It’s not about the result, it’s about the performance

Brian Parish brings us a roundup from Victoria Road where the Daggers completed their pre-season preparations with three games in a week.

Pre-season can be a bit of a weird time. You could be keen to see how the new signings are getting on in the team, or to see those who you normally sit or stand with and haven’t seen since the end of the previous campaign. Alternatively, these games can be a bit of a non-event, with some clubs using these games to see how various players perform before offering them a contract.

Normally with the Daggers, we have two or three home pre-season friendlies to warm us up for the forthcoming league fixtures. This year, we had three home matches spread over a week. A week before the season started, we hosted Stevenage (alas no longer married to Borough), prior to that a visit from West Ham, but today it’s Leyton Orient who are here. Having played them four times last season (with both teams winning one each, and two draws), we know the opposition quite well. Our games with Orient are normally quite entertaining to watch, so hopes were high for a good game.

The club had reduced the prices for the pre-season games, as attendances in the past had been a bit on the low side. With terrace prices set at £10 for Orient and Stevenage, and £12 for West Ham, the club had produced an offer in which, if you bought tickets for all three games, then you could have the lot for £25. If anyone was attending all three, then it’s not such a bad deal.

Of course, these games are not attended by everyone. There are several that stand near us for league games that won’t attend friendly games, as they see no point in them. There are times when I can see what they mean, but last year we had two good games against Norwich City and an Arsenal XI.

Saturday 23rd July, Dagenham & Redbridge v Leyton Orient, Victoria Road
The first surprise is that our normal keeper, Tony Roberts isn’t playing, but then he is not even warming up, so it’s possible that he is not actually at the stadium. The number two, Chris Lewington is out there, along with James Shea, who I am reliably informed was at Arsenal.

If the club were expecting a big crowd for a local derby, then they were going to be disappointed. There was lots of room on the terraces, and in the seats at kick off. The league game attracted over four thousand last year, but as the game kicks off, it looks as though there is about a quarter of that in the ground.

The first chance of the game is a free kick from Damien McCrory; his effort is close enough to bring an “ooh” from the crowd. However, that’s the limit of the excitement for the next half an hour. Shea has not been troubled, and as the half draws to a close, there are a couple more efforts on goal, but nothing to trouble the Orient keeper either. So far, it’s been an eventful first half, and I am starting to think that those who miss these games might be on to something.

Just after the break, Orient have their first decent chance, but the shot goes over the bar. The biggest cheer of the afternoon is when the attendance is announced; 961. The game is still not getting going, and with the substitutions occupying the next fifteen minutes, it’s drifting into a dull, 0-0 draw.

The only excitement comes in the last five minutes. First is a last ditch tackle by Mark Arber on Dean Cox as the forward is about to shot, and then a last minute flare up involving Josh Scott and one of the Orient centre halves. It’s a bit out of keeping with the preceding 89 minutes, and although they are trying to join heads, the referee takes them to one side, tells them to stop being so stupid, and lets the game continue.

Three minutes added on, with the referee clearly hoping that something is going to happen, but it doesn’t. Once the whistle goes, it brings to an end a fairly insipid game, and I am starting to wonder if there is a good enough reason to attend the next one against West Ham.

Tuesday 26th July, Dagenham & Redbridge v West Ham United, Victoria Road
One of the regular sights at our home games over the last few years has been people turning up in West Ham shirts. Kids, I can sort of understand, but I would have thought that some of the adults would have known better. After all, you wouldn’t turn up at a West Ham game wearing a shirt of another English club (unless they were actually playing). It’s a topic which has in the past provoked several discussions on the D&R forum, but still they turn up.

Tonight, at least West Ham are actually the visitors. In the past, a full first team has been promised, only for the reserves or youth team to actually show up, so the pre-match chat is about which team will actually attend.

The reason why Tony Roberts wasn’t named or playing on Saturday is revealed in the “big announcement” at exactly 7.30pm; he is going to retire. He has been training the goalkeepers at Arsenal on a part time basis for the past few years but now has the opportunity to go full time, and as he says in his speech to the Daggers fans, he turns 42 next week, and this is a big opportunity for him. So, we lose our longest serving player, and almost the last link with the Conference winning team of 2006-07. Not only that, but he is the club’s record appearance holder, and although we all hoped that he would stay for one more year, his reaction at the end of the Peterborough game at the end of last season (if looked at now) showed that he was probably thinking of calling it a day.

Such is the size of the crowd trying to get in to see this game that the kick off was been put back fifteen minutes, to 8pm. Although tickets have been available in advance, there is still the option to pay at the gate, and it would appear that many have taken this option. The teams re-emerge to do some extra warming up, while five cheerleaders go through their routine in the middle of the pitch. Finally, just before 8pm, the teams are lining up for the pre-match handshakes, and we are soon under way.

The West Ham website had several first team players in the squad for tonight, and we are not disappointed, with Internationals Rob Green, Carlton Cole, and Jack Collison all starting. There is also a debut for the new signing from Bolton Wanderers, Matt Taylor, who appears on the left hand side of midfield.

The game starts and within a few minutes, it’s already much better than Saturday’s encounter with Orient. West Ham are in charge, but the Daggers are not being completely outplayed. The half seems to fly past, and there are chances for both teams. However, the only one that is taken arrives ten minutes before the break. A diagonal ball from the West Ham left back is played onto the left hand side of the Daggers defence. Carlton Cole is at this point being marked by Femi, but Cole turns the defender while the ball is in the air, lets it bounce, and then shoots right footed past Lewington to put the visitors 1-0 up. It’s a good goal, and gets some applause from the home fans, while those supporting West Ham are cheering.

Cole has another chance a couple of minutes later, but he shoots wide, and so, when the teams disappear off for the changing rooms, West Ham are still 1-0 up.

As is the case with these games, there are several changes at half time, and then more throughout the second half. Both teams are still pressing forward, but the Daggers are certainly getting more into the game, and the best chance falls to Josh Scott. Just after the hour, he is through on goal, but his shot is just wide. Elito also has a go from distance, but Rob Green is also in good form, and gathers almost everything quite comfortably. From the Daggers point of view, crosses are just that bit too close to the goalkeeper, and the shots are not really testing enough, but a decent crowd of just over 4,000 have witnessed a good game. There is a brief “handbag” moment between the two number 21’s towards the end, but once that is sorted out, the game carries on for another couple of minutes before the referee brings the nights events to a conclusion.

West Ham will have been pleased that they have registered another win, and are progressing well under the new manager. After the game, Matt Taylor was reported on the West Ham website as saying that Dagenham gave them a good test. That’s good for us as well, and although we may not have picked up a result from the two home games so far, at least from tonight there is some cause for optimism,. Next up is Stevenage on Saturday.

Saturday 30th July, Dagenham & Redbridge v Stevenage, Victoria Road
When we were in the Conference, Stevenage were always one of the teams to watch, and almost every year, were being touted as the potential champions. It was only in 2010 though that they finally made it, and surprised more than a few by achieving consecutive promotions. However, given the excellent stadium and fan base, it’s not a massive surprise to many who have followed them from the Conference. Hopefully they will do themselves proud in League One, and surprise a few again; personally, I reckon that they might do quite well.

Following on from two home games in a week, the car park is half empty when I arrive at the ground, and in the following couple of hours before kick off, it doesn’t get much better. With respect to our opponents today, it’s not the greatest draw and the attendance of 625 reflects this.

Within seven minutes, we are one down. James Shea, starting in place of Lewington comes for a floated free kick that he doesn’t actually reach, and it’s headed home at the back post. It’s not a good start, and the first mistake that I have seen from him. In the summer sun, the game gets going again, and isn’t as bad as last Saturday, but it’s a week before the season, and clearly managers don’t want their players getting injured before the real stuff starts next week.

The half lumbers on to the break (including a drinks interval at around 25 minutes), and the players disappear for their 15 minute sit down in the dressing rooms. The discussions around range from if anyone is travelling to Macclesfield for the first game (most are) to if Graham Westley has a wedding reception to go to in the evening, neatly attired as he is in a grey suit.

As the teams emerge for the second half, the only substitutions are the referee’s kit, which has changed from light blue to a lime green. The second half is better than the first, with chances for both teams, although it’s Stevenage who score again just after the hour. What looks like a poor corner is flicked on towards the back post where it’s turned in past a fairly static defence.

From the hour mark, the substitutions start. The Daggers make three in a couple of minutes, and it has an almost immediate impact, with chances for Reed, Walsh and Woodhall, but they still can’t make the breakthrough. One of the best players on view, Darius Charles is replaced Stevenage with twenty minutes to go, and the game is heading for a comfortable away win, when Woodhall scores for the home side. Alex Osborn squares the ball to Jake Reed, whose shot is saved by Julian in the Stevenage goal, but Woodhall is there to turn the ball home. There are a couple of chances to alter the score, but the away team hold on, even resorting to keeping the ball in the corner for the last minute of the game, which is the first time I can remember it happening in a friendly.

The three home games have provided a few answers, but it looks as though we aren’t going to know any more about them until at least half a dozen league games have been played. If we start well, then we can hope that the season might go well. If we don’t though, then it could be a long, hard season. Within a month, we might have a better idea of how the year is going to go.

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