That sinking feeling

Brian Parish continues to believe that Dagenham & Redbridge will be all right at the end of the season.  But a visit of the league leaders was hardly the tonic they needed on Saturday.

Missing one of your team’s games is not a nice decision to have to make, especially if things aren’t going well. Last week, Dagenham Dan and myself had to make this very choice; we could either miss our home game against Bath City in the FA Cup, or travel to Wembley to watch England v Spain. In the end, the national team won out (and won the game as well), so while we were watching England beat the World Champions, we were sitting at Wembley with the knowledge that the Daggers had been held at home by the team bottom of the Conference, and now had a replay to contend with.

As soon as the final whistle had gone at Victoria Road, Dan was looking at travel options for the replay, but with train travel not being the cheapest form of transport in this country, driving looked to be the firm favourite. However, that choice was soon discarded when he discovered what time he would have to leave, and so when it was announced later in the week that ESPN were going to show the replay, we both decided that we would watch the game in the company of our fellow Daggers at the club house. That could be fun…

The cup replay has to be put to one side for today though, as its back to the League, and a game against another Essex side, Southend United. This is their second trip to Victoria Road this season, having already won here 3-1 in the Football League Trophy at the start of October. Southend are having a very good season so far, under the astute managership of the former Dundee United striker, Paul Sturrock, and are presently top of the division, two points ahead of Crawley. Given our relative form, that two point gap will probably still be intact at the end of the game.

With injuries galore in the squad at the moment, the club has in the days leading up to the game, dipped into the loan market, to get two players that hopefully will help us with our current defensive problems. With Mark Arber still out, and with Scott Doe still serving a suspension for his red card against Shrewsbury two weeks ago, we have bought in Mickey Spillane from Brentford, and Christian Montano from West Ham. Montano looked quite good in a pre-season friendly against us, and has already been out on loan to both Notts County and Swindon this season, where he has been in good goal-scoring form, which is something we desperately need.

Saturday 19th November 2011, Dagenham & Redbridge v Southend United, Victoria Road

It is one of those weekends when parts of the London Underground shut down for engineering works. We had almost a complete season disrupted like this a couple of years ago, but thankfully, they have eased in the last year or so. Today though, we are at the mercy of the replacement bus service, and as is often the way, there are several travelling in the opposite direction before one turns up going in the direction of Dagenham East.

On a clear day in East London, the hopes are clearly for an “against the odds” win, but there are those of us that are just hoping for a decent performance. While we obviously want the three points, the idea that a good display against the league leaders will inspire a bit of confidence in the team is the over-riding one.

There is also the hope that the new (albeit temporary) signings might help with the confidence levels, but there is enough doubt around to ask if this isn’t just a forlorn move. Our record with loan signings isn’t great. Most seem to appear, disappear to the bench within a week or so, and then disappear back to their original club. The last decent loan signing we made was Matt Ritchie, who was with us for almost the whole of the 2008/09 season, but most only last a month or two.

Loan signings are just a short term move to help out, but there are more than enough occasions when they don’t. There will be times when they bring as much disruption to the club as they do help; after all, the players already there will have a system or particular way in which they play, and the new boy will have to fit into that way of playing. It may take a game or two to fit in, by which time their time at their temporary club will possibly be half over already. This is probably the reason why, although we do make loan signings, they don’t tend to last too long.

Both Spillane and Montano are in the starting line up, but within eight minutes, Southend are in front. A cross from the right wing by Ryan Hall (himself on loan to us from Crystal Palace in the early part of 2008) is turned in by Kane Ferdinand, and it completely knocks the stuffing out of the home fans, who up until this point, had been in good voice. They soon regain it though, as Bilel Mohsni, so impressive in the JPT game six weeks or so ago, is booked, although we are not sure what for. His reaction is almost enough to get him a second yellow card, and the Southend captain has to come over to calm him down. Predictably for the remainder of the half, he is jeered every time he goes near to the ball, or to the more vociferous Daggers fans.

The team though respond in fine fashion, and after Peter Gain wins the ball, he offloads to Montano. He evades a couple of challenges, but has to get the ball back onto his left foot. From our vantage point, he does just this, but the shot doesn’t look as though it will trouble Daniels in the visitors goal. Somehow, he makes a complete hash of trying to stop the ball, and it trickles into the net, having gone through his legs. Montano wheels away in celebration, and suddenly the crowd have found their voice again. No one worries about how it went in, just that it did.

The game is becoming a good one, with chances at both ends, and Ryan Hall is proving to be a particular menace to us. Just after the half hour, Southend regain their advantage, when Liam Dickinson is allowed to score after some weak defending down the left hand side gives Mohsni the opportunity to cross along the six yard line. For the rest of the half, Southend have the majority of the play, but just before the break, Jon Nurse is denied by a fine save by Daniels. At the end of the half, we are only one goal behind, but the more pleasing thing is that the team are battling and fighting for each other. I am not sure about anyone else, but I know that I would sooner see my team lose, but at least give it a go, than meekly surrender, and lose with a whimper.

As they re-emerge for the second half, we are all hopeful that they can continue in the same vein as they did in the first half. Four minutes in, and we are level for the second time in the game. Abu Ogogo, normally a right back but pressed in to service in the centre of midfield, is allowed to run at the Southend defence. As they continue to back off, he elects to shot, and the resulting effort flies past Daniels, and nestles in the back of the net. This brings more celebrations from the home fans; it was an excellent strike, and a few are even brave enough to reckon that it is already a contender for our goal of the season, although to be fair, it’s a pretty short list.

The game overall hasn’t let up, and soon the attendance is announced as 3259, with around 1400 making the trip from the coast. Those that have journeyed are given a third chance to celebrate after 64 minutes, as Kane Ferdinand puts Southend in the lead for the third time. A ball is played through, and although the defence is retreating to recover it, Chris Lewington rushes out to try and clear it, but is beaten to the ball by Ferdinand, who slots it home.

It turns out to be the decisive goal, and gives Southend a 3-2 win. There is still time though for Josh Scott, making his first league appearance of the season, to put a header straight at Daniels from just six yards out. As chances go, it doesn’t appear to get any better than this, and although there is a mad scramble in the Southend area at the end of stoppage time, the Ferdinand goal is the winner.

Ok, so the result doesn’t go our way, but the performance is so much better than they have been recently. The news that Barnet have won at Bristol Rovers (and thus pushes us down into the bottom two) doesn’t help the post match pint go down any easier, but the optimism generated by the performance means that, while today has gone against us, there is now a bit of hope for the future. The problem is though that these performances are not common enough, and we have to start picking up points sooner rather than later. We have Bath away in the cup replay on Wednesday, and both Spillane and Montano won’t be playing. If we can go to Accrington next Saturday still in the FA Cup, then there may just be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

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