The League Cup has never been a competition that has been kind to Dagenham & Redbridge fans. But on Tuesday evening it really twisted the knife on Wayne Burnett's men, who, despite a terrific performance were undone by a 94th minute header from Farid El Alagui. That goal at the death condemned Daggers to a 3-2 defeat, and a seventh consecutive first round defeat.
Unsurprisingly there was little room for optimism before the game. Our aforementioned record in the competition is woeful and as such most believed we had little chance against a team fancied for promotion from League One. Still, with tickets at just £1 for Under 18's we persevered through the rush-hour commuters at Waterloo before arriving at Brentford station just shy of 19:35.
After a quick walk down the high road we arrived at Griffin Park just in time for kick-off. In my last visit here Daggers had lost 2-1 courtesy of an 87th minute Nicky Forster goal. Little did we know history would repeat itself (almost). Before the game kicked off we were quickly read the teams which looked like this...
Brentford: Bonham, O'Connor Barron, Venta, Nugent, Saunders, Dallas, Fillo, Reeves, Oyeleke, Hayes.
Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Saah, Hoyte, Ogogo, Howell, Elito, Scott, Murphy, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Bingham, Dennis, Shields, Woodall, Connors, Obafemi.
Wayne Burnett made a single change from Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Fleetwood, bringing in Jake Reed for central midfielder Billy Bingham. This ensured Daggers lined up with no less than four strikers on the field of play which put even more pressure on Luke Howell and Abu Ogogo to keep the midfield tight. Former Daggers Sam Saunders was in Brentford's starting eleven, whilst Harlee Dean failed to make the eighteen.
With most unable to make sense of what formation we were playing, the game soon kicked off underneath the glow of the evening sun. Brentford started the brighter, forcing two free kicks, both of which were dealt with well by the Daggers defence. Midfielder Jake Reeves then flashed a shot just wide of the post on the volley as the Bees cranked up the pressure early on.
As the game wore on Daggers gradually became more of a threat with Medy Elito's whipped free-kick allowing for the first chance for the visitors. But it was another cross 17 minutes in that bore the first goal of the evening, albeit in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Josh Scott's run down the left hand side culminated in a ball into the box which was turned into his own net by debutant Ben Nugent.
Cheers emanated from the Daggers end, but not before a moment of uncertainty as the linesman briefly ruled out the goal for offside. After a minute of discussion, the referee overruled his counterpart to ensure the goal stood, giving the visitors a shock 1-0 lead at Griffin Park.
After the goal Brentford continued to look the more likely to score, with former Dagger Sam Saunders providing the main threat. His quick feet was being complimented by Daggers' slack closing down allowing the tricky winger to get several shots away at the goal. The first slid comfortably wide of the post whilst his second went high into the second tier of the away stand. Nevertheless, allowing such a player so much time on the ball is never a wise thing to do.
Up the other end Daggers remained contenders going forward, with only an offside flag denying Rhys Murphy the chance to make it two. Minutes later Murphy had another chance after being fed a ball through over the top by Luke Howell. This time however he could only drill his diagonal shot wide of the post and out for a goal kick.
As half time approached Brentford continued their assault on the visitors goal. First, Manny Oyeleke fired wide before Stuart Dallas drilled a further shot way over the bar following a rebound from Sam Saunders' initial free-kick. Despite the Bees pressure it was Daggers that ended the half with the final opportunity, Josh Scott heading wide of the post from a difficult angle.
The referee blew his whistle and we were at half-time and quite unbelievably, we were 1-0 up! As Wayne Burnett, Darren Currie and Warren Hackett rushed past the sprinklers, we were left to contemplate whether we could hold onto this advantage in the second half. The general consensus is that we had no chance, yet some degree of optimism remained. We had taken the lead in a match; we rarely do that these days!
The teams returned for the second half with Brentford boss Uwe Rosler opting to make a change, with Tony Craig replacing Kevin O'Connor. Despite the substitution it was Daggers that started the second half on the front foot. Femi continued to make his presence felt down the left whilst Medy Elito was linking up well with the front three.
With little over 10 minutes played in the second half Daggers came within inches of doubling their advantage. Gavin Hoyte’s terrific in-swinging ball from the right hand side was met by Josh Scott whose glancing header crashed off the bar and away from Jack Bonham's goal. The header seemed to take an age to reach the frame of the goal, and when it did it caused agony for Daggers fans who were waiting open mouthed to celebrate once more.
With that miss, Daggers now found themselves on the back foot. Farid El Alagui was soon brought on for the Bees and that was when the trouble really began to materialise. His first action however was to go down in the box attempting to win a penalty. The referee took a dim view and booked the sub for diving, much to the Brentford fans' frustration.
|Daggers Fans in Shock|
Soon after though, he really became a thorn in Wayne Burnett's side. A cross into the box from the right hand side wasn't dealt with, allowing El Alagui to pounce first and fire the ball past Chris Lewington from close range. Within five minutes of their equaliser, the Bees had turned the game around completely. Martin Fillo latched onto a perfectly weighted Stuart Dallas ball through, and with his first touch he swept the ball beyond Chris Lewington to make it 2-1 to the hosts.
With the visitors rattled, the game threatened to boil over following Abu Ogogo's strong tackle on Scott Barron. From where we were it looked as if Abu was wrongly cautioned, having clearly gathered the ball despite taking his opponent in the process. Sam Saunders soon flashed another free-kick wide of the post before Wayne Burnett made a double change with Afolabi Obafemi and Brian Woodall being introduced for Medy Elito and Jake Reed.
Instantly they proved a hit, causing the Bees backline no end of problems as Daggers pushed for an equaliser. First Josh Scott's weighted cross was collected confidently by Jack Bonham and then Luke Howell's corner was scrambled away by the Brentford defence. The resistance didn't last though and with ten minutes remaining, Daggers were back on level terms. Femi's back post ball in was met by Brian Woodall who headed across for Josh Scott to slam home past a helpless Bonham and into the roof of the net.
Having scored twice (something we rarely do in the league, let alone the league cup), Daggers fans now had renewed belief that their team could go on and win the game. Wayne Burnett's men continued to look dangerous down the wings but were unable to force a winner as the game edged closer and closer towards extra time.
Then came the moment Daggers fans had dreaded all night long. Sam Saunders had been given plenty of opportunities to score during the evening, but his best undoubtedly came on 88 minutes. Martin Fillo was fouled by Scott Doe on the edge of the area which gave Saunders the chance to knock out his former club. And he would have done had it not been for the outstretched hand of Chris Lewington who made yet another superb stop to deny the winger.
With the game seemingly headed for extra time, the fourth official indicated four minutes of added time. As we entered the fourth minute with both sides still pushing for a winner, Luke Howell gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the area. Surely we couldn't concede now, surely not cruel heartbreak in a competition we've had little, if any luck in for the past six years?
Scott Barron stood over the ball ready to deliver. As the referee blew his whistle, Barron swung the ball over to the back post where El Alagui out-jumped his marker to head home past Chris Lewington into the corner of the net. Sighs of expectation emanated from the away end as the Daggers players looked at each other in bewilderment, wondering how they'd got a set piece wrong yet again.
The visitors kicked off once more and immediately lumped the ball forward. It ended up on the right hand side where a cross into the box was only just about cleared by the Brentford defence, as Rosler's men scrambled to hold on. With one final punt up-field, the referee blew his whistle to signal a painful defeat for Burnett's side. It wasn't so much the fact we'd been knocked out, more the way we'd been knocked out and the timing and fashion of the goal.
Still that takes it to seven defeats in seven attempts in the League Cup, and in a quirky way I'm proud we've kept our 100% record in the competition. No Daggers supporter takes this competition seriously anymore, do they? So to even score two goals is a bonus! The performances of Rhys Murphy, Femi and Medy Elito were all highlights from an evening where Daggers were dreadfully unlucky not to head through to the second round.
We won't dwell on this result, so I'll just remind you that our next game is at home to York City (remember them?), at Victoria Road tomorrow afternoon. You can read my report from that on Monday, and you can also follow me on Twitter using @NickMurphyDRFC. Thanks for reading!