Sunday, 10 March 2013

Rotherham United 1-2 Daggers, Wayne's World.

For any Dagenham & Redbridge supporters at the New York Stadium on Saturday afternoon, it's an afternoon they're unlikely to forget in a hurry. Goals from Medy Elito and Luke Wilkinson secured an important victory over the 10 man Millers who may feel slightly hard done by with the result. The real reason this victory means so much though comes in the form of Steve Evans. The Victoria Road outfit have now exacted double revenge over the pie eater extraordinaire having defeated the Millers by a 7-1 aggregate scoreline over the two meetings in this campaign.

Should you have asked Daggers fans before the game, the likelihood is that they'd have been expecting defeat. Rotherham were unbeaten in six and came into this off the back of a 4-0 away victory at Oxford in midweek. Dagenham meanwhile had won twice in their last ten outings with Wayne Burnett still looking for his first success as Interim manager following a draw and a defeat so far. The reverse fixture saw the Daggers win 5-0, but there wasn’t much hope of that this time around.

The journey to the deepest, darkest corner of Yorkshire began at 8:30am at Chadwell Heath Station. From there we travelled to Liverpool Street before jumping on the Metropolitan Line to Kings Cross. After a brief wait we boarded our train to Doncaster, where we arrived just shy of midday. The Northern Rail service from Doncaster to Rotherham was surprisingly well kept and bar a three minute delay all went according to plan, meaning we arrived in Rotherham just before 12:30.

After an unsurprising wait, we headed to the Bridge Inn. A good hour or so was spent in there, mainly in disbelief that Wigan had gone 3-0 up at Everton. An omen perhaps? I'm not too sure how it would be, but you have to grasp at anything when you support Daggers. After that we headed towards New York, where dreams are made of, by following the crumbling, narrow Yorkshire streets.

Upon arrival you see that Rotherham's new home is a gleaming, state of the art modern complex. It's probably one of the most impressive structures from the outside and it's instantly evident as to why it has been nominated for the prize of, "Best New Stadium", in the world. The fans gathered and entered through the turnstiles as we walked 3/4 of the way around the ground to find our entrance. Unsurprisingly there wasn't many Daggers fans queuing. Still, at least we know in the future we can get the cheapest possible tickets as they have barcode ticket scanners. 

We headed through to be greeted by a concrete structure that felt considerably warmer than the outside. With impressive facilities such as Sky TV and a well equipped tea-bar there was to be no complaints from any of our travelling faithful. As you walk up the steps you're met with one of the best interiors in the league. You wonder if the inside can meet the superb external of the stadium. But it can. If anything the four stands looked even better from the inside and you can really see why it's been nominated for such a prestigious award.

All four of the stands are different sizes and get gradually larger in stature if you go in a clockwise direction from the East Stand. The East & North Stands were the smallest two, but looked as though they would create the most noise as they were filling up fast. The West Stand is the main stand and it contains the dugouts, tunnel and the press boxes. They are all completed with metal and glass roofs that give a unique and modern feel to the stadium whilst allowing whatever light there was available, onto the pitch.

We however, we housed in the Morrison Stand which holds 2000 and unsurprisingly was all seated. We were given a section half the size of the stand which was more than enough. It offered an excellent unrestricted view of the proceedings despite being bloody cold thanks to a strong gusting wind throughout the afternoon. 

Just as we absorbed the features of the stadium, the teams were read out by the announcer as follows...

Rotherham United: Warrington, Davis, Mullins, Ridehalgh, Arnason, O'Connor, Pringle, Noble, Frecklington, Revell, Nardiello. Subs: Shearer, Tonge, Morgan, Rowe, Bradley, Odejayi, Agard.

Steve Evans remained with the starting XI that defeated Oxford United convincingly in midweek for the visit of Daggers. That meant the potent strike partnership of Alex Revell and Daniel Nardiello remained intact whilst midfield playmaker Ben Pringle continued to have a dominant role. Century old goalkeeper Andy Warrington continued to defy the retirement demands by coming out for the day once more.

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

Wayne Burnett sprung a surprise by making three changes from last Saturday's defeat to Chesterfield. Sam Williams, Dominic Green and Ben Strevens were all taken out of the side and replaced by Medy Elito, Kevin Maher and Josh Scott who had recently returned from a loan spell at Ebbsfleet. It also meant Daggers would be lining up in a more resilient 4-5-1 formation as we continued to build upon Burnett's unbeaten away record of one game.

With that the teams were paraded onto the pitch by the Millerettes, which sounds more like a musical instrument than football cheerleaders. After avoiding the money spider above our heads, we applauded the side and the very dapper looking Wayne Burnett as we hoped to witness a first win under the new manager. Annoyingly the sides then switched ends which meant Daggers would be attacking the Morrison End in the first half and Millers the North End.

The referee blew his whistle and we were off. Almost immediately Daggers were put under pressure. Luke Wilkinson fouled Alex Revell which allowed Michael O'Connor to get a shot away from the free kick. He stepped over the ball but luckily for Daggers he could only manage to direct it wide of the goal. 

After that early attempt, the game took a more subdued tempo for the next 10 minutes. Both sides looked to find their feet in the contest which saw a lot of misplaced passes in the midfield area. The visitors nearly created a chance when Josh Scott linked up well with Luke Howell, but the former just played his pass too short which allowed the tight Millers defence to clear the danger.

With little under 15 minutes played, Burnett's side squandered their first real chance of the afternoon. Matt Saunders delivered a corner deep into the back post where Medy Elito knocked it down for an unmarked Abu Ogogo who could only stab the ball over the bar from close range. A good chance that Abu probably should have done better with given the circumstances. 

Despite having the larger share of possession, Rotherham were unable to create any clear cut opportunities. Poor communication from Scott Doe & Chris Lewington nearly let them in on the 20 minute mark, but luckily Luke Wilkinson was on hand to clear behind for a corner. The corner came to nothing and Daggers were able to break. The visitors went straight up the other end and after a good passage of play on the left hand side Luke Howell saw his fierce effort plucked out of the air well by Andy Warrington between the posts.

With 27 minutes played the hosts nearly opened the scoring. Following sustained pressure, Michael O'Connor had the chance to try his luck from a free kick once more. Again he curled the ball around the wall but once again it bent just wide of Chris Lewington's near post with the majority of Millers fans believing it had crept it. Not long after, Frecklington had the home fans at it again, but his deflected strike was gathered well by Chris Lewington.

Alex Revell has been the thorn in Daggers side before, and he nearly returned to haunt the Essex club again. The former Orient striker made a fantastic run down the left hand side before having his shot blocked superbly by a recovering Scott Doe. Even though the Millers looked the more likely to break the deadlock, the Daggers defence were coping admirably so far.

The half time whistle edged ever closer but the Millers were relentless in their pursuit of the lead. In particular they were looking menacing down the wings, however full backs Femi and Gavin Hoyte remained sturdy in their positions. That was of course, until the 46th minute. Hoyte lost possession just outside his own area which allowed Rotherham a chance to break the deadlock. With Lee Frecklington bearing down on goal Chris Lewington spread himself and made a superb save to deny the Millers the lead.

That piece of action just about concluded the first half with the sides going in level at 0-0. Rotherham may have felt as though they deserved to go in with the lead, but ultimately they failed to take their chance’s which is what matters most. Daggers were holding their own, even if they weren’t creating many chances going forward.

An inspired changed by Wayne Burnett?
(Picture thanks to @dcdagger)
As the biting wind continued to bellow through the stadium, the teams soon re-emerged for the second half. Wayne Burnett also made first change of the afternoon. The lacklustre Kevin Maher was replaced by the far younger Billy Bingham as Daggers looked to inject some urgency into their play. The referee blew his whistle and we began once more.

After a brief stoppage for Luke Wilkinson's accidental on purpose kick towards the head of Alex Revell, the match came alive. First Luke Howell & Josh Scott both fluffed their lines inside the penalty area as Rotherham managed to clear the danger. And then, O'Connor who had been a persistent thorn going forward all afternoon, saw his long range volley fly way over the bar.

But after that, came the real drama. Medy Elito raced onto a speculative punt forward from Luke Wilkinson before being brought down just inside the box by defender Kari Arnason. The referee had no hesitation in sending Arnason off and pointing to the spot to give the Daggers a penalty. After the dramatics at Bradford City around 10 days ago, the question was, who would be taking the penalty?

Medy Elito scores it.
Thanks to @dcdagger once again for the picture.
It was Medy Elito. The man who had caused the drama at Bradford late last month would be taking the spot pick. The man who had bore the brunt of criticism from Daggers fans this season. The man who had scored against Rotherham in the 5-0 drubbing earlier in this season. He stepped up, and he directed his penalty straight down the middle, leaving Warrington with no chance. GOAL!  Cue delirious celebrations from the travelling supporters who were left in disbelief that their side had taken the lead. Up the other end though there were some unsavoury scenes as the Daggers players were pelted with bottles whilst enjoying their goal celebrations.

So with 30 minutes to go we were leading 1-0 at the home of Evans and we had the extra man! Surely nothing could go wrong from here? Well of course it could, we're Dagenham & Redbridge - we don't make things easy. And in a near repeat of Wembley, Rotherham went straight up the other end and levelled the scores. A corner from the left hand side found the unmarked Claude Davis who got to the ball first and headed home past a helpless Chris Lewington. Cue goal music and a look of resignation and despair upon the faces of Daggers fans in an expectant fashion.

The hosts now had the bit between their teeth and roared on by 7800 home supporters they began searching for the winner. Daniel Nardiello broke down the right hand side after getting past a persistent Femi before seeing his drilled cross go straight across the face of goal for a throw in. Then Alex Revell cut inside on the right and fired a fierce effort across goal that forced Chris Lewington into a full stretch save to divert the ball away from goal.

Medy Elito who was bearing the brunt of the home fans booing then came close to giving the Daggers a 2-1 lead. Good interchange between Elito and Josh Scott allowed Medy to break inside the box before blazing his close range effort over the bar. With little over 10 minutes left now in the contest you began to wonder if anyone would be able to find a winner.

The 124 Dagenham & Redbridge Fans.
But someone did. And once again Medy Elito was the architect. Elito who enjoyed his space down the wings all afternoon got down the right before being bundled over by Millers defender Claude Davis. The free kick was in a dangerous position, inches from the penalty area and inches from the by-line. Matt Saunders whose deliveries had been delivered with pin point accuracy all afternoon stepped up to take it.

After some scuffling in the box, Saunders fooled everyone by pulling the ball back to the onrushing Luke Wilkinson who calmly slotted the ball into the top corner of the net with an accurate finish. The goal may have been calmly scored, but the celebrations were most certainly not. More delirium in the away end and another sense of disbelief as now held a fantastic 2-1 lead over Steve Evans men with little over 5 minutes remaining in the match.

The New York Stadium was silenced as the songs rang out from the Morrison Stand once more. Medy Elito received a standing ovation upon his exit from the playing proceedings, making way for the loftier and stronger Ben Strevens to come on.

Rotherham continued to come forward in search of another equaliser. With 87 minutes played, they came within inches of finding it. Lee Frecklington was fouled on the edge of the box which gave Ben Pringle the chance to secure a draw for the Millers. It looked for the world that his crisp strike was heading into the top corner, but at the last second it thundered off of the bar and out for a goal kick. Relief, massive relief for Daggers fans.

At this point I had a crick in my neck thanks to persistent turning to the scoreboard to check if it was 90 minutes yet. It was, and the fourth official stuck a warranted 5 minutes of injury time onto his board. Rotherham continued to pour forward in search of a leveller, but it just wouldn't come. In scenes reminiscent of the Play Off final, Andy Warrington came forward for a corner in the dying embers of the game - but no one connected and it went out for a throw.

With the overload of Rotherham attackers it left lots of space at the back for Daggers to exploit should they get the ball. With 90 seconds left they did just that and Luke Howell will feel as though he should have scored. A neat flick on from Billy Bingham allowed Howell through on goal and the Daggers top scorer chipped the ball wide of the mark when it would have been easier to score. Soon after the goal kick, the referee blew the final whistle to signal the end of the match and allow Daggers fans to let out a triumphant cheer. We had beaten Steve Evans - not once; but twice.

Savour It. 

The real hero of the day however, despite the performances on the pitch - was the lucky money spider that continued to hover overhead from 2:30pm until the end of the match. If he wasn't there, you have to cast serious doubt over whether we'd have won that match. Sadly now though he's probably in the belly of big fat Steve - but he gave a vital service when it was needed. We salute you!

In all seriousness though, all Dagenham & Redbridge players played a part on Saturday afternoon. I was happy for Josh Scott in particular. He may have only had once chance from a Bingham cross, but he made his presence felt and done a lot more than our other strikers have done recently. At the moment I think he'd definitely be in my side that starts against Torquay.

What should also be applauded is the decision making of Wayne Burnett. At half time he made the superb decision to replace the ineffective Kevin Maher with the energetic Billy Bingham - a decision that proved to be something of a game changer. He had a superb second half and along with Matt Saunders & Luke Howell looked even better as the game progressed.

Medy Elito didn't have his best game despite my lauding him, but his work for the two goals is what we need to see more of. He caused problems, serious problems that led to the two goals. If he can do that every week, he'll gain the support of the whole of Victoria Road. The defence was exemplary throughout, Femi in particular let nobody past him whilst I'd say the centre half pairing of Luke Wilkinson & Scott Doe is one of the strongest in the league.

As for the result as a whole, we probably didn't deserve the three points. But that doesn't matter at the end of the day because we took our chances. And that's something that we haven't done enough in the past 3 years or so let alone the past 7 months. It makes a pleasant change for us to be the victors in that sort of situation and let's be honest; it couldn't have come on a better day could it?

With those 3 points we should have near enough secured our survival in League Two for another year. We're not there yet, but we should be able to garner another 5 points before the end of the season. Hopefully we can get back to back wins when we take on Torquay United on Tuesday night who are currently enduring a torrid run of form. Let's cheer on the boys and make it certain!

Remember you can follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

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