Turning the Shrew

Brian Parish continues the tale of pain and woe from his Dagenham Diary.

It’s not been the best of starts to our season. Aside from the long run of defeats, there is, for the first time in some time, an air of discontent among the supporters. There is a sense among some at least that the manager has taken us as far as he can. However, there is a second camp, and those are of the opinion that there should be no way that he can be removed from his post, especially after all he has done for the club. Given our current run of form, most clubs would be almost in open revolt, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment. If it continues however, for say another half a dozen or so games, then it may start to change.

The win against Crewe on October 1st seemed a long time ago, especially after the 2-5 debacle in the last home game against Aldershot, which was coincidentally the second time in a row that they had won at our place by that score. Three days later, many of us feared the worst when we had to travel to Crawley, but despite an early red card for Scott Doe, the performance was much improved, and we eventually lost 1-3. Last week, we travelled to Bristol Rovers, where we had registered a win last year, in a campaign where both clubs eventually succumbed to relegation. However, on this occasion, the home team finished up with a 2-0 win, which meant that as we approach this home game against Shrewsbury, we had managed just one win in our last twelve league games. The only bright spot from last weekend was that both Barnet and Plymouth had failed to win, which meant that we stayed out of the relegation places by the same one point that had been the difference at the start of play. Which when you think of it, is not really much of a bright spot.

Shrewsbury visit Victoria Road sitting in sixth place in League Two, and are just a point off of the third place team, Morecambe. They might have been higher than this, but last week, were held 0-0 at home by AFC Wimbledon. However, they are well placed in the division at the moment, which is in direct contrast to ourselves.

Saturday 5th November 2011, Dagenham & Redbridge v Shrewsbury Town, Victoria Road
Normally when the gates open, we are almost immediately straight out of the club house, and into the ground. While there isn’t much going on with ninety minutes to go before kick off, it gives us a chance to wonder in, chat with those those we normally only see in the ground, and take up our usual place on the terrace. Today though, there isn’t much of a rush to go in. The Newcastle v Everton game is being shown on the televisions, but while we applaud the second Newcastle goal, the game doesn’t hold any kind of appeal. It’s just that no one wants to go in given that there isn’t much hope of a result.

There a few players missing for this one which means that, when the team is read out, we try to work out who is playing where. When the teams do eventually line up for the kick off, we have our regular right back in centre midfield, and one of our left backs is playing at centre back. We reason that, it might just work out for us today; in the face of adversity, we might just get a result against all the odds, despite our pessimistic thoughts in the bar.

Any hope of a much needed result is driven from us after just six minutes. A ball lumped into the general area of our right back causes enough of a problem for him to try and head the ball back to the keeper, although it has nowhere enough power behind it. Lewington has to rush forward to try and claim it, but is just beaten to the ball by Terry Gornell, and he props the ball into an unguarded net. There are howls of annoyance and frustration from some, but there is also an air of bitter resignation about this early setback.

The next fifteen minutes are uneventful, and certainly don’t forewarn us of what is about to happen. Firstly, Ian Sharps (who was in the Rotherham team that we defeated at Wembley in May 2010) is cautioned, and then in the twenty-fifth minute, James Wallace is dismissed for (what looked like from our angle at least) a challenge on Jon Nurse that was possibly only worth a caution. However, the referee had got in the way about a second before the tackle was made, which may or may not have contributed to the moment. Whether it was right or wrong, it provides a bit of a boost to the home supporters, who so far, haven’t had much to cheer.

For the remainder of the half though, we really don’t create too much, despite the one player advantage. There are half chances for Woodall and Nurse, but nothing that forces Chris Neal in the visitors goal to get his kit dirty. There is still time for a couple of further yellow cards (this time for Neal, and Gornell), but at half time, Shrewsbury are still 1-0 up, and the lead hasn’t been threatened at all. As the officials leave the pitch, they are greeted by the away fans at the tunnel, who offer them a “warm” reception before they disappear to their changing room.

The second half starts with no changes in the team, and no real changes in the game either. For the first fifteen minutes of the half, both teams have corners, but do nothing with them. We then get a couple of changes (one for each side), before the cards start to come out again from the referee, Darren Deadman. Scott Doe, captain in place of one our injured players, Mark Arber, is cautioned for a foul on John Collins. This creates a free kick for Shrewsbury, although the eventual effort at goal (a header by Collins) is straight at Lewington.

We have more substitutions, and as we enter the last ten minutes of the game, there are a few fireworks exploding behind the ground at the Bury Road end. Arguably, these are more entertaining that the game, although the explosions aren’t that impressive, which is probably a damning indictment of the game.

Each foul by a Dagenham player is accompanied by a chant of “off, off” from the visiting fans, although they are disappointed once again, as Ilesanmi is cautioned for a foul on Collins. For the whole of the second half, we still haven’t forced the Shrews goalkeeper into a meaningful save, and probably the closest we get to a goal in the second half, is when a volley by Shane Cansdell-Sherriff flies over the Daggers crossbar. It’s been a bad performance, which in injury time gets worse.

The board is held up to signify that there will be four minutes of stoppage time. Normally, with a narrow deficit, there will be a roar of encouragement from the losing supporters, but today it just creates a murmur that there are only a few minutes before we can get back to the bar. As stoppage time ticks away without the threat of an equaliser, Scott Doe is announced as the Daggers man of the match (which must have been a fairly short list, and is quite telling given that Doe is a defender, and we’ve played over an hour of the game with a player advantage), and before the small ripple of applause has died down, he fouls James Collins in the Daggers penalty area. This not only means that the visitors get a penalty, but Doe also gets his second yellow card, to become the second dismissal of the game (and his second sending off of the season, following his red card at Crawley on October 25th). With practically the last kick of the game, Collins dispatches the penalty to make the final score 2-0.

To sum up the mood after the game, the club house was half empty, and given the performance, that was not a surprise. Optimism seems to have all but evaporated, but there are just a small number of discontented voices in the crowd. Leaving the ground, there are those who are starting to wonder if the manager’s position is under threat, but it’s not the mad hysteria that would probably be flying around if it was another club, or one higher up the food chain. However, we are aware that decision day might not be too far into the future.

Somehow, we are still not in a relegation place, though it is getting closer; at the start of play, we held a one point lead over Barnet, but with their draw at AFCWimbledon, we remain in 22nd place but now on goal difference, and given the way we are playing at the moment, that won’t last too much longer. The relegation fight that we find ourselves in is one that we have to win, but given recent form (which is a catastrophic 4 points from a possible 39), confidence is something that seems to be in short supply.

Our next two games are both at home, and both in cup competitions; one in the county cup on Tuesday, and the at home to Bath City on Saturday in the FA Cup. If there are some unhappy people at the club now, if we lose on next Saturday, then it will get a whole lot worse.

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