Any Port Vale in a storm

Brian Parish returns to Dagenham after his weekend in Barcelona to see if anything had got any better….It hadn’t.

Today is the last home game before Christmas, and we entertain Port Vale in what has now become the latest in a long, long line of must win games.

During the week, we sold Damien Scannell to Eastleigh, who are currently playing in the conference south. With no fee involved, it means that the move has freed up some space on the squad list and also some wages. With one of the longest squad lists in the division, it has just removed one name from a list that is pushing forty places.

Port Vale are currently in 12th place, and have won a third of their nine away games. Their two previous visits to Victoria Road have both ended 1-1, which has prompted more than one fan to bet on the same result again today. After the shambles that was the “performance” up at Accrington, last weekend saw an improved display in the cup against Walsall, although the 1-1 score means that we will need to trek up to the Banks Stadium on Tuesday evening. Cheaper than usual admission and coach travel means that more people should be encouraged to travel, although time constraints at work mean that I won’t be able to attend. The winners will be at home in the third round to Millwall, and from speaking to a few fellow daggers in the subsequent days, a defeat on Tuesday wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. If we were to lose, then at least we would then be able to go to Torquay, instead of having it re-arranged for a Tuesday night.

Saturday 10th December 2011, Dagenham & Redbridge v Port Vale, Victoria Road
As the teams emerge, the chill of the morning hasn’t really left us, but at least the sun is shining. The brass band outside the ground has been providing some Christmas cheer, playing carols as the home support wonder through the car park to the turnstiles, but the only thing that we want for Christmas is a win. Or a draw. Anything but another defeat would be nice. A midweek win in the county cup doesn’t count for much, but it must be getting more important, as it’s still being listed in the first team results.

After the pre-match pleasantries, the game gets underway, and the first chance of the game takes nine minutes to arrive; Gavin Tomlin has the effort, but his volley is over the bar.

The game doesn’t really produce too much , aside from a few half chances, but then just after half way through the half, we score. Brian Woodall, playing last season for Gresley Rovers several divisions below League 2, scores his first league goal for the club, with a left foot shot that takes a slight nick off of a defender. Given the perilous league position we find ourselves in, we’ll take anything at the moment, but the relief is very noticeable. Suddenly, the confidence levels are up, and everyone is ready to give everything they have to secure that all important win.

The deflation felt less than a minute later is just as palpable. Fifty-five seconds is all it takes for Port Vale to fashion an equaliser; it’s an excellent goal from Jennison Myrie-Williams (a left footed curling effort into the top corner, giving Lewington very little chance), but the ease and speed at which we have managed to surrender a hard earned lead almost instantaneously has the team critics back to the fore and they are now the loudest voices heard.

So with the score now at 1-1, the game goes back to being the tight affair it had been before the goals had been scored. Tom Pope hits a dipping volley which is well saved by Lewington, and at the other end, Gavin Tomlin hits a free kick that shows that he could always play in the NFL as a kicker, but there is not much else to write about. The visitors have a few corners but nothing comes from them, and the two sides troop off at the break still level at 1-1.

At half time, there is a small protest from some of the 200 or so Vale fans who have made the trip south. The target of their anger are two members of the Vale board; Perry Deakin and Peter Miller, who it is alleged, were issued shares in the club without actually paying for them. These allegations were made in articles printed in the Sentinel newspaper, and it is reported in these articles that both Deakin and Miller were seeking election to the board before the shares had actually been paid for.

The second half has barely begun, when Brian Woodall goes close with a volley that is well saved by Stuart Tomlinson. From then on, there are a few chances at either end, but mostly its fairly standard stuff, with free kicks coming to nought, and lots of throw ins. Corners aren’t very threatening either, as most of the daggers efforts are either struggling to beat the first defender, or go sailing over every player stationed in the penalty area. The main attacking threat from the home team seems to be the long throw from Exodus Geohaghon, which doesn’t seem to be hampered despite the fact that the perimeter wall is only a couple of yards from the touchline.

Sixty five minutes into the game and the decisive goal arrives. Guy Madjo is allowed to score following a cross from the left hand side of the area, and it is this goal which will eventually be the winner.

Within a minute, Medy Elito replaces Gavin Tomlin, but the life seems to have been sucked out of the crowd, and the team aren’t doing too well either. Lewington is doing his best to keep the game close, with efforts from Pope and Richards meaning that our last line of defence has to pull off more saves. Adam Cunnington replaces goal scorer Brian Woodall, but this just gives a slightly different player to aim at from an Exodus hail-mary throw.

As we move into stoppage time, the crowd is already drifting away, but there is one last chance as we manage to get a corner right at the end of the additional three minutes. Chris Lewington is frantically waving at the bench to get the ok to advance into the Port Vale penalty area, but is told to stay at the half way line. The corner from the left side is over-hit and heads towards the back of the penalty area, and as we attempt to retrieve it, the final whistle is blown. It’s another game and another defeat.

There are only so many ways you can write that it’s another disappointing result, and I think over the last few weeks I’ve probably used most of them. The cold hard facts though are not good. This was the ninth straight league defeat, and our fourteenth in fifteen league games which is relegation form in anyone’s language. Today has finally seen us hit the bottom of the table, thanks to Plymouth’s draw up at Bradford. For weeks, we have been able to stay out of the bottom two, even though our form was dipping; after losing at home to Southend on November 19th, we dropped to 23rd, but today was the day we finally hit rock bottom. Crowds are dropping (today was our lowest in the league this season), and so is confidence. On the way out, there were a couple of supporters voicing their opinion that they were just going to try and enjoy the rest of the season as much as they could, by visiting the grounds that they hadn’t been to so far, before (what they must have considered to be) our inevitable drop back into the Conference. While it’s not certain yet, and there is a long way to go (surely even after our recent run of form, we have to have a bit of hope), you just sometimes feel as you leave the stadium, that the time is running out on our time in the Football League. I hope its not, but it isn’t looking good.

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