Monday, 26 August 2013

Daggers 1-1 Newport County, Hines Means Beans!

Dagenham & Redbridge extended their unbeaten league run to three matches on Saturday afternoon courtesy of a 1-1 draw with newly promoted Newport County. Abu Ogogo's strike midway through the second half cancelled out Chris Zebroski's early effort as both sides left Victoria Road with a point a piece. 

Pre-match there was a good level of optimism following on from last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe. The second half performance at Glanford Park was one of the best Daggers have produced under Wayne Burnett, if that could be translated into a full 90 at home then we stood a good chance of picking up 3 points. Nevertheless Newport couldn't be underestimated. With momentum still carrying on from last year’s promotion, the Exiles had taken 6 points from a possible 9 available, with their attack forming the basis of their current good form.

With the rain drizzling down overhead, there was no stop in the clubhouse this week, only time to meet up in the pie & mash shop and head down to Victoria Road. As we entered, the rain grew heavier which was made increasingly evident by the sparse nature of the Bury Road End. Well would you be mad enough to stand out in it? Then again, we're all mad enough to be here in the first place.

Just as we found our spot in the Sieve, the teams emerged from the tunnel to warm applause from all four sides of the stadium. The pre-match rituals were completed with haste whilst the line ups rang out from overhead.

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

Despite the availability of fit again centre half Luke Wilkinson; Wayne Burnett persevered with the same side that picked up a point last weekend against Scunthorpe. The front three of Murphy, Scott and Woodall continued with Medy Elito supporting them from just behind. Zavon Hines, who signed on a one year deal during the week, had to be content with a spot on the home bench.

Newport County: Pidgeley, Pipe, Hughes, Sandell, Naylor, Worley, Chapman, Minshull, Willmott, Zebroski, Jolley. Subs: Stephens, James, Jackson, Flynn, Crow, Washington.

With the teams lined up and ready to go, the referee blew his whistle to get the contest underway. Within minutes of the start, County 'keeper Lenny Pidgeley was called into action. Medy Elito drove down the middle of the pitch before releasing Josh Scott on the right who after taking a touch, shot straight at Pidgeley, allowing the former Chelsea 'stopper to make a comfortable save. 

The hosts continued their early pressure soon after with Rhys Murphy firing over from just outside the box. With little over 5 minutes played, Chris Lewington was forced into a brilliant diving stop to deny Christian Jolley's goalbound volley from Chris Zebroski's pin point cross. A terrific piece of goalkeeping from Lewington who continues to cement himself as one of the division’s best shot stoppers.

Newport soon began to clasp a foothold in the game and should have taken the lead when Jolley crossed for Zebroski, only for the ex-Torquay forward to fire over from close range. Despite their dangerous looking attack, the visitors were looking decidedly shaky at the back. And it showed once more 20 minutes in, when Rhys Murphy found space on the left and shot just wide of Lenny Pidgeley's goal from a tight angle. 

Doe was at fault, amongst others.
Thanks to the open nature of the game, it wasn't long before we saw the first goal of the afternoon. Josh Scott was caught in possession going forward and after neat play in the middle of the park, Chris Zebroski skipped past Femi, Brian Saah and Scott Doe before unleashing an assured finish past Chris Lewington and into the corner of the net. It sent the Exiles into a somewhat deserved 1-0 lead as the rain continued to lash down on Victoria Road.

Daggers and in particular Josh Scott, looking to avenge his earlier mistake, sprung back into action following the goal. Josh picked up the ball just outside the box, dropped his shoulder to beat a defender before turning and striking a shot which Pidgeley gathered at the second attempt. Newport were quickly up the other end and but for a timely deflection, would have found themselves two goals ahead. 

With half-time approaching, a goal looking increasingly unlikely and the rain coming down to such an extent that the pitch was barely visible - most were clamouring for the half-time whistle. There was time for one more opportunity, a cross-cum-shot on the left hand side whistling wide of the far post much to the relief of Pidgeley. Nevertheless the referee soon ended everyone's misery and brought an end to a dismal first half. 

The half time break was uneventful at best, with the rain continuing to teem down on the metal roof of the Sieve. The situation was made even worse with the news that once again, my Saturday afternoon bet was failing to materialise into cold, hard cash. One day I'll win, one day.

Before the second half could begin, Wayne Burnett opted to make a striking double substitution. The average Medy Elito and Josh Scott (presumably taken off as punishment for his mistake), were replaced by Billy Bingham in centre midfield and new signing Zavon Hines in order to add a more creative edge. 

Despite the second half subs, it was Newport that looked the more likely to score as the half began. Andy Sandell saw his first effort blocked behind by Gavin Hoyte, whilst Chris Lewington was soon on hand to palm away Tom Naylor's close range header. The two sides then traded blows, Lee Minshull firing a strike past the post before Luke Howell saw his effort from the edge of the box parried away by Pidgeley. 

With the half wearing on it becoming increasingly likely that the visitors would double their lead, rather than Daggers finding an equaliser. On 56 minutes Adam Chapman's volley fell for Andy Sandell who could only fire agonisingly over the bar from close range. 

But just two minutes later, Daggers found their equaliser. Gavin Hoyte's far post delivery was met by Abu Ogogo who bundled the ball home to make it 1-1. Newport boss Justin Edinburgh acted quickly and in a surprise move replaced standout performer Christian Jolley, with forward Conor Washington, who once trialled with Daggers. 

With the game now at level pegging, both sides felt as though three points were there for the taking. First Robbie Willmott had an effort blocked by goalscorer Ogogo, whilst up the other end Zavon Hines' mazy run resulted in a lazy shot that was easily blocked by former Aldershot man, Sandell. The introduction of Hines at half time acted as a catalyst for Daggers who now had a creative spark in the side willing to take players on and crucially get down the wings.

On 73 minutes Justin Edinburgh opted to make his second change of the afternoon, replacing Robbie Willmott with Michael Flynn, now in his third spell with the Exiles. Despite the change, Daggers continued to pressure in the same way that Newport had late in the first half. The mercurial Zavon Hines unlocked the fragile County defence once more, advancing forward before firing a deflected shot into the body of Pidgeley who was on hand to deny Daggers once more.

As we headed into the final 10 minutes of the match, the visitors thought they had snatched all three points. Directly from Rhys Murphy's cross, County broke upfield, but from a tight angle with minimal home defending, Lee Minshull could only manage to find the side netting. The break in play following the missed chance saw Edinburgh make his final substitution, bringing on Danny Crow for the impressive Chris Zebroski.

Perennial thorn in the Daggers side, Minshull continued to look like the most likely scorer after the substitution. Particularly adept in the air, he first managed to glance a header wide of the post before minutes later he came even closer, directing the ball just inches the wrong side of the near post after being left completely unmarked. 

After Newport's near miss, it was the turn of the hosts to come agonisingly close to finding a winner themselves. The talismanic Hines who had been a danger ever since being introduced skipped past several defenders before curling another effort just a yard or so wide of Pidgeley's post. 

And then minutes later a change by Wayne Burnett, Afolabi Obafemi being brought on for Rhys Murphy, nearly heralded a goal. The pacey forward beat Derby loanee Tom Naylor to the byline, before cutting inside and hitting a shot that beat Pidgeley, but not Andy Hughes on the line whose last gasp clearance denied Daggers a near certain victory.

Into stoppage time and back up the other end Newport were awarded a late, late corner. These days at Victoria Road, corners are bemoaned as much as penalties, such is our inferior defending from set-pieces. Luckily though, Andy Sandell's corner was headed over the bar which ultimately wrapped up proceedings. A point a-piece for Edinburgh and Burnett, with both sides remaining in the top half of the table.

The game itself was very end to end and for both sides to come away with a point is the right outcome. Daggers looked much improved following the introduction of Zavon Hines, with the winger providing an injection of pace and creativity as mentioned above. Luke Howell meanwhile ran the show in the middle of the park and alongside Billy Bingham in the second half, an effective pairing was formed. Bingham's calm nature on the ball accompanied Howell's engine-room like qualities magnificently.

Newport on the other hand have some impressive qualities of their own. Despite looking decidedly shaky at the back, going forward they're not to be messed with. The goal threat of Zebroski alongside Christian Jolley is clear, not to mention the added potency of Conor Washington who came off the bench. It accompanied a strong aerial threat from Minshull in particular. Even with their defensive frailties and their tendency to allow opponents too much time on the ball, I've seen enough to suggest Newport will finish in the top half.

The league this year seems to be full of sides who are dangerous going forward, but suspect at the back. Home form will be key for both Newport and Daggers this year, with the former having already picked up 6 points from 6 at Rodney Parade. Wayne Burnett's side relied heavily on away performances last season, but this year we look like a far tougher outfit at Victoria Road, whilst remaining more than competent on the road.

Next week Daggers travel to Mansfield Town in a game that for one reason or another has been designated all ticket. This means you cannot buy your matchday ticket on the day, it must be bought in advance. Newport meanwhile face West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup tomorrow evening, and for that match I wish them the best of luck! I won't be at Field Mill next week, so we'll reconvene in a week or so after either the Colchester or Exeter City match.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC. Enjoy your week and here's hoping for a Daggers victory on Saturday!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Scunthorpe United 1-1 Daggers, Howell's About That!

After a defeat and a victory from their opening two games, Dagenham & Redbridge completed the set on Saturday with a creditable 1-1 draw against Scunthorpe United at Glanford Park. In what was a tight affair, all of the action came in the final 20 minutes of the contest. Late goals from Chris Mirfin and Luke Howell ensured both sides took a share of the spoils in the first ever meeting between the two clubs. 

Ahead of the game there was cause for optimism. Despite an opening day defeat at Fleetwood, last weekend's 2-0 victory over York left many believing that we had a chance against the Iron. Our forward play in the first two matches had been admirable, with only the defence, and in particular our defending from set-pieces letting us down. Against a powerful Scunthorpe side, that was inevitably going to cause problems.

With all of the afternoon to look forward to, we set off from Chadwell Heath at around 8:20 before arriving at Kings Cross just over an hour later. We soon boarded our "Hull Trains" connection to Doncaster where we changed onto the TransPennine Express, arriving at the quaint Scunthorpe station just after 12:30. We quickly found a cab company and departed for Glanford Park where upon arrival, we were denied access to the Iron Bar. Apparently there's not enough room for away fans, although it was only half empty when we arrived.

That setback aside, we soon found a pub/restaurant willing to take us in for the afternoon. After hiding Harry's Bombardier's in a hedge outside (No, really), we went in for some pre-match drinks. After a good couple of hours inside the Farmhouse, which is neither a farm nor a house, we exited and headed for the stadium as kick-off approached.

Upon entering the stadium, you're greeted with a narrow concrete pathway and a tunnel which leads out into the remainder of the four stands. Glanford Park is quite a small arena, but one that can probably generate a terrific atmosphere when full up. Three parts seating and one part terrace, it has a traditional feel despite being a relatively modern build. The stadium itself is quite a simple one, with all stands the same in height and adjoining onto one another to create a bowl like shape. 
The South Stand.

Due to the anticipated low number of travelling supporters, Scunthorpe fans were given use of all four stands within the stadium meaning Daggers were housed in the Clugston overspill area in the East Stand. Usually visiting supporters are given the 1678 capacity South Stand, but on our visit that was reserved for families and those with promotional tickets. 

Soon after we arrived, "Hi Ho Silver Lining" rung out over the PA system as the atmosphere began to build ahead of kick off. With 3500 supporters inside the ground ready and waiting, the teams emerged from the tunnel to a ripple of applause.

Scunthorpe United: Slocombe, Dawson, Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan, McAllister, Hawkridge, Sparrow, Collins, Burton, Winnall. 

Daggers: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Saah, Hoyte, Ogogo, Howell, Elito, Scott, Murphy, Woodall. Subs: Seabright, Connors, Bingham, Reed, Gayle, Obafemi, Dennis.

Unsurprisingly Wayne Burnett kept with the same eleven that won convincingly at home to York City last weekend, with the front three of Brian Woodall, Rhys Murphy and Josh Scott continuing to lead the line. Elsewhere both Sean Shields and Gianluca Gracco were missing from the bench, allowing defender Ian Gayle to give Daggers more defensive cover if needed.

With the pre-match pleasantries completed and the rain petering out overhead, referee Darren Deadman blew his whistle to signal the beginning of the match. And for the first quarter of an hour or so, we were all left wishing he hadn't. An uninspiring start from both sides saw a midfield battle engulf proceedings, with few opportunities for either side. The well travelled Dean Burton tested Chris Lewington with a tame header, whilst Sam Winnall shot well over for the hosts.

As the half wore on the hosts became increasingly dominant, first new signing Terry Hawkridge flashed a shot wide of the post before Craig Dawson guided an effort over Lewington's bar. Daggers were finding it difficult to establish a foothold in the match, although Femi and Medy Elito were offering a degree of solace on the left hand side. 

With just over half an hour gone, Daggers finally registered their first shot on the Iron goal. Following a Scunthorpe attack, the ball was played out to Femi who after striding forward laid it to Medy Elito in the centre of the park. Elito advanced forward, skipping past several challenges on his root to goal before firing a misplaced shot wide of Slocombe's goal to the delight of the home supporters.

Elito's effort was a mere blip in the first half for Scunthorpe who continued to look the more likely scorers. Chris Lewington was called into action once more to deny the impressive Terry Hawkridge after Abu Ogogo's mistake, whilst Eddie Nolan headed over from a corner when he really should have found the target. That miss brought an end to a poor first half showing from both sides, even if Scunny looked the more likely to break the deadlock.

The visitors were being undone by their inability to stay onside in the opposition half. This trait links directly to Rhys Murphy, who must have been offside at least five times in the first half for failing to hold his run. Murphy clearly knows where to be on the pitch when his team-mates have the ball; he just needs to be a little less eager when latching onto any ball through. After sitting through one of the better half-time entertainments in League Two, the teams re-emerged onto the pitch for the second half. 

As we started the second half Daggers looked rejuvenated, causing serious problems to the hosts from the outset. Femi immediately posed a threat down the left hand side, with Slocombe at full stretch to deny his cross reaching a Daggers forward. Seconds later Brian Woodall was released through on goal, but his low strike was tipped round the post superbly by the diving Slocombe.

From the resulting corner Daggers came even closer, Medy Elito's near post delivery was met by Josh Scott who glanced his header onto the woodwork. The rebound was scrambled away to Abu Ogogo who crossed tamely into the box for a Scunthorpe defender to clear away before Rhys Murphy could latch onto the end of it.

The danger wasn't over yet for the Iron though who conceded another corner minutes later. This time it was a Burnett special, with Elito drilling the ball towards Murphy in the middle of the box, only to see his shot blocked by the Scunny defender on the line. The clearance fell to Ogogo who after steadying himself drilled a half-volley just wide of the near post. Two brilliant pieces of play from Daggers that on another day, may have heralded two goals. 

Daggers continued to push forward, with Luke Howell driving another effort over the bar soon after. The two teams then traded blows, with Scunthorpe's main threat, Hawkridge, drilling wide of the mark before Elito drove forward past several defenders before firing a left footed strike just over Slocombe's crossbar. 
Och Aye the D'OH!

Scunthorpe soon made their second change of the afternoon, with Chris "Remember that miss for Scotland" Iwelumo, replacing former Gills man Deon Burton. Regardless of Iwelumo's blunder-some reputation, he was sure to cause problems at League Two level. With Burnett busy in the background readying a substitution of his own, Abu Ogogo flashed another effort yards wide of the post.

With 66 minutes played, Louis Dennis was introduced for the tireless Josh Scott with the hope of heightened creativity going forward. But directly after the change, it all went downhill for the visitors. Terry Hawkridge's difficult delivery from the right was misjudged by Daggers left back Femi, who appeared to handle the ball from inside the box. The referee took the same view and appeased the cries for a penalty from the 3400 home supporters by pointing to the spot.

Upon the award, Chris Iwelumo quickly grabbed the ball, showing his confidence and intentions for the penalty. The Scotland International placed the ball on the spot and stepped three yards back before turning to face Chris Lewington. Deadman blew his whistle, Iwelumo stepped up, but the Daggers 'stopper guessed correctly, diving low down to his left to push the ball out of harm’s way and wide of the post. Groans quickly emanated from the Iron terrace as Daggers fans jumped for joy as the scoreline remained locked at 0-0.

The visitors were quickly breaking up the other end and were given a terrific opportunity to take the lead when Eddie Nolan brought down Femi on the left hand side. Brian Woodall took the set-piece, but Sam Slocombe was equal to the forwards effort once more. Soon Scunthorpe were back on top and really should have taken the lead 80 minutes in. Craig Dawson's free kick from the left hand side was met by Iwelumo who could only direct his free header wide of the post from six yards out.

It looked easier to score for Iwelumo, but somehow the languishing forward managed to miss the best chance of the afternoon. It was yet another reprieve for Daggers who were really riding their luck by this point. Both sides then made a change in an attempt to bring on fresh legs. The Iron introduced Jamie Wootton for tiring striker Sam Winnall, whilst Daggers replaced the all action Rhys Murphy with Jake Reed. 

With the game seemingly heading for a draw, Scunthorpe broke the Daggers resistance from yet another set piece. Terry Hawkridge's delivery on the right hand side was met by Chris Mirfin who rose highest to head home powerfully, despite the best efforts of 'keeper Chris Lewington. It was that familiar sinking feeling for Daggers fans who have now conceded three out of four goals in the league from set-piece situations.

Despite the late goal, there was still hope as the fourth official raised the board to signal a minimum of four minutes of injury time. And within minutes of going behind, Daggers were back level in dramatic fashion. After neat play in the midfield, Brian Woodall played a well weighted ball through two Iron defenders and into the path of Luke Howell who slotted home coolly underneath Sam Slocombe to make it 1-1.

The celebrations in the away end quickly turned to fear as immediately after the restart, Scunthorpe were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position. Matt Sparrow struck the ball, but thankfully his effort was blocked by the Daggers wall and cleared away upfield. Before Brian Laws' men had a chance to pump the ball back into the Daggers box once more, the referee called a halt to proceedings which ensured a deserved point apiece for both sides. 

Wayne Burnett brought the players over to applaud the 107 travelling fans that had made the trip to Lincolnshire, before what I can only foresee as congratulating his team on a hard earned point. In hindsight a point is a terrific result against a team that will probably be challenging for promotion this season, however you can't help but feel if we'd have taken our chances in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, it could have been a lot different. 

The only qualm I have with the display is once again conceding from a set-piece. It's something that needs to be worked upon because at the moment, it's the one vital flaw in our game. Going forward we look sound, the performances of the marauding Medy Elito are proving to be a particular unexpected highlight. If we can keep up the sort of displays that have seen us pick up a point on Saturday and a win against York City, we should have no doubts over survival.

Scunthorpe meanwhile will have better days. There's no doubt that in the long run they will be a force to be reckoned with in this league. They struggled for creativity without Etienne Esajas, but the youngster Terry Hawkridge, signed from Gainsborough Trinity in the summer looks like a brilliant transfer. The less said about Chris Iwelumo however, the better.

Saturday's point moves us up a place to 11th in the League Two table, meanwhile Scunthorpe drop to 8th. Next week we're back at Victoria Road to face newly promoted Newport County who will undoubtedly provide a stern test for Wayne Burnett. Until then, have a safe week and we'll reconvene next Monday! Remember you can follow me on Twitter using @NickMurphyDRFC.

Oh, and if you're wondering, yes, Harry's Bombardier's were still in the hedge 6 hours later. A successful day all round. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Daggers 2-0 York City, Minstermeat.

After two successive defeats to open the season, Dagenham & Redbridge finally got their league campaign up and running yesterday with an assured 2-0 victory over York City. Rhys Murphy and Brian Woodall bagged the goals for the Daggers who pick up their first three point haul at Victoria Road since last February's encounter against Cheltenham Town. More importantly it was also Wayne Burnett's first home victory as Daggers boss, marking the end of his home hoodoo as manager. 

Ahead of the game I have to admit I wasn't particularly optimistic. To be more accurate, I assumed that like last season’s home meeting with York, we would lose by the odd goal in a tight affair. But still, if we were to perform as we had done against Brentford on Tuesday night, we stood more than a fighting chance of taking not just one, but three points from the travelling Minstermen.

Having had a quick couple of ciders in the clubhouse, we headed down, out and through the turnstiles to be greeted by the evergreen Victoria Road pitch for the first time this season. The foxholes that had been exposed scandalously on "92 Live" had been covered for the opening game, and we were ready to go. The teams emerged from the tunnel and were announced over the tannoy as follows...

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Saah, Hoyte, Howell, Ogogo, Elito, Scott, Murphy, Woodall. Subs: Seabright, Connors, Afolabi, Bingham, Reed, Shields, Dennis.

Wayne Burnett made a single change from the Tuesday night league cup defeat at Brentford, bringing in Brian Woodall up front for Jake Reed. It ensured Daggers lined up with a front three packed with vibrancy, and hopefully with goals.

York City: Ingham, Oyebanjo, Davies, Smith, McGurk, Coulson, Chambers, Montrose, Platt, Jarvis, Cresswell.

With the teams announced and everyone in place, the pre-match pleasantries completed the referee blew his whistle to get the contest underway.

After an initial slow start, Daggers slowly imposed their authority on proceedings ten minutes in. First Josh Scott skewed a tame shot wide of the post, whilst Medy Elito was soon stopped in his tracks down the left hand side. The hosts failed to make their early advantage count, allowing their opponents back into the game with a string of crosses that were defended well by the Daggers defence. 

York continued their assault on the Daggers goal as we reached the twenty minute mark, with Abu Ogogo's goalline clearance the only barrier denying the visitors from taking the lead. Scott Doe and Brian Saah had to be at their sharpest to deny Richard Cresswell going forward as Nigel Worthington's side sought reward for their hard work. Chris Lewington was soon on guard to deny an Oyebanjo header, whilst another strike from Cresswell was dealt with well by the home defence.

Despite the fervent York pressure, it was the hosts who came closest as the half wore on. Brian Woodall in particular got pulses racing with two spectacular efforts. The first drifted tamely wide of the post, but the second was mesmeric. After receiving the ball on the left hand side, Woodall took a single touch before turning and firing a rasping effort over Michael Ingham and onto the roof of the net. Had it gone in, it would have been real Van Basten stuff.

But Daggers did take the lead soon after. A hopeful punt downfield by Gavin Hoyte was met by Brian Woodall, who, after a smart turn laid the ball through to the onrushing Rhys Murphy. The Irishman who netted last week at Fleetwood rounded Michael Ingham before slotting home coolly into the back of the net. That's how you do it Daggers! It all seems so simple when you give the ball to a Murphy, doesn't it?

The half ended in much the same way as it had begun, with a midfield tussle cancelling out both sides' creative input. Medy Elito offered a significant threat for the hosts, while Chris Lewington had to remain vigilant to deny David McGurk's goalbound effort on the stroke of half time. But sure enough after a minute of additional play, the referee drew a close to the first half with Daggers leading by a goal to nil.

After an uneventful half time period, the action was soon back underway with Michael Coulson firing a shot inches wide of the post for the visitors. Despite early pressure from York, it was the hosts who forced the first save of the second period. After good play down the left Medy Elito cut in and drew an assured stop from Ingham, before Femi predictably sliced the follow up strike into the advertising hoardings. 

With it becoming evident his York side were lacking going forward, Nigel Worthington acted to make a change on 60 minutes. It was a like for like swap in midfield, with Craig Clay replacing Lewis Montrose as the Minstermen went in search of the creative input they dearly lacked. Unfortunately it only worked to fire the Daggers up even more, with Brian Woodall going close soon after with another shapshot on the edge of the box.

Wes Fletcher was then introduced for Ashley Chambers as York continued to hunt down that elusive equaliser. Again it only served to give Daggers the initiative, this time Medy Elito curled a shot just wide of the post. The York pressure soon subsided, giving the hosts the chance to put the game out of sight. And but for Scotsman, Michael Ingham tipping Rhys Murphy's effort wide of the post they would have done just that.

Daggers then made a change of their own, with Billy Bingham replacing Luke Howell in midfield. Directly after the change, Daggers extended their lead. Medy Elito took control on the left before picking out Brian Woodall with a sublime ball across the park. Upon receiving the pass, Woodall took a single touch to beat his man before toe-poking home the finish off of the post and into the back of the net. Cue celebrations in the Sieve and a somersault from an exuberant Woodall, his first goal since January.

The goal from Woodall effectively sealed the contest, yet there was still time for substitute Afolabi Obafemi to blast over from five yards out – a gilt edge chance for the youngster. Nevertheless it's a much needed win for Daggers, and a win that has ended Wayne Burnett's home jinx in the process. The victory lifts the Essex outfit up to 12th in the standings after two games, whisper it quietly but we're only a point from the play-offs (too soon for optimism, eh?)

Still, there were plenty of positives to take from the victory. The most poignant perhaps was the performance of Medy Elito. It's a new season with a relatively new manager and he seems like a new player. He took players on, got past them and managed to get opposition players booked - as a winger that's what he should be doing. He looks rejuvenated under Burnett, long may it continue.

The front three performed very well, it seems clear they already have that sort of striking bond you need if a team is to be successful. Rhys Murphy in particular looks like a terrific signing; meanwhile it's evident that Brian Woodall has his confidence back.

So after that victory we now move on to Saturday, where we make our first ever trip to Glanford Park in our first ever meeting with Scunthorpe United. I shall be there to witness this no doubt historic occasion, so make sure you read my musings on Monday! Until then, have a great week and remember to follow me on Twitter, @NickMurphyDRFC.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Brentford 3-2 Daggers, Bees Bite Late.

The League Cup has never been a competition that has been kind to Dagenham & Redbridge fans. But on Tuesday evening it really twisted the knife on Wayne Burnett's men, who, despite a terrific performance were undone by a 94th minute header from Farid El Alagui. That goal at the death condemned Daggers to a 3-2 defeat, and a seventh consecutive first round defeat.

Unsurprisingly there was little room for optimism before the game. Our aforementioned record in the competition is woeful and as such most believed we had little chance against a team fancied for promotion from League One. Still, with tickets at just £1 for Under 18's we persevered through the rush-hour commuters at Waterloo before arriving at Brentford station just shy of 19:35. 

After a quick walk down the high road we arrived at Griffin Park just in time for kick-off. In my last visit here Daggers had lost 2-1 courtesy of an 87th minute Nicky Forster goal. Little did we know history would repeat itself (almost). Before the game kicked off we were quickly read the teams which looked like this...

Brentford: Bonham, O'Connor Barron, Venta, Nugent, Saunders, Dallas, Fillo, Reeves, Oyeleke, Hayes.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Saah, Hoyte, Ogogo, Howell, Elito, Scott, Murphy, Reed. Subs: Seabright, Bingham, Dennis, Shields, Woodall, Connors, Obafemi.

Wayne Burnett made a single change from Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Fleetwood, bringing in Jake Reed for central midfielder Billy Bingham. This ensured Daggers lined up with no less than four strikers on the field of play which put even more pressure on Luke Howell and Abu Ogogo to keep the midfield tight. Former Daggers Sam Saunders was in Brentford's starting eleven, whilst Harlee Dean failed to make the eighteen. 

With most unable to make sense of what formation we were playing, the game soon kicked off underneath the glow of the evening sun. Brentford started the brighter, forcing two free kicks, both of which were dealt with well by the Daggers defence. Midfielder Jake Reeves then flashed a shot just wide of the post on the volley as the Bees cranked up the pressure early on.

As the game wore on Daggers gradually became more of a threat with Medy Elito's whipped free-kick allowing for the first chance for the visitors. But it was another cross 17 minutes in that bore the first goal of the evening, albeit in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Josh Scott's run down the left hand side culminated in a ball into the box which was turned into his own net by debutant Ben Nugent. 

Cheers emanated from the Daggers end, but not before a moment of uncertainty as the linesman briefly ruled out the goal for offside. After a minute of discussion, the referee overruled his counterpart to ensure the goal stood, giving the visitors a shock 1-0 lead at Griffin Park.

After the goal Brentford continued to look the more likely to score, with former Dagger Sam Saunders providing the main threat. His quick feet was being complimented by Daggers' slack closing down allowing the tricky winger to get several shots away at the goal. The first slid comfortably wide of the post whilst his second went high into the second tier of the away stand. Nevertheless, allowing such a player so much time on the ball is never a wise thing to do.

Up the other end Daggers remained contenders going forward, with only an offside flag denying Rhys Murphy the chance to make it two. Minutes later Murphy had another chance after being fed a ball through over the top by Luke Howell. This time however he could only drill his diagonal shot wide of the post and out for a goal kick. 

As half time approached Brentford continued their assault on the visitors goal. First, Manny Oyeleke fired wide before Stuart Dallas drilled a further shot way over the bar following a rebound from Sam Saunders' initial free-kick. Despite the Bees pressure it was Daggers that ended the half with the final opportunity, Josh Scott heading wide of the post from a difficult angle.

The referee blew his whistle and we were at half-time and quite unbelievably, we were 1-0 up! As Wayne Burnett, Darren Currie and Warren Hackett rushed past the sprinklers, we were left to contemplate whether we could hold onto this advantage in the second half. The general consensus is that we had no chance, yet some degree of optimism remained. We had taken the lead in a match; we rarely do that these days!

The teams returned for the second half with Brentford boss Uwe Rosler opting to make a change, with Tony Craig replacing Kevin O'Connor. Despite the substitution it was Daggers that started the second half on the front foot. Femi continued to make his presence felt down the left whilst Medy Elito was linking up well with the front three. 

With little over 10 minutes played in the second half Daggers came within inches of doubling their advantage. Gavin Hoyte’s terrific in-swinging ball from the right hand side was met by Josh Scott whose glancing header crashed off the bar and away from Jack Bonham's goal. The header seemed to take an age to reach the frame of the goal, and when it did it caused agony for Daggers fans who were waiting open mouthed to celebrate once more.

With that miss, Daggers now found themselves on the back foot. Farid El Alagui was soon brought on for the Bees and that was when the trouble really began to materialise. His first action however was to go down in the box attempting to win a penalty. The referee took a dim view and booked the sub for diving, much to the Brentford fans' frustration. 
Daggers Fans in Shock

Soon after though, he really became a thorn in Wayne Burnett's side. A cross into the box from the right hand side wasn't dealt with, allowing El Alagui to pounce first and fire the ball past Chris Lewington from close range. Within five minutes of their equaliser, the Bees had turned the game around completely. Martin Fillo latched onto a perfectly weighted Stuart Dallas ball through, and with his first touch he swept the ball beyond Chris Lewington to make it 2-1 to the hosts.

With the visitors rattled, the game threatened to boil over following Abu Ogogo's strong tackle on Scott Barron. From where we were it looked as if Abu was wrongly cautioned, having clearly gathered the ball despite taking his opponent in the process. Sam Saunders soon flashed another free-kick wide of the post before Wayne Burnett made a double change with Afolabi Obafemi and Brian Woodall being introduced for Medy Elito and Jake Reed.

Instantly they proved a hit, causing the Bees backline no end of problems as Daggers pushed for an equaliser. First Josh Scott's weighted cross was collected confidently by Jack Bonham and then Luke Howell's corner was scrambled away by the Brentford defence. The resistance didn't last though and with ten minutes remaining, Daggers were back on level terms. Femi's back post ball in was met by Brian Woodall who headed across for Josh Scott to slam home past a helpless Bonham and into the roof of the net. 

Having scored twice (something we rarely do in the league, let alone the league cup), Daggers fans now had renewed belief that their team could go on and win the game. Wayne Burnett's men continued to look dangerous down the wings but were unable to force a winner as the game edged closer and closer towards extra time. 

Then came the moment Daggers fans had dreaded all night long. Sam Saunders had been given plenty of opportunities to score during the evening, but his best undoubtedly came on 88 minutes. Martin Fillo was fouled by Scott Doe on the edge of the area which gave Saunders the chance to knock out his former club. And he would have done had it not been for the outstretched hand of Chris Lewington who made yet another superb stop to deny the winger. 

With the game seemingly headed for extra time, the fourth official indicated four minutes of added time. As we entered the fourth minute with both sides still pushing for a winner, Luke Howell gave away a free-kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the area. Surely we couldn't concede now, surely not cruel heartbreak in a competition we've had little, if any luck in for the past six years?

Scott Barron stood over the ball ready to deliver. As the referee blew his whistle, Barron swung the ball over to the back post where El Alagui out-jumped his marker to head home past Chris Lewington into the corner of the net. Sighs of expectation emanated from the away end as the Daggers players looked at each other in bewilderment, wondering how they'd got a set piece wrong yet again.

The visitors kicked off once more and immediately lumped the ball forward. It ended up on the right hand side where a cross into the box was only just about cleared by the Brentford defence, as Rosler's men scrambled to hold on. With one final punt up-field, the referee blew his whistle to signal a painful defeat for Burnett's side. It wasn't so much the fact we'd been knocked out, more the way we'd been knocked out and the timing and fashion of the goal.

Still that takes it to seven defeats in seven attempts in the League Cup, and in a quirky way I'm proud we've kept our 100% record in the competition. No Daggers supporter takes this competition seriously anymore, do they? So to even score two goals is a bonus! The performances of Rhys Murphy, Femi and Medy Elito were all highlights from an evening where Daggers were dreadfully unlucky not to head through to the second round.

We won't dwell on this result, so I'll just remind you that our next game is at home to York City (remember them?), at Victoria Road tomorrow afternoon. You can read my report from that on Monday, and you can also follow me on Twitter using @NickMurphyDRFC. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Fleetwood Town 3-1 Daggers, Murphy's Law.

The 2013/2014 SkyBet League Two got up and running on Saturday afternoon and unsurprisingly for one particular team it started with defeat. That team of course, was Dagenham & Redbridge. A combination of atrocious defending and inconsistent marking ensured that Wayne Burnett's first game of the new campaign ended in defeat to one of the division’s promotion favourites.

It's slightly disappointing to say, but for most Daggers fans that set out up on the trip to Lancashire, defeat seemed almost inevitable. Graham Alexander had recruited well over the summer, bringing in League Two quality in the form of Steven Schumacher and Ryan Cresswell amongst others. Daggers meanwhile had completed minimal transfers over the close season, with forward Rhys Murphy and centre half Brian Saah the only likely starters.

All of this and more was discussed on the trip up to the distant North-West which began at 6:30am, before meeting at Chadwell Heath for 8am. After gathering several others along the way we reached Euston in good time to make our Orient filled train at 9:30am. With a lack of seating, sol, and a blow up doll all on the same carriage it was sure to be an eventful journey. After nearly departing at Wigan North-West we arrived at Preston just after 12:00 where we changed onto the luxurious Northern Rail service.

I moan about public transport in London, but when you step onto a Northern Rail service it makes you really appreciate what you've got. Two carriages of misery, toilets that didn't work and a distinct lack of seats - welcome back to the North, Daggers fans.
The front of the stadium.

With half an hour of toil completed, we finally arrived at Blackpool North just after 13:00. Thanks to the blustery sea breeze wearing shorts no longer seemed like a good idea. At least it was warmer than our last trip to Highbury in March! With the taxi's already and waiting we hopped in and headed along Blackpool promenade to Highbury Stadium, located a good 15 minutes away from real civilisation. 

Once there our first port of call, naturally, was Jim's Bar - the Fleetwood Town clubhouse. And it is without doubt, one of, if not the best clubhouse in the whole of League Two. It's so swanky it feels like a nightclub. Leather seats litter the pristine wooden flooring whilst "booths" are also available for groups of supporters. All of this is completed by a vast array of TV's all over the bar, including two in each individual booth. If you go to Fleetwood this season, I can't recommend this place highly enough. 

A good hour and a half was spent drinking Cider in the company of the home supporters with several songs exchanged as 15:00 edged ever closer. As the bell tolled for final orders (at 14:40?!), we headed towards the away end and went in through the automated turnstiles. The cold concrete concourse greeted us as we went along and up the stairs into our seats for the afternoon.

For the second year running at Fleetwood we had been allocated the Parkside Stand as our support didn't warrant opening the terrace behind the goal. As our mini allocation began to fill up, the sprinklers rose from the ground to douse the pitch underneath the "blazing" Lancashire sun. With little over 5 minutes until kick off, that anticipation for the new season began to rise like it does every year. The pitch was in pristine condition and the supporters were full of optimism (maybe not for both sides). The new season was finally here.

The teams emerged from the tunnel to a rapturous round of applause from both sets of supporters, eager to see their relatively new look sides in competitive action for the first time. The pre-match pleasantries took place before the Daggers XI came over to clap the 133 travelling fans that had made their way to this secluded corner of Northern England.

Fleetwood Town: Davies, Hogan, Cresswell, Roberts, Jordan, Schumacher, Hughes, Brown, Sarcevic, Ball, Crowther.

Dagenham & Redbridge: Lewington, Femi, Doe, Saah, Hoyte, Howell, Ogogo, Bingham, Scott, Murphy, Elito. Subs: Seabright, Reed, Conners, Dennis, Woodall, Shields, Obafemi.

As expected Daggers lined up in a hybrid 4-4-2/4-3-3 formation which saw Abu Ogogo revert to central midfield and Gavin Hoyte to right back. With Luke Wilkinson still sidelined Brian Saah partnered Scott Doe at centre half. Billy Bingham started in midfield whilst a front two of Rhys Murphy and Josh Scott would be assisted by Medy Elito. Tricky wingers Sean Shields and Louis Dennis remained on the bench alongside new signing Afolabi Obafemi.

With the huddles completed and the photographs taken, the teams lined up to begin the new 2013/2014 season. The referee blew his whistle and we began. Surprisingly it was the visitors that started on the front foot. Despite the early momentum, Fleetwood quickly asserted themselves and Chris Lewington was soon forced into action to deny David Ball's drilled shot with less than three minutes played.

The early pressure from the hosts continued before eventually manifesting itself into a crucial mistake by the visitors. Billy Bingham was caught with the ball just outside his 18 yard box and was forced to track back and concede a corner. From the resulting set-piece, the hosts took the lead. Ryan Crowther's floated ball towards the back post was perfect for debutant Mark Roberts who escaped his marker to power home his header with just four minutes played. 

Wayne Burnett attempted to gee up the troops but by the time his enthusiasm could muster a response, Daggers found themselves two goals behind. Jeff Hughes, who once scored a hat-trick against Daggers whilst at Bristol Rovers latched onto a loose ball twenty yards out before rifling it past a crowd of defenders and into the corner of the net for 2-0. By all means I didn't expect to win this match, but to be 2-0 down inside 10 minutes was shambolic - criminal even. Oh well, only 4130 minutes of the season to go lads.

The shell-shocked visitors now had a mountain to climb against one of the promotion favourites and already it seemed as if the game was beyond our reach. Nevertheless the Essex outfit persevered and nearly pulled one back five minutes later, but Medy Elito's delivery evaded all of those in the box before drifting out for a goal kick. Unusually Daggers looked fragile at the back and but for another fantastic stop by Lewington, Hughes would have taken his tally for the afternoon to two.

Burnett's favoured passing style was being implemented in part, but it was a simple ball over the top that brought about the Daggers response. Billy Bingham picked out the arcing run of Medy Elito who beat the offside trap for the first time, before advancing and squaring for debutant Rhys Murphy who slid in to net his first ever goal in English football. After a disastrous opening, with 25 minutes gone we were suddenly back in the game. Optimism was renewed and we began once more. 

After such an explosive start the match soon quietened down and turned into more of a midfield scrap. Unfortunately for Daggers it was the Cod that were winning the majority of the battles as the visitors continued to look too lightweight in midfield. When we did get the ball, our main outlet was down the left where Medy Elito looked to get a run on the full back, but failed miserably.

Following Gavin Hoyte's booking Daggers almost found an equaliser. The ball was played down the channel to Murphy who controlled brilliantly before bamboozling his defender and curling a shot just inches wide of Scott Davies' post. It was a glimpse of what Murphy was capable of despite an ultimately weak shot. We've lacked a striker with a bit of imagination since Gayle's departure; hopefully Murphy can feel that void.

His miss meant Daggers still trailed 2-1, a scoreline that was nearly extended just before the break. The Daggers defence were forced to defend two more corners, with Chris Lewington called into action once more to ensure that the deficit remained at just the one during half time. It wasn't an ideal half, but to go only one down at the interval after a disastrous start can be considered acceptable. 

In our brief 15 minute respite I decided to head down to the concourse to sample what minimal food Fleetwood had on offer. After seeing the menu, I decided against it. I mean, they're called the Cod and they don't even serve fish, it's an outrage! We soon headed back up to the stand where a slightly drunk Bill (@EssexDaggerBC) was optimistic for the second half.

The second half began in earnest and Daggers were immediately looking to find that elusive equaliser. Another Elito ball into the box was cleared away before Murphy narrowly failed to get on the scoresheet once more when a cross was pitched just a yard or so in front of him. That was made even more frustrating five minutes later when Daggers were undone from yet another set piece. This time it was former Southend centre half Ryan Cresswell who was left unmarked to head home past Chris Lewington despite the best efforts of Brian Saah on the line.

All of the early hard work in the second half had been undone as a result of lackadaisical defending once more. With that we were back to square one, a two goal deficit against what will probably turn out to be one of the strongest defences in the league - what chance did we have? Well if Rhys Murphy's creative runs were anything to go by, we were still in the game. He escaped his marker once more but was unable to provide a telling finish as the Fleetwood defence mopped up the danger.

With a goal looking increasingly unlikely, Burnett acted to make a double change. Medy Elito and Josh Scott were withdrawn to be replaced by Afolabi Obafemi and Jake Reed. Josh hadn't really made much of a contribution to proceedings, but playing in an unfamiliar wide left position that should come as no surprise.

Both sides continued to attack in search of goals at either end for different reasons. It was the hosts that came closest from yet another set-piece, but this time Scott Doe was on the line to make a sensational last gasp clearance to prevent the scoreline extending to 4-1. Up the other end Obafemi came close whilst Jake Reed also looked creative without really threatening the Fleetwood Town goal.

By the time Brian Woodall was introduced on 87 minutes, the game was already over as a contest. After enduring four extra minutes of pain, the referee blew his whistle to signal an end to the first match of the season. The phrase going through my mind at this point was something along the lines of, "Same sh*t, different season." Oddly enough we looked ok going forward, but it was our exploits at the back that are a cause for real concern - especially where set pieces are concerned.

In reality it was the start that killed us. That and our inexplicably bad defending from set pieces. If we can tighten our defence and improve on our organisation then we'll be a markedly better side ahead of next week - but Rome wasn't built in a day of course. The key thing for me is to play players in their favoured positions. It's so frustrating seeing Abu play in centre mid, a position where in a passing orientated outfit really doesn't suit him. I'd much prefer him playing at right back, a position where he excels.

A similar case to this is that of Josh Scott. He was forced out wide on the left on Saturday, a position that really didn't suit him. If we want to get the best out of Josh has to play down the centre. But then you have the dilemma of what to do with Murphy, who, by all accounts looks to be our biggest goal threat this season. It's a difficult situation and one that Burnett will do well to manage.

Having briefly dissected the afternoon’s performance in my head, we journeyed back past the jubilant home fans and into the rammed Fleetwood clubhouse to drown our sorrows. We even had our own booth, although we were avoided like the plague. One more pasty and half a pint of cider later we departed for Blackpool North, only to have to spend an hour at the station waiting for our Northern Rail service back to Preston.

Harry (@HarryBird94) and Bill stocked up on fosters for the train journey home, although quite how Bill was still standing was a mystery to us all. Having arrived at Preston we quickly switched onto the Virgin service before commandeering an old couples table to enjoy a jolly on the way back to Euston. After three hours (perhaps the longest of our life) we arrived back at Euston at around 22:45. 

Having parted ways with Wilson, Mike and Matt the rest of us took the short walk to Euston Square before hopping on the Metropolitan Line back to Liverpool Street. Another quick change saw us onto the overground service where we arrived back at Chadwell Heath soon after 23:30. To say it had been an exhausting day, was an understatement. Eighteen hours of laughs and misery in equal measure, you've got to love football.

A little side note to the day is quite how Fleetwood will sustain their ambitions. I know they have backers, but to have just 2500 at home on the opening day after paying around £200,000 for a player is simply not sustainable. When you couple that with the brilliantly cheap season tickets they offer, especially for Under 16's (they're free), it's a shame that so many aren't taking up the offer. I like Fleetwood, but you wonder whether in the long term it'll all work out.

Now though we turn our attention to tonight's clash with League One promotion favourites Brentford in the League Cup at Griffin Park. Personally I'd love to see Shields and Dennis given a go on the wings in a 4-4-2 formation, but whether that'll happen I don't know. We've lost on all six of our previous first round ties, so maybe, just maybe, we can finally get a win in this competition. But probably not.

Thanks for reading and remember to follow me on Twitter @NickMurphyDRFC. Oh and for the record, I will always hate Fleetwood's goal music.