Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Magic of the Cup, Round One.

The FA Cup 1st Round always has the potential to bring about all kind of shocks. Already in the competition we have seen lowly Shortwood defeat Conference side Aldershot Town, Brislington overcome Conference South outfit Weston Super-Mare, and Bishop's Stortford squeeze through to the first round with a fine 1-0 victory over Forest Green Rovers.

Two of the above mentioned sides have made it to the first round proper; with Shortwood participating for the first time in their 113 year history. Alongside Bishop's Stortford, they have been rewarded with plum ties against Football League sides, both of which have been chosen for Television coverage. In this Blog we take a look at the fates of several non-league sides post-millennium, detailing their exploits against league opposition in the first round of the cup.

Canvey celebrate.
Our overview starts in the 2000/2001 season, a year that proved to be a bumper round for 1st round shocks.  Northwich Victoria defeated Bury in a replay, Kingstonian turned in a terrific performance to outgun Brentford 3-1 at Griffin Park, while Kettering Town and Nuneaton Borough defeated Hull City and Stoke City respectively, both now current Premier League clubs. Perhaps the most impressive stand alone display was that of Yeovil Town. The Conference side stunned Division Two Colchester United 5-1 at Huish Park, a result that still remains as the biggest margin of victory between a non-league and a league side since the millennium. However, the combined performance of the round was from Canvey Island who were up against division two outfit Port Vale. Having been 2-0 down at the break, Canvey staged a second half fightback – bringing the score back to 2-1 and then 3-2. Vale looked to have killed off the game through Jeff Minton’s strike, but Canvey fought back once more, scoring twice through Andy Jones and Wayne Vaughan in the final two minutes to secure a remarkable 4-4 draw and earn the most unlikeliest of replays at Vale Park. A goalless first 90 minutes followed in the replay, before Neil Gregory and Wayne Vaughan netted in extra-time to send Canvey through 2-1 victor’s in a famous evening for the then Ryman League outfit.

Neil Gregory
The following season provided a barren weekend for first round shocks, but once again it was the Islanders of Canvey who stole the show with a memorable victory at Division Two side Wigan Athletic. A dreadful performance from the Latics who had won so convincingly with a 6-1 thrashing of Stoke City the previous weekend, was compounded by Canvey who came into the clash on the back of a 17 game unbeaten record. It was a miserable afternoon for Wigan who had Tony Dinning and Lee Ashcroft sent off with the game still at 0-0. With just two minutes left on the clock, the hero of last season Neil Gregory capitalised on the two man advantage, slotting home to send the Gulls through to the 2nd round for the second consecutive season. Jeff King’s side went on to reach the 3rd round, before losing out 4-1 to Burnley at Turf Moor. 

Minnows Rovers celebrate dumping Ian Holloway's
QPR out at Loftus Road.

After a lull in the 01/02 campaign, the 2002/2003 season provided the public with four major upsets. Margate drew 1-1 with Leyton Orient to earn a replay where they duly dispatched the O’s with a 1-0 victory, while Colchester United were victims once again, losing out 1-0 at home Chester City. However the first major casualties were Notts County. Having raced into a 2-0 lead, the second division side lost out 4-2 away at Southport as the Port sailed through with a brace from Steve Pickford and one apiece from Peter Thomson and Chris Lane. The biggest losers of the round however, were QPR. Dumped out on penalties in a replay at Loftus Road by Unibond Division side Vauxhall Motors, Rangers were second best throughout as Karl Connolly’s miss confirmed Motors of their place in the 2nd round.

The total of first round upsets rose once more in 2004/2005, with six non-league clubs getting the better of their league opponents. Of the minor shocks, Halifax Town beat Cambridge United 3-1; Bristol Rovers were narrowly defeated 1-0 by recently relegated Carlisle United, while Exeter City claimed a 1-0 victory over Grimsby Town. One of the bigger scalps came at Middlefield Lane, where the now extinct Hinckley United overturned Torquay United, a side 53 places above them in the footballing ladder. Goals from Richard Lavery and Neil Cartwright secured one of the last famous wins for supporters of the Knitters. Meanwhile Southern League Histon dumped out Shrewsbury Town, with Slough also advancing through with goals from Ian Hodges and Glen Harris ensuring victory over a Paul Merson led Walsall side.

Burscough net a last minute winner.
With a bumper number of upsets the previous year, certain clubs were brought back down to earth in the 2005/2006 first round. Harrogate and Weymouth lost out in replays against league teams, while Leamington were dealt a harsh footballing lesson with a 9-1 defeat at Colchester United. Even with the aforementioned set of results, shocks remained. Conference outfit Burton Albion sent Peterborough United crashing out in a first round replay, Shaun Harrad becoming an instant hero with the sole strike just 20 minutes from time. But the major upset came in Lancashire, where Unibond League side Burscough upset all the odds to overcome Gillingham 3-2 courtesy of two late strikes. The home side took the lead through Karl Bell, but second half efforts from Matt Jarvis and Mark Saunders looked to have secured Gills their place in the 2nd round. However with just two minutes left, Gillingham’s Ian Cox put through his own net before David Rowan turned the tie on its head by scoring in injury time to give the Linnets an unexpected victory against the League One Gills.

Basingstoke's Matt Warner
celebrates his winner
Despite there being no fewer than 23 ties pitting Football League sides against their non-league counterparts, the 2006/2007 season bore witness to just three first round shocks. There was to be no repeat embarrassment for Gillingham who saw off Bromley 4-1 at Priestfield, while Northwich Victoria were the side to face the wrath of League One new boys Brighton & Hove Albion, Victoria going down 8-0 at the Withdean. Weymouth were twice ahead against Bury in a replay, but ultimately lost out 4-3, leaving it down to Rushden & Diamonds and Basingstoke to provide the feelgood stories of the first round. Former league outfit Rushden brushed aside League One Yeovil Town with a comprehensive 3-1 victory courtesy of a Michael Rankin double after Chris Hope’s opener. But the result of the round came at Saltergate, where Basingstoke shocked Chesterfield; giantkillers themselves following victories over West Ham and Manchester City in the League Cup. But on cup weekend they were given a taste of their own medicine as Matthew Warner blasted home with 25 minutes played to send the Conference South side through to the 2nd round.

Goalscorer Giles celebrates with the gaffer.
One team that seem to feature heavily throughout this thirteen year overview is Yeovil Town. The 2007/2008 campaign proved to be no different as the Glovers crashed out embarrassingly with a 4-1 defeat at South-West rivals Torquay United. Rushden & Diamonds continued their cup exploits with a 3-1 win over League Two Macclesfield Town, while Ryman Premier outfit Staines defeated League Two promotion hopefuls Stockport County on penalties in a scintillating replay at Wheatsheaf Park. The performance of the round however was to be found at Millmoor, where unfancied Conference side Forest Green Rovers picked up their first ever victory over a league team with an extraordinary 3-0 victory over Rotherham United. In truth Rovers were the better side throughout and deserved to take the lead midway through the first half thanks to Chris Giles’ header from a perfectly weighted corner. The visitors capitalised on their dominance in the second period to seal the game; Simon Clist firing home the rebound from Mark Beesley’s strike that had hit the post, with Stuart Fleetwood rounding things off to make it 3-0 with just minutes left to play.

Curzon dare to dream in the dressing room.
The real upset of the round the following season came in Greater Manchester, where despite being separated by four divisions, Curzon Ashton hosted Exeter City in front of 1200 supporters at Tameside Stadium. A ruthless display from Ashton began in the first half, with Chris Worsley’s effort giving the hosts the lead just before the break. The game exploded into life soon after the restart, James Ogoo made it 2-0 to Curzon before Michael Norton seemingly put gloss on proceedings giving the Blues an inexplicable 3-0 lead over the League Two high-flyers. Exeter came back fighting in the final ten minutes with goals from Steve Basham and Dean Moxey, but it wasn’t enough as the Unibond Division One North side advanced through to the second round. Elsewhere Droylsden also picked up an impressive win over another promotion chasing side in Darlington, as Blyth Spartans earned a shock 3-1 win over Shrewsbury Town with goals from Shaun Reay and Andy Leeson. Another superb performance was to be found at Sincil Bank, where despite going behind to Lenny John-Lewis’ header, Kettering advanced through thanks to Craig Westcarr and an injury time strike from Iyseden Christie. Histon also pulled off a memorable 1-0 victory over former Premier League side Swindon Town.

Northwich players pile on in front of the camera's.
Paulton Rovers were the story of the 1st Round in the 2009/2010 season. Making their first appearance at this stage in the competition, they were handed a plum draw at home to Norwich City. Televised live on ITV, Paulton stood firm until 15 minutes in when Grant Holt’s strike opened the floodgates to a 7-0 victory for the Canaries in front of 2000 supporters. But while one recently relegated side from the Championship breezed through against lower league opposition, another faltered. Also televised live on ITV, Conference North side Northwich Victoria entertained the relative might of Charlton Athletic in what promised to be an intriguing contest. The Vics dominated proceedings in what some Addicks fans described as the worst performance they’ve seen from a Charlton team in living memory. Even with a dismal away performance, Charlton remained on level terms until ten minutes from time when 18 year old substitute Wayne Riley struck the decisive blow to dump Charlton out of the cup at the first hurdle for the first time since a 1-0 defeat at Bournemouth in 1973. Meanwhile, Shrewsbury Town were subject to a second successive first round upset, losing out 1-0 to Staines at the Greenhous Meadow. Hartlepool and Yeovil (yes, Yeovil again), also bowed out with defeats against Kettering and Oxford respectively, while Bath City took advantage of Grismby Town’s poor league form to spring a surprise 2-0 victory at Blundell Park.

Endearing image of Dover fans and players celebrating alike.
Ironically 3 years ago today exactly.
FC United fans at Spotland.

The cup draw in the 2010/2011 season threw together some interesting pairings, including three relative local derbies and a meeting of two old foes from FA Cup shocks past. Rotherham suffered another humiliating 3-0 defeat, this time away at York City, while another League Two side in Port Vale scrambled through in a replay against Dartford having drawn the first match 1-1 at Princes Park. Perennial cup strugglers Yeovil Town managed to get one over on old cup rivals Rushden & Diamonds, Vauxhall Motors lost out to Hartlepool United in a replay, while Hythe and Guiseley were defeated heavily by league teams. In one of the upsets of the round, Gillingham once again found themselves on the wrong end of a cup upset, this time against Dover Athletic. Strikes from Adam Birchall (latterly to be a Gills player), and Luke I’Anson secured a priceless victory in the Kent derby. The story of the round however, was to be found at Spotland where Rochdale hosted FC United of Manchester in front of a bumper crowd comprised largely of away supporters. It was real Roy of the Rovers stuff for FC United who built a two goal lead with strikes from Nicky Platt and Jake Cotterill either side of the half time break. But Dale threatened to derail the party for the side from the Evo Stik Premier, striking twice midway through the second half as the tie looked headed for a replay. But in the fourth minute of added time, Michael Norton sent the breakaway club into jubilation by pickpocketting Josh Lillis and slotting home into an empty net – sending United through to the 2nd round in what can be considered the biggest 1st round result in the last five years.

First round ties in the 2011/2012 season produced few upsets; Luton defeated Northampton Town, Bath City took Dagenham & Redbridge to a replay before ultimately losing out, and moneybags Fleetwood Town shocked League One side Wycombe Wanderers with a 3-1 victory at Highbury. However, the biggest non-league upset was to be found at the War Memorial Athletic Ground, where Stourbridge overturned League Two crisis club Plymouth Argyle. Having been held 3-3 at home by the Southern League side, a match in which the Bridge had held the lead twice, the Pilgrims were sent packing in controversial circumstances in the replay. With a bumper crowd in tow, the Bridge were given a helping hand in the first half courtesy of Paul Bignot’s contested sending off. The hosts made the man advantage count, advancing coolly through to the 2nd round with second half strikes from Sean Evans and bricklayer Paul McCone.

Jubilation for Dorchester.
The 2012/2013 FA Cup saw all manner of first round upsets and exquisite performances. Conference South side Chelmsford City defeated Essex rivals Colchester United, Hastings beat Bishops Stortford and Harrogate Town secured a famous win away at Torquay United. Plymouth were dumped out in acrimonious circumstances for the second season in a row, this time losing out to Jake Gosling’s strike for Dorchester having been reduced to 10 men with less than 10 minutes played. But the performance of the round arguably came from Lincoln City. After leading League One hotshots Walsall courtesy of Jamie Taylor’s strike, the Imps were pegged back with just minutes remaining of their original tie against the Saddlers, George Bowerman forcing a replay at The Banks Stadium. The replay took a similar path, with Alan Power’s strike cancelled out by Richard Taundry to force extra-time. And that’s when the Imps pounced on their higher league opponents, goals from Vadaine Oliver either side of half-time in extra-time enough to see off under-par Walsall who could only muster a consolation in injury time. The 3-2 victory sent Lincoln through to the second round where they quickly went out after defeat to Mansfield Town in a replay.

With the review of the past twelve or thirteen years complete, we look ahead to the weekend’s games and what exactly each team is up against. Below is the entire list of 1st round fixtures ahead of the 2013/2014 weekend, with their league placing’s in the English football pyramid featured in brackets beside each clubs name. This ranking system is also based on the premise that Hinckley remain as a club, despite their dissolution, constituting 24 teams in the Southern Premier Division.

Shortwood (356) vs (56) Port Vale (Vale have lost in R1 in 12 of the last 16 seasons)
Chesterfield (71) vs (263) Daventry Town (Daventry’s first ever appearance in the 1st Round proper)
St Albans City (192) vs (60) Mansfield Town (Mansfield reached the 3rd round last year, losing to Liverpool)
Brentford (49) vs (137) Staines Town (Staines' sixth time in the first round proper)
Boreham Wood (149) vs (60) Carlisle United (Wood have not reached the 2nd Round for 16 years)
Corby Town (216) vs (136) Dover Athletic (Dover have reached R2 just twice in their history)
Gloucester City (156) vs (69) Fleetwood Town (Wood have won all 3 meetings with Gloucester)
Hednesford Town (117) vs (57) Crawley Town (Hednesford currently top of Conference North)
Leyton Orient (45) vs (108) Southport (Orient have lost just twice so far this season)
Gillingham (62) vs (121) Brackley (2 of Gills last 3 R1 defeats against lower league opposition)
Macclesfield Town (106) vs (51) Swindon Town (Macc knocked Swindon out in R1 last season)
MK Dons (52) vs (104) FC Halifax (Shaymen are yet to win away in the league this season)
Preston North End (48) vs (99) Barnet (Preston are two times winners of the cup)
Burton Albion (75) vs (111) Hereford United (Burton have won 5 out of 7 meetings at the Pirelli)
Oxford United (70) vs Gateshead (103) (Gateshead have made it past Round 1, 21 times)
Bishop’s Stortford (124) vs (92) Northampton Town (Stortford have 5 home wins, Cobblers, 1 away)
Kidderminster Harriers (94) vs (126) Sutton United (Harriers unbeaten vs Sutton in 90 minutes)
Stourbridge (182) vs (212) Biggleswade Town (Waders first time in Round 1)
AFC Wimbledon (83) vs (55) Coventry City (1st Round meeting between two previous cup winners)
Accrington Stanley (91) vs (64) Tranmere Rovers (Stanley have not beaten Tranmere since 1958)
Peterborough United (47) vs (74) Exeter City (Twelve draws at London Road between the pair)
Tamworth (112) vs (86) Cheltenham Town (Cheltenham have reached R3 in last three seasons)
Stevenage (63) vs (85) Portsmouth (Pompey last knocked out in R1 in 1981)
Lincoln City (105) vs (85) Plymouth Argyle (Argyle haven’t been past R1 in last three seasons)
Braintree Town (98) vs (78) Newport County (Newport won last FA Cup meeting 4-3 vs Braintree)
Grimsby Town (96) vs (76) Scunthorpe United (First meeting between the two sides since 2008)
Torquay United (89) vs (72) Rochdale (Torquay have won 30 of last 41 vs Dale at Plainmoor)
Oldham Athletic (61) vs (46) Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves last lost in R1 in 1988)
Bristol City (64) vs (79) Dagenham & Redbridge (First ever competitive meeting between the sides)
Wycombe Wanderers (80) vs (66) Crewe Alexandra (Chairboys reached FA Cup Semi-Final in 2001)
Hartlepool United (81) vs (68) Notts County (Pools have won 9 of 14 games vs County at home)
Salisbury City (97) vs (109) Dartford (Dartford won last 2 vs Salisbury City)
Colchester United (58) vs (67) Sheffield United (Sheffield Utd last failed to reach the R1 in 1981)
Wrexham (109) vs (101) Alfreton Town (Alfreton have never lost at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground)
Walsall (53) vs (59) Shrewsbury Town (Saddlers unbeaten at home to Shrews since 1993)
Welling (100) vs (95) Luton Town (Hatters reached Round 5 of the FA Cup last year)
Rotherham United (54) vs (50) Bradford City (Millers have won their last four vs Bradford)
Morecambe (73) vs (77) Southend United (Southend have never beaten Morecambe)
Bury (90) vs (93) Cambridge United (Smallest league position gap inbetween leagues)
Bristol Rovers (88) vs (87) York City (York lost 3-2 at Rovers in a League Two match in August)

Of the 40 ties across the weekend, 20 of them will pit a non-league side against a Football League counterpart, with the highest indifference being 56th placed Port Vale away at 356th place Shortwood United, a difference of 300 places in the English Football pyramid. By contrast the closest tie on paper is between two sides who are separated by just a single place in League Two; Bristol Rovers and York City.

Also, just to clarify something, my rankings for teams like Shortwood and Biggleswade are based on the fact that their respective regional division is akin to three others of the same level. As a result those four divisions have been added together along with the three regional premier divisions, the Conference South/North, the Conference, League One, League Two, The Championship and finally the Premier League to find out their positional ranking.

And with that, we've reached the end of our comprehensive overview of the FA Cup past and present, detailing various cup shocks along with the rankings for this seasons first round. Depending on the reaction I get to this Blog, I may bring it back for the ensuing cup rounds with a similar or tweaked format. Thank you for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Hartlepool United 2-1 Daggers, WhirlPoole.

After a near two month hiatus, The Daggers Scale returns to bring you news of a first Dagenham & Redbridge away defeat in over two months. So it's just typical that it's the first match report in quite some time that I've decided to publish - that despite having written both of the bulk of the text for Northampton and Southend away. Nevertheless we're back, and so are Dagenham, with goals from James Poole and Andy Monkhouse either side of Zavon Hines' exquisite second half strike condemning Daggers to only their fourth league defeat of the season. 

Before we delve into the mystery of a day that was Hartlepool away, I should probably bring you up to speed on what's happened since that fateful day at Morecambe. Essentially, since then Dagenham have set League Two alight, or at least lightly doused the flame of the perpetual League Two candle. Three straight wins followed the last gasp equaliser at The Globe Arena, including a 5-2 annihilation of Southend United at Roots Hall in the Johnstones Paint Trophy. Defeat followed the weekend after in the form of a 2-1 reverse to Cheltenham Town at home, before a draw against Northampton ensured us of our first ever point against the Cobblers. Then it was Southend again, and to everyone's amazement we picked up our second win inside two weeks at Roots Hall, Rhys Murphy netting the vital goal that proved to be the winner. That was followed up by a superb 3-1 victory over League Two leaders Rochdale last weekend, a result that moved us up to 8th in the table. And so that led us on to Hartlepool away, a fixture that for some reason seemed appealing at some point in October.

With tickets bought in advance and train tickets at a discounted fare, the journey began at an insatiably early 7:00am. A time that goes down in the record books as my earliest away day. Meeting at Chadwell Heath station, we headed to Liverpool Street via Stratford to meet Harry, before being dealt an early blow in the form of a derailed train at Farringdon. It meant we had to switch our Tube plans, using the Northern Line and Jubilee Line via Holburn instead of the usual straight through route to Kings Cross

Nevertheless we arrived with just enough time to glance pity and shame toward the poor souls whiling away their lives taking pictures at Platform 9 & 3/4 quarters at 8:00 in the morning. More to the point, if you've watched the films, it's not even in the right location. But I left my qualms for another day and boarded our plush Grand Central service to Sunderland, via Hartlepool of course. 
Thankfully for everyone involved, our train was on a direct service meaning we were not forced to change anywhere along the route. And having picked up Bill at York, we headed on the final stretch of the journey to Hartlepool, past place names that may or may not exist. I mean Northallerton, Stockton, Thirsk and Eaglescliff - are you even sure they're real?

Still, having sussed out that these place names may contain actual civilisation, we arrived in Hartlepool just shy of 12:00, somewhat amusingly ahead of the first team who were travelling up on a later train and had earlier been spotted in pret a manger. First impressions of the town were largely positive, a small marina and what looked like a market either side of the large retail park allowed Hartlepool to go instantly above Scunthorpe and Morecambe in the away days table.

A quick stop in KFC ensued, before we went exploring in the town where H’Angus the Monkey had formerly been elected mayor. The brusque Northern wind soon hit as we went in search of a pub, with our pursuit taking us around the backstreets of the town, the majority of which seemed quite dilapidated. And that's a shame, because on the whole it looked like an area with real potential, and with a bit of investment it could become a place where people want to live - bringing jobs and prosperity back to the local area.

Hartlepool Marina

Having scoured the streets for a good 15 minutes, we finally found a homely little pub, The Millhouse, located a stone’s throw away the stadium itself. From the outside it seemed inviting, while the inside just reinforces that view. With all beer and cider priced at a more than reasonable £2.50, Sky TV, a pool table and friendly bar staff - we'd found our haunt for the afternoon. Just a pity there was a match to go to really. 

Our stay in the overly packed pub lasted just over two hours before we decided to head off into the ground for kick-off. Weaving our way through the pot-hole ridden car-park, we located the away end with some difficulty before heading through the turnstiles and being greeted with the piercing mid-afternoon Sun. Brighter than Sam Williams' fake tan, it was nigh on impossible to see anything.

Having said that, my first impression of Victoria Park is that it was a very quaint League Two ground. Comprising of both seating and terracing, it has something for everyone. The main stand embodies this, with the upper tier solely seating (even if the seats had no backs to them), while the bottom half is terracing in its entirety. It had the feel of the grandstand at Cheltenham, but more modern and welcoming. On the left hand side of the away stand was an all seated section for home supporters. At first glance this looked the most modern build, and yet it happened to be the second smallest construction in the stadium. Opposite us was the home terrace where we naturally assumed the majority of the noise would come from. With an old fashion design, it almost single handedly signified football in the lower reaches of English football. That left us with the away end, or to give it its proper the name, The Rink End. The smallest stand inside the ground holding just 1035 supporters, it was to be our home for the next two hours. It is also unusual in the sense that it puts you right on top of the action such is the way it's built, leaving virtually no room behind the goal giving the feeling of a proper old fashioned football ground, as previously mentioned. And as a result of its size, unless you sit directly at the front, your view of the match is restricted by the cold concrete poles that obstruct your viewing. 

With my analysis of the stadium complete, it wasn't long before the teams made something of an abrupt entrance onto the pitch, half way through a tune from The Beatles. Applause emanated from all sides of a relatively packed Victoria Park, courtesy of the Pools' fantastically priced season tickets. With the handshakes completed, the Dagenham & Redbridge players jogged over to the away end to applaud the 99 travelling supporters.

Before we begin with the match action, it's probably best to go through who exactly was playing for both sides. So the teams lined up as follows...

Hartlepool United: Flinders, Duckworth, Auston, Walton, Baldwin, Burgess, Franks, Dolan, James, Poole, Monkhouse. Subs: Collins, Rafferty, Sweeney, Rodney, Richard, Holden, Walker.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Hoyte, Doe, Saah, Connors, Howell, Bingham, Ogogo, Elito, Murphy, Hines. Subs: Seabright, Femi, Scott, Obafemi, Dickson, Shields, Wilkinson.

And so it began, the biting wind formed icicles on the end of my pertruding nose and I realised that winter football was back. Oh, and the game kicked off as well. The game opened with a smattering of opportunities for both sides, Simon Walton's shot was deflected wide while up the other end Zavon Hines curled the wrong side of Flinders' goal. Prolific striker Rhys Murphy was next to register his intent, skewing wide after an impressive run down the left. But despite Daggers' early pressure, it was Hartlepool that opened the scoring with little over 10 minutes played. A combination of misplay between Duckworth and James resulted in the ball being squared for James Poole to slot past Chris Lewington from close range, despite the best efforts of Scott Doe on the line. With more than a whiff of fortune about the goal, alongside muted claims for offside - Daggers were behind to the in-form Pools. 

After the restart it became clear the wind could destroy what had the potential to be an enticing contest. Strong gales disrupted Chris Lewington's kicking, causing havoc as Daggers attempted to plump the ball forward, giving Hartlepool the clear advantage in the first half. And the hosts dominance was clear as we reached the halfway point, James Poole firing wide before Chris Lewington had to be at his best to deny Simon Walton's close range effort. Lewington's save seemingly acted as a catalyst as Daggers and in particular Medy Elito finally worked themselves into the game. Winger Elito pick-pocketed a Pools defender, advanced forward by sliding the ball between another opponents legs before breaking into the box and seeing his shot across goal palmed back out by the perfectly positioned Flinders. The pressure didn't end there though, with Hines picking up the ball shortly after and firing past Flinders, only to see youngster Jack Baldwin clear off the line.

With the half drawing to a close, both sides continued to squander opportunities. Billy Bingham and Luke Howell both thundered wide from outside the box for the visitors, while Luke James' free-kick was dealt with well by the Daggers defence. Andy Monkhouse then found himself in the book for a late tackle on Gavin Hoyte, an action that effectively saw the end of an intriguing first period.

Nice touch by Hartlepool

As the first half drew to a close, I put to an end my discrepancies with League Two catering and headed to sample the Hartlepool burger bar. Aptly named the Hungry Monkey, coinciding with Hartlepool's famous nickname, it offered a decent choice of food, even if murmurs surrounding the pies were not as favourable. Nevertheless I persevered with the hot-dog, and priced at £3.50 you certainly get a bang for your buck! Without doubt the best half-time snack I've had in League Two (bold claim), and they even serve alcohol if it takes your fancy, which given the conditions, it didn't. 

Having returned to my seat that I didn't sit on, the second half began in earnest as Daggers looked to conjure up an equaliser. Imperatively the visitors now had the wind with them, giving an extra kick when it was needed with ball's lofted over the top. The only problem with this of course, is that if you over hit a lofted pass then there's a high chance that it'll go out of play for a goal kick - something that happened on many occasions in the second period. It began slower than the first forty-five as cynical challenges threatened to dominate the play. With inspiration and imagination looking decimated, it was left to that man Zavon Hines to magic up something out of nothing once again. The slippery wideman beat two Pools defenders before cutting inside and onto his left, hitting a spectacular curling effort that flew past Flinders to put Daggers back on level terms. Zavon Hines, the patron saint of unexpected away day equalisers.

Ogogo came close

Wayne Burnett's men then went in search of a second that would have given them the lead in the contest, and but for a brilliant piece of defending from Baldwin they would have had it. Rhys Murphy advanced into the box following his release down the left, but instead of being selfish the ex-Arsenal youngster opted to square the ball for Ogogo who would have given Daggers the lead had Baldwin not stuck out a crucial leg at the crucial moment.

As the game entered its final half an hour, the chances came thick and fast. The corner from Baldwin's block led to a Pools counter attack, resulting in another superb close range stop at the near post by Lewington from Coronation Street's Duckworth. Despite that close encounter of the Pool kind, Daggers continued to assert considerable pressure. Just moments later a free-kick on the right was headed goalwards by Abu Ogogo, forcing Flinders into another fine save to divert the ball round the post.

Siege mentality was by now incumbent on the Daggers forward line, highlighted by Zavon Hines' continuous nature of drawing fouls out of the Hartlepool full backs. Again Dagenham nearly took the lead from a set-piece, this time Brian Saah's glancing header bounced agonisingly wide of the far post, much to the relief of the helpless Flinders. At the other end Pools midfielder Christian Burgess headed wide of the mark, while the referee made himself busy by dishing out two yellow cards in quick succession. First Zavon Hines was cautioned for a mistimed challenged, with Simon Walton going into the book minutes later for wrapping his legs around Hines' midriff in controversial fashion. Luke James soon lamped a shot wide of the near post as Hartlepool cranked up the pressure.

And with little over ten minutes remaining of the contest, Hartlepool made their minimalistic pressure count in the most frustrating of circumstances. A corner on the right hand-side was met at the back stick by Andy Monkhouse who out-jumped the Daggers defence to head across Chris Lewington and into the net. Another set-piece goal conceded for Burnett's side who appear to still have lingering doubts about their method of defending from corners.

Bingham tested Flinders

Any remaining hope of a comeback was extinguished minutes after the goal as Burnett introduced Chris Dickson in place of Luke Howell. An attacking change, although my current scepticism of Dickson suggests that we may have been better off sticking Seabright up front. I've been harsh to give him such a hard time so early on in his Daggers career, but as yet he's not impressed me when he's been tasked with doing a job. 
Still, there was ten minutes left for Daggers to find an answer - and it so nearly came when Christian Burgess handballed on the edge of the area. Billy Bingham and Zavon Hines stood over the ball, but Bingham took it following Hines' lay off, with only another superb Flinders diving save denying Bingham's drilled effort that somehow found its way through the Hartlepool wall. 

A double change quickly ensued as both sides attempted to end the game on top; Obafemi was on for Daggers while Jordan Richards came on for Pools. Despite the substitution, Daggers were unable to mount any real attack as Hartlepool closed the game out superbly. Their attackers kept hold of the ball up the field to deny Dagenham any last foray forward, with the defence snuffing out any ball that was punted upfield in search of a Daggers forward. The referee had by now seen enough, blowing his whistle to signal the end of the contest and the end of Dagenham's recent unbeaten run.

My camera skills are still top notch.
It was a disappointing defeat given our second half display in particular, made all the more frustrating by the fact that it was probably the best performance we've put in for a good month or so. Our ability to fashion numerous goalscoring chances and score through flashes of brilliance is a welcome plus to our season, and something that will surely help us out a lot more in the coming weeks. But it was sloppy defending, especially the set-piece that has undone us again and denied us a share of the spoils. That and tremendous goalkeeping from Scott Flinders, whom I firmly believe is by far and away the best goalkeeper in League Two. If you have him in your side, you've already got one up on your opponents at the back. His tremendous form has been apparent for years now, making him a real asset in the Pools promotion charge. Elsewhere I was also impressed with Hartlepool veteran Andy Monkhouse alongside tricky young forwards Luke James and James Poole. They have a decent core of a side and if they can get another striker in during January to banish their profligacy, then they'll be contenders come the end of the season.

As for Daggers, I'm not quite sure whether it was a case of missed opportunities or poor defending. So I'll put it down to a combination of both, with an emphasis on the former. Billy Bingham shone in midfield, while Zavon Hines continued to prove what a valuable player he is in the side. And for all of the flak Chris Lewington gets (deserved or undeserved), he proved once more on Saturday why he's in the team; making a string of successive stops to ensure Hartlepool didn't open up a wider lead. It's hard to be damning of our performance because it really wasn't bad at all. All we can do is pick up the baton next week against Bristol City and try to resurrect this result with a scalp in the FA Cup - something we are perfectly capable of doing. 

Where Hartlepool as a place is concerned, it seemed charming and rather nice. I can't stress enough how away supporters should visit the Millhouse Pub if you ever go to Victoria Park, while the ground itself is also a mix of the old and the new in football. The whole place retains a certain charm that some places in League Two do not seem to have, making it one of my favoured away days so far this season.

So that's it really, a defeat, but plenty of positives to take as we strode back out into the dark night of Hartlepool. As mentioned, we travel to Bristol City next week in the middle of a combination of games that upon culmination against AFC Wimbledon, will have seen us play eight away and just three at home since the beginning of October. The Daggers Scale doesn't do FA conspiracy theories, but if we did....

There will more than likely be an away report for Bristol City, seeing as it's a new ground - so have a good week and we'll reconvene next Sunday! Remember you can follow me on Twitter with, @NickMurphyDRFC.