After the cautious optimism generated by the much improved performance against the League Two leaders Southend United last weekend, midweek bought us the pleasure of a trip down to Bath City for a replay in the first round of the FA Cup. A lack of available time off from work meant that I watched the game in the company of quite a few other Daggers fans in the club house at Victoria Road. It’s bad enough at times watching your team when you are actually at the game, but for me, watching them on the t.v. is far, far worse. Being taken to extra time may not have helped the nerves, but the eventual outcome was a much needed win, a boost to the coffers and another home tie in the next round. The singing that rung round the hall for the last few minutes of the game revealed the relief felt by all, although I am still not sure what is achieved by singing at the television screen.
This week has been another busy week for us in the transfer market. Having boosted our squad with the loan signings of Mickey Spillane and Christian Montano, we’ve bought in another two to help out. The first was central defender Exodus Geohaghon, who joined us on loan from Darlington, with a view to a permanent move in January. The second new recruit of the week was Adam Cunnington, this time from Kettering Town. Like Geoghaghon, he is has joined with a view to the move being made permanent when the transfer window reopens. A striker, he has already scored 5 goals in 12 starts with the Poppies in the Conference National, so he will be a useful addition to our front line.
After the midweek cup game, today sees us return to the league, and a trip up to Lancashire to play Accrington Stanley. Although it was at least twenty five years ago since the advert was last broadcast, when I have been asked where we are going this weekend, it’s bought the same response from almost everyone; “Accrington Stanley – who are they?” – the famous slogan from the Milk Marketing Board’s advertising campaign featuring Ian Rush from the 1980’s.
I did think about regaling them with a brief history of the club, but most only do it to annoy, and I couldn’t be bothered to do it in the end. The present club were formed in 1968, six years after the original club had gone out of business, becoming the last but one club to go out of business during a Football League season (the last was Aldershot Town in 1992).
The current manager, John Coleman, was appointed in 1999, and is presently the third longest serving manager in either the Premier or Football League (our own John Still is fifth). In his first season, they were promoted up to the Unibond Premier Division, and were promoted again in 2003, this time up to the Conference. Three years later, they were promoted again, this time to the Football League, replacing the team that had taken over their place them in the sixties, Oxford United. Much like us Daggers, their history (of the present club at least) is very rooted in the non-league game, and have had a couple of good seasons since promotion, having reached the League 2 play offs only last year, losing to the eventual winners, Stevenage.
Saturday 26th November 2011, Accrington Stanley v Dagenham & Redbridge, Crown Ground
Like many grounds at this level, there is a sponsors name attached to the arena. It has been the Fraser Eagle Stadium in the past, but after a glance through the programme, it appears that it is back to being called the Crown Ground, and it has had a few improvements over the years since my last trip up here. During previous visits in the Conference, the Clayton Stand was open to the elements (much like the away stand at the other end of the ground), but that has now been covered. The forecast for our visit isn’t great, with strong winds and heavy rain as well. Early reports from the area suggest that its dry, but it probably won’t last. As we approach the ground, the rain has started to fall, and in the best tradition of our visits to Accrington, it’s not only wet, but cold.
By the time that the game starts, the rain is moving in across the playing area, and straight into the faces of those brave/crazy (delete as applicable) away fans that have braved the open terrace. The thought running through my head at this point is that there will be a lot of soggy people on the coach home.
The teams emerge into the pouring rain, led by the home team mascot, and accompanied by a local youth team. The goalkeeper in a fantastically luminous yellow kit, can’t be missed even if we had a sudden solar eclipse.
To be fair, when the half draws to a close three quarter of an hour later, any eclipse would have been more exciting. There are a couple of very good chances for the home team; the first comes after just five minutes when Micah Evans, on loan from Blackburn, pulls his shot wide to the right of the Daggers goal, when put through in the left channel of the penalty area. The second is a fine move at the mid way point of the half, which results in a first time shot by Luke Joyce, which is just dipping under the bar, until Chris Lewington produces a very good save to tip the ball over the bar.
For us, we are restricted to a free kick by Brian Woodall in the ninth minute (following a foul on debutant Cunnington) which flies wide of the post, and a weak header by Cunnington just before the break which trickles through to the goalkeeper. It’s evident that the game is being played by two teams that are at the bottom end of the division.
The second half starts well for us, but within a few minutes, the impressive Micah Evans is marauding down the right wing, and his cross to the back post falls to an unmarked Craig Lindfield, but he mis-hits his volley. A few minutes later, the home team are in front. Another cross from the right wing, this time from Lingfield finds Evans who sweeps the ball past Lewington.
There is an almost immediate substitution from the Daggers, who replace Brian Woodall with Josh Scott. There does seem to be a lot of pressure being placed on Scott, who has barely played in the last eighteen months, to come in and produce the goals that might keep us up. There is a chance within five minutes of his introduction, but the right corner from McCrory is headed wide by Mickey Spillane.
If that was a chance then just a minute or so later we have the very definition of “gilt edged opportunity”. Through the murky gloom, Scott has somehow managed to get the ball back across goal, having finally made the bright yellow clad goalkeeper get his kit dirty. The resultant shot (we think from Ogogo), is blocked on the line, and rebounds out to the edge of the area, where the follow-up is also blocked. That is the opportunity we needed to get something from the game, and we have been denied by some excellent defending by the home team.
With fifteen minutes to go, the home side make a double change, and over the course of the remaining time, one inflicts enough damage to make the game safe. Padraig Amond is on the pitch ten minutes before he nets his first, following a left wing cross from Lingfield. Exactly sixty seconds later, the game is officially over as Amond scores his second goal after we fail to clear the ball from the edge of our own penalty area. At 3-0, it’s all done and dusted.
At this point, the flags that had been hung in the away end are being taken in, and it signifies that any hope has now gone. Not surprisingly, Lingfield is announced as the home teams man of the match, and given his all round display, it’s not a surprise.
From our point of view, it’s getting worse. It’s now eight straight defeats in the league, and any optimism generated following last week’s display has well and truly evaporated. We have no idea where the next point is coming from, which is worrying given that we have now played nineteen games, and haven’t picked up a point since the start of October. It seems that we follow one decent performance with three or four awful ones, and this was a poor one. What the answer is, I am not sure. It’s a bit simplistic to blame the manager, and it’s also the same to blame the players. It’s a combination of the two, but how we resolve that is open for debate. While there are some that would welcome a return to the Conference, financially it would not be good for us. We already knew that this was developing into a long hard season; it has now officially stopped developing, and we are now in a relegation battle to stay in the league. Having fought so hard to get promoted, it would be more than a shame to go back down in such a half hearted way.