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.


  1. "next to nothing to play for"!!?? We are still mathematically capable of a play-offs spot!

  2. Excellent report. From an exiled Gashead.