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.
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.
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.