Dagenham & Redbridge succumbed to a disappointing 3-2 defeat at home to Port Vale on Saturday afternoon to end 2012 on a two game losing streak. Despite efforts from Sam Williams in the first half and Scott Doe late on, Daggers never really managed to get going. Micky Adams’ men were simply clinical, with a fantastic volley from Louis Dodds following up strikes from Tom Pope and Jennison Myrie-Williams.
Before the match I wasn't particularly optimistic. We've never beaten Vale at home; moreover they were 2nd in the league which obviously brings its own problems. After the way we were dismantled by Southend on Boxing Day I feared for us against the even more clinical Tom Pope and co. Saying that however, we always tend to end the year well and were unbeaten against the Burslem outfit in our last two matches.
An overcast sky greeted us at Victoria Road where a significantly fewer number of people had turned out for the second of the two Christmas home games. The teams were swiftly announced with a couple of changes in store...
Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Spillane, Maher, Howell, Elito, Williams, Scott. Subs: Seabright, Hoyte, Bingham, Wakefield, Caprice, Woodall, Reed.
John Still wielded the metaphorical axe following a lacklustre display against Southend on Boxing Day. The most significant change was that of Josh Scott replacing Jake Reed alongside Sam Williams. Kevin Maher was also recalled for the first time since his appearance against Oxford, he came in for Matt Saunders who had picked up a knock in the warm up. Dominic Green continues to be deployed as Paul Daniels' new assistant and as a result, is still missing, presumed vanished.
Port Vale: Neal, Yates, McCombe, Duffy, Chilvers, Myrie-Williams, Morsy, Burge, Dodds, Pope, Andrew. Subs: Johnson, McDonald, Taylor, Shuker, James, Lloyd, Williamson.
With the chance to go top with a win due to Gillingham not playing, Micky Adams would have been looking to keep the same team that defeated Rotherham United on Boxing Day. Unfortunately though the Valiants were forced into a single change, captain and former Dagger Doug Loft was missing through a suspected stomach bug which allowed Calvin Andrew to replace him. Ashley Vincent was also missing once again.
As the 256 Vale fans took their place in the Traditional Builders Stand, the referee blew his whistle to signal kick off. It was the home side who were quickest out of the blocks with Kevin Maher forcing Chris Neal into a low save following a partially cleared corner. It was déjà-vu soon after though as Daggers conceded an early goal. Chris Lewington once again made a rash judgement to collect the ball when he wasn't entitled to which allowed Adam Yates to cross for Tom Pope to nod home with 4 minutes played. Terrible defensive mistakes were punished once again.
Just as John Still's men had regrouped, they were hit with a sucker punch in the 9th minute. Myrie-Williams bypassed the Daggers defence before latching onto a beautifully weighted through ball and finished coolly past the onrushing Lewington to make it 2-0. With less than 10 minutes played it was looking like an impossible task for the Daggers, who were staring down the barrel of a second successive home defeat,
The game then took a more relaxed tone for the ensuing five minutes with Vale looking more than content with their lead. With 17 minutes played - controversy. Sam Williams burst into the box on the right hand side before being upended by Liam Chilvers. To everyone inside the ground it looked like a perfectly time challenged, the direction of the ball had clearly changed and barely anyone claimed for a penalty. The referee though had others ideas, after consultation with his official, he pointed to the spot.
Everyone looked in disbelief; even the Daggers players looked a bit embarrassed. As Ryan Burge limped off for treatment up one end, Sam Williams sent Chris Neal the wrong way at the other to reduce the deficit to 2-1. Whilst it was completely undeserved, some credit should go to Medy Elito for two crunching tackles to set up Williams' run down the right hand side. They were superb and really got the crowd going.
Both sides became more frantic in their approach. Liam Chilvers and Myrie-Williams both had shots blocked; meanwhile Tom Pope somehow squandered a marvellous headed chance by hitting it into the ground. Calvin Andrew also headed over from a corner before a period of Daggers pressure where Luke Howell saw his shot from outside the box deflected wide for a corner. Also, have you ever wondered what life would be like if Josh Scott had a right foot? Me too.
Then came Port Vale's third that was the knife in the Daggers coffin. Micky Spillane gave the ball away after being crowded out on the edge of the Vale box allowing the Valiants to spring a breakaway. Calvin Andrew played in Louis Dodds who rather than having a foot race against Femi, fired home an unstoppable volley from outside the box that flew past Lewington and into the back of the net. The strike drew applause from the Sieve as it was of genuine quality. The real question though, was why there were only two defenders in our own half - not good enough.
The Daggers ended the half in the ascendancy but were unable to make it 3-2. Luke Howell saw another shot blocked; meanwhile Chris Neal was on hand to prevent Micky Spillane finding the net from a tight angle. Despite a rather dodgy defensive display, Daggers weren't playing that bad like some of our supporters made out. If we could nick an early goal in the second half, I was confident we could make a game of it and maybe even push on for the draw.
As a reduced number of Daggerettes performed at half time, the Vale players wearing their Fulham replica kits returned to the pitch. To dampen spirits further, the rain also began to lash down causing tricky conditions as we started the second half. The hosts nearly pulled one back instantaneously. John McCombe's challenge brought down Sam Williams which allowed Medy Elito to swing in a wonderful free kick that went through everyone before clipping the outside of the post.
Chances were now coming thick and fast with Luke Wilkinson narrowly missing the target from outside the box. Then it was Vale's turn to attack once more and they would have gone 4-1 ahead had it not been for a last gasp goal-line clearance from Scott Doe. Nevertheless Vale continued to push forward with Louis Dodds' thunderous volley flashing just wide of the target. Tom Pope who saw a header blocked a few minutes earlier then tried his luck again, this time however he failed to hit the target.
Daggers though weren't giving up and had it not been for a back peddling Chris Neal tipping Micky Spillane's wondrous chip over the bar, they may have had their equaliser. Josh Scott who was lagging with his fitness was then replaced by Brian Woodall which received a large roar of approval from the Sieve. We then had a mini break in play for treatment to Chris Lewington after he dived at Myrie-Williams' feet to collect a loose ball, only to get a face full of leather in the process.
Kevin Maher hadn't really lived up to his pre match billing upon his return and was duly replaced by tricky winger Jake Caprice on 73 minutes. Maher has the ability to control the midfield and influence a game with his vast experience, unfortunately on Saturday afternoon too many mistakes cost the former Southend captain. Vale were continuing to soak up Daggers pressure as Caprice was involved straight away, firing in a well weighted cross into the box that was cleared.
Caprice was continuing to cause problems on the right hand side as his pin point cross was met by Woodall whose header was pushed wide thanks to a superb stop from Neal. Port Vale were still looking dangerous on the breakaway and may have extended the lead if not for superb tracking back from Luke Wilkinson.
With 83 minutes played, it was looking like a lost cause for Daggers unless they got a goal back sharpish. As luck would have it, they did. Luke Howell's free kick was knocked on by Brian Woodall into the path of centre half Scott Doe who controlled the ball and executed the finish in superb fashion. Chris Neal was left with no chance as the score was reduced to 3-2. The Sieve was now rocking in hope of a possible 3-3 draw.
Try as they might, the hosts couldn't find that elusive equalising goal. Brian Woodall nearly dragged the ball around Chris Neal, but the 'keeper acted superbly to deny the substitute. The visitors rode both the literal and metaphorical storm to see out what you would probably credit to them as a deserved victory. Despite dominating possession in the second half, Daggers couldn't make it count and as a result the sheer clinical finishing of Vale shone through.
John Still will be disappointed by the fashion in which the first was conceded, but unfortunately it was down to individual error. Chris Lewington's judgement was poor and hopefully it's something that he's learning from and addressing. The third goal wasn't good enough defensively, the ease at which Dodds was allowed into the Daggers half was poor. Usually we’re pretty sound in those sort of situations, but today for whatever reason it wasn’t there. Then again, that's what we get for pushing men forward at that stage in the game.
One massive plus point this afternoon was the performance of Medy Elito. He showed real grit and determination, the like of which we've very rarely seen from him in a Daggers shirt. One passage of play where he won the ball, gave it away, then won it again and ultimately gave it away again seemed to sum up his season up to this point. Luke Howell was also impressive as ever, whilst Scott Doe didn't have a bad game either.
As for Port Vale, the main point I'm getting across here is that they were extremely clinical. Any error that we made, they punished. Their defence was sturdy for the large part and if they manage to keeps their attack together I can definitely see them getting promoted. You can see how much they missed Doug Loft however, as they were left extremely exposed at left back when Jake Caprice was introduced.
We now move on to Northampton Town on New Year’s Day, a team against which the Daggers have never won - so hopefully we'll change that stat. I'd also love to see Jake Caprice given a starting berth on NYD as he really seems to trouble the full backs. On the other hand, Akinfenwa will more than likely score a hat trick against us and we'll trudge home despondent and wondering what went wrong.
Until then, have a good New Year! Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickdrfcMurphy