Absence makes the team get weaker

Brian Parish returns from his jaunts in Canada to find that it is the same old Dagenham & Redbridge.

Having missed last weekends game against Plymouth (which you can read about when I actually get round to sending it over to TBIR), I am attending my first Daggers game in a few weeks. Since the last update (which was almost a month ago, and followed the defeat up at Northampton), we finally managed to register another win, thanks to a last gasp goal from Richard Rose against Crewe on October 1st. What made this more important was that we actually won the game after being a goal down. Ok, the lead for Crewe only lasted about 66 seconds, but it would have been easy to give this one up. Instead, the team finally got some luck and were able to get the win that we had needed.

Three days later, we played Southend United in a JPT game. Despite estimates of a crowd of less than a thousand, around 2300 were in the ground to see the division leaders (at the time) gain a 3-1 win. Southend played well on the night, particularly the centre back Bilel Mohsni. Obviously Southend didn’t think he was that great, as we saw him later chasing after the coach as they pulled away from Victoria Road.

Having finally ended our run of winless games, we have reverted back to old ways in our last two games. A 2-1 defeat at Cheltenham on the 8th was followed by another home loss last weekend. After going 2 down just after half time, goals from Scott Doe and Jon Nurse drew us level, and going into stoppage time, it looked as though we may have been able to get a point. But two minutes into injury time, Damien McCrory was sent off for a professional foul, and Simon Walton scored the resultant penalty to win the game for the visitors (their second win at Victoria Road in 2011), and leave us in 20th place.

Clearly, not having seen the incident, I can’t comment on the red card, but the fact that the red card was rescinded this week must mean that the decision was more than a little suspect. However, the decision is done, and the result means that an important point has been lost. Although that one point could be decisive at the end of the season, you would have hoped that, having got back into the game, the final result would not have gone against us.

Not that today’s visitors are doing much better in the League. Aldershot come into this game just one place above us in League 2, and are old acquaintances from our days in both the Ryman League and Conference. Despite their league form, they have at least progressed to the fourth round of the League Cup, which started with a well deserved win in the first round at West Ham. After progressing past both Carlisle and Rochdale, they will entertain Manchester United this week.

The last time we played Aldershot at home was in our promotion season of 2009/10, when the visitors won by 5-2 on a cold December evening. We did gain some revenge a few months later when winning 3-2 at Aldershot, after being 2 down, but with the closeness of the two teams in the division, hopes are high of at least getting something from the game.

Saturday 22nd October, Dagenham & Redbridge v Aldershot Town, Victoria Road
General opinion before the game is that we deserved a point from last week, and that today we need to battle against a side that will also see this as a chance to gain some much needed points. Despite the sunshine, the crowd doesn’t exactly flood through the gates. While it’s true that attendances have increased since our days in the Conference, it’s a worrying downward trend in terms of gates this season. While we had nearly three thousand for the visit of Wimbledon in August, today will see the crowd figure at less than eighteen hundred, and that is for a game against a club that doesn’t have to travel (relatively) too far. There is now starting to develop a hardcore of about 1400 that will go up only if we start to win a few games and progress up the table.

It’s all too easy to stand on the terrace as a fan and criticise at the first thing that goes wrong, so we are at least lucky that we have a few that accept that not all things will go our way. Aldershot score in the third minute of the game, which prompts a few moans (although I manage to win £50 on the golden goal ticket), but it’s nothing to what comes along a few minutes later, when the visitors score their second. Six minutes played, and we are already 0-2. Despite the initial shot being saved by Lewington, the rebound is gleefully tapped in by Peter Vincenti, and their celebrations prompt much venting of anger towards the team on the park. This is the worst start I can recall any Daggers team making, and already a few in the home support appear to have given up.

Having registered our first shot at goal just after going one down, we get our second effort after a quarter of an hour, but it’s wide of the goal, and so the hope recedes just that little bit more. Despite our inability to score, we can still generate a decent corner count; if points were won for corners, then we would be top. According to the stats for League 2, we have won the most corners in the whole division, which is quite impressive, given that we have one of the worst attacks.

With eight minutes to go until half time, Aldershot win a penalty. Mark Arber fouls Michael Rankin, and there is some semblance of relief that the referee shows only a yellow card to our captain. It is Rankin that takes the spot kick, and comfortably beats Lewington to make it 0-3, and suddenly there are people that appear to be heading for the exits.

Obviously waiting for the opposition to become really confident before making a comeback, Jon Nurse then scores to make it 1-3 with a few minutes to go before the break. The supporter’s team had lost in the morning after being 3 up; could the same happen here?

The answer is a very emphatic no. Ninety seconds into stoppage time, the score gets worse as Luke Gutteridge is allowed to run unchallenged on to a corner from the left side to head home. The team leave the pitch at the interval to probably the loudest booing I think I have ever heard at Victoria Road. Not even when we got beaten 0-9 at home by Hereford live on national television was the displeasure that bad. Thoughts half heartedly turned to the other scores at the break, but I think most just don’t care.

The second half brings an improvement in the performance, although after the half we had witnessed, that wasn’t going to be difficult. There is at least a bit of fight in them now, although we still don’t look as though we are going to get the game back in our favour.

The half ambles along, but with no threat to an addition to the score. But with ten minutes to go, a foul on Damian Scannell results in a free kick on the Daggers right. Damian McCrory takes it from 20 yards, and it flies into the net. It’s out of keeping with the rest of the performance, but we’ll take it. It’s made the scoreline a bit more respectable, but hasn’t really reflected how bad the game has been for us.

The last ten minutes of the game probably represent our best spell of the game, with Ross Worner in the Aldershot goal busier than he had been throughout the rest of the game. However in stoppage time, Aldershot score again to restore the three goal advantage that they had at the break, when Jermaine McGlashan scores from inside the area. The final whistle is blown very soon after, much to the relief of the home support. As we walk out, there are strains of “Can we play you every week” from the away support, which is probably what we would have done in the same situation.

Sitting in the club house after the game, there are fewer people around than normal and from some, just stunned silence. There are no excuses being bandied about, just a realization that this was an awful performance. It’s difficult to be objective; there are games that your team loses where you can pick out a few positives, no matter how meagre they actually are. But from this game, there seemed to be none. Our next game is away at Crawley, who themselves scored five away from home at the same time that we were being beaten; for some of our fans though, this game is as eagerly awaited as a five year old looks forward to Christmas. This is all because the manager of Crawley is one Steve Evans, and football supporters have long memories, as he was in charge of Boston United when they made illegal payments to players in the season that they beat us to the Conference title on goal difference. In the programme for today, fans were reminded to behave, and that banning orders can be imposed if they are convicted of an offence. Given the history with their manager, and the recent performances, Tuesday could be a long night.

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