Stalemate against the Gulls

The Daggers Diary team bring us an update from the game last weekend against Torquay United.

Today marks the third home game of the campaign, and it’s against the side that lost to Stevenage in last season’s League Two play off final, Torquay United.

Torquay are starting their third year back in the Football League, having spent two years in the Conference. Beaten in the 2008 play off semi finals by Exeter City, they secured their promotion twelve months later via the same play off route, this time against Cambridge United at Wembley. In their first season outside the League, they did manage to reach Wembley, but in the FA Trophy final; the game was just a week after the play off semi defeat, and they lost at the national stadium as well, by1-0 to Ebbsfleet.

A quick read through the clubs history on their website shows that managerial changes are nothing new, but the club possibly hold the record for the shortest managerial reign. Forget Dave Bassett and his four days at Crystal Palace in the mid 1980’s, Leroy Rosenior was appointed manager after relegation in 2007, but lasted a whopping ten minutes. In this time, the club was sold, and the new board decided that they wanted someone else in charge, so he was removed and replaced by the man that would eventually get them promoted, Paul Buckle.

After our last home game, which resulted in a 1-0 win against Swindon, we had a long trip up to Yorkshire last weekend to visit Bradford City. This was our fourth visit up to Valley Parade since we were promoted to the Football League, and we managed to maintain our unbeaten record at the stadium by winning 1-0, thanks to a Jon Nurse goal. Bradford responded during the week by getting rid of their manager, with the team fourth from bottom and having gained only one point from their opening four games.

Today’s opposition lost the League 2 play off final at Old Trafford at the end of last season, because Wembley was unavailable due to hosting the Champions League final. So far this year, they haven’t managed a home win, but have won twice away from home, so this could be a tough one today.

Like the first home game against Wimbledon, there is a former Dagger in the Torquay squad although Taiwo Atieno only made a handful of appearances at the start of our Conference Championship season. For a more recent example, our very own Gavin Tomlin spent a few months on loan at Torquay last year, and even appeared in that play off final in Manchester.

Saturday 27th August 2011, Dagenham & Redbridge v Torquay United, Victoria Road
Prior to the game, we get one of those heavy downpours that seem to happen with annoying regularity during a British summer, but at least it doesn’t last long, so when we leave the confines of the clubhouse (having watched most of the Aston Villa v Wolves game on the tv), it’s bright and sunny. Our team are already going through their seemingly endless warm up, with stretches and the odd bit of ball work, before the obligatory shooting practice which ends up with as many balls in the people congregating behind the goal as troubling the goalkeeper. So far in four league games, we’ve scored three, so to see the shots going wide of the target is a bit of a worry.

As the game starts, it’s clear to see that Gavin Tomlin wants to do well. Having spent time with the opposition last season, he obviously wants to impress, and his start shows this. Within the opening ten minutes, he has a couple of good runs with then ball (one being optimistically described as “Messi-like”), and one such run results in a corner for us, but it’s wasted.

Tomlin seems to be the one with the shooting boots on today, as he has another effort straight at the Torquay keeper, Bobby Olejnik, after a quarter of an hour. So far, it’s been all Dagenham, which is a bit of a worry as this is exactly what happened against wimbledon, and we lost that one.

On twenty five minutes, our fears are eased. Some more good play results in a Jon Nurse cross from the right wing landing on the head of Sam Williams, whose looping header hits the corner of the net. 1-0 to the Daggers, but so far it’s been deserved.

We are clearly the better team and have been on top for most of the game, but our failure to convert chances, or in some instances to create them (taking too long to shoot, or the extra touch/pass) is costing us. As I’ve already mentioned, we’ve only managed one goal in the games that we have scored, and this is making some around me a bit anxious. While we’re playing well, we need to be scoring more.

As if to show that Torquay might have woken up, we get a reminder just before the break that this might not be over. If you ever thought that “the big number 9” was a thing of the past, you only need to look at players like Rene Howe. His presence in the area just before half time means that he creates a chance that flashes wide of the goal, albeit from a tight angle. If we thought that this was going to be easy, then this has just made us think again. At half time though, we still lead by 1-0.

At half time we get a mascot race. Aside from our own (at one time we were proudly the only club in the league that didn’t have a mascot), there are others from the local council and newspaper. The race, such as it is, quickly descends into farce, although the carefully scripted end brings to a close a five minute distraction where otherwise we would have been talking about the game.

If we were on top in the first half, then the second definitely belongs to the visitors. While there are chances at both ends in the first fifteen minutes (Ian Morris has a header well saved by Chris Lewington, while at the other end Gavin Tomlin is denied a shot at goal by a brilliant last-ditch tackle by Brian Saah), Torquay slowly start to get the better of the game, and the anxiety of the home fans is all to evident, with more than one enquiring quite loudly if they are determined to throw the game away. Rene Howe has a volley saved by Lewington just after the hour, and while Williams shoots over for the Daggers, the ball is spending a worrying amount of time in and around our penalty area.

A few minutes after the Howe chance, Damien McCrory escapes what looks like (from our angle at least) a penalty appeal when the ball strikes him on the arm. Actually, it looks a really good save from our viewpoint, although most around me think it was probably a penalty. The nerves are not helped a minute or two later, when Lewington enhances his growing reputation with an excellent double save to deny Howe (again) and Morris. Our young goalkeeper is clearly keeping us in the game.

After the obligatory flurry of substitutions, it is hoped that we might be able to improve our game, but with thirteen minutes to go, Mark Arber fouls Lee Mansell, and the referee awards a penalty. To be fair, it’s been coming for a while now, and once the official has booked Arber for the foul, Rene Howe finally gets his goal from the spot to level the game at 1-1. Curiously, this is the third home game of the season, and a penalty has been awarded in each one.

There are three minutes added on at the end of the game, and the final whistle can’t come a moment too soon. When the whistle does go, I am for some reason, really annoyed with almost everything. After an excellent first half, the second has been a huge let-down. I suppose it’s a point gained against a side that excelled last year, but it’s the manner in which we let it slip that has frustrated me. After winning away last weekend, we’ve sort of let ourselves down a bit. Ok, we’ve only played five games, and have another forty one to go, but results like this don’t help if we want to finish as high as we can. On the positive side though, we have managed another point, and as Dan says on the way out, another 40 points and we are safe.

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