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 penalty...to 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.

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