Despite having no experience as a manager, wherever Paolo Di Canio goes this season with his Swindon Town, the media are sure to be there, perhaps waiting for that latin temperament to boil over. Brian Parish went along to see the Robins play Dagenham earlier this week.
“We may only be in the second week of the season, but the games come thick and fast and tonight marks our fourth game of the season already. After the joy of an away win on the opening day, we’ve suffered a heavy defeat at Bournemouth in the League Cup, before losing in the league for the first time at the weekend to AFC Wimbledon. But we already have a chance to put that right against a team that were relegated alongside us from League 1 last season, Swindon Town.
We are used to seeing a few West Ham shirts at our home games, but tonight, there could be more than usual, despite the fact that they are playing away at Watford. And the reason for this is the presence of one man on the Swindon Town bench; Paolo Di Canio.
When he signed for West Ham in January 1999, he was not exactly English football’s most popular person. Banned for twelve games for pushing referee Paul Alcock (and the resulting comedy fall), there were plenty who wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole. However, Harry Redknapp got him to West Ham and the rest is history. The scorer of one of the finest goals you will ever see (against Wimbledon in March 2000), it could be argued that Di Canio found his home in East London. Indeed, he still talks very fondly of his time at the club, and even treated viewers to a sight of his West Ham tattoo during a recent interview with Mark Clemmitt. Put simply, the man is a West Ham legend.
Which is great if they get to play at the Boleyn Ground any time soon, but this is Victoria Road, and the sight of other team’s jerseys in the home section annoys me. As I have ranted here before, I can cope with it on kids, but it’s when you get adults doing it that it frustrates me.
As for the opposition itself, they are clearly hoping that he can bring a bit of magic to the club. They finished last season bottom of League 1, and will be expecting that their new coach can inspire the players to at least a play off spot. Their start to the season has been mixed, with an , but while they will want a win to travel back to Wiltshire with, we want the three points to show that Saturday’s game isn’t going to become a regular occurrence this season.
Tuesday 16th August 2011, Dagenham & Redbridge v Swindon Town
Getting into the club house at Victoria Road is not normally a problem. After entering the car park, it’s a 50 metre or so stroll to the doors, and that’s it. Occasionally the opposition will already be there, but normally, there are a few cars, some staff loitering waiting for the rush, and that’s about it. Tonight though, there are quite a few people hanging around, waiting for a glimpse of the great one, and there are more than a few shirts that people have bought along to be signed.
With the game still an hour or so away, Dan and myself make our way into the ground, while several still finish off their pints in the upstairs bar. The main reason I have gone in early is to get something to eat, having made my way to the ground almost straight from work. It’s clear though that, watching the team warm up, there are changes to the side which lost at the weekend. For a start, we know that Abu Ogogo won’t be playing, and neither will Luke Reed, who has at least got a place on the bench. Ogogo went off injured towards the end on Saturday, and so his place at right back will be filled by another summer signing, Richard Rose. Reed is replaced by Brian Woodhall, and the last change is Medy Elito coming in for Sam Williams.
The start of the game is very reminiscent of Saturday; we start like the proverbial house on fire, and create our first chance after about six minutes, although the impressive Oliver Lee’s shot rises over the bar. They haven’t got the Twickenham thing out of their system yet. Two minutes later, Woodhall is clean through on goal, having left a couple of defenders in his wake, but he completely mis-hits his shot, and the ball trickles through to a grateful Phil Smith in the Swindon goal.
Continuing the theme of ex-Daggers to play against us this season is Matt Richie. He spent a very good season with us 2008/09, and was part of the team which just missed out on the play offs that season. Since then, every pre-season seems to contain at least one rumour that he would be on his way back, but it never seems to materialize. Tonight though, he seems a bit subdued, and doesn’t really get into the game early on.
The first chance for the visitors arrives after a quarter of hour. A free kick taken by Oliver Risser from 30 or so yards out is deflected into the path of Etienne Esajas, whose shot produces a fantastic reaction save from Chris Lewington. I think most of the home fans applaud the save before we realise that the flag has been raised for offside, and so it wouldn’t have counted. It was still a really good stop though.
The rest of the half is a bit on the, well, bitty side really. There is much endeavour from the two sides, but not a lot of “end-product” as the pundits would say. The half ends with a contentious decision when Raffaele De Via looks to have been fouled in the penalty area; Doe has got the ball, but from our angle, it also looks as though he got the man first. It’s not given, and at half time, there are a few complaints from the visiting team. We’re just glad to have made it to the break still level.
The best chance of the night arrives a couple of minutes after the teams have restarted the game for the second half. A low cross from the right wing from our newly recalled Barbados international Jon Nurse finds its way to the back post, where Brian Woodhall is waiting to tap the ball into an almost unguarded net. That’s exactly how it happened, apart from the last bit, as he misses the goal and hits the perimeter wall instead. Continuing with the pundit theme, this could definitely be filed under “golden opportunity”, and it’s been passed up.
Both teams are still not creating anything troubling, but at least both sets of fans can enjoy and celebrate the moment when a wayward Swindon shot flies past the goal, and clouts a steward on the back. Clearly wanting to get in on the act, a few minutes later, Aden Flint tries his luck from outside the area, but his shot not only misses the goal, but any of the stewarding staff as well.
As we move into the last twenty minutes, suddenly it all gets exciting again. Gavin Tomlin, trying his luck out on the left wing, makes a run into the penalty area, where he gets past a couple of defenders, but not the third, and he hits the floor. There is a moment of hesitation from the officials, before the whistle is blown, and a penalty is awarded. The referee is instantly surrounded by several Swindon players and although they remonstrate furiously with him, it’s still going to be a penalty. A few around me can’t look, as Mark Arber places the ball on the spot, turns, does his run up and smashes the ball past Smith. There is much celebration on the home terrace, but we know that there is still plenty of time for it all to change.
That it doesn’t is down to the lack of a final shot by both teams and the need to take either that extra split second to get the shot away, or to look for that final pass, just so that the chance for the eventual shooter might be a bit easier. It’s like watching a team trying to walk the ball into the net, but neither team are quite capable of doing it.
The closest either team come to a goal is about five minutes from the end of the game, when we clear not one, but two efforts from our goal line, when it seemed that the ball would surely end up in the net. Scott Doe and Damien McCrory look to be our saviours on the line, but it’s difficult to tell as there are bodies everywhere when the ball is finally hoofed out of play. Although Swindon keep pressing for an equaliser, and we keep trying to break in search of a second goal, neither are able to change the scoreline, and after an additional five minutes are played, the final whistle is blown, and we’ve registered our first home win of the season.
Clearly not being a Swindon fan, I’m not sure what their support would have made of this game, or how the three league matches have gone so far. However, I felt that they are missing something up front. They held on to the ball ok, and it didn’t seem to go in the air quite as much as it can do in this division, but they do need someone up front who will score them a few goals. They have the creativity with Matt Ritchie, but he had a quiet night, and if he isn’t quite on the money, then someone else needs to take the role on.
For us, this was a bit more like the Dagenham & Redbridge that we all know and love; there was a desire to battle during the game, which didn’t quite look like it was there on Saturday. This is a big result for us, particularly with a few players missing, so those that played will have done their chances of staying in the team no harm at all. It’s Bradford away for us next, which has been a happy hunting ground for us in the past; a good result there, and its anybodies guess how this season could go.