Thursday, 14 March 2013

Daggers 2-2 Torquay, Rene Gives Pain Relief For Gulls.

Even with lady luck on our side, Dagenham & Redbridge boss Wayne Burnett is still searching for his first home win as manager after a disappointing 2-2 draw against Torquay. Daggers will feel as though they should have taken all 3 points having had the extra man for 87 minutes following Aaron Downes' mistimed challenge on Abu Ogogo early on. The converted spot kick from Medy Elito was cancelled out by Joss Labadie before Josh Scott restored the lead minutes before the end. Battling Torquay never gave up though and Rene Howe rewarded the 114 travelling diehards by dispatching his 89th minute spot kick in confident style to give the Gulls a share of the spoils.

Given our awful home record on Tuesday nights at Victoria Road, this wasn't a game I was confident about. That was despite Torquay's torrid run of form that had seen them lose seven of the last eight, a point at Accrington being their only solace. Almost significantly this match marked nearly a whole year since that encounter at home to Northampton on a Tuesday night where relegation seemed unavoidable. Move on a year and we're under new leadership and came into this off the back of a fantastic 2-1 win at promotion chasing Rotherham at the weekend.

After a quick pre match stop in the clubhouse which now has a pinball machine don't you know, we headed into the ground where the teams were announced as follows...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Hoyte, Doe, Wilkinson, Femi, Bingham, Saunders, Howell, Ogogo, Elito, Scott. Subs: Seabright, Gracco, Green, Maher, Dennis, Reed, Strevens.

Wayne Burnett opted to make a single change from the Daggers side that defeated Rotherham United at the weekend. Kevin Maher, who was withdrawn after 45 minutes in that game, was replaced by Billy Bingham in midfield as Daggers lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation once more. News earlier in the day also indicated that fan favourite Brian Woodall wouldn't be seen at Victoria Road for a while after agreeing to a loan spell at BSN side Bishops Stortford.

Torquay United: Poke, Oastler, Downes, Saah, Cruise, Mansell, Bodin, Labadie, Jarvis, Howe, Benyon. Subs: Rice, Nicholson, MacDonald, Lathrope, Stevens, Craig, Macklin.

Torquay Interim manager Alan Knill also chose to make a single change from the weekend's fixture against Oxford. Kevin Nicholson dropped to the bench which allowed former Arsenal defender Thomas Cruise to slot in at left back in a like for like change. The Gulls were looking for only a second win of 2013 and with a good recent record against the Daggers, they'd be hoping to find it here. 

With that we took our positions and the teams emerged from the tunnel to be greeted by the under-strength crowd on a cold Tuesday night. After completing the pleasantries which involved both captains deciding to remain as they were, the match kicked off.

Usually the opening of a match is quite uneventful and spectacularly un-dramatic. Yesterday though, it was anything but. Within minutes Abu Ogogo burst through down the left hand side thanks to a well weighted through ball before being hauled down inside the box by Aaron Downes. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and sending the unfortunate Downes off after just 3 minutes of play.

The crowd couldn't quite believe it - especially when you take into account exactly the same thing happened at the weekend away at Rotherham. The anticipation as Elito stepped up to take the penalty was high, but like at the weekend he slotted it away in calm fashion to give the Daggers a 1-0 lead. You began to feel a little sorry for Torquay at this point with all their rotten luck, however there was still considerable time for the visitors to make amends.

Despite the early goal, Daggers failed to kick on straight away. It took until 16 minutes to register their first real shot of the evening. Neat play on the right hand side resulted in Medy Elito curling a fine cross towards Josh Scott whose header was expertly tipped over the bar by Michael Poke. The hosts were now getting into their stride with Billy Bingham next to try his luck. 

One thing that has become abundantly clear under the short reign of Wayne Burnett so far is the precision and work taken on set pieces. After scoring with one at the weekend, Daggers came close with the same routine on 27 minutes. This time the ball was played into Luke Howell and but for the outstretched leg of a Torquay defender to divert the ball wide of the goal, Daggers would have found themselves two up.

The Daggers performance then took something of a plunge as the hosts failed to assert their man advantage going forward. We looked to play down the middle far too often which resulted in the Gulls breaking down the attack with the danger being cleared. Not enough play was going down the wing which was a shame as the combination of Josh Scott & Medy Elito was looking like a prominent one.

Torquay were lacking in confidence and with a man disadvantage it showed even more. Despite frequently challenging down the right, there was no one willing to take a gamble by getting into the box which meant the Gulls were restricted going forward. It nearly got even worse before half time for the visitors as Daggers came close from another corner. Matt Saunders' delivery was met by Scott Doe at the near post who could only flash his header into the side netting. 

With near enough the last kick (well, head) of the first half, Torquay registered their first opportunity of the match. Following the Daggers corner, the visitors broke down the right hand side. The ball was played to Joe Oastler who whipped in a delightful cross to the back post that found Rene Howe whose looping header just cleared the crossbar. With that, the referee blew his whistle and somewhat disappointingly considering how the half had started, Daggers went in 1-0 ahead.

Straight into the second half and Daggers opened on the front foot, creating two good opportunities in a matter of minutes. The first saw Josh Scott cross for Medy Elito who could only manage to divert the ball over the bar from several yards out when it seemed easier to score. Then seconds later, good combination play down the left from Femi allowed Elito another bite at the cherry. This time Elito defeated his man before cutting inside and curling a shot inches wide of the far post.

As the snow started falling from the Sky (As it generally does), the atmosphere over Victoria Road turned decidedly frosty as Torquay began to get on top in the game. Joss Labadie and Joe Oastler continued to menace the Daggers defence as the pair looked to evade their respective full backs on each side. Oastler was the more successful, sending in a succession of dangerous crosses into the box. 

Wayne Burnett then made a bold decision with 69 minutes played. Usually the "star player" remains on the field of play no matter how he is performing. Burnett though decided otherwise, withdrawing the ineffective Luke Howell for striker Ben Strevens. This decision especially pleased me as it's not something that's done enough when a "star player" is in the side - and for what it's worth he deserved to be replaced as well.
No longer Mission Impossible

After that, Torquay had the bit between their teeth as they looked to capitalise on a torrid Daggers display. Directly after the substitution the visitors came closer than they had done all evening. Tom Cruise's well timed free kick found the head of Brian Saah who forced Chris Lewington into a finger-tip save over the top to keep the scores level. From the resulting corner Torquay got the leveller they deserved. Lee Mansell's ball in was touched home by Joss Labadie to make it 1-1 and it was a goal that the visitors completely deserved. It wasn't Mission Impossible anymore for Alan Knill's men.

The home crowd were now on the back of the Daggers players. Had the Gulls made it 2-1 like they should have done straight after the equaliser, Victoria Road would have sounded more like Stamford Bridge. Intricate play between Rene Howe & Billy Bodin saw the former superbly intercepted by Scott Doe before the latter directed his free header into the arms of a grateful Chris Lewington. 

Dominic Green was then introduced for Billy Bingham as Daggers reverted to a 4-4-2 formation. Coincidentally it was also the first time Daggers have played with two wingers, (loosely described as), since 1963. There was no initial change though as Torquay continued to pile forward. Luke Macklin's effort was deflected wide of the mark whilst Joss Labadie's powerful free kick curled just wide of the near post to the relief of the Daggers crowd.

Just as all seemed lost for Daggers fans and the prospect of 3 points was slipping away, somehow we took the lead. Josh Scott's poacher like instincts sprung into action following Matt Saunders' cross-cum-shot on the right hand side. With the crowd roaring him on, Josh connected with the ball and turned it goalwards – the ball bouncing off of the underside of the bar before nestling in the back of the net.

The Sieve breathed a huge sigh of relief as Daggers had seemingly rescued a completely undeserved win. More to the point, everyone was delighted for Josh Scott. He needs goals to get his confidence back and I firmly believe that he can kick on from that strike and become the main forward that we so badly need. 

Back to the game though and with minutes left the Gulls had no other choice but to throw players forward in search of an equaliser. Having dominated for large parts of the second half with 10 men, it would have been nothing less than they deserved if they found the back of the net. 

Daggers were looking more resilient at the back now and were combating Gulls pressure well. That was until the 89th minute. A ball cleared out wide was played to Femi who tried to advance forward before being stopped in his tracks. The mercurial left back was forced to pass backwards to Dominic Green who was standing just yards away. His attempted clearance ricocheted off of a Torquay midfield before landing in the box. Luke Wilkinson attempted to clear the ball, but his high boot caught Luke Macklin and Keith Stroud rightly awarded the second penalty of the game.

Rene Howe stepped up to the spot to take the penalty to guarantee what would surely be a share of the spoils. He ran up and calmly slotted the ball beyond Chris Lewington sending the travelling supporters into raptures at the prospect of a well deserved, yet unlikely point. Despite minimal pressure towards the end, that's how the match finished which meant Torquay took a fantastic point away from Victoria Road.

Daggers didn't deserve the win, so a draw was a fair result. They'll be disappointed having had 10 men for 87 minutes that they didn't make the advantage count - and rightfully so. Against 10 men for the majority of the game, any side should win. But Daggers failed to show a lack of urgency and tempo in their game and allowed Torquay back into the contest in the second half. 

The real positive to take from the match was the performance of Josh Scott. The forward continued his impressive work from the weekend and transferred it back to Victoria Road and got a goal for his rewards. It seems like 4-1-4-1 is a system that favours him, rather than the 4-3-3 that we've persisted with for the past couple of years. Hopefully his performances will continue to improve and soon enough he'll be back to the Josh that we all know and love.

As for Torquay, I have to say - very impressed. From the moment after Downes was sent off, their team spirit was tremendous. Despite having a quiet first half, they dominated the second and no one can begrudge them the point. With the players they have and the team spirit that seemed evident, they should be able to avoid the drop. First things first though, they desperately need to get that monkey off their back of not having won in 10 games.

You also have to say that this result could act as a catalyst. Last year we were defeated nearly a year to the day all hope was gone. But we turned it around. You almost get the feeling this performance could act as a motivator for Torquay - a fresh start until the end of the season. I for one hope it does. 

Next up for Daggers is 2nd placed Burton Albion at home on Saturday. The games just get easier and easier don't they? You can read my report from that encounter here on Sunday, until then - have a good Friday and let’s hope we can come away with the win!

Remember, you can amuse yourself with my Tweets on Twitter, just follow @NickMurphyDRFC.

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