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.


  1. Goof read glad you enjoyed our town

  2. Good to hear you liked Hartlepool! I've passed the link on to the boss of the Millhouse who will appreciate your recommendation!

    One point though, it was Neil Austin not Jack Baldwin who made the brilliant interception to stop your lads from going 2-1 up!

    Good read, good luck for the rest of the season :)

  3. Cheers for the write up:

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