A muffled Lions roar

Brian Parish heads off to the early kick off in the FA Cup as Millwall come to East London accompanied by a huge police presence.

The last few weeks have been good for the Daggers. Back to back wins at home between Christmas and the New Year over Barnet and Gillingham moved us up to the heady heights of 20th in the division. On the Bank Holiday Monday, our fourth game of a hectic schedule saw us visit Roots Hall, and a game against Southend United. I had chosen some time back to give this one a miss, and instead attend West Ham. The text message from Dagenham Dan at the end of the game to say that we had drawn 1-1 put a spring in the step (although we dropped back down to 22nd), which was especially needed after watching the Hammers laboured win over Coventry.

The good run of form continued on Tuesday night, in an Essex Senior Cup tie at Brightlingsea Regent. A side containing a few first team players won 1-0 to secure a place in the semi finals for the second time in three years. While the county cup may not figure high on the priority list, it was good to see players like Mark Arber making his return from injury (and scoring the only goal), as well as Rob Edmans. Edmans was a summer signing from Chelmsford City, but is actually yet to play a first team game due to a broken leg which was sustained before he signed for us. It was most definitely a risk, but one that hopefully will pay off for us in the future.

All this good form leads us to today, and the third round of the FA Cup. For many, this is when the competition starts, as all the clubs currently playing in the top two divisions enter the tournament. However, away from the privileged of the premier league, we all know that it actually starts in August, although none of the teams that started back in the summer survive in the competition.

Our record in the FA Cup over the last couple of years in mixed to say the least. As a conference club, we reached the third round three years in a row, which actually culminated in a appearance in the fourth round in 2003. A last minute goal by Zema Abbey at Carrow Road for Norwich put them into the fifth round at our expense, although it had been a heroic performance in front of around three thousand travelling fans. Since promotion in 2007 though, we’ve only made it this far once, and that was in the first season up. A trip to Southend ended with a 5-2 defeat, and our goalkeeper Tony Roberts achieving what must have been an FA Cup first; the first keeper to score in the competition (in 2001), and then to be sent off in the opposition penalty area. Since then, our record has not been great.

Although we have made through to round three, our only win came after extra time at Bath City in the first round replay. The two games against Walsall in the last round ended in draws, and if you want a stat here, then it is that our last win in 90 minutes in any FA Cup tie (be it the original game or replay) came on Tuesday 18th November, 2008 against Hereford. Since then, we have played eight, and the only win was that game at Bath.

At least Millwall have an appearance in the final to their name. Playing in Cardiff in 2004, they were beaten 0-3 by Manchester United, and at the present time, are the last but one team from outside the top division to have made it to the final. There is time for just one more interesting fact though, and it is this. We both won promotion on the same weekend back in 2010 at Wembley. On the Saturday, Millwall beat Swindon in the League One play off final, and then twenty four hours later, we defeated Rotherham in the League Two. I promise that’s the stats over for now.

Saturday 7th January 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Millwall, Victoria Road
Ever since the draw was made, there has been a little bit of unease about this one. Having survived when I made the stupid decision to attend West Ham v Millwall back in August 2009, this game has all the hallmarks of being trouble. With West Ham playing tomorrow, and this being firmly West Ham territory, the police presence for this is massive, and certainly the most I have ever seen for a home game. Early indications are that the game isn’t sold out, but that won’t mean anything. Victoria Road is not the fortress that some stadiums are, and it could be a long day for the staff at the ground.

Although we all live only a few minutes from Victoria Road, Dagenham Dan, Graham and I make the decision to be at the ground early, so that we avoid any potential problems. For a normal Saturday home game, we would arrive at the club house around mid-day, but today is a 1pm kick-off, and so we have got to the ground at just after 10 in the morning. Arriving at the ground, there are already quite a few police milling around outside the stadium, and we’ve already had to present our tickets to stewards in Victoria Road, just to gain access to the car park that surrounds the ground.

We are allowed into the club house on presentation of our season tickets, and as kick off draws closer, the bar becomes busier. By the time we enter the ground with more than hour to go, the bar is busy, but the ground is relatively empty. This will obviously change, but for the moment, it is the calm before the predicted storm.

For the Daggers, there are a couple of enforced changes from the previous game at Southend. For a start, Kevin Maher is out injured, and Cristian Montano is ineligible as he is on loan from West Ham. There is good news though in the form of Mickey Spillane, who has now joined on a permanent contract from Brentford. Along with Scott Doe, Spillane has been instrumental in our recent good run of form.

There are also a couple of new loan signings, and both will be making their debuts today. Both coming from West Ham, Ahmed Abdulla and Eion Wearen both start in the team, which has a very youthful look about it. The majority of the side is in its early twenties, and will have to perform well against a higher placed opposition.

The first burst of “I’m forever blowing bubbles” is heard before the kick-off, although why there are people singing it here is beyond me. It has often been a topic of conversation on the daggers forums about people turning up to our games wearing West Ham shirts, even if we are playing Hereford or Macclesfield. Most try to drown it out, but it is definitely there in the background, and it’s not good to hear. As if to counter the threat, as the teams emerge on to the pitch, two lines of police move in, and those wearing the blue caps make their way straight to the neutral zone, that separates the standing Daggers fans, to the “seated” Millwall fans. These don’t look like U.N. peace keepers, but they immediately position themselves in such a way that no one is going to get through.

The first half isn’t bad, but there are few chances for either side. Abdullah fouls the Gareth Bale look-a-like John Marquis early on, but his free kick is weak and comfortably held by Lewington. The first daggers effort takes just over a quarter of an hour to arrive, but a 30 yard effort by Ilesanmi is over the bar.

Neither keeper is required to make a difficult save in the first half. There is a close moment mid way through, but Liam Feeney (booed almost constantly during the game by the same bubbles singing “fans”) shoots wide. There is a reassuring thud as the ball hits the advertising board behind the goal, that we are still level, although it could and possibly should have been on target.

Both Abdulla and Wearen have settled after a nervous start, and the side as a whole have taken their time to get into the game, but they have come into it more. Millwall have that little bit of extra quality, as you would expect from a team two divisions higher, and you can see this by the fact that they are slightly quicker to close us down when they have lost the ball. However, as the teams leave the pitch, the score is 0-0, and the home side are given a standing ovation as they depart.

The game resumes, but while there is no real pattern to the game, it is an interesting one to watch. The first thing that happens involves the visiting keeper, Steve Mildenhall, who slices a back-pass in the air, and Brian Woodall is on hand to nick the ball. However, no one is able to get into the penalty area, so when his cross (or was it a shot) goes over, there is no one on hand to tap it home, and it trickles out harmlessly on the other side for a goal kick. Marquis has a chance almost straight after, but his shot finds the side netting, and then Kane has a header saved.

The play is now becoming stretched, and is getting better as a game, but still neither side look like they have the ability to actually score. The Daggers have another good chance mid-way through the half; a foul on Woodall results in a free kick taken by Dominic Green. His delivery to the back post is headed by Nurse, but as the substitute Jake Reed challenges Mildenhall, the referee blows his whistle for a foul, and play is stopped.

For Millwall, Liam Trotter is having a good game in the centre of their midfield. Similar in build to Tom Huddlestone, he is proving to be a right handful for the home midfield. He is perhaps the outstanding midfield player for the visitors, but is almost matched by Billy Bingham for the Daggers, who manages to create time and space in a congested area of the pitch for his passes on a frequent basis.

With a quarter of an hour left, the home side are starting to get on top, and have a few chances in this time. First a left foot volley by Jon Nurse loops over the keeper and onto the top of the net, before a Jake Reed shot is blocked by the impressive Millwall centre back, Darren Ward. Ward and Paul Robinson have been excellent today, and both have been instrumental in keeping the Daggers at bay, meaning that Mildenhall hasn’t had to make a meaningful save.

Four minutes are added on, but already Dagenham Dan is getting excited about the replay at Millwall. There is a last chance in stoppage time, but by the time the ball gets to Dominc Green, the play has slowed enough to allow enough defenders to get back. Green’s shot is wide, and that is the last effort of what has been a good cup tie.

As they approach the tunnel underneath the away fans, Millwall are booed from the pitch. Given they are two divisions above us they would have (rightly) expected to win. However, the fact that neither goalkeeper was forced into a decent save means that both teams will have to try again in about ten days time. For us, this was an excellent display. Dan’s betting slip had us to win 3-1, which was maybe being a bit optimistic, but it could have happened. We were missing Montano up front today, and his partnership with Woodall in recent weeks has blossomed, to the extent that we have picked up in our league games. Results in the league have pushed us back into the bottom two of League 2, but it shouldn’t be allowed to dampen our day. For ninety minutes, we more than matched a team from two divisions above us, and should be proud of the players efforts over the course of the game today.

Aside from one ejection from the ground, it all seemed to pass off peacefully in the stadium, although what happened outside, I can’t say. The police helicopter was up and hovering overhead as the game moved into stoppage time and it stayed around for quite a while after the game had finished. Within ten minutes though, we were all back in the bar (although not before I had got my photo taken with two other supporters called Brian Parish) and reflecting on a decent Daggers performance. It may all be different when we go to the New Den, but for now, we’re in the fourth round draw, and dreaming of what might be.

1 Comment

  1. I was in the away end yesterday and it’s very interesting to read your appraisal of some of the Millwall players. Particularly Liam Trotter, who was the subject of much of the criticism at the end of the game. From a narrow perspective, it was a disappointing game, for the lack of forward momentum on Millwall’s part. But the Daggers gave a very good account of themselves and I’d expect them to pull clear of trouble in League 2 if they can keep up that level of performance.

    As for the day out, the police presence made for a tense visit. The staff in the bar and everywhere else in the ground were very friendly, though, and like to go back for a League game if I get the chance.

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