Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Premier League Cul-de-sac

The Premier League is often lauded and paraded as the most entertaining league in the world, as it should. It's also championed as one of the most competitive where anyone can beat anyone else. This is true to an extent. But the competition stops when it comes to winning the league.

For the considerable past and the majority of the future, the race for the Premier League title will remain a two horse race. Those two sides will of course be Manchester United & Manchester City. Then there's the other few who are capable of a challenge such as Chelsea, Arsenal and to an extent Spurs. But that's where the buck stops. Those five clubs are the select few who in the current era have a chance of challenging for the title, and even that's something of an exaggeration.

For the financial benefits, there's no doubt that the top flight is the pinnacle for all clubs in English football. But where too from there? The excitement, the thrill and the challenge of making it into the elite top 20 is unparalleled, but once there, clubs hit a cul-de-sac. There's nothing left to achieve. The best that can be hoped for in the modern era is a series of consistent mid table finishes, a cup run and maybe an optimistic push towards the top four as a one off.

Whilst getting to the Premier League may be an achievement, there's a severe lack of purpose once there. All it does is suffice to tide over the club coffers and bring in extra revenue. There's realistically nowhere to go after that. What chance do Aston Villa, Fulham, Southampton West Brom or West Ham have of challenging for the Premier League crown? None whatsoever is the answer. Managing to get into the top 10 every year and  avoiding relegation is the best that can be achieved with no hope of winning the league, let alone breaking into the top four. 

For the fans I imagine it's a novelty at first, but it soon dies off. The extortionate ticket prices, the mixed kick off times and the realisation that your club has hit a brick wall would be a burden to bear. Where's the fun in paying £30 upwards a week to watch your club be mediocre for a considerable time, with little chance of ever achieving anything of note. Where's that thrill of a title race, of being on an equal level, of having a chance? It's gone. Where's the thrill of keeping young players, building and creating a dynasty? There isn't. Unless you're in the top six established clubs, you're not invited to the party. 

You can praise the Premier League as much as you want, but with increasing revenue to clubs, especially the giants, the hope of even building a side to win the title is a distant dream. Gone are the days of a mid table club making that step up through character, grit and determination. Gone are the days of it being an open competition for all. Gone are the days of equality and the thrill of knowing that your team could finish anywhere in the league.

Of course, even 30 years ago there would be a favourite for the league, but it wasn't as clear cut. You'd always get a side that breaks away unexpectedly and mounts a challenge. A look at the 1985-1986 season final table and you can see Liverpool, Everton, West Ham & Sheffield Wednesday in the top 5 - all separated by just 15 points. Could you honestly see West Ham finishing in 3rd position now? Of course not, they don't have the resources, and they don't have an equal chance. 

Back then, whilst the league wasn't exactly equal, it gave far more chance to develop and for any side to have a crack. Nowadays the best clubs take the cream and very few have a realistic chance of making the top 6. Swansea are proving to be an exception to this rule, playing attractive football and hopefully developing into what will be a side that can one day challenge towards the top of the league. At the moment though, it's just a pipe dream and if it did happen, would stand as an exception in the modern era.

Getting into the Premier League can also lead into decline. Look at Portsmouth for instance, they achieved the dream by getting into the top flight and it's ultimately led them to nearly going extinct. To a lesser extent, Swindon & Bradford both sunk to the fourth division, whilst other mediocre teams continue to languish in the Championship and League One. The majority of clubs are run as a business these days and ultimately all that matters to them is the money that comes with it, not the enjoyment of the supporters.

Not only does this cul-de-sac exonerate competition, it stunts the growth of our younger players. You only have to look at Michael Johnson this week to see how his career has taken a nose dive. It's why Championship, League One, & League Two clubs will do well to retain their rising stars and keep them until they're ready to move on. English football needs it's rising talents to play regularly and feel their way up the leagues like previous eras to ever achieve anything on an International level.

These are all external points of the Premier League having a closed door. When sixth or seven is the best you can hope for as a "normal" club, what's the achievement? Even Newcastle who over achieved are now paying as a result, losing key players to established sides in the top 4. In short, what I'm trying to say, is the Premier League isn't all it's cracked up to be. Sure, it's ok for a while, but once that swansong period ends, the realisation of who you are and where you are, will really hit home. 

To contact me, Tweet me at @NickMurphy1995

Monday, 14 January 2013

Daggers 2-1 Rochdale, Magic Medy Elito

Dagenham & Redbridge made it two wins in a week on Saturday with a stirring fight back against Rochdale at Victoria Road. Despite Dale taking the lead through Andrew Tutte's strike, the hosts rallied and equalised through Abu Ogogo before Medy Elito sealed the three points in the 92nd minute. Unfortunately on Daggers against Racism Day, it's something unsavoury that threatens to take the headlines with Dale's Bobby Grant accused of aiming racial remarks at Daggers right back Gavin Hoyte.

John Still's men were coming into this one on a mixed run of form. A victory at Accrington last week was followed up by a lacklustre defeat against Morecambe in midweek where the vast amount of travelling finally caught up with Daggers. Rochdale had only won two of their last six, but their away form speaks for itself with six victories on the road this campaign. They had however lost their last two which allowed for some optimism in the home camp.

Despite ticket prices being vastly reduced for Saturdays encounter, as I entered Victoria Road it didn't appear to be particularly full. Saying that though it was 20 minutes before kickoff and there was someone killing a Coldplay song over the tannoy. Although to be fair to the singer, having a live song played over the tannoy is always going to sound muffled. Things only got worse soon after when we alerted to the disastrous news that The Daggerettes had been held up in traffic.

To stop myself weeping into my burger at the thought of no Daggerettes, I immersed myself in the team news...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Hoyte, Doe, Wilkinson, Femi, Saunders, Ogogo, Howell, Elito, Williams, Woodall. Subs: Seabright, Bingham, Caprice, Scott, Reed, Spillane, Maher.

After being rested for the midweek trip to Lancashire Sam Williams was recalled to the starting line up which meant Josh Scott dropped to the bench. He was joined there by Mickey Spillane whose rumoured move to Southend United is seemingly keeping him out of the team. New signing Sean Shields wasn't in the 18, likewise with Gianluca Gracco. 

Rochdale: Lillis, Pearson, Edwards, Bennett, McIntyre, Cavanagh, Tutte, Barry-Murphy, Grant, Grimes, Gornell. Subs: Smith, Donnelly, Kennedy, Putterill, Adebola, Minihan, Craney.

Dale boss John Coleman opted to make two changes for the trip to Victoria Road, with both Matty Patterson & Brian Barry-Murphy recalled to the starting line up. They replaced the suspended Joe Rafferty and Jason Kennedy who was amongst the substitutes. Terry Gornell had signed permanently at Spotland this week following a successful loan spell and remained up front for the Greater Manchester side. 

With the ground slowly filling up, the sides emerged from the tunnel to muffled applause. They were joined by several flag bearers who unsurprisingly bore several flags as they were paraded onto the pitch. With the teams organised, huddles complete and a lovely pocket of space for me to sprawl in the Sieve, we began.

It was a frantic start with Daggers having the best of the early play. Scott Doe saw his effort saved whilst Lillis was again on hand minutes later to deny Brian Woodall's tame strike. After a lull where Sam Williams was forced to change his shirt, Rochdale managed their first meaningful attack. Unfortunately for them though, Luke Wilkinson in his debut Football League season slid in to deny newly signed Terry Gornell an effort at the target.

You could tell from a mile away that this was a mid table encounter by the way the game was being shaped in the midfield. It was very scrappy with few moments of quality. Matt Saunders' intricate through ball nearly opened a door for Sam Williams, but it was firmly shut again when McIntyre got across to block. Woodall then attempted an overhead kick which needless to say didn't find the back of the net. 

With just under 25 minutes gone, we were treated to the first meaningful save of the match. Bobby Grant's precise free kick looked to be flying into the top corner, but Chris Lewington stretched his long arm across to deny the front man. Lewington was called into action once more five minutes later, this time to force Grant's dipping effort over the crossbar. The former Accrington forward was looking like the go to guy as Rochdale continued to assert pressure on the hosts.

Despite Dale having the better of the chances, Daggers really should have taken the lead with 34 minutes gone. Medy Elito's well weighted cross to the back post was met by an unmarked Brian Woodall who could only manage to blaze over from a good position. Similarly before the half time whistle Scott Doe spurned a gilt edge chance in the same position by firing over the bar.

It was a largely uneventful half so both sides would have been happy to go in level. Daggers had the best of the clear cut chances, yet Rochdale looked the more likely side to score. Having tested Lewington a couple of times they were looking the most dangerous. Both sides were finding it hard to establish a foothold on the game which accounted for the scrappy nature of the encounter.

The second half began in the same fashion with Dale looking the more dominant force. Bobby Grant saw another effort blocked whilst Ashley Grimes' curling effort beat Chris Lewington, but missed the target. Terry Gornell headed a shot narrowly wide of the post whilst Grant was once again denied by another superb block. Despite considerable Dale pressure, the breakaway was always an option for Daggers who had yet to implement a good attack in the second period.

The game remained tight going into the final 30 minutes, with Josh Lillis making a superb double stop to deny Medy Elito. With little over 20 minutes to go, Rochdale struck a seemingly decisive blow. Terry Gornell broke free before seeing his shot parried well by Lewington before Bobby Grant reclaimed the loose ball and laid it into the path of a grateful Andrew Tutte who slammed home into the top corner of the net. Luke Wilkinson's shared supporter’s frustration as despite having the better chances, we were behind.

Despite that setback, just two minutes after the goal Daggers were back on level terms. Matt Saunders' ball found Gavin Hoyte who in turn crossed for Williams to head at Lillis who once again made a superb stop. This time though he couldn't get to the rebound and Abu Ogogo was on hand to slam home the equaliser. It made a welcome change for Abu to find the net at the right end!

Even though the game was now wide open for the taking, neither side were able to capitalise and take advantage. Rochdale were looking the more likely, but despite testing Lewington earlier in the game were unable to do so now. Bobby Grant & Gavin Hoyte then received yellow cards for an altercation that took place off the ball - which we'll go into more later.

And then with just minutes remaining in the game, came a Daggers winner. Femi played it to Sam Williams who despite being urged to shoot, laid in Medy Elito who slotted a composed finish past Lillis and into the corner of the net. Andrew Tutte held his head in his hands as Daggers players and supporters alike enjoyed manic celebrations for the first last minute winner from open play in some time.

That last minute winner lifts Daggers up to 13th in the table, just three points off of the Play Off spots, which seems quite remarkable. The unfortunate altercation between Gavin Hoyte & Bobby Grant is currently being dealt with by the Met Police & the FA after Grant was accused of using a racial term against Hoyte. As much as I'd love to give a more detailed analysis, due to other work I'm a bit pushed for time, so hopefully the report itself will suffice! Normality will resume next week.

I won't delve into that as everything's alleged at the moment - although what I will say is to watch out for my SkySports Blog later in the week that'll have a brief overview of some positive events from the day.

Next week we travel to Adams Park to face Wycombe Wanderers and hopefully I'll be there! Until then, have a good week!

Remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickDRFCMurphy.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Accrington Stanley 0-2 Daggers, Happy New Year!

Dagenham & Redbridge halted a run of three straight defeats thanks to a dominant 2-0 victory at The Crown Ground on Saturday afternoon against a poor Accrington Stanley side. The Daggers were in control throughout the game and goals from Matt Saunders and Luke Howell either side of the half time break sealed the win. The victory lifts the Victoria Road outfit up to 14th in the table, whilst their hosts sink to a worryingly low 18th. 

The journey to Accrington is rarely a joyous one, purely because you know you're going to end up in Accrington. Nevertheless we endeavoured to make the trip, hoping for a better result than the one that greeted us on New Year’s Day at Northampton. A good result would also allow for my incessant moaning and storytelling of last year’s defeat to Stanley to come to an end as well - something which would please everyone.

After meeting Bill & Chaz at Chadwell Heath, we began the daunting journey to deepest darkest Lancashire. Following a quick change at Liverpool Street we arrived at Kings Cross with just enough time to board our Grand Central Train where we'd change at Halifax. The journey passed in a flash, a long, two and a half hour flash. After surveying the mammoth rolling hills and the wonderful Flour Factory at Halifax, our train arrived just in time for us to survive death by boredom.

Upon arrival in Accrington, we encountered something strange. It wasn't raining and there was a rare glimpse of the Sun – unbelievable! In previous trips to Lancashire the weather has been awful so this was a welcome turn up for the books. After navigating the treacherous streets of Accrington with no green man on the traffic lights to help us, we arrived at The Crown Ground just before 14:30. 

After encountering many pot holes, we paid our money and entered into the ground itself. I like Accrington as they're a club similar to our own in stature, so the greeting and thanks for our support printed on an A4 piece of paper behind the stand was a nice touch from the club. After having a reasonably priced £2.50 hot dog, we headed up to the stand itself to reacquaint ourselves with the ground just over a year since our last visit.

The Crown Ground is quite a low stadium in stature and with three sides containing small sections of seating it has an odd feel. The metal structures on top of the main stand are also odd but add to give the ground a bit of character. As always we were located in the open terrace, furthermore we weren't even given the option of standing under cover this year! Something that brought marks off however, was that there wasn't a Saturday game available to watch on the field behind the stand.

As the ground began to fill up in the slowest way possible, the teams were announced as follows...

Accrington Stanley: Belford, Wilson, Winnard, Murphy, Molyneux, Lindfield, Miller, Joyce, Boco, Beattie, Amond. Subs: Dawber, Clark, Dixon, Gray, Liddle, Hatfield, Mingoia.

Stanley gaffer Leam Richardson was forced into a single change from the side that defeated Chesterfield 1-0 on New Year’s Day. Laurence Wilson, previously of Everton was brought into the side for Nicky Hunt who picked up an injury in training. The front three of Boco, Beattie & Amond were sure to cause threats as Stanley looked about increasing their winning run following a torrid winless run at the back end of 2012.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Hoyte, Doe, Wilkinson, Femi, Howell, Saunders, Ogogo, Elito, Woodall, Williams. Subs: Seabright, Scott, Gracco, Spillane, Caprice, Maher, Bingham.

Despite having a fully fit squad to choose from, John Still made two changes to his side as Daggers looked to arrest a three game losing streak. Mickey Spillane was dropped to the bench which allowed Abu Ogogo to push up into centre midfield and Gavin Hoyte to come in at right back. Elsewhere Brian Woodall replaced Jake Reed to partner Sam Williams up top in an expected change. Gianluca Gracco was also giving a place on the bench for the first time.

Daggers Fans (@big_g1978)
Despite there being a seemingly low number of spectators inside the stadium, the teams were paraded onto the pitch. At this point I counted 27 Daggers on the terrace although a few more were coming in all the time. Rather annoyingly the teams decided to swap ends which meant the Daggers would be attacking us in the first half, whilst Stanley would be facing their own fans.

From the word go you wouldn't begrudge Leam Richardson for berating his Stanley side. Pockets of space were constantly appearing on the left which allowed Medy Elito to take full advantage and really cause problems for debutant full back Laurie Wilson. Despite the positive start it was the hosts who registered the first attempt. Some clever play between Boco & Padraig Amond down the left allowed the latter to advance into the box before skewing his fierce strike over Chris Lewington's bar.

As the game reached the 15 minute mark the visitors took advantage of poor Stanley play. Medy Elito caused real problems after breaking past one and then past two defenders before putting a cross into the box that evaded everyone. Seconds later Medy put another ball into the box, this time it was deflected behind for a corner. From the resultant Matt Saunders corner, Cameron Belford was tested for the first time by a tame Brian Woodall header.

After a largely uninspiring start to the season Elito was now coming into his own. The confidence of the winger was clear, so much so that when Daggers won a free kick on the edge of the box he forwarded himself to take it. Despite a confident run up, he fired it just over the bar to test Stanley's steel.

Magic Medy Elito
Following constant pressure on the left hand side from Medy Elito, Daggers finally got their reward. Elito beat makeshift full back Craig Lindfield before firing a deadly ball into the box that was glanced home by Matt Saunders after the winger had edged in front of his man. The 37 Daggers in attendance celebrated amongst themselves whilst Matt Saunders and Medy Elito wheeled off in delight. 

Still's men responded well to the minimal pressure exerted by Stanley as they attempted to get back into the game. Gavin Hoyte was justifying his selection whilst the centre half pairing of Scott Doe & Luke Wilkinson was looking as solid as ever. Just after the half hour mark Daggers nearly added another as Sam Williams speculative effort flew wide of the post and ended up with me in the terrace.

Romauld Boco who was looking like Stanley's only goal threat then saw his strike deflected into Lewington's path allowing for an easy save. Laurie Wilson was continuing to have a torrid half at right back with Elito & Femi giving the debutant very little respite from constant pressure. Good combination play from Howell, Williams and Elito saw the ball end up with Matt Saunders whose goalbound shot was blocked by a Stanley defender.

The front pairing of Sam Williams and Brian Woodall was also causing problems. Despite getting few shots away Woodall was looking more adept at partnering Williams than Jake Reed who had been dropped from the 18 altogether. Williams himself almost doubled the lead before half time when his 20 yard drive towards the bottom corner was palmed away by Cameron Belford. 

Happy Daggers! (@baldy984)
Padraid Amond was then forced off through injury which allowed Michael Liddle to replace the frontman. As the first half ended with Daggers in full control, Laurie Wilson nearly equalised for Stanley but his effort was stopped well by Lewington at the near post. The half time whistle blew and the 37 Daggers in attendance couldn't believe how well we were playing. Whilst the obvious ball over the top was still making an appearance, there was far more passing on the floor and our threat down the left hand side was becoming increasingly apparent.

In recent weeks half time has been a period of wondering if we can get back into the game, this week it was a period of wondering if we can build on our lead. Not many times have I been able to go away from home and say that this season! As the clouds conversed and darkness fell, the teams re-emerged for the second half. At this point we also learned that Chris Lewington's karaoke tune is "Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus. Fascinating stuff I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Daggers continued the second half in the ascendancy as they looked to build on their goal lead. A break forward allowed Abu Ogogo to get a shot away that was ultimately blocked, whilst Femi fired the rebound high over the bar. One day Femi will score and that day will be tremendous. Craig Lindfield then attempted to feed a ball into the box, but his attempts were thwarted by the safe hands of Chris Lewington.

The famous "Woodall at Accrington" snap makes a
welcome return.
With 7 minutes played in the second half, the visitors effectively killed the game off. Matt Saunders advanced before playing in Brian Woodall on the right hand side who crossed for Luke Howell to prod home a delicate left footed finish that went in off the far post. We celebrated once more as unbelievably we found ourselves deservedly two goals to the good away from home.

The game then became somewhat subdued as both sides almost accepted the fate of the match. Stanley were now looking far more dangerous down the right hand side, unfortunately for them though Femi was in superb form and quelled the danger immediately. After a double change by Richardson, Accrington came close to pulling one back. Lee Molyneux was allowed time and space before curling a shot goalwards that Lewington was equal to once again.

A poor training ground routine was then messed up by Stanley as a free kick in a dangerous looking position was cleared away by Luke Howell. Daggers were still having an odd break down the wings but it was all Stanley going forward at this point. Luke Howell was then put into the referee's book for making one cynical foul to many - although some would say he should have been booked earlier!

With 84 minutes played Stanley came incredibly close to nabbing one back. Craig Lindfield's dangerous strike was parried once more by Lewington but as Hoyte attempted to clear he could only manage to pass the ball back into the side netting. It was a moment that had everyone on edge as it looked extremely close to going in the back of the net. From the resulting corner the ball was cleared once more as the Daggers defence remained resilient.

Daggers continued to push forward in search of a third goal but it came at a cost with Sam Williams booked for an apparent dive late on. Forward Williams was seemingly brought down in the box but ultimately the referee decided against it and gave Williams a yellow card. There did appear to be a challenge so a look at a replay would be beneficial in making a stonewall judgement.

There was one final chance for Stanley in the closing moments when Molyneux's treacherous cross was volleyed goalwards by Beattie, but the referee decided Chris Lewington was fouled when attempting to gather the ball and a free kick was given. Just enough time remained for Medy Elito to complete his best performance of the season by breaking into the box and firing his low shot into the side netting.

My second half description may sound as though Daggers were hanging on for dear life at some points – but it wasn’t like that at all. Whilst Accrington exerted a degree of pressure it remained comfortable for the visitors. The backline snuffed out the majority of attacks and the commanding presence of Scott Doe really shone through.

The referee then blew his whistle to signal the end of the game. I’ll give credit to Stanley supporters as well because they didn't boo at the final whistle like some sets of supporters would have done. I very much like Stanley and wish them well for the rest of the season in their battle against the drop.

So, our first victory or 2013 and it came away from home! Not only that, it was my first away victory following the team this season - so I'm no longer a jinx! The players came over and applauded the 37 on the terrace who made the trip before huddling for a team talk. 

I have to say it was a delightful performance. From start to finish we were in complete control and never really looked like conceding. The main threat came down the left hand side where Femi and Medy in particular were dangerous all afternoon. This was by far Medy's best performance of the season; furthermore his remit as "winger" finally came to be as he tested the full back numerous times whilst also getting in his fair share of crosses.

Scott Doe & Luke Wilkinson were solid all afternoon, not giving the Stanley forwards an inch of space to work with. They were both dominant in the air and commanding on the ground, making important challenges when they were needed. Gavin Hoyte also asserted himself well and continued the good form of Ogogo in the right back position. Femi also put in a good shift, managing to balance both his attacking and defensive side of the game admirably.

In the midfield we can have no complaints really. The vastly underrated Matt Saunders was sensational once more. As I constantly say he was the creative spark on the right side and troubled the Stanley defenders with some terrific through balls and marvellous crosses. Luke Howell played his part and made some important challenges whilst Abu continued his consistency into the midfield, playing the ball and getting around the park.

Sam Williams & Brian Woodall - this partnership needs to remain. They complimented eachother superbly well and created numerous opportunities thanks to their camaraderie. Jake Reed has bundles of energy, but Brian Woodall has that little bit more that gets the supporters excited and the players motivated. Medy was just superb, he caused many problems down the left hand side as well as enjoying a great bond with Femi.

Something that shouldn't be ignored however is the performance of Chris Lewington. He's come under some criticism in recent weeks but he barely put a foot wrong yesterday afternoon. He commanded the game from the goalmouth and really asserted his authority on the game. Anyone who says he doesn't talk either needs their hearing checked or really needs to listen harder! Well done Lewy, I salute you!

What's more is that we played well as a unit. Everyone seemed to know what was going on, when it was going on and how it was going on. The slick triangles of passing made a reappearance with neat one two's predominantly down the left. It allowed the forwards and Elito especially to get down the wing and advance into the box causing substantial problems for the Stanley back line. If we can play the ball like that against Accrington, I’d like to think we can do it against other sides in this league as well.

To put it simply - it was a combination of one of Daggers' best performances of the season and one of Stanley's worst. The complete away performance I guess you could say. As for Stanley, I fear for them. They're currently experiencing "The Macclesfield effect", whereby a team goes from mid table into freefall. Unless they can get their defence up to scratch and look more threatening going forward they could be in trouble.

Saying that however, I think they have the players that can get them out of it. Whilst James Beattie wasn't effective yesterday afternoon, he's the kind of character that has the spark to ignite the team. Boco can also inspire the supporters I feel, moreover they need some steel in the middle of the park because that's where Daggers dominated. If you dominate in the midfield, that's 2/3 of the game won for me.

I also salute me fellow 36 Daggers on the terrace and the apparent 8 who were in the seats. You did the team proud yesterday and hopefully some of you will be able to make it to Morecambe on Tuesday night! 

We return to Lancashire on Tuesday night in the rearranged fixture at The Globe Arena against Morecambe. This game also has FREE ENTRY for all supporters, so if you can, make sure you get yourself to that one! My next report will be against Rochdale next Saturday, meanwhile the jury's still out if I can make Wycombe away the following week.

As always, many thanks for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter - @NickdrfcMurphy.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Northampton Town 3-1 Daggers, Cursed.

Dagenham & Redbridge began 2013 with a whimper following yet another disappointing defeat to Northampton Town at Sixfields. Despite a late Scott Doe consolation strike, the damage had already been done with Cobblers goals coming courtesy of Kelvin Langmead, Chris Hackett and Abu Ogogo who contrived to put the ball into his own net. The victory for the hosts also continues their remarkable record over Still's men, having won every single game in which they've faced the Essex side.

Wary of our record against Northampton, it was perhaps foolish to even expect anything from this game. But with a new year, there was new hope - or at least there was for the 5 hours preceding kick off. With an early start, we went from Barking to Euston, via Fenchurch Street, Tower Hill & Bank. The not so plush London Midlands Service awaited us and after a quick stop in Bushey along with several other not so funny place names, we arrived at Northampton Station just a shade after 13:00.

Then yet more bad news greeted us. As New Years Day is a bank holiday, it was my worst fear...the cabbies were charging double fares! After stomaching the sickening blow, we arrived at Sixfields not too far short of 14:00. Instead of parading the team coach which had just arrived, we headed up a grassy knoll to the holy grail of fast food - KFC. After enduring a tricky time with the local accent which is indescribable, we headed towards the turnstiles (I’m only joking Cobblers fans.)

I've been to Sixfields before and the surrounding area is a novelty at first. With steep hills surrounding the stadium it's extremely unique. What does drag it down however is the fact that whilst there's a large leisure park around the ground, there's a severe lack of drinking facilities. Coming from Dagenham I'm hardly one to talk, but it felt extremely drab. After paying for my ticket and nearly walking away without it, we entered the freezing cold stadium for an afternoon of misery.

Sixfields hasn't changed much since my last visit, why would it have done? It retains the generic feel of four cold metal stands, all of which aren't attached to eachother. If you fancy freeloading, why not watch the entire game by sitting on top of the bus stop positioned on top of the hill behind the Dave Bowen Stand. The West Stand is the largest of the four and contains the majority of the noise with about 20 teenagers attempting to create an atmosphere.

As the announcer wasn't really up to much all afternoon, it was up to social networking to tell us the teams. They were as follows...

Northampton Town: Nicholls, Widdowson, Langmead, Charles, Tozer, Harding, Hackett, Hornby, Platt, Akinfenwa, Robinson. Subs: Snedker, Guttridge, Demontagnac, Turnbull, Dias, Moyo, Moult.

Following back to back postponements to end 2012, Cobblers chief Aidy Boothroyd rang the changes for the visit of Dagenham & Redbridge. The self accredited beast Adebayo Akinfenwa returned from suspension, as did Joe Widdowson who had recovered from injury. Jake Robinson also filled in for Emyr Huws, whilst with Clarke Carlisle absent it enabled Anthony Charles to partner Kelvin Langmead in the centre of defence. Another positive for the Cobblers faithful was the return of Luke Guttridge after injury; he had to be content with a spot on the bench.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Wilkinson, Ogogo, Saunders, Howell, Spillane, Elito, Williams, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Maher, Caprice, Bingham, Woodall, Scott, Hoyte.

Having failed miserably in the two home fixtures over Christmas, John Still was always likely to change his team around. It came as a surprise however, that Daggers supremo Still opted to revert to the seemingly default XI that faced Southend United on Boxing Day. Matt Saunders replaced Kevin Maher in midfield, meanwhile Josh Scott dropped to the bench which allowed Jake Reed to partner Sam Williams up front once again.
West Stand, Main Stand

As the supporters came flocking through the turnstiles in their tens of thousands, the Daggers were practicing their shooting. One of Sam Williams' strikes went through the gap in the stand, whilst Kevin Maher managed to sky one over the stand itself. You could tell this was going to be a long afternoon. 

As the clock approached 15:00, several dance tunes played repetitively to ignite the football in the 2013 calendar year. The teams were paraded onto the pitch as, "The Liquidator", played in the background, which doesn't really work when there are only 4,000 fans singing along to it. The rituals continued until the teams were lined up and ready to go. Just as the random Northampton dragon mascot came out of the tunnel, the referee blew his whistle to signal the start of the match. 

Almost instantly Northampton was on the attack and if it were not for Luke Wilkinson's goal line clearance following Chris Lewington's flap at the ball - Jake Robinson may have put the Cobblers ahead. Despite the opening 15 minutes being extremely scrappy, the hosts looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Chris Hackett, Kelvin Langmead and Jake Robinson all had shots blocked as the Daggers back line came under siege.

Despite constant attacking threats down the left hand side via the medium of Femi, it took the visitors 27 minutes to register an attempt at the goal. Some poor defending allowed Jake Reed to capitalise on a ball chipped in behind, unfortunately though Reed lacked conviction and blazed his uncontrolled effort over the crossbar. Matt Saunders' corner was later cleared whilst up the other end Ben Tozer’s speculative long range effort flew over the bar.
Abu Ogogo

Just as it looked as though the half was fizzling out, disaster struck. A menacing ball into the Daggers box changed direction thanks to a Clive Platt flick on before striking Abu Ogogo's stomach and rolling agonisingly into the corner of the net. Despite both Abu & Chris Lewington's best efforts; it rolled over the line much to the disappointment of dejected players and fans alike. Northampton didn't mind though and I'm sure they weren't complaining over the 1-0 lead. Quite how the announcer had the cheek to award it to Chris Hackett however, I don't know.

Sam Williams then had a great chance to put Daggers back on level terms with their hosts. Femi’s fantastic run down the left hand side saw him deliver a pin point ball onto the head of the unmarked Sam Williams. Unfortunately, Williams was unable to jump high enough and contrived to head the ball over the bar from a fantastic position. We couldn't believe how he'd missed, although I imagine it was harder than it looked.

Straight from the goal kick, Daggers and in particular Sam Williams were made to rue that miss. Chris Hackett caught Femi out of position before sprinting down the right hand side and drilling a low shot past Chris Lewington that clipped the post and nestled in the back of the net. It was now 2-0 Northampton and that jinx we have against the Cobblers was rearing its ugly head once again.

From being completely in the game at the 30 minute mark, we had somehow managed to throw it all away. Not only that but for the third successive game we had conceded two before the break which simply isn't good enough. The first goal was simply unlucky on Ogogo's part, but you feel Femi could have done more for the second. I haven't seen the replays yet so perhaps my comments are a little harsh.

On the bright side the Northampton Town mascot wasn't enjoying the performance despite his side being two goals to the good. The dragon stood there with his arms folded for the entire half - at least he was warmer than we were! Half time passed in a frenzy of, "I don't have a bloody clue what is going on", as a supporter attempted to win money on the pitch. Despite not knowing what he had to do, it's safe to say he failed miserably.

Brian Woodall was introduced for the lagging Jake Reed as we entered the second half. John Still's team talk looked to have rustled a few feathers as the visitors were dominant from the off. Sam Williams' shot was blocked, whilst Medy Elito missed a fantastic opportunity after being put through on the left by Luke Howell. Daggers nearly pulled one back on 50 minutes as Elito's cross was met by Matt Saunders whose header cannoned back off of the post to our despair.
Not so magic Medy

You just knew that having wasted three extremely good chances, Northampton would go up the other end and extend the lead. And so they did seconds later. Ben Harding's corner caused confusion in the Daggers box before eventually being turned in by Kelvin Langmead. The roar of 4,000 Cobblers was heard once more as the Sixfields outfit now seemingly had an unassailable lead.

With a despondent set of fans, the team set about making amends and continued to push forward in search of a goal. With Medy Elito not causing any problems, it was down to Matt Saunders to try and find that creative spark down the right hand side. On 60 minutes he nearly did just that as his delivery was met by Scott Doe at the back post who could only manage to glance the ball wide of the post. Angst was the expression of the day as Daggers continued to waste good chances.

Luke Guttridge then replaced Lewis Hornby which received a warm round of applause from all Cobblers alike. Luke Howell later had an effort that only troubled the advertising hoardings, whilst Matt Saunders' crossing was causing serious problems for the Northampton centre halves. 

With 70 minutes played, Scott Doe made amends for his earlier miss by firing in a wonderful 20 yard strike from the edge of the area. That was also Doey's second goal in two games which prompted cries of "Put him up front Stilly", from the travelling supporters. Now we had an ounce of belief that we could do this, maybe, just maybe, we could perform a miracle. Sam Williams was doing his bit, after being put through by Spillane he could only fire his shot straight at Nicholls much to our frustration.

Jake Caprice was then introduced for Matt Saunders as Daggers opted for pace down the right hand side. Almost instantly he was involved, but unfortunately his cross went miles over the bar and out of play for a goal kick. Despite the attacking change, it was Northampton who pushed forward in the closing stages. Jake Robinson saw his shot go narrowly over the bar whilst Hackett's late ball into the box caused few problems.

Daggers Fans. (@romseycobbler on Twitter)
There was just enough time for Mickey Spillane to try his luck from the half way line before the referee finally signalled the end of the match. 172 Daggers were left despondent and disappointed as we suffered yet another defeat at Sixfields to the hands of Northampton Town. 

The two goals before half time really killed us, up until then it was largely equal. We didn't defend well enough and the victory was sealed with the goal early in the second half. Ultimately we failed to take our chances once more against a surprisingly direct side. Then again, with Akinfenwa in your team, who wouldn't be? The sheer strength of the man is enough to shift any central defender and whilst he didn't cause many problems, his presence was always felt.

Medy Elito for the large part had a nightmare. He doesn't deliver the goods consistently enough and several times in the second half he should have done better with the positions he was in. The fans eventually got on his back and if he remains in the side for Saturday's trip to Accrington Stanley I will be very surprised. A winger's remit is to provide balls into the box and Jake Caprice done that more in 15 minutes than Medy did for the entire 90.

Many also think it's about time we gave Brian Woodall his starting berth up front this season. He's been knocking on the door with his substitute appearances and following the poor display of Jake Reed surely it's only a matter of time. When he was introduced we looked like a different side and with some game time and a little confidence, Brian could strike up a fruitful partnership with Sam Williams.

The midfield I can't have that many complaints about yesterday afternoon. Mickey Spillane put in a good shift, whilst Matt Saunders provided the creative spark that we so dearly lack. Luke Howell was slightly underwhelming but with the way he's played this season that can be forgiven. Chris Lewington just needs to work on his decision making and his kicking, other than that he didn't have much to do all afternoon.

There wasn't much in the game but with a slice of luck and some precise finishing, Northampton took all three points. I didn't want to say this, but if we had a proven goalscorer like Dwight Gayle I wonder if the score would have been different. Probably, but I shouldn't dwell on it. 

The Cobblers will more than likely end up in a mid table position, mind you a push for the Play Offs is well within their reach. I'm sure there fans would also agree that it was by far not their best performance yesterday afternoon and improvements can be made. Good luck to them though, if they manage to keep their impressive home record up then there's no reason why they can't push on. At least we don't have to play them again for another seven months at the very least!

As for us, we now move on to the glamorous away fixture with Accrington Stanley at the weekend before travelling to Morecambe the Tuesday after. Our players will hopefully be in love with Lancashire by that point. I'll be travelling up for the Saturday fixture so let’s hope we can get back to winning ways and take 3 points from the Crown Ground!

Thanks for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickdrfcMurphy