Christmas is generally regarded as a time when miracles happen. For a team that has lost nine league games in a row, a miracle would probably be a game where they managed to avoid defeat. Despite this run of “form”, one thread on the main Daggers forum this week seemed to suggest that the majority of the posters want the manager to stay in charge. There are those however, that don’t want the miracles that have happened in the recent past, to be tainted by consecutive relegations.
During the week, we had the small matter of a replay in the FA Cup up at Walsall. General opinion from those who attended was that the game wasn’t the best, but after two hours of goal-less football, the game was settled by a penalty shoot-out. For the second time this season, we won a penalty competition, this time by 3-2. If only we could play each game with a shoot out at the end; we would be champions by now…
Today though, we have another league game, and it’s a trip up the M1 and A54 to Burton-on-Trent. After managing to lose a game where we had led (albeit for less than a minute) last weekend against Port Vale, today’s trip to Burton Albion is being well attended; ok, as well attended as a game the week before Christmas can be. The coach is about three quarters full, which is good going given that we now have eight days left to the festive period.
Our record at Burton’s Pirelli Stadium isn’t actually that bad. Our one visit in the football league in early 2010 ended in us winning 1-0, and before that, we won our last Conference visit, and drew the year before that. We even won our last two visits to their previous home ground, Eton Park. I know that our past record away to Burton counts for nothing (they are currently fifth in the division, seven points off of automatic promotion), but with our recent run of results, you have to clutch at any straws that you have.
Saturday 17th December 2011, Burton Albion v Dagenham & Redbridge, Pirelli Stadium
Leaving Victoria Road in the frost at 10.15am, we arrive at Burton just over three hours later with it still cold, but now cloudy with the hint of rain or even snow in the air. It has certainly affected the choice of clothing for some of our fans; even Graham, who normally only has a couple of layers on for most of the winter months, has got his coat and hat. If that happens, then it must be cold.
The weather changed several times in the last couple of miles before reaching the ground, with a couple of snow flurries as well. Thankfully as we pulled up at the stadium (having deposited a few of the coach trippers at the local pub), it cleared, although it was still cold. Pre-match entertainment consisted of a couple of singers, and the two home mascots trying various things to put the younger of the two off.
As the teams emerge, the heavens open again; after a soggy handshake, the teams break and get ready for the match. There is a former Dagger in the home line up, in the form of captain, John McGrath. Part of our team that lost the Conference play off final in 2003, McGrath looked a very good player, and so it is no surprise that he has forged a very good career with a good club.
The first chance of the game falls to Kevin Maher after seven minutes. Positioned on the edge of the area, the ball falls nicely to him, but he leans back, and manages to hit the roof of the stand behind the goal. Burton look dangerous on the break, and are trying to get the ball wide and every opportunity. Their best early chance falls to Justin Richards, following a Daggers corner, but after an impressive run from just inside his own half, his shot is weak and straight at Lewington in the Daggers goal.
The Daggers are looking very good, and causing more problems for Atkins in the Burton goal than Lewington; Ogogo has another good effort which just curls wide, while Calvin Zola just fails to reach a right wing cross. The surface doesn’t help as the ball just skips away from the home forward, and in general, the ball is escaping several of the players in the game.
On twenty six minutes, there is a goal. A foul on Peter Gain about twenty eight yards from goal (and almost right in front of the goal as well), means that several of the visitors gather around the ball, wanting a piece of the action. The effort though is left to Spillane; he steps up and curls his right footed effort into the top corner of the goal, to send the cold Daggers support at the other end of the ground into raptures.
Within a minute the crowd are starting to get on their teams backs, as clearly this wasn’t in the script, and they are groaning as a pass is misplaced. A few minutes after the goal, there is a chance from Josh Scott, but his volley is saved by Atkins. As the half rumbles to a close, both managers are barking instructions to their team, but Peschisolido is certainly the more animated, resplendent as he is in his suit. Both teams win corners as the half finished, but neither team is causing too many problems with them. The half time brings a brief respite from the cold, although that’s only if you are able to get from your position in the ground. Several head towards the bar again, this time for a hot chocolate rather than for a beer.
Within the first couple of minutes, two players slide for the ball near to the corner flag, which results in the flag being uprooted from its position. The referee wonders over to tell all involved that it has to be replaced before the game can continue, but he doesn’t actually replace it himself. Instead, a white coated steward has to do it. Obviously he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty.
The first chance of the half comes about after a run by Josh Scott, where his final shot is saved at the expense of a corner by Ross Atkins. Peschisolido must now be getting cold, as he has put a coat on now, but he still seems to be as lively as ever. He has a reason to be lively a few minutes later. From a left wing corner Calvin Zola escapes his marker and has a free header at goal. The attempt seems to evade more than one player in the six yard box and goes into the net. The home fans are now energised, and are now behind their team again.
Then we have a few minutes where everything seems to go haywire. First, Spillane has another free kick at goal, which is just wide of the goalkeeper’s left hand post. On the hour, it all goes off. Given the slippery conditions, any challenge where a player slides in is inviting trouble, but Abu Ogogo’s challenge on Aaron Webster provokes a brawl involving every outfield player, and after much pushing and shoving (and apparently a couple of punches as well), Ogogo is given a straight red card. This isn’t the end of it though, as Abu has to be restrained by two of our back room staff. There is another dismissal when Wayne Burnett, one of our coaching staff who has hurtled down the touchline to try and stop the punch up, is also asked to leave the dug out. Then Nathan Stanton is yellow carded, and the whole process, from challenge to the resultant free kick takes a good four minutes.
Now it’s backs to the wall. Or so we think. Despite the obvious one player advantage that Burton now has, they still aren’t able to make it count. Christian Montano is yellow carded for dissent, having been moaning at the assistant referee and fourth official for the previous ten minutes, and later in the game will be lucky to get away without any further sanction, for throwing the ball away from a home team free kick.
Burton go close as the game starts to draw to a close; Zola is denied by Doe at the far post, but the home crowd are growing restless again. As seven minutes of stoppage time are announced, there is the usual resurgence of hope for a result, but they still don’t have the conviction that it will come, and it is actually the Daggers that have arguably the best chance to win the game. A break by Ilesanmi results in him beating a couple of players as he makes his way through the centre of the pitch towards the Burton goal. If he looks up and plays the ball to the right, then Jon Nurse is away and has a chance to win the game. Unfortunately, he doesn’t and the chance is lost. At the final whistle, it is a very hard earned, but probably well deserved point that the Daggers will take back to Essex.
Following on from the game up at Walsall in midweek, this is another good performance, which has resulted in a much needed point. At times today, we actually played quite well, and while Burton will probably argue about them having an off day (as well as a complaint about the referee), for us this was much, much better, and is more like the team that we all know we have. If Montano can control his chatter to the officials then he can become a good player, and there are times when our discipline can let us down. Given the position that we are in, keeping players on the park is all important, but today showed that we can compete with the best that the division has to offer. It is a much happier coach home than most I have been on after away games this season, and the hope is that we can follow this up with another good performance on Boxing Day against Barnet. Today though, we will settle for the point and the end of the long losing run.