Cobblers to them

Brian Parish continues to suffer as Dagenham & Redbridge add away day blues to their home woes away at Northampton Town.

After two disappointing home games, it’s time for the Daggers to hit the road again, and today it’s a trip up to Northampton. Despite my protestations that I wouldn’t be attending an away game until at least November, I gave in late on Thursday afternoon, and managed to secure a lift to the game with Dan. Part of being a fan is hoping that (even when the evidence points to the contrary), you just feel that the corner is about to be turned and that this will be the game that launches your team up the table to the glory that is inevitably waiting.

Not that many of those making the journey north have much in the way of confidence, but hope does spring eternal, even when your team hasn’t won in a month, and can’t seem to score more than one goal a game.

Thankfully, the hullabaloo of the last couple of weeks seems to have died down, which is nice as there are far more important things to think about, than having the ill-judged thoughts of a few supporters dominating the club. For a start, the results in the last four games have gone against us, with performances of varying degrees.

Despite a more encouraging display last weekend, we find ourselves in 19th position at the start of play, while our opponents are one place further down the table. The fact that Morecambe are top of the division has barely been mentioned when it comes to discussing last weeks game, which would provide at least some kind of extenuating circumstances to the result. Perhaps one season in League One has meant that there has been an attitude change, and that people expect us to win more often than not. The other thing to remind ourselves is that we have lost three key players over the summer, and it takes time for the replacements to get accustomed to our way of playing, and in some cases, the fact that they are playing in the Football League.

We do though, need to score first. In each of the games that we have gained a result, we have scored first. If we concede the opening goal, then we lose. It is as simple as that. We have seen already that, while the effort is there, if the first goal goes against us, our confidence drops, and we just don’t seem to have quite enough belief that we will get the game back in our favour.

Northampton moved into their current stadium in 1994. Prior to the building of the Sixfields Stadium (complete with accompanying cinema, golden arches and pub), the club played at the Northamptionshire County Cricket Ground. At this time, I would guess that it was fairly unusual to have an arena that had only three sides to it.

Our only previous visit to Northampton in the league came on Boxing Day 2009. In a game that was rated by those Daggers that attended as one of the worst that season, we missed a late penalty, before conceding the only goal of the game even later.

Saturday 24th September 2011, Northampton Town v Dagenham & Redbridge, Sixfields Stadium
After meeting both Graham and Liam, we made our way out to Thurrock, where Dan would meet us before starting the journey up to the game. We had reckoned on three hours as a maximum time, but as we were soon to discover, there had been an accident on the M1, which necessitated a route change. With Graham (or now to be known as the walking sat-nav) in the car, he had managed to work out an alternate route before the rest of us had been able to start reprogramming Dan’s tom-tom.

Having parked up in a field near to the ground, we strode across the field to the stadium, having only just been beaten there by the supporter’s club coach. Then from the one drinking establishment across the road came the fans team, which had managed to win in the morning at Oxford. Clearly feeling very pleased with themselves it was obviously hoped that their 5-4 win was going to be an omen for the first team to register their first success of the month.

The game started well for us. Forcing a few corners in the opening couple of minutes, the team had started as though there had been some sort of breakthrough in team spirit or something during the week. Although it took nearly thirteen minutes to register the first meaningful shot at the home goal (the on loan Oliver Lee having the opportunity from outside the penalty area) the opening period had gone well for us.

As is so often the case though, if you don’t take advantage, then you pay, and on the quarter hour, we did. From their first attack, Northampton gained a corner on their left side. Swung in to the back post, it is headed back across goal, where a shot at goal is well saved by Lewington. The ball falls to another forward, whose effort is blocked, before it lands at the feet of Arron Davies, who puts the ball home off the underside of the cross bar. It’s their first serious threat at our goal, and they have scored. Heads go down, and so do the confidence levels. And not just on the pitch either.

At the start of the game, stewards had immediately entered the away section, and asked everyone to sit down. Not an unreasonable request, and one that it now becoming more common. This is almost inevitably met by a chant of “Stand up if you love Dagenham”, to which everyone stands up, the stewards that guard the wall (and therefore not ventured into the crowd) in case of a pitch invasion smile, and we all get on with it. For the first fifteen minutes, quite a few have been standing up. Now almost everyone sits down.

Seven minutes later, and it probably should be 2-0. There is a mix up in the Daggers defence between Ogogo and Lewington, and although Marlon Jackson is denied, the ball breaks to Michael Jacobs; his lob though is (thankfully for us) wide of the goal.

Although we had the better of the early stages, it is still the lack of confidence in front of goal that costs us, with players either afraid to shoot, or wanting to take an extra touch or make an extra pass. It is that that costs us.

The rest of the half continues to go the way of the home team. Lewington makes another good save from a shot by Davies, while the dangerous Akinfenwa has a shot just before half time which is narrowly wide of the post. He is (to be polite) quite a size, and doesn’t look like a professional footballer, but his ability isn’t in doubt, and today he is playing well. His partnership up front with Jackson is proving to be a real handful.

At half time, with Northampton leading 1-0, there is something happening on the pitch with some local junior teams, but most in the away end are seated and not paying too much attention. What they are paying too much for is the catering in the ground. I admit that I don’t buy them very often, but £2.90 for a pie seems a bit on the expensive side. It’s almost like being back in Switzerland. At least one person in the queue for food is overheard mentioning to the staff that “when DickTurpin was robbing people, at least he wore a mask”.

The second half starts in almost the same way as the first. We are on top for the first fifteen minutes, with efforts by Ogogo, Peter Gain and Damien Scannell all wide. Brian Woodhall, one of our summer signings has been involved in most of the good early second half work, but once again, it’s all undone.

A poor back pass by Scott Doe forces Lewington wide of his goal to make the clearance, but his poor kick doesn’t go very far. The ball finds its way out to the left wing, where it is crossed to the back post and the waiting Akinfewa, who makes no mistake. 2-0, and this time we’ve had a hand in our own downfall.

We take a few minutes to respond, and when we do, Scannell shoots wide. Then, we get our best chance of the game so far. Another shot from Gain is touched over for another corner (we eventually end up with nineteen), and it is played to the back post, where Arber heads the ball onto the top of the bar. It bounces back into play, and can only be a yard from the line, but no one can get the required touch on the ball, and it’s cleared. To call it a scramble probably doesn’t do it justice, but it’s the nearest we’ve got, and it just doesn’t want to go in for us.

In the last twenty minutes, we get most of the substitutions, including both Jackson and Akfinfenwa for Northampton; Akinfenwa in particular has impressed, and several Daggers applaud him from the field, as do most of the home fans. A lump he may be, but he has proved himself today with another fine display.

It is in the last twenty minutes though that (and I may be wrong here) I think there is an improvement in our play. Peter Gain is having a game where he always wants the ball, and while the final pass may be lacking, the effort from all the players is good. Phil Walsh, on as a late sub for Scannell has a header saved by Walker in the home goal, but we do get a reward as we start three minutes of stoppage time. Good work by both Walsh and Arber means that the ball finds its way to Jon Nurse on the right wing, whose cross is slotted home by Lee. We have three minutes to get another, and earn a point.

It proves to be beyond us, but as we make our way back to the car, the last twenty minutes have, for me at least, proved to be quite encouraging. Mistakes have cost us again today, and clearly those need to be removed from our game, otherwise we could find ourselves in some serious trouble when we get to April. There are those that can’t see where the next point is coming from, but this might be the turning point. We have a week before the next game, which is at home to Crewe. If we can get something from that, then who knows?

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