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.

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