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.

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