That's it, it's all over for Daggers. We've lost another pre-season game, this time against Premier League opposition and relegation looms. Except that isn't the case. Dagenham & Redbridge held their own superbly against a strong Crystal Palace side featuring Dwight Gayle, Kevin Phillips and Stephen Dobbie yesterday afternoon. Despite a late resurgence, the two goal lead Palace asserted was unassailable for Daggers who could only muster a late consolation via a Medy Elito penalty. Nonetheless it was a positive performance from the hosts who can take a lot from the game.
With the new season soon to be upon us, I have to tell you I'm not that confident. Why I'm not so sure. It's more of a gut feeling. But hopefully the three month break will have instilled something new into the player’s that changes my belief. In all honesty it's just nice to get back into the old routine. Into the clubhouse and through the turnstiles just in time for kick-off. Football is back.
Daggers started brightly, Jake Reed in particular looking good down the flanks with new signing Obafemi providing the forwards touch in the middle. Palace though weren't to be outdone and through Stephen Dobbie they carried a real threat. Despite the even start, it was the visitors that fashioned the first opportunity of the afternoon. The ball was fed through to trialist Atdhe Nuhui who rounded the 'keeper before seeing his shot cleared off the line by Daggers trialist Brian Saah.
The pace of the game soon decreased which is to be expected in pre-season. But the decibel level was increased fifteen minutes in when Jake Reed had penalty appeals for a foul by Danny Gabbidon waved away. It may be pre-season, but the crowd didn't care. The sun continued to make intermittent appearances as Daggers pushed forward in search of the first goal. First new signing Obafemi fired wide before Luke Howell sliced one wide of the post.
The best chance of the half however, fell to Palace. After a scramble in the area the ball dropped to veteran Kevin Phillips who could only skew his effort over from close range. That miss sparked Palace into life and only good defensive work from Jack Conners and smart goalkeeping from Chris Lewington kept the Eagles at bay. Despite his best efforts to thwart Stephen Dobbie, Lewington could do nothing on 35 minutes when the unmarked Nuhiu slotted home into the corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
With that, Daggers were resurgent and kicked on in search of an equaliser. Medy Elito was playing down the middle and as such looked like more of a threat. It was he and Luke Howell that interchanged just before half time to force Julian Speroni into a terrific diving stop. Brian Saah then came close from a corner before Obafemi should have done better after being threaded through one on one by Ogogo.
With the first half coming to a close, it became apparent that there would be no Daggerettes to entertain us during the half time break...oh no.... Also, apparently we've served shepherd’s pie for years, yet I was not made aware of this? As the teams re-emerged for the second half in the blazing sunshine, there was inevitably a flurry of substitutions.
Palace started the second half with a completely changed side which read as, Fitzsimons, Ramage, Moxey, Inniss, Taylor, Garvan, Grandin, Boateng, Sow, Wilbrahimovic and one, Dwight Gayle. That Gayle fella eh? Sure we've heard of him before. Daggers meanwhile replaced the impressive Jake Reed with trialist Zavon Hines who took to the wing like a duck to water.
The second half started evenly, although Gavin Hoyte was forced into a block early on to deny substitute Sow. Daggers looked inventive down the wings, with Hines in particular showing his intrepid nature. Even with the more positive attacking outlook, it was Palace who doubled their lead soon after the break. Obafemi brought down Quade Taylor just inside the box which gave Owen Garvan the chance to extend the scoreline. And he did just that to make it 2-0.
Dwight Gayle was denied the chance to take the penalty by Garvan, and as such clearly wanted a goal of his own. Minutes after the penalty he nearly got it but for another brilliant save from the outstanding Chris Lewington. Then came another flurry of changes, with Sean Shields, Lloyd Macklin, Femi and Billy Bingham all introduced. They replaced Gavin Hoyte, Luke Howell, Afolabi Obafemi and Jack Conners. Femi replacing Femi certainly got a chuckle from me.
Zavon Hines proved to be the brightest spark in the Daggers attacking play after his introduction at the break. And with just over 60 minutes gone, his dazzling run down the left hand side brought a penalty when Quade Taylor, who won the penalty down the other end, bundled Hines over. I say "bundled", if this was a competitive game, Palace would have been furious with the award. Nevertheless Elito continued his 100% record from the spot, narrowly sending the ball beyond Fitzsimons to make it 2-1.
Daggers then introduced another contingent of players, with Jordan Seabright, Ian Gayle & Brian Woodall coming on for Chris Lewington, Scott Doe & Rhys Murphy. Despite Ian Gayle's introduction, it was his namesake Dwight that continued to cause problems for the Daggers defence. His movement and skill opened up space to get a shot away that Seabright held onto well to ensure the hosts remained in the contest.
Even with the deficit remaining at one, Daggers were unable to find a way back into the match. Despite late pressure, several corners and a dangerous free-kick, the Palace defence remained sturdy to ensure an inaugural pre-season victory ahead of their Premier League campaign. On the whole a good test for both sides, and on the balance of play probably the correct result.
In the wake of the game I have to admit I was anticipating a hard slog of a season, with my gut feeling sending us spiralling towards the Conference. I hate to judge on friendly games, but by the 90th minute my opinion had changed somewhat. I became quietly optimistic, cautiously impressed and dangerously happy. We zipped the ball around well, created space and caused problems for the Palace defence.
We looked encouraging, even if it is pre-season. We certainly passed the ball more confidently than I've seen in some time; it looks as though Burnett is succeeding in instilling his philosophy into the players. And that's something that is vital. If we want to succeed, they have to buy in to what he's trying to sell. As do we. At the moment I think we're all on board. It may be pre-season but the early signs are encouraging.
Going forward we lacked bite, but hopefully that'll be rectified soon. Afolabi Obafemi worked himself into good positions and Jake Reed gave it 110% as we all know he can. Rhys Murphy looked good whilst Sean Shields looked exciting when introduced. The real star however was Zavon Hines. His trickery, pace and flair lit up the wings and he proved a real menace to both full backs when introduced. Providing he doesn't turn out to be a pre-season Tomlin, I'd be absolutely over the moon if we sign him.
As for Palace, a far from vintage performance but that doesn't matter, it's pre-season after all! Nuhiu looks like a smart acquisition if possible, whilst Dwight Gayle looks like he's worth every penny the Eagles have spent on him. A few more editions including Campana who signed last week and I think they'll make a real fist of staying up in the Prem this season. With Speroni in the sticks, they've got a real fighting chance.
It's not long to go now for us, only two more weeks and the league season starts once more at Fleetwood Town. Next up however is another home friendly on Tuesday night, this time against Charlton Athletic. Kick-off is at 19:45 and I hope to see you all there!