left back had a bit of an off day yesterday afternoon which just about typified the whole day. Matt Saunders never really looked like imposing himself, whilst talking about Medy has just become a pointless and fruitless cause. Sam & Ben up front received little service and what they did get they weren't able to do particularly much with.

We all know where we want the season to go from here. With the Play Offs out of the question; a comfortable mid table finish would suffice. Unfortunately, there's still that niggling feeling that we're yet to shake off the threat of relegation. On 41 points you'd imagine we'll be ok. Surely we can find at least another 6/7 points which should see us home? You wonder though. Our toothless nature in front of goal since the departure of Gayle is worrying and looks as though it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Wimbledon supporters pre-match
As for Wimbledon though. What more can you say other than they probably deserved the victory courtesy of our woeful performance. That and their fans were sublime; a credit to their club such was the noise they created throughout the match. Their defence was rock solid, something which was lacking in the early part of the season for the Wombles. With the front two of Alexander & Midson I imagine they'll stay up now - and provided we do I hope they do as well. We don't need this league becoming increasingly more Northern. I wish them good luck for the remainder of the season!

Next up on Wednesday night are [League Cup Winners]/[Perennial League Two strugglers] (Delete where appropriate), Bradford City. Our recent record against them would suggest we have a fantastic chance, with us being unbeaten at Valley Parade since we joined the Football League. Hopefully we can bounce back from two straight defeats with a win over a side that will hopefully be feeling the effects of a big day out on Sunday! (Today)

Thanks for reading and remember that you can follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC

Daggers Supporters vacate the ground at Full Time.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Gillingham 2-1 Daggers, Pulling My Legge, Ref?

Despite an abject refereeing performance, Dagenham & Redbridge have many positives to take following their 2-1 defeat at Priestfield to Gillingham on Saturday afternoon. Daggers chief John Still described the two decisions leading up to the host’s goals as, "Two mistakes", which ultimately lead to the visitor’s downfall. One thing to take from the afternoon however, was that cult hero Femi finally notched his first goal, albeit inbetween the strikes of Leon Legge & Deon Burton.

The journey to Gillingham was slightly more eventful than first anticipated. A series of, shall we say, "Cock ups", lead to us leaving Victoria Station just before 13:00. After an hour on a sparsely populated train, we arrived in the Medway area just before 14:00. Not much had changed from last year, aside from the fact that came with slightly more optimism this time around; (Although that was misplaced).

Following that, we found a pub that for some reason wasn't showing the Luton vs Millwall game, before embarking on a game of pool. After a more Donald Trump than Judd Trumpesque performance, we headed to the ground where in a surprising twist, it wasn't raining for once! After a brief encounter with the comedian stewards, we went through the turnstiles to be confronted with the infamous away stand scaffolding. At this point, you wonder why you've made the effort and paid £13 for the privilege. 

There were only two things that we could be certain of today. These were that one; it would be bloody cold on the metal structure of doom. And two, the scoreline would end 2-1 to either side as it always seems to do when we meet. I was personally mildly optimistic having set about flaunting the stat that we have more away victories since November than Gills have home wins. That of course, did somewhat come back to bite me on the arse.

After witnessing the Gillingham cheerleaders who put our Daggerettes to shame in more ways than one - the teams were announced.

Gillingham: Nelson, Fish, Martin, Legge, Frampton, Barrett, Whelpdale, Lee, Robinson, Weston, McDonalds. Subs: Forecast, Williams, Dack, Richardson, Gregory, Birchall, Burton. 

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

Daggers named an unchanged side from the one that defeated Cheltenham for the first time last time out. This meant that Ben Strevens would return to Priestfield less than a month after his exit, whilst another former Gill Kevin Maher was on the bench. Gavin Hoyte remained at right back which allowed Abu Ogogo to continue in his central midfield role alongside the ever present Luke Howell.

With that, the teams were applauded onto the pitch as The Liquidator, rang around the Priestfield Stadium. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite create the same atmosphere it does at Chelsea which means it's slightly pointless. Still, it gets you in the football mood so I suppose you could say it does its job! The referee then blew his whistle and we were off.

A cagey opening 10 minutes saw both sides have a fair share of possession without troubling either goalkeeper. Gillingham were looking dangerous down the wings with a number of testing crosses being cleared by the Daggers defence. The visitors on the other hand were restricted to long balls forward in search of Strevs or Sam Williams, neither of whom were able to connect as yet.

It was Daggers who had the first chance of the game with 15 minutes gone. Abu Ogogo weaved his way past two Gills defenders before seeing his shot deflected wide for a corner that ultimately came to nothing. Nonetheless, positives signs for Daggers who endured a brief spell of worry early on when Femi went down under a 50/50 challenge with a Gillingham forward. 

John Still's men continued to look dominant as we completed the first quarter of the match. Luke Wilkinson saw his close range header blocked by Andy Frampton, whilst Matt Saunders' teasing cross was dealt with well by the Gills back line. Despite that, Gillingham continued to threaten. Anton Robinson hit his free kick too deep for Leon Legge to make a difference at the back post, whilst soon after, Matt Fish saw his half volley fly well over Chris Lewington's crossbar.

Even though the opening 28 minutes were contested in fairly even fashion, it was Martin Allen's side that scored the opening goal in controversial circumstances soon after. A ball into the box from Myles Weston on the right hand side was flicked on by Cody McDonald before being turned home by the unmarked Leon Legge. Despite a linesman's flag and fervent protests from the Daggers players and supporters alike, the referee overruled his assistant and let the goal stand.

With the goal, Gillingham were in the ascendancy and looked the more likely to score once more as the half wore on. First, Leon Legge and then Chris Whelpdale came close with similar headers as the visitors continued to battle against good Gills wing-play on either side. Daggers still had chances of their own though and Sam Williams was unlucky not to connect with Femi's drilled ball into the box late in the first half after a spectacular run down the left hand side.
Daggers Fans

With the referee ready to blow his whistle to signal the end of the first half, Gavin Hoyte hammered a half volley over the bar and into the Brian Moore Stand where the 248 Daggers fans were housed. With that, I headed down for my second sausage roll of the afternoon where jeers for the officials could be heard from up above. 

On the whole, the first half was pretty evenly contested. Neither side had really imposed themselves on the match or created enough clear cut chances. Both were relying heavily on play down the wings which was backed up by a multitude of corners that came to nothing. Still, being 1-0 down at the break wasn't all bad and meant that there was definitely a route back into the game if we could step it up a bit in the second half.

The second half was soon underway and continued in the same vein as the first, with both sides matching eachother in all areas. Scott Doe had to be on the ball to deny Cody McDonald a run on goal, whilst Gillingham nearly benefited from an advantage played when Ben Strevens fouled Myles Weston.

But then - then came the moment that all Daggers fans had been waiting for. Since his debut against Oldham in 2011, Femi has developed into a cult hero. And since that time, he has been unable to find the back of the net - until now. The fans favourite broke into the box on the left hand side before seeing his pass returned where he then sliced his controlled volley into the bottom corner beyond Stuart Nelson. Disbelief, rapturous, overwhelmed - all words to describe our reaction to his strike. 

After everyone had recovered from that strike, Daggers were forced to defend once more. A free kick into the box was met by Charlie Lee who couldn't quite direct his header onto the target. Lee came even closer minutes and in truth, he really should have restored the lead, however he directed his header just wide of the far post. We were then treated to the first substitution of the afternoon. With no electronic board, the fourth official was forced to use two bits of card with numbers on them to show that Deon Burton would be replacing Andy Frampton.
Chris Lewington

Within seconds of coming on, Burton was called upon to take a Gillingham penalty after Chris Lewington was adjudged to have brought down Anton Robinson. From where we were, this looked like a catastrophically wrong decision, with Chris Lewington clearly diverting the course of the ball from its original direction. Nevertheless the referee would have none of it and Gillingham had a wrongly awarded penalty.

With Burton's first kick of the game, he put the Gills 2-1 ahead - sending Lewington the wrong way. Goal music rang around Priestfield once more as Daggers fans were left to feel a sense of injustice from the officials once again. Then came the changes for both sides. Steven Gregory replaced Cody McDonald for the hosts, whilst Jake Caprice was brought on in place of Medy Elito for Daggers. You did read that right, Medy Elito was actually substituted. 

Daggers were now doing the majority of the pressing with Femi tormenting his full back counterpart as the visitors looked to load the box with crosses. Still's side were showing good intent and Sam Williams came close on 80 minutes when a neat passage of play created an opening for him to volley straight at a thankful Stuart Nelson. Unbelievably Dominic Green was then thrust into the fray for Matt Saunders in the hope he would repeat the heroics of last year.

Almost instantly he gave Dagenham a new dimension, with his whipped cross being met by Luke Wilkinson who could only head over the crossbar from close range. Daggers came close to equalising once more soon after when Stuart Nelson fumbled a cross into the box. Luckily for him however, no Daggers players were on hand to turn home the rebound despite a scramble with the Gills defenders.

Luke Howell and Sam Williams both squandered late chances following good work from Ben Strevens, whilst up the other end Deon Burton saw his header hit the outside of the post. Despite sustained pressure and the belated introduction of Jake Reed, Daggers were unable to find a way through which meant Gillingham clung on for a vital 2-1 victory. What made the defeat even more disappointing was the manner in which it came, two controversial goals ultimately costing us what I feel would have been a deserved point. 

As for our performance, I don't really have any complaints. No one had a particularly poor game; we were just somewhat unlucky on the day. Ben Strevens & Sam Williams didn't get in the game as much as I'd have liked, but we can put that down to a fairly resolute Gills defence. Luke Howell did the wiping up job in the middle of the park, whilst Matt Saunders put in something of an average performance.

The back line didn't really do anything wrong either and were unlucky to see themselves concede two goals. Femi in particular had a superb game once more and finally broke his scoring duck much to the delight of all Daggers fans. He dominated the left side all afternoon, meanwhile Medy Elito turned in another ok performance. On the bright side, Dominic Green looked sprightly after coming on and hopefully he gets more of an extended run in the team.

As for Gillingham - fair play to them for the victory. I think a draw would have been a fair result but I can't begrudge them the victory. It was the officials that ruined the game, for both sides for that matter. Their constant stop-start of play, poor officiating and seemingly intermittent blindness was evident on several occasions and hopefully both clubs launch a complaint to the Football League. With all of that, Gillingham have good fans on the whole and I wish them well for the remainder of the season.

Next up for us is the visit of AFC Wimbledon Saturday, after that we take on League Cup finalists Bradford City on the following Wednesday evening. Until then, have a good week and hopefully we can get back on track next Saturday afternoon!

Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Daggers 1-0 Cheltenham Town, Howell Hedges Benson.

Cheltenham Town welcomed to Victoria Road.

Following a four week hiatus, The Daggers Scale is back! And what's more, we bring good tidings with news of an impressive Dagenham & Redbridge victory over Cheltenham Town on Saturday afternoon. Despite Sam Williams' penalty miss, Luke Howell had wrapped up the points and a 1-0 win with an emphatic strike top corner strike just ten minutes previous. The result leaves Daggers in a comfortable 13 place, whilst the Robins slip to 5th after a first defeat in six.

With our record against Cheltenham being decidedly awful, especially in the Football League - this wasn't a game where optimism was at its highest. In our 7 previous meetings with the Robins, we'd lost 6. That record also includes having lost both home games with a combined aggregate score of 0-7, as well as that 50 minute interlude of Dave Hogan. With big Dave nowhere near the teamsheet this afternoon, at least there was a slight glimmer of positivity.

Before the game though, we met up with Cheltenham fans Maxi & Alun to discuss the finer points of football. Namely, why can't Medy Elito perform consistently and how awful we seem to be away from home. Nevertheless it was a good laugh and set the tone for the afternoon; well, sort of. Whilst there we also gathered the team news which was as follows...

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

John Still opted to make a single change from the side that drew 0-0 so valiantly at Plymouth Argyle a week ago with Billy Bingham making way for Gavin Hoyte. This allowed Abu Ogogo to push back up into midfield whilst Hoyte reverted to his natural right back position. Ben Strevens also started his second game upon his return in what was to be his second home debut. His first home debut was a 1-0 over Halifax Town in December 2006. A sign perhaps?

Cheltenham Town: Brown, Lowe, Jones, Elliott, Hector, McGlashan, Penn, Taylor, Harrad, Benson, Mohamed. Subs: Roberts, Jombati, Carter, Pack, Deering, Duffy, Harrison.

Mark Yates named a drastically altered squad from the one that faced us on the opening day, whilst he made just a single change from the 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers in midweek. Billy Jones replaced the Robins very own version of Femi, Sido Jombati. The real test though would be on the wing where Femi himself would be coming up against the tricky McGlashan. The main story of the day however, was the return of Daggers legend Paul Benson who would be coming back and starting at Victoria Road for an opposition team for the first time.

The teams promptly came out and Benson received a rousing reception when his name was read out over the tannoy. He's a true Daggers legend and one day I hope he'll return to the club that he loves so dearly. For 90 minutes though, he would be the enemy and Ben Strevens would be the other returning hero. Following a quick coin toss where the sides changed ends, Mr Drysdale blew his whistle to signal the beginning of the match.

With minutes of kick off there was a goal. Unfortunately though it was Daggers forward Josh Scott who’s on loan at Ebbsfleet that scored it. Shaun Harrad who scored in the reverse fixture back in August was the first player to try his luck at our game; however Chris Lewington was equal to his drive and palmed it wide of the post. 

After a dour opening 15 where neither side threatened, it was Paul Benson who was next to have a pop in front of goal. Benson latched onto Jason Taylor's perfectly weighted through ball on the right hand side before firing high into the Traditional Builders Stand after coming under good pressure from Luke Wilkinson. It almost went as high as that penalty he took at home to Bradford a few seasons ago!

Despite Cheltenham having the better of the play, it was now the turn of the hosts to have a period of dominance going forward. Matt Saunders saw his effort deflected wide for a corner whilst Billy Jones was justifying his selection by doing his utmost to deny Daggers with two fantastic blocks. Up the other end the battle continued to be Wilkinson vs Benson, with the current Daggers once again frustrating his predecessor with a decisive sliding tackle.

With half an hour gone came the first real chance of the afternoon. Luke Howell's lofted cross was met by Ben Strevens whose well placed header was saved confidently by Robins 'keeper Scott Brown. The Daggers were now making the home advantage count and came close once more just minutes later as Sam Williams curled a shot wide after good combination play from Matt Saunders & Ben Strevens. 
Lewy wasn't busy.

The visitors never really looked like forcing a save out of Chris Lewington as the half wore on, with the ball being punted up towards Benson for the back for the majority of the time. Daggers were still looking the more likely to score as the half entered its closing stages. First Luke Wilkinson directed a header wide of the post before Matt Saunders forced another impressive stop from Brown who was by far the busier of the two goalkeepers.

With little to talk about during the half time interval, we head straight into the second half. After a lacklustre opening once again, Mark Yates rang the changes. The uninspiring and ineffectual Shaun Harrad & Jermaine McGlashan were withdrawn; in their place came Byron Harrison & Darren Carter. Within seconds of the changes, Daggers fashioned an opening. A well weighted ball over the top found Sam Williams who failed to control as it ran through into the clutches of Scott Brown.

Minutes later there was nothing Brown could do as Daggers took the lead in emphatic fashion. Abu Ogogo won the ball on the left before playing it into Sam Williams, who despite some hesitation, laid it back into the path of Luke Howell who rifled home his effort into the top corner. Scott Brown left with no chance as a well crafted Daggers move sliced the Robins defence wide open. A lot of the credit has to go to Williams, who despite being urged to shoot, remained calm and used his excellent vision once more to pick out a teammate to take the honours.

The goal seemed to inject some life into the game as both sides continued to push forward for a goal. Darren Carter dragged a shot wide of the mark before Harrison had a contentious penalty appeal waved away. Up the other end Williams who was having a terrific game curled a shot narrowly wide of the mark following yet more excellent play from Matt Saunders. 

Then with 20 minutes left on the clock, came a potential game changer. Matt Saunders weaved his way into the box before being brought down by Steve Elliot. The referee had no hesitation and appeased Daggers fans by pointing to the spot. Sam Williams who has a 100% record from the spot duly stepped up, and saw his penalty well saved by Scott Brown. The worry now was, would this outstanding piece of goalkeeping spur Cheltenham on to get an equaliser?
Marlon Pack introduced.

The short term answer, was no. Daggers continued to press for a second goal and but for another piece of superb goalkeeping from Scott Brown to deny Medy Elito, they would have found it. It was clear to all that Medy's new Bas Savage like haircut was forcing the oppositions defence into submission. A second former Dagger then joined the action as Marlon Pack replaced Russell Penn for the final 10 minutes.

The remaining 10 minutes were a frantic affair, with Sam Williams unable to extend himself enough to reach Medy Elito's well flighted ball into the box. Then the prophecy nearly came true. Paul Benson was laid in on the left hand side before seeing his looping lob drop onto the roof of the net to the relief of a worried Chris Lewington. Directly from the goal kick, the hosts came close once more. Femi's skillful run down the left hand side was halted just before the mesmeric full back could advance into the box and score what would have been the goal of the season.

As the fourth official announced there would be four minutes of added on time, Cheltenham finally managed a period of sustained pressure for the first time in the afternoon. The newly introduced Marlon Pack fired his effort over the bar, whilst Byron Harrison's low ball across the box evaded everyone before being partially cleared.

With time nearly up, the Robins launched their last attack. They won a corner and of course, that meant Scott Brown made his way up from the back. After some pinball in the box, the ball fell to Brown who nodded it on only for Michael Hector to somehow put the ball wide of the post from just yards out. Despite that almighty chance for the visitors, Daggers hung on to record their first ever victory over Cheltenham Town - and a deserved one at that.

Paul Benson, who never really received any decent service all afternoon, was then given a standing ovation by the fans who adored him for so many years. Seeing him in the kit of an opposition team still doesn't seem right, you wonder if one day we'll see him back at Victoria Road. Call it a hunch, but I think we will.

As for the performance, not the best you'll ever see but it was enough - which is what matters. Matt Saunders in particular had a superb game along with Abu Ogogo, the pair controlled the midfield alongside the ever present Luke Howell. Despite his dodgy haircut, even Medy Elito surpassed the ever increasingly low expectations we have of him to perform to a decent standard. 

The thing I'm most excited about however is the potential partnership of Sam Williams & Ben Strevens. They already look as though they have a degree of camaraderie and had it not been for Scott Brown, Strevs would have had his second, first Daggers goal. Williams' hold up play was also exemplary once more, whilst at the back Luke Wilkinson's dominated Paul Benson all afternoon. To be quite honest, I really cannot fault anyone yesterday – apart from the people who sort out the advertisements around the ground, who still haven't corrected an upside down sign.

As for Cheltenham, I was quite disappointed with their display - although not with the result of course. They're a team I very much like due to their fans and just the club itself, as I've said before they're one of the few clubs I could imagine myself supporting other than Daggers in this league.

Their display was quite poor, especially going forward, so much so in fact that I don't remember Chris Lewington having to do anything of note all afternoon. Michael Hector didn't have a particularly good a game, whilst you'd be forgiven for forgetting that McGlashan was even playing. For me their best player was Byron Harrison, that despite him only playing 40 minutes of the game. He gave slightly more creativity, although I felt that Sam Deering could have been introduced at some point as he's a very tricky winger. On that performance you'd imagine we'll face them again next season, but we also have to remember they have a relatively new squad which may affect how they played.

Regardless of all of that, I wish them luck for the remainder of the campaign. Next up for us is a very tricky trip to second placed side Gillingham on Saturday, where we'll be trying to do Cheltenham a favour. Ben Strevens will also be returning to his previous club, so here's hoping we manage to do the dirty and come away with another 2-1 win like last season.

Until then, have a good week and I hope you've enjoyed reading! Remember, you can also follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.