Monday, 29 April 2013

Daggers 0-1 York City, Survival Saturday.

And so after 45 games, it came down to a single 90 minutes. Aldershot Town, AFC Wimbledon, Barnet, Plymouth Argyle, Torquay United, York City and of course, Dagenham & Redbridge were all still in the mix come 15:00 Saturday afternoon. It would be 90 minutes of agony, 90 minutes of anxiousness and maybe, just maybe 90 minutes of ecstasy. But overall it would be an experience and one that no supporter of the above mentioned clubs will ever forget.

In the clubhouse before the match there was a mix of optimism and pessimism as you may expect. With so many permutations, the situation was almost impossible to predict. A win, a draw or a defeat could have seen us safe dependent on other results. The two crucial games beside our own were AFC Wimbledon vs Fleetwood and Northampton vs Barnet. The Wombles had to win such was there inferior goal difference, whilst a draw would do for Barnet providing Daggers were defeated at home to York.

After a quick cider we waded through the packed hall back into the light of the outside before heading through the turnstiles. It's a very unusual sight seeing queues outside the turnstiles, but a welcome one nonetheless. After heading through it was clear we would have a bumper attendance, with 20 minutes until kick off there was little room to manoeuvre in the Sieve, whilst the Bury Road End was packed to the non-existent rafters. 

At the other end the Traditional Builders Stand was full to the brim with 1200 passionate York fans roaring on their team to survival. Only an extreme set of results would see the Minstermen relegated and as such the travelling supporters were in a vibrant and cheerful mood. With several upbeat songs playing over the tannoy, the teams were soon announced.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Seabright, Ogogo, Doe, Wilkinson, Femi, Elito, Maher, Howell, Bingham, Ogogo, Scott, Woodall. Subs: Lewington, Fortune, Saunders, Reed, Strevens, Shariff, Hoyte.

Wayne Burnett continued with his chop and change philosophy by making three changes from the side that was so callously defeated last weekend at Aldershot. Jordan Seabright returned in place of the not fully fit Chris Lewington, whilst Medy Elito and Brian Woodall were restored to the side in place of Matt Saunders and Jake Reed. It meant that the ideal strike partnership of Brian Woodall and Josh Scott would get a chance to flourish in the most important game in Daggers history.

York City: Ingham, Oyebanjo, Smith, McGurk, Parslow, O'Connell, Blair, Platt, Reed, Walker, Chambers. Subs: Jameson, Fyfield, Challinor, McLaughlin, Allen, Reed, Coulson.

With the atmosphere and tension building, the teams emerged from the tunnel to be greeted by 3800 passionate supporters. Daggers fans had heeded the call to, "Pack the Vic" and as such one of the best atmospheres in quite some time was created in the Sieve. The players applauded the three sides of the ground for the final time this season before getting set up for York City to kick the game off.

With the clock at 15:02, the most important game in Dagenham & Redbridge's short history had begun. Almost instantly phones were being checked to find out the scores from around the grounds. The match at Victoria Road started slowly, with only the linesman's offside flag prevented York from taking an early lead through Ashley Chambers. Daggers soon claimed dominance and looked threatening on the break, only the covering York defender denying Josh Scott a clear run through on goal.

News then came through from Spotland that Plymouth defender Max Blanchard had seen red, something that could potentially help Daggers if Dale could take the lead. Back at Victoria Road and the hosts came close once more soon after, with Brian Woodall heading Medy Elito's whipped delivery wide of the post. 

Chances soon began to be few and far between, with both sides entangled in a battle in the middle of the park. Femi looked to be at his peak and but for an exaggerated touch would have been through into the box. As the game reached its quarter mark, it became more stretched allowing for opportunities for both sides. Luke Howell's free kick was dealt with well by the York defence before up the other end Ashley Chambers' driven delivery evaded everyone, including the York front line.

Meanwhile at Plainmoor, luck seemed to be in Daggers' favour as Bristol Rovers took the lead against Torquay United. With current results that would see Wayne Burnett's side up one place above the Gulls in the League Two table. Dagenham continued to look the more dangerous as the half wore on with Billy Bingham's goal-bound strike superbly blocked by David McGurk. 

With the first half coming to an end, there was a final chance for Daggers after Matty Blair fouled Medy Elito just outside the area. Brian Woodall was the sole man over the ball and his dipping strike bounced agonisingly off the post before going out for a goal kick. Cries of "ooh's" and "aah's" could be heard from supporters in the Sieve who thought the sweetly struck strike was in. 

That was the final action of a tense first half and it was a scoreline that coupled with other results, would have seen Daggers safe. With the only goal at the bottom of the table coming for Bristol Rovers against Torquay, it was essentially, "as you were" in the search for survival. Nevertheless it remained tense around Victoria Road with both sets of supporters knowing a single goal could change the whole complexion at the bottom of the table. That was coupled with anxiety and anger that the Barnet game had kicked off five minutes late for the second weekend running.

After the Daggerettes had finished their routine, the teams re-emerged onto the pitch. Daggers would be facing the Bury Road End whilst York would be firing towards their own fans in the Traditional Builders Stand. The second half began in much the same style as how the first had ended, with Daggers on the front foot. Luke Wilkinson's tame header was gathered well by Ingham before the Scotsman had to be at his best to deny Woodall's 25 yard effort minutes later.

From the resulting corner Woodall had the best chance of the game so far to put the hosts in front. With the ball bobbling in the box, it fell perfectly for the former Gresley man on the turn but he snatched at his shot, sending the ball wildly over the bar and out for a goal kick - much to the frustration of Daggers fans. 

Then in similar fashion to last weekend's defeat, the Daggers allowed their opponents more time and space on the ball to pressure the defence. That was coupled with potentially disastrous news from Kingesmeadow, where Gary Alexander had given AFC Wimbledon the lead. Agony soon turned into relief minutes later when it emerged that Fleetwood had found a quick equaliser through Andy Mangan. Meanwhile at Plainmoor the score was now 2-2 which would ensure safety for Torquay United.

Back at Victoria Road and York were becoming gradually more dominant. The Daggers midfield seemed to lack urgency and where everything clicked in the first half, it seemed far too disjointed now.

York City Fans
But with 68 minutes gone, Chris Smith put Football League survival on a knife edge. Michael Ingham's punted free kick found Smith in the box who after taking a second to steady himself slotted the ball through the legs of Jordan Seabright to the delight of the 1159 travelling supporters. The Traditional Builders stand roared whilst the Sieve stood silent, if ever there was a contrast to be made - that was it.

After seconds of staring blankly into the distance, several supporters shouted cries of encouragement as the Sieve got back on their feet to reunite and cheer on the team. That's what a relegation battle does to you; it releases emotion that wouldn't otherwise be there in other games this season. As it stood we were still safe, but only just.

Then came the news that we'd all been dreading. AFC Wimbledon had re-taken the lead through Jack Midson which meant Daggers slipped even closer to the relegation zone. People looked despairingly at their phones, hoping it was a mistake - but it wasn't. In a similar fashion to Aldershot last weekend, the atmosphere turned eerie. We all feared a situation like this, and now our hopes rested on Northampton finding a goal against Barnet.

As a result of Barnet kicking off late which I was rather dubious about, it distorted the relegation picture. Amongst cries of happiness in the Sieve we soon learned that Northampton had taken the lead at Sixfields which meant we moved out of the relegation zone at the expense of Bees. Jubilation followed, although with a slender one goal lead we were all aware that the picture could soon change.

The volume was soon cranked up a notch with the introduction of Jake Reed for Medy Elito as Daggers pushed forward in search of an equaliser. Cheers erupted once more as news came through that Northampton had doubled their lead against Barnet. It meant that for Daggers to go down, Barnet would have to find two goals against one of the meanest home defences in League Two.

Daggers continued to push forward and looked at their most threatening through Brian Woodall. First the rejuvenated frontman had his effort blocked before Billy Bingham's narrow drive was deflected wide for a corner following Woodall's pin point pass. With the game reaching its climax, even the players began to show nerves, with Billy Bingham asking one supporter for the score at Sixfields. 

With time running out at all of the grounds, Rochdale took the lead against Plymouth to leave Pilgrims fans on edge. Torquay were now 3-2 up as well which virtually guaranteed Alan Knill's side safety. With all the scores coming in it was even more frustrating that Daggers were unable to find an equaliser. The hosts were limited to long range efforts and really failed to exploit the wings enough, especially down the left where Femi had looked so dangerous in the first half.

Woodall's Effort Was Saved By Ingham
The clock ticked over and we went into injury time for the final time this season. With three minutes on the board, Daggers fans let out an almighty roar to drive the team forward. And it nearly worked. First the ball fell to Howell whose rocket shot was somehow palmed away by Ingham before the 'keeper got up to deny Brian Woodall's half volley on the follow up. It was spectacular stuff from Ingham who had cemented his man of the match award.

It was now corner after failed corner for the hosts who were unable to find an equaliser. The referee soon blew his whistle to the triumphant cheers of the York fans. But Daggers were left in purgatory - a state of not knowing. Even with Northampton's two goal lead, with Barnet you just never know. The most nervous five minutes of our lives ensued, with tension building, the first scream and the first cheer came through. We had done it. We had survived on the final day. Barnet were relegated into the Conference amidst manic celebrations in the Sieve.

A sense of relief swept around the supporters that remained in the ground. If you listened close enough, you could probably even hear the cheers from the dressing room. What's more is we had done it by just five goals - which is ridiculous. For relegation to be decided by five goals is unbelievably cruel, moreover it shows the importance of having a goalscorer for the first part of the season when we were at our best.

The players soon came back out to do their customary lap of the pitch, with Wayne Burnett high-fiving supporters and praising them for their support. When the team were near the dugouts and surrounded by the stewards, the club made the unusual step of allowing fans onto the pitch. It allowed for that community club atmosphere as the 500 or so remaining fans descended towards the other side of the pitch where the player of the season presentation was taking place.

Wayne Burnett's speech was then cut short as the microphone decided to stop working. Still, it was a nice touch from the club to allow supporters onto the pitch. No one tried to tear down the goalposts, although several attempted to re-enact goals from years gone by. With the Great Escape playing, we headed out of the turnstiles for the last time this season...and straight into the clubhouse. Well, what else are you going to do? 

With the upstairs bar understandably packed, we headed down to the hall to celebrate before the supporter’s club player of the season presentation. Unfortunately, I didn't make it that far. Drinking eight ciders when you've only had breakfast is not a healthy combination, and as a result I may have been slightly (very) drunk. I woke up back home this morning though, which was a result of sorts. Still, it was a terrific day and a terrific evening.

Upon reflection, I think it's fair to say we were rather lucky to stay up, by five goals - I really can't emphasise that enough. We desperately need our home form to improve next season, but we've got the best part of three months to improve on that. Not only that, but hopefully Wayne Burnett gets the job on a full time basis. Aside from being a top bloke off the pitch, he has the belief to "transform" us into a easier on the eye side for some of our supporters. You can't truly judge a manager on a squad they've inherited and two months work. The slate is now wiped clean and we begin again in August with fresh ideas, a new permanent manager and renewed optimism.

As for York, I'm glad they stayed up. Despite it being a more Northern league next year, they have fantastic supporters and a great ground which I'm looking forward to going back to next
season. From what I heard yesterday their supporters were friendly at the end of the game as well, so best of luck to them over the Summer and into next season!

With us there are some positives to take despite our finishing position. Several players have really shone this season, most notably Luke Howell and Luke Wilkinson amongst others. And again, surprisingly enough our defence has been a strong point this year. In only five games have we lost by two or more goals, but we desperately need to improve when we go behind. 

I for one cannot wait to report on our first game back and hopefully unlike a lot I've done this season, we start with a win. There will be several specials over the Summer including a player review, a season review and hopefully an interview with one or two connected with the club. Until my next post, enjoy yourself and never stop looking at that League Two table - because it's truly something to behold.

Remember you can follow my Summer musings on Twitter by following, @NickMurphyDRFC.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Aldershot Town 1-0 Daggers, It's No Laughing Matter.

So then, who thought it would come down to this? Dagenham & Redbridge face a relegation shoot out at Victoria Road next week with York City following an underwhelming 1-0 defeat at all but relegated Aldershot on Saturday. The loss leaves Daggers one point above the relegation zone with just Barnet and AFC Wimbledon below them. Seven teams remain in the relegation mix going into the final day, where literally anything could happen.

There was a weird sense of optimism in the air before the match. The feeling that not only could we stay up ourselves with a win or even a draw, but we could send someone down. I've seen us send someone up before, but relegating someone would be a new experience. Recent form suggested a draw with both sides on fairly torrid runs, whilst the head to head record pointed towards a favourable result for Daggers who hadn't lost at The Rec since 2008. 

The journey to Aldershot was uneventful. After meeting at Chadwell Heath we headed to Waterloo for 12:00 via Liverpool Street and Bank. Upon arrival at Waterloo, we boarded our train for the final away game of the season, arriving at Aldershot shortly after 13:00. We then heard a fantastic description of ourselves as, "shifty" by the police and that we had to have, "an eye kept on us." Our record of zero criminal offences in 17 years clearly backs this statement up. I mean really, do we look like the type of people who would go to football to cause trouble?

After that brief conversation with the rozzers, we found a local beer garden and settled for a cider before the match. With the spring sun blazing down on us and with the clock approaching 14:30, we made an exit and went towards the famous Aldershot away end. After surviving the
notoriously steep hill and battling our way through the forest, we arrived at the WWII like turnstiles. 

Having paid just £5 we headed through to the stadium which was largely unchanged from last year. That and the food was still an absolute rip-off at £3.50 for a rather small burger and a very crusty bun. Still, when there's nothing else to eat what else are you going to do? After feeling sharp pains following the handing over of the money, we advanced through the doorway and into the silo-like away end.

The stadium has just one change from last season, with the addition of a new 300 under cover seated stand at the opposite end which raises the capacity to 7300. The small old main stand remains, with two terraced areas beside it - one for away fans and one for home supporters.
Opposite that is the new main stand which continues to be overshadowed by the massive building behind it.

The best part of the stadium though, both for character and atmosphere remains the 4000+ capacity East Bank. Housing both home and away supporters separated by two barriers, it allows for good banter between fans and for songs to be exchanged. Its curved roof ensures an echoing atmosphere, whilst the playing action remains obscured by several poles, such is the age and design of the stand itself. 

We soon began to watch our forwards warm up and from that; we concluded that we had no chance of winning the match. Thankfully our faith was(n't) restored when the team news was announced over the muffled tannoy system.

Aldershot Town: Young, Herd, Tonkin, Brown, Vincenti, Bradley, Stanley, Hall, Rose, Rankine, Reid. Subs: Warner, Lancashire, Berqvrst, Risser, Cadogan, McCallum, Goulding. 

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Saunders, Bingham, Maher, Howell, Ogogo, Scott, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Fortune, Hoyte, Elito, Shariff, Dennis, Woodall.

Wayne Burnett continued his chop and change philosophy by making three changes from last Saturday's narrow defeat to Oxford United. Chris Lewington, Josh Scott and Billy Bingham were all restored to the side in place of Jordan Seabright, Medy Elito and Toni Silva. Brian Woodall had been recalled from a loan spell at Bishops Stortford and found himself named among the 18 for the first time in over a month. 

With the tension around the ground building, a succession of fast paced songs got the blood flowing before the Aldershot cheerleaders ruined everything. They didn't do anything particularly wrong; I'm just not a great lover of cheerleaders at football. As soon as they completed their rhythmic walking, the teams emerged from the tunnel to enthusiastic applause from all sides of the ground.

Both sets of supporters knew how much this game meant. Both sets of players knew what this game meant. This was do or die for Aldershot in particular who needed a win to stand any chance of remaining in the Football League. For the final away game this season, the pre match pleasantries were completed, the teams lined up and the referee signalled the beginning of the match.

With the anxiousness surrounding the game, it came as no surprise when both sides began tentatively. The first chance fell to Kevin Maher after good build up play; however the experienced midfielder could only blast over from 20 yards. That initial shot sparked the match into life, with Asa Hall seeing his strike blocked before Josh Scott dragged his effort wide of the post following a clever turn. 

After that burst of excitement, the game resumed into a more low key affair, with neither side able to assert any dominance. The Shots were looking tricky down the right, whilst Daggers were seemingly struggling at the back, allowing the Aldershot attackers far too much time on the ball. With the half threatening to peter out, Josh Scott and then Craig Stanley fired over with limp efforts.

Aldershot continued to look the more threatening and on 35 minutes really should have taken the lead. Broadway's Danny Rose shot down the left before whipping a pin-point ball onto the head of Michael Rankine who somehow glanced his free header wide of the post. Despite Chris Lewington remaining untested in the Daggers goal, it was evident that the hosts were coming closer to finding the opening goal.
Daggers fans in the away terrace at half time.

As has become common away from home, Daggers looked threatening on the breakaway. On 45 minutes that vital quality shone through. The visitors broke down the left with Luke Wilkinson winning the ball and advancing into the box before teeing up Josh Scott whose initial shot was palmed back into the danger zone by Jamie Young. The rebound fell to Jake Reed who laid the ball off to Josh Scottt once more, and after taking a second to steady himself, Scott was denied by the bar to the anguish of Daggers fans in the East Bank.

The referee soon blew for half time with both Aldershot and Daggers fans on tenterhooks. The scoreline remained at 0-0 with the Daggers ending the half on top. At the moment, that would have been enough to see the visitors safe for next season, whilst the Shots would have found themselves relegated. 

The second half began with a bang, and unfortunately it was at Daggers expense. The Shots opened with more urgency, more passion and more desire and as a result looked far more threatening. And despite that, it was Daggers who should have opened the scoring on 50 minutes. Luke Wilkinson's defensive clearance released Jake Reed down the left, who after losing control of the ball inside the box could only prod a tame effort at Jamie Young who saved well before the danger was cleared away.

And that one piece of play just about sums everything up. So near yet so far. Jake Reed really should have done better, but when you're relying on a young, inexperienced striker you get what you pay for. He looks like a goal threat, but his ball control is very poor. On numerous occasions he's been in one-on-one, only for his control to let him down and squander a fantastic goal-scoring opportunity. Would we be made to rue that miss? Of course we would. 

Little over five minutes later a ball from the right by Craig Stanley was bundled home by Michael Rankine, despite the best efforts of Chris Lewington and Abu Ogogo on the line. Thankfully a pole restricted my view somewhat so I couldn't see the anguished faces of our two players. The

silence in the away end was eerie as the Aldershot players and fans alike celebrated what could have been the most important goal of their season.

And with that, Wayne Burnett sprung into action, making a double change with 30 minutes remaining. The midfield duo of Kevin Maher and Billy Bingham were replaced by Medy Elito and Mo Shariff, someone described them as, 'wingers', apparently. Even with the change the Shots continued to press for a second, with Craig Reid seeing his shot deflected narrowly behind for a corner.

With the constant pressure of the hosts, it was evident Daggers needed someone to transform their fortunes up front. Brian Woodall who had been hibernating in Bishops Stortford came on for the flagging Jake Reed who despite his nuisance value, failed to make his presence felt up front. Almost immediately, Daggers looked more dangerous going forward. Medy Elito received the ball on the left before advancing into the box and diverting his shot wide from close range.

With little over 20 minutes remaining, the decision to bring on Brian Woodall nearly provided instant dividends. Mo Shariff beat his man on the right before crossing for the tightly marked Woodall who leaped above his man, only to see his powerful header palmed away for a corner by the acrobatic Jamie Young. Even with that effort, Daggers failed to kick on, allowing Aldershot back into the game. Kieron Cadogan passed up two good opportunities as the game approached its climax.

The Aldershot defence submerged deeper and deeper into its own half as we entered the final 10 minutes of the match. Daggers were now bombing down the left hand side through Femi, Medy Elito and even Josh Scott. Unfortunately, despite the "best" efforts of our wingers, they once again lacked the final ball. In the one case where Elito did find his man, Matt Saunders failed to pull the trigger early enough and was eventually crowded out in the area as a result.

The barrage continued as 90 minutes approached, yet Daggers looked destined to fail. We were bombarding the left hand side without any real reward, our wingers simply failed to deliver that crucial final ball. Once again Saunders was played the ball inside the box, but this time instead of opting to shoot when he had time and space, he passed to no-one with the ball rolling out for a goal kick.

I have to admit, the final 3 minutes of the game are a bit of a blur, what I can say though is that I've never shouted as much at a game than as I did in that 3 minute period. The frustration of several Matt Saunders corners failing to beat the first man was too much to bear. And when one did beat the first man, Scott Doe's effort was blocked on the line as the Shots clung on for dear life. 

The ball was soon punted up field where Luke Wilkinson and Abu Ogogo made a hash of getting it back into the Aldershot penalty area. The hosts closed the game out and amongst a chorus of cheers from the opposite side of the East Bank; the referee blew his whistle to signal full time. Daggers fans exasperated at their sides performance; stood silent. It was eerie. A sense of knowing what we had done. There were hands on heads and a number of people staring into the distance whilst the rest left immediately, cursing our abject performance.

Scores from around the grounds only helped to compound the misery. AFC Wimbledon had comeback from 2-0 down to pick up a point at Gillingham; whilst Torquay, York and Accrington had all won. Our saving grace was that Barnet remained at 0-0 with Wycombe. A scoreline that soon changed as we made our way back to the station, my face drained of expression upon seeing Barnet 1-0 ahead.

Back at the station and hope remained, hope remained that Wycombe might ruin Barnet's Underhill party and find that equaliser. News then came through of a Wycombe. You knew, you just knew, on today of all days, Graham Stack would be the hero and ensure a 1-0 Barnet win. And so he did, denying Joel Grant from the spot to drive the final stake into Daggers hearts in what was a most dismal Saturday afternoon.

It's amazing really. It's amazing how football has that weird habit of helping you back up when you're down and then swiftly kicking you in the bo**ocks when you're at your weakest. That phrase seems to sum up Daggers at the moment. And unless we equal or better AFC Wimbledon or Barnet's result next weekend, we could be down for good.

But Saturday's performance just defined the season. We've been poor as a collective, not as individuals. The defence looked shaky, the midfield lost their passing ability once more and going forward we were just abysmal. The decision making and our touch in the final third completely deserted us, it bordered on laughable. Well, it was either laugh or cry. I chose the former although should we be relegated next week, it'll revert to the latter.

Jake Reed may well be a promising youngster, but we cannot start him next weekend. We desperately need someone who knows where the back of the net is and who can provide a sterner test for opposition defenders. Brian Woodall and Josh Scott fit the bill perfectly so hopefully Reed makes way for Woodall to make a crucial start. 

To be quite honest, I can't suggest anything else - only that we all unite next week no matter what qualms you have with anyone in the ground or any of the players. As a club we need to be fully behind the XI on the field and roar them on to safety. It's not an over-exaggeration to say this could well be the biggest game in the history of Dagenham & Redbridge Football Club. And as such, we need everyone at Victoria Road to create a positive atmosphere. 

I don’t feel as though I need to tell you, but that match next week takes place at Victoria Road against York City. Bring anyone along you can, bring old Daggers, new Daggers, anyone that’s a Dagger. We need the support and we need it now. If you’re on Twitter, try to expand our support by tweeting, #PackTheVic. Remember, you can follow myself on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

Hopefully this time next week we’ll be safe, but if we’re not – we only have ourselves to blame. Have a good, if nervous week chaps and hopefully I’ll be bringing good tidings come 17:00 Saturday afternoon. 

**Disclaimer** I do not claim to be any good at Photoshop.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Daggers 0-1 Oxford United, Potter Casts Spell Over Daggers.

Football's a funny old game, isn't it? This time last week some of us thought that we were out of the relegation scrap. Fast forward to 17:00 Saturday and some firmly believe we're back in the mire following another disappointing home defeat, this time to mid table Oxford United. Whatever the case, it's undoubtedly tight at the bottom of the table and you wouldn't bet against it going down to the final day at home to York City. 

Before all of the pessimism and angst though, came slightly less pessimism and angst. We never seem to do well at home to Oxford; in fact we'd lost our previous three home games against them 1-0. That coupled with our torrid home form since New Year left many with little optimism ahead of this clash. The one branch of hope however, was that we did win last weekend and looked very solid at the back in the process, a trait very much needed on home soil.

Upon arrival, Victoria Road looked very sparse - the overcast conditions seemingly putting some supporters off. Those that were there though, were treated to team news that probably did little to wet their appetite.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Seabright, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Elito, Howell, Maher, Saunders, Silva, Reed. Subs: Miles, Hoyte, Fortune, Shariff, Bingham, Strevens, Dennis.

Wayne Burnett made the uncharacteristic decision of naming an unchanged side for the visit of Oxford United. Jordan Seabright remained in goal for his second full appearance, whilst Jake Reed continued in the sole forward position. The midfield included the experienced Kevin Maher and Barnsley winger Toni Silva who had shown flashes of what he's capable of in his last three appearances.

Oxford United: Crocombe, Batt, Duberry, Wright, Whing, O'Brien, Parker, David, Davies, Smalley, Potter. Subs: McCormick, Raynes, Long, Heslop, Rigg, Roberts, O'Dowda.

With supporters in the Bury Road End looking decidedly wet, the teams emerged from the tunnel to begin the 90 minutes of anxiousness. After the pre match pleasantries the action began. Oxford started on the front foot, forcing Seabright to gather a number of early crosses inside the box. The 'keeper was called into action again minutes later, coming out to gather Crocombe's long punt up field that had evaded centre half Scott Doe.

Despite the early Oxford pressure, it was Daggers who mustered the first shot of the afternoon. Luke Wilkinson driving forward before firing his speculative 30 yard effort high over the crossbar. The game soon livened up with opportunities presenting themselves for both sides. First Luke Howell spurned a good chance by slicing wide of the post, whilst Liam Davis saw his 30 yard free kick comfortably saved by Seabright. 

Jake Reed who had looked so lively last weekend was the next player to throw away a golden chance. The forward darted inside the box on the right hand side before dragging his shot across goal and wide of the post. It showed good invention from the youngster, but also a level of inexperience and naivety that seemingly haunts the whole squad when it comes to home performances.

Up until 40 minutes neither side really looked like breaking the deadlock. Daggers failed to make the advantage count on the breakaway and Andy Whing's header for the visitors went narrowly wide for Oxford. Five minutes before half time though, and the U's took advantage of some sloppy defending to take the lead. Smalley's cross found Alfie Potter who got a fortune deflection off of the heel of Femi before unleashing an unstoppable volley past Seabright and into the back of the net.

Cue groans in the Sieve as that same old familiar home story resurfaced once more. This time though it was perhaps harsh that we had fallen behind. Regardless of that, the visitors were ahead and that's how it remained as the two teams headed in for half time. Comically there was some booing in the Sieve. The hilarity doesn't come from the reason for booing, just for the level of booing. It was the most pathetic boo I've ever heard, if you're going to bemoan the team at least do it with some conviction.

The most frustrating thing about the first half was the performance of Toni Silva. The on loan winger had received the majority of possession down the left, but had failed to do anything with it. He drove at defenders a number of times before making the wrong decision and giving the ball away. We need him to do what he did against us when playing for Northampton last season, but so far he hasn't shown that kind of form. 

Into the second half and Wayne Burnett made his customary half time change. Matt Saunders who had been ineffectual was replaced by promising young winger Louis Dennis. Despite the change it was the U's who opened the brighter. Deane Smalley directed his shot wide of the post whilst former Daggers winger Josh Parker wasted a good opportunity by firing over from 20 yards out.

With just the one goal advantage, Oxford always looked vulnerable and a succession of Daggers corners nearly brought an equaliser. Louis Dennis' set piece to the back post was met by Luke Wilkinson who forced Crocombe to tip his powerful header wide of the post. Minutes later Dennis was the key man once again, forcing Crocombe into a smart stop from a free kick designed to catch the inexperienced 'keeper out at his near post. 

Then came a flurry of substitutions with Mo Shariff replacing the frustrated Toni Silva and Simon Heslop coming on for Josh Parker. Within seconds of his entrance, Shariff made the desired impact. The on loan winger picked up the ball before firing a shot that was deflected wide for a corner as Daggers looked to crank up the pressure. Unfortunately the corner itself didn't have the intended effect, Dennis' delivery gathered easily by Crocombe. 

With Daggers pushing for an equaliser, it was Oxford who should have doubled their lead on 64 minutes. Alfie Potter drove down the right before squaring the ball for substitute Sean Rigg at the back post who somehow contrived to miss the goal completely and put his tap in wide of the post. It was a massive let off for Daggers and the supporters knew it.

Even with the pace of Shariff and energy of Reed, the hosts failed to assert any authority in the final quarter of the match. In fact it says as much that the biggest threat going forward was Luke Wilkinson, the centre half seeing another speculative effort skim wide of the mark from long range. He was soon under pressure at the other end, making a good defensive clearance to spare Jordan Seabright's blushes. 

Wayne Burnett then rolled the dice for the final time, replacing the ailing Medy Elito with Ben Strevens. It saw the Daggers go with three up front thanks to Dennis' more central role since his introduction. Then, seeing as the performance wasn't raising any smiles, one of the ballboy's took it into his own hands to raise a grin in the Sieve. Upon retrieving a loose ball, the academy youngster slipped on the sodden turf to a chorus of, "Wahey's", from around the ground.

That was about the highlight as the match petered out. Daggers never really looked like finding an equaliser and were deservedly beaten. The final chance fell to Mo Shariff who blasted over from well inside the box after latching on to an earlier deflected shot. It just about summed the hosts up. There was a real lack of urgency once again and where last week everything went like clockwork, this week nothing went to plan.

One of the big mistakes was playing Jake Reed up front on his own. Of course that's easy to say in hindsight. Personally I think at home we need to play with two forwards, preferably one that's more of a handful compared to Reed. He's a good young player don't get me wrong, but he stood little chance against the hulking Michael Duberry at centre half. He was fighting a lost cause for 90 minutes.

After last weekend’s excellent display, the midfielders seemed lost. Kevin Maher and Luke Howell were unspectacular whilst Matt Saunders really failed to excite. Toni Silva was the biggest disappointment. The hype surrounding his arrival has really failed to materialise on the pitch. He gets into the positions and runs with the ball well, but he fails to make the right decision at the crucial moments, often giving the ball away.

One player who does deserve some credit in an abject performance however, is Scott Doe. He's been very consistent this season and is somewhat underrated in our side. Partnered by Luke Wilkinson who has been largely solid for the majority of the campaign, they've formed a great partnership that will inevitably be broken up through the Summer months. 

As for Oxford, it should really come as no surprise that they picked up three points yesterday. Nevertheless it was a solid, well drilled performance by Chris Wilder's men. Both sides failed to shine, but they got the job done - something that should be admired in this gritty league. It'll be another mid table finish for the U's who will already looking forward to next seasons League Two campaign.

Daggers on the other hand still aren't out of it. Our final two fixtures could not be against more fatalistic opponents. Next week we travel to Aldershot Town, before facing York City at home on the final day in what could be the biggest game of the League Two season. With a five point cushion and the aid of superior goal difference, you'd like to think that we're fine. But we're not yet. A point next week however should do the trick. I hope to see as many of you as possible at The Rec to cheer on the lads to securing Football League status for another season!

Until then, have a good if nerve-racking week and remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Exeter City 0-1 Daggers, A Walk In St James Park.

After Easter Monday's 4-2 capitulation at home to Bristol Rovers, no one expected a result quite like this. On Monday the defending was abysmal, the game plan went out of the window and the team lacked unity. But on Saturday, we were superb. A united performance and a solid defence saw Dagenham & Redbridge virtually quash any remaining relegation fears with a 1-0 win at Exeter City. The victory keeps Daggers in 17th place, but Wayne Burnett's men are now crucially 5 points clear of the drop zone with just three games remaining.

Before all of the jubilation and celebrations though, we were faced with the grim reading that we'd never won at Exeter. In fact during all of our league meetings, we'd only ever beaten the Grecians the once. That being a 4-1 home victory back in our promotion winning season from the Conference. Importantly though, there's always been goals in this fixture - with both sides scoring in the last 11 meetings.

Then came the arduous trek to Devon which began at 8:45 when we all met up at Chadwell Heath station. From there we went on to Liverpool Street before heading to Paddington to catch our South West trains service to Exeter St Davids. The train journey was uneventful overall, although it was brightened up by vandalising The Sun, newspaper. Well, what else are you going to do for three and a half hours?
Home Turnstiles

Upon arrival at Exeter St Davids, we headed through the ticket barriers to buy our ludicrously priced 70p return train tickets to St James Park station. I don't know about you, but I'm thoroughly against modern South West Trains. After shelling out the extortionate prices, we boarded the bus-like carrier for our six minute journey to the sub-urban station. And after arriving, I have to admit it was rather pleasant.

It's most probably the only ground where from the train station; you can see the home grandstand and a patch of allotments. After a quick walk around the stadium, we encountered the back of the away stand that had fallen down during the torrential rain two weeks previous.
The Away Stand that had fallen down.

We were soon directed to our destination - the Exeter beer garden behind the home stand. And in-keeping with the town so far, it was excellent. The local Thatcher’s Gold Cider was superb and reasonably priced, moreover the home supporters were extremely inviting and welcoming! After a couple of pints, we headed back around to the crumbling away terrace and headed through the rustic turnstiles just before the teams emerged onto the pitch.

The ground appears to be a very old fashioned one, which is good. The grandstand remains intact which seems to be a running feature of clubs in the South-West, with Plymouth, Bristol Rovers & Cheltenham all having similar main stands. It adds a rustic, old fashioned feel to the ground which was welcomed by stadium connoisseurs like me. Opposite that is a large all seated stand used by home supporters which was largely full up by the time kick off approached.
Exeter City Grandstand

Our away end as many will know was uncovered, but in the delightful spring sun, it felt very pleasant. Standing on the cobbled steps having had a few ciders, it felt as though what football should be like in spring. The terrace stretched round to beside the grandstand in a similar vain to York's. Although some visiting supporters opted for the small selection of seats available, the majority chose to stand in front of the temporary metal fence erected to avoid away supporters plunging to their death into the main road behind the terrace. 

Opposite that stands the largest terrace in English football, The Cliff Bastin Stand. It's more commonly known as, "The Big Bank", and accommodates just under 4000 supporters under its large roof. For our visit it looked largely full and we presumed it would be where the majority of the noise would originate from. Soon after a gaze around our surroundings, the teams emerged to subdued applause and were announced as follows...

Exeter City: Krysiak, Woodman, Bennett, Baldwin, Coles, Amankwaah, Davies, Doherty, D'Ath, Gosling, O'Flynn. Subs: Evans, Moore-Taylor, Keohane, Dawson, Molesley, Bauza (Not to be confused with the Mario character), Chamberlain.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Seabright, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Elito, Howell, Maher, Saunders, Silva, Reed. Subs: Miles, Hoyte, Fortune, Shariff, Bingham, Strevens, Dennis.

Daggers boss Wayne Burnett rung the changes following Monday's home defeat to Bristol Rovers, replacing four of the side that started the shambolic defeat. Goalkeeper Jordan Seabright was handed his full debut in place of Jonathan Miles, whilst Abu Ogogo reverted to right back which meant Gavin Hoyte dropped out for Kevin Maher in midfield. Midfielder Matt Saunders returned to the side in place of Mo Shariff with the younger Jake Reed being preferred up front over Ben Strevens. 

After a minutes silence for an Exeter volunteer who had sadly passed away during the week, the referee completed the toss and both sides opted to remain in their original ends. This meant Daggers would be facing the away terrace in the first half and the Grecians, "The Big Bank." As soon as the referee blew his whistle to start the game, we were back at a standstill. Journeyman midfielder Kevin Amankwaah picked up an injury inside 3 minutes and was forced off to be replaced by Aaron Dawson. 

When play restarted it was Daggers who began on the front foot, forcing two corners in the following five minutes. From the second of those corners came the first goal of the afternoon. Matt Saunders' cross towards the front post was glanced home by the on-rushing Scott Doe to send the visitors into a surprise 1-0 lead with just five minutes on the clock. A sense of disbelief swept round the terrace as the players celebrated joyously in the corner of the pitch.
Daggers Players Celebrate
From @Post_Daggers

With Daggers leading the match, the focus was now on the managers - both of whom are renowned for their style. Early on in the style stakes and there was no doubt that Daggers supremo Wayne Burnett had the edge in the contest. With Paul Tisdale opting for the red chino look; it was Burnett who was sporting the jumper and blazer combo that receives the plaudits from, The Daggers Scale. 

The vibrant manner of the game continued soon after, with Daggers playing at a good tempo against the Grecians. It was the hosts who came the closest minutes after the goal, but debutant Seabright was at his best to deny D'Ath getting to the ball first. Soon after and Daggers nearly doubled their lead through Luke Wilkinson, but the centre half could only manage to direct his header over the bar. 

The match soon quietened down with few opportunities for either forward line to showcase their abilities. Daggers were looking most threatening down the wings - something I haven't said much this season. Femi & Medy were combining well and with just over 20 minutes gone it nearly provided a goal. The latter of the pair crossed from the left and but for an excellent intervention from a City defender, Toni Silva would have been left to head into an empty net. 
Supporters Grew Restless

With the defence sharper than ever and the midfield looking calm on the ball, the visitors remained in control. Exeter rarely threatened, resorting to hopeful punts from the midfield, which were gathered easily by Jordan Seabright. The wings continued to provide the ammunition for Daggers, with Toni Silva being influentia. The on loan Portuguese winger escaped his man before cutting the ball back for Luke Howell who was eventually crowded out on the edge of the box. 

Paul Tisdale was then forced into another change with Guillem Bauza being replaced by 19 year old Jake Gosling. The youngster injected some much needed energy into the home side which allowed the hosts to gather more possession as Daggers tried to close out the half. Despite the increased possession for the hosts, it was Daggers who came close once more on 38 minutes. Good play between Jake Reed and Matt Saunders saw the latter fire his close range shot into the path of an Exeter defender who cleared the danger to ensure the scoreline remained at 1-0.

Just as the fourth official signalled for injury time, Daggers won a free kick inches outside the box. Matt Saunders and Medy Elito (Yes, that's what I was thinking), stood tenuously over the ball. Saunders, who is the set piece expert, curled the ball over the wall, only for Artur Krysiak to pull out a magnificent save to deny the midfielder. From the long punt up field the Grecians nearly equalised, but Seabright was there once again to prevent D'Ath's cross reaching its intended target.
Daggers go in 1-0 ahead at half time.
From @Post_Daggers

That was the final play of the first half and meant that somehow, Daggers went in 1-0 ahead at the break. I don't say that because we didn't play well, I say it because I'm always nervous when we take the lead early on! But we were exemplary throughout the first half - no one could have any complaints with the scoreline. The defence was solid, the midfield was assured and Jake Reed was looking like Strevens in his prime up front. Everything was clicking.

And then came the real defining moment of the day, the Exeter City food. Instantly the food bar was marked down for not selling Dominoes pizza anymore, whilst they'd also ran out of hot dogs at half time. That left me with two sausage rolls, which priced at £1.50 each more than did the job. The toilets were also of a good standard, even if you had to submerge yourself 10 foot underground to find them.

Slightly later than originally forecast, the two teams emerged back onto the pitch to begin the second half. The second 45 started a lot slower than the first, with Toni Silva's booking for a poor challenge the only incident of note. Exeter were however now looking more prominent down the flanks, especially the right hand-side where Femi had to be at his best to stop the marauding Aaron Dawson.

Daggers were soon on the attack once more and Toni Silva's clever footwork bought a foul from defender Tommy Doherty. Matt Saunders lined up the free kick, but this time he fired it over the bar and onto the roof of the net. The game continued to be fought in the midfield, with neither side able to establish a firm grip in the contest. Then there was the news that dampened an otherwise good afternoon so far. My horse for the Grand National, Quel Espirit failed to make it home, let alone win. Next year I'll have to bet on Stacey Solomon.

As Exeter piled on more pressure, Wayne Burnett made his first change of the afternoon. Louis Dennis, who has made such a good impression from the bench in recent weeks, replaced the ailing Toni Silva. The Grecians now had the bit between their teeth and nearly found an equaliser when Jordan Seabright spilled a routine cross from the right. The ball fell to Bauza whose seemingly goalbound strike was blocked by forward John O'Flynn before the linesman put up his flag for offside. 
Daggers fans were left on tenterhooks.

The biggest scare of the afternoon for the visitors came with little over 20 minutes to play, with Seabright who had been at fault moments earlier, playing a pivotal role. Danny Coles met Craig Woodman's powerful whipped free kick, but somehow Seabright managed to claw the ball away from point blank range to preserve the lead. Not only was it one of the most important saves of the season, it was also one of, if not the best save I've seen since I started supporting the Daggers.

After that scare, D'Ath came close once more as the hosts finally looked like making their second half possession count. Ben Strevens then came on for Jake Reed as Daggers looked for experience up front to see out the match. Despite Scot Bennett's tame header, Exeter rarely threatened in the closing stages. That earlier 10 minute spell proving to be their most dominant of the match and even then, they never applied sustained pressure on the Daggers defence.

Jordan Seabright took everything that was thrown at him, looking like a seasoned professional in the process. Daggers retained possession towards the end with Louis Dennis looking threatening down the left. Despite skipping past two players, his cross could only find the Grecians supporters in the terrace behind the goal. Soon after the goal kick the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of 94 minutes of play, and 90 minutes of nervousness holding onto a 1-0 lead.

We had done it. We had finally won at Exeter City. We had finally put an end to a five game winless run. We had finally, more or less, secured our place in League Two for next season. Unless the seven sides below us all simultaneously pull out a miracle, we are safe. I cannot tell
Daggers Team Huddle
you what a relief that final whistle was. Despite being comfortable for the majority of the game, at 1-0 there's always that nagging concern that we might concede.

But the team were excellent. We were all of the things we weren't at home to Bristol Rovers. We had unity, we mixed up our play and most importantly we were solid at the back. Scott Doe & Luke Wilkinson were both immense, showing why we rate them so highly. They dealt with everything thrown at them. Alongside those two was Femi & Abu Ogogo who were both back to their best. Abu in particular, back in his more natural position, shone.

The midfield was more assured on Saturday. They controlled the ball well and were able to pass the ball to eachother, something that seemed impossible last Monday. The presence of Kevin Maher was evident. His experience helped calm a young side and as such his contribution was somewhat underrated. To state the obvious he's an important player when you win, but he's almost used a scapegoat when we lose. 

The rest of the team were consistent if not spectacular. Matt Saunders slotted back in well whilst Luke Howell put in another performance that should see him on his way to player of the season. Toni Silva once again looked like a creative spark, whilst even Medy showed what he was capable of.

Jake Reed also deserves a lot of credit. Considering it was his first start in a number of months, he equipped himself well and almost looks like Strevs in his prime. With more game time and the right coaching, he could be a potential star. As for Jordan Seabright; what a save. That's all you can say really. You won't see many better than that this season. He played well throughout and on his full debut, did well to deal with any possible nerves he may have had.
The Big Bank were left disappointed.

As for Exeter, you can see why they have the second worst home record in the top half. They lacked any cutting edge and bar a 10 minute spell, rarely threatened. The defence was relatively sound, but without a talisman like Cureton up front you wonder if they'll be able to retain their Play Off place. They need to bounce back from three straight defeats if they're to fend off the challenge of Bradford.

After a brief detour into the local Wetherspoons at Exeter St David, we headed home - joined by a clutch of Shrewsbury Town & Welling United fans who were a fantastic laugh. With everyone in good spirits, the songs were flying and the passengers at Clapham Junction were given a standing ovation. And who knew Jermaine Grandison had such a cult following? A fantastic match, a fantastic journey and a fantastic result. The perfect away day.

Next up for us is Oxford United at home on Saturday when we can mathematically secure our safety for next season. After that comes a trip to Aldershot and a home match against York on the final day - both of whom currently reside in the relegation zone.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Daggers 2-4 Bristol Rovers, Gas Mark Four.

If you were ever in any doubt that Dagenham & Redbridge would be involved in a relegation fight this season, remove that doubt now. After sitting comfortably on 37 points at the end of January and being just six points off the Play Off's, Daggers now find themselves 3 points above the drop zone after picking up 11 points from the last 12 games. Following Easter Monday's 4-2 home defeat to mid table Bristol Rovers, Daggers fans have to ask the question over where the points are coming from in order to retain our Football League status.

Before all of the negativity and doubt, there was in fact an air of positivity around Victoria Road. Daggers have a good recent record against Rovers, having won their last two including a 1-0 victory at the Memorial Stadium in December. On current form however, the visitors were the undoubted favourites. Wayne Burnett has overseen a single win as Daggers boss since taking over from John Still, whilst Rovers had picked up 13 points from their last 18 available.

A defeat would leave Daggers in a precarious position above the drop zone depending on the results of other teams. But with the way the teams down the bottom had been performing recently, you just knew a defeat here would really drag the hosts back down into a dogfight. As I entered Victoria Road, the optimism appeared to be evident with several familiar characters confident of a good result. 

After the terrific Maximo Park had finished blaring over the PA system, the teams were announced as follows...

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

Wayne Burnett chose to make a single change to the side that took a valuable point from Underhill on Good Friday. Mo Sharif, who made such an impact when introduced on Friday, came in for the under-performing Matt Saunders in the midfield. Louis Dennis was restored to the bench, meanwhile Jonathan Miles continued in goal over Jordan Seabright.

Bristol Rovers: Gough, Smith, Woodards, Parks, Broghammer, Brown, McChrystal, O'Toole, Harrison, Brunt, Tounkara. Subs: McDonald, Lockyer, Paterson, Norburn, Clarke, Richard, Hitchcock. 

John Ward opted to make two changes from Friday's disappointing 0-0 draw at home to relegation threatened York City. Joe Anyinsah was replaced in midfield by Fabian Broghammer, whilst up front Oumare Tounkara made his full debut in place of Eliot Richards who dropped to the bench. Goalkeeper Conor Gough was also thrust into the fray just before kick-off following an injury picked up by first choice Steve Mildenhall. In a quirky turn of events this was to be only Gough's second appearance for the club, the first coming on the final day of last season in a 4-0 defeat at Victoria Road.

Thanks to the, "Kids for a Quid" promotion, the ground began to fill up fast in both ends. Bristol Rovers fans had made a fantastic effort and commandeered just over a third of the Traditional Builders Stand. Considering they have next to nothing to play for, it really was brilliant support.

Soon enough the teams emerged from the tunnel, led out by none other than everyone's favourite referee, Stuart Attwell. And yes, I still won't forget that stonewall penalty that he failed to award us at Valley Parade four years ago. But enough of that. The teams completed their pre match huddles, lined up, and Mr Attwell blew his whistle to signal the beginning of the match.

Within five minutes of the kick off, Rovers found themselves a goal up. A loose ball in the box was pounced upon by John Joe O'Toole who calmly fired it past Jonathan Miles and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. Despite there only being 5 minutes gone, Rovers deserved their lead following a sloppy start from Daggers. O'Toole, making his last appearance for the club before returning to Colchester was looking a handful along with big centre forward, Oumare Tounkara.

Before Daggers had a chance to re-group, another mistake allowed Bristol Rovers in to make it 2-0. This time there was a mix up between the usually solid Luke Wilkinson and on loan goalkeeper Jonathan Miles. With the ball going back to goal, Wilkinson didn't get enough purchase on the header which allowed Tounkara to sneak in and round Miles before Scott Doe could get to the goal line.

By this point the hosts were all over the shop and only the post prevented the masterful Tounkara from doubling his tally and sending Rovers 3-0 up within 15 minutes. Even against Southend & Port Vale earlier in the season Daggers hadn't played this badly. There was a lack of unity and organisation in the side, with players unable to find a team mate positioned just five yards away.
Danny Woodards

Despite the awful start, the hosts did manage a shot of their own with 17 minutes played. The talismanic Sharif played a delightful ball through to Strevens, who despite beating his man could only fire his shot into the arms of a grateful Gough. Daggers would rue that miss three minutes later with Bristol Rovers making it 3-0, Danny Woodards executing the perfect finish following an excellent team move. 

The frantic nature of the match continued as we swept past the quarter mark of the afternoon. Gavin Hoyte's pin point cross in from the right was met by Ben Strevens whose header was saved before being bundled home by Medy Elito at the back post. Somehow, Daggers were back in this game. Somehow, the idea of taking a point from a game we were almost dead and buried in seemed realistic. 

Even with a goal back, Daggers failed to kick on. Half hearted strikes from Luke Wilkinson & Medy Elito failed to get the blood stirring as Rovers sat comfortably on their two goal cushion. Toni Silva was looking like the hosts most creative player and even then he failed to deliver any crosses into the box. His intricate footwork however was winning applause, even if is misplaced passes were not.

Daggers did end the half on the front foot, forcing a corner following good play down the left between Femi & Ogogo. Unsurprisingly the corner came to nothing as four minutes flashed up on the fourth official's board. With the half coming to an end, Toni Silva just about summed up the hosts performance. After darting through two Bristol Rovers players, the on loan winger advanced forward before slicing his speculative effort wide of the mark for a goal kick.

And with that, Stuart Attwell blew his whistle for half time to a chorus of boos and jeers from the Sieve. The paying customers clearly weren't happy. In fact the club could face action from Ofcom for not advertising the game as 18+ following some of the horror show defending in the opening 45 minutes. It simply wasn't good enough. The team appeared to lack cohesion and were failing with the basics.

With Wayne Burnett looking to freshen things up and provide a greater attacking influence, the Interim manager made two substitutions at half time. Somewhat surprisingly Toni Silva, who had looked like our biggest attacking threat was withdrawn. He was replaced by Louis Dennis who made such a positive impact when introduced at home to Burton two weeks ago. In the other change, Jake Reed was brought on for Medy Elito, whilst Rovers replaced Lee Brown with Jim Paterson.

With the double change brought renewed optimism. Within minutes Louis Dennis was justifying his selection by darting down the right and forcing a corner. Despite that early threat from Dennis, Daggers looked more like scoring on 53 minutes when Jake Reed was fouled on the edge of the area. Mo Sharif stepped over the ball and his curling strike went into the side netting, deceiving Daggers fans into thinking he'd reduced the scoreline to 3-2. 

Femi was now looking like his former self again as well. The mercurial left back broke down the right following a Rovers corner before making the wrong decision and blasting a shot over the bar. Had he looked to his right he would have seen Sharif on the overlap which in hindsight would have been the better option to take. After a flurry of corners, John Joe O'Toole then tested the home supporters' nerves by heading over from just inside the box.

The game was now becoming increasingly end to end, with Broghammer forcing a smart save out of Miles before another Femi strike whistled over the crossbar. Abu Ogogo was then gifted the ball on the edge of the box and instead of trying his luck, decided to pass inside which meant the momentum was lost once more. It bemuses me how our players fail to make the correct and most obvious decision at the most critical of times. 

Any chance Daggers had of a potential comeback was soon distinguished on 70 minutes thanks to a howler from Jonathan Miles. The on loan goalkeeper went out to take a routine free kick on the left, but got it horribly wrong - with his weak kick falling into the path of Brunt. The midfielder knocked it on for Tounkara, who with his first touch fired home a precise finish into the furthest corner of the net to send Rovers 4-1 up at Victoria Road. 

A whole host of home supporters were now heading for the exits, but they were coaxed back in just two minutes later when Jake Reed reduced the deficit. Good interchange between Femi and Sharif saw the former drill a low cross into the box which was flicked on by Strevens into the path of Reed, who tapped home his first goal for the club. With little under 20 minutes remaining, surely Daggers couldn't mount an unlikely comeback?

With the wind in their sails, the hosts had their visitors rattled. And on 74 minutes, Daggers were unlucky not to make it 4-3. A terrific cross field ball by Strevens found the onrushing Reed who after beating his marker saw his low strike rebound onto the crossbar following a terrific stop from Gough. The danger wasn't over yet though for Rovers and only Ryan Brunt's defensive pressure prevented Sharif from turning home the rebound. 

Despite those five minutes of pressure following the second goal, Daggers failed to kick. The momentum was lost and Rovers retained the majority of the possession, frustrating the home fans in the process. In truth it was a dominant display from John Ward's men and it could have been made better had it not been for Miles' terrific point blank save from Tounkara with just five minutes remaining. 

Gracco, pre beard (There was such a time)
The time continued to tick away as the clock approached 90 minutes. And with that, Wayne Burnett went for his final throw of the dice. Gavin Hoyte who had been struggling for the previous ten minutes was replaced by, Gianluca Gracco for his Daggers debut. Without even playing a game the Italian has become a cult figure at Victoria Road thanks to his foreign name and mesmeric beard. He was however, unable to become an instant hero with Femi's ball into the box being cleared away up-field by the sturdy Rovers back-line.

Even with three minutes of additional time, Daggers were unable to find another goal and ultimately crashed to a deserved 4-2 home defeat. It leaves Burnett's side just three points above the drop zone with four games left to play. To say it's nervy times at Victoria Road would be an understatement. With crucial fixtures against Exeter, Oxford, Aldershot and perhaps most importantly York on the final day, it could go down to the wire.

To be quite honest, we deserve to be where we are. Monday's showing was abysmal. It follows up a succession of below par home performances for Burnett who is yet to win at Victoria Road. And that's what has cost us since the turn of the year. We've picked up 9 points away from home and only 8 points on home turf. That form simply isn't good enough. What's even more distressing is that our home form was our rock in the early part of the season, but since defeats to Port Vale & Southend, it's gone treacherously downhill. 

And to be even more brutally honest, I think we've done well to take 17 points from 2013. In very few games can I remember us dominating from start to finish - Accrington away is the only one that sticks out in my mind. We desperately need to pick up victories at home to Oxford who have nothing to play for and York, who are in the same situation as us.

As for Saturday's performance, where do we start? The abysmal defending, the lack of unity, or the inability to pass the ball to eachother from five yards away? I know we've always been a more direct side, but surely we can pass the ball two or three yards to a team mate. Too many times that was lacking yesterday and too many times it nearly cost us - especially when we were in a good position going forward.

As for Jonathan Miles, I feel sorry for the lad. He's been thrown in at the deep end in a sense and it showed yesterday. His kicking was not up to scratch and the part he played in the fourth goal bordered on farcical. In the nicest possible way, I hope Seabright's given the chance to make his debut for Saturday's trip to Exeter. He equipped himself well against Bournemouth earlier in the season, so hopefully he's ready for his full debut.

The rest of the team were also poor. The defence had a really bad day at the office. Luke Wilkinson's uncharacteristic mistake was horrific and towards the end of the match, it looked as though he was carrying a knock. I can't have any complaints over Scott Doe, but Femi was once again uninspiring. What I'd also like to see is Abu return to right back with Hoyte dropping out and Bingham slotting into the midfield for the trip to the Grecians. 

We desperately need a consistent goalscorer as well. Hopefully Jake Reed can kick on from his first senior goal, he's certainly looked a lot more like scoring in recent weeks, so maybe he'll get his chance next weekend. One thing is for sure, we need Josh Scott back. Either him, or Brian Woodall needs to be urgently recalled from a loan spell at Bishop's Stortford. We simply cannot rely on Gracco who is unproven on the bench in case of an emergency.

I was also very surprised when Toni Silva was withdrawn at half time. Unless he was carrying a knock, I fail to see the logic in that one. He looked like our most creative player once more and will be key in the run in. Sharif was frustrating. On the ball he looks like a terrific player, even if his decision making is a little AWOL. But off it, he looks lost and is often found wandering - something that needs to be improved upon if he's to make a bigger impact.

Tounkara dominated

As for our visitors, it was a completely deserved three points. They capitalised on our shambolic mistakes and looked clinical all afternoon. Tounkara in particular was a handful and looks like someone who can score a hatful of goals given the right service. John Joe O'Toole was also sublime in the middle of the park, showing the qualities which saw him so highly rated as a youngster at Watford all those years ago.

With the right acquisitions in the summer, I can definitely see Rovers mounting a Play Off push next season. With John Ward at the helm and the dedicated Gasheads, there's no reason why they can't make a return to League One. One thing I do ask however is that you beat any of our relegation rivals from now until the end of the season!

As for us, we do have one thing in our favour despite this demoralising defeat. Apart from August, we've always found a win in every month. Should we be able to do that in April, we'll more than likely stay up. And at the moment, that's the main thing I'm clutching onto instead of falling into a state of despair!

Next up for us is Exeter City at the weekend, a ground we have historically never won on. How nice would it be to get that inaugural victory when we need it most? I'll be there, so hopefully I can report back on the win that ensures our place in League Two next season! Until then, you can follow my musings on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.