Devon knows why we can’t win away

After his exploits in Barcelona it was back to the grind of nPower League Two last night for Brian Parish as Dagenham & Redbridge made the long trip down to Devon.

If a week is reckoned to be a long time in politics, then two and a half weeks supporting a football team can be almost a lifetime. Seventeen days ago, we gained a very creditable 0-0 draw with Millwall in the FA Cup, which stretched our unbeaten run to seven games. Hopes were high then for our home game against Hereford. However, that turned out to be a total non-event, and resulted in a 0-1 defeat.

The replay at Millwall ended in a one-sided scoreline, with us suffering a 0-5 defeat, before another “six-pointer” at Crewe on the weekend.

As Dagenham Dan and I made our way out towards Espanyol v Granada on Saturday, the text messages that came through initially bought us good news as Brian Woodall put us in front. The subsequent messages weren’t so happy making though, as first Crewe equalised, and then in the last twenty minutes, they scored three further goals to win the game by the comfortable margin of 4-1. The second was the turning point, with an Ogogo back pass taking a bobble and eluding the swinging foot of goalkeeper Chris Lewington.

Most of us have seen our teams go through a dodgy patch having seemingly turned the corner, but the last week and a half has not been the best, and it has just felt like the good work put in over the Christmas games has all been undone again.

Injuries have played their part again. Kevin Maher, injured in his first training session with the club, had started to get the midfield going again, but following his injury at Southend just after New Year, we’ve gone backwards again. It’s not just down to the loss of Maher, but having to constantly change the team isn’t good, as the points had been coming when the team had been settled and barely altered.

Tonight sees the team make their third away trip in a week, this time down to the West Country to play Torquay. Two years ago, the original game had to be called off due to a frozen pitch, and those that did make the long journey for the re-arranged fixture were treated to a tepid encounter that ended 0-0. Tonight’s game was rescheduled after we reached the third round of the FA Cup, and although the coach is only about half full, those who are making the trip seem to be enjoying it.

Tuesday 24th January 2012, Torquay United v Dagenham & Redbridge, Plainmoor
The journey down to the south west necessitates a leaving time from the club of 12.45pm, and will end about six hours later. With only twenty nine of us on the coach, the hopes of a decent turn out from the Daggers faithful might not happen. It may actually reflect the hopes of getting a result from this one; we are starting the game in 23rd place, while Torquay are 6th, and coming into this game off the back of an impressive 2-1 win at Morecambe.

There is a bit of confusion on the way down to the game, as there are no seats available for those of our fans who prefer to sit at these games. However, as we approach the ground, the problem is resolved, although those that are going to be sitting down are going to be seated in the home section, will not be allowed to wear colours, and will be at the other end of the ground to those Daggers that will be occupying the away terrace.

Prior to the game, we were given a stat that we tried hard to disprove. It was that we are approaching two years without a goal-less draw in the league. Having checked back, the last one was on March 6th, 2010 up at Bury, which was a mere 78 games ago. A 0-0 would go down quite nicely tonight, but most are not expecting it.

It takes ten minutes for the first chance to arrive, but Montano pulls his shot wide. It’s been a cagey start to the match, but the pre-match pessimism has been replaced by quiet optimism. There are a few extra people that have travelled independently, boosting the attendance on the away terrace to (officially) thirty nine. Within a minute of Montano’s effort, Jon Nurse has a shot saved by the home goalkeeper, Bobby Olejnik. We have forced four corners in the first quarter of an hour, but following the pattern of the season, have done little with them. Spillane’s free kick on the half hour is on target, but is comfortably saved by Olejnik, and at this point, we are doing much better than anticipated.

It takes Torquay just over half an hour to create their first chance, but it’s a close call, as Kevin Nicholson shoots just over from about twelve yards, just to the left of the goal. It serves as a warning that although we have done quite well so far, the home side are in no way out of this game.

The home side will go even closer a couple of minutes later. Danny Stevens shoots into the side netting, which is closer than the Nicholson effort, and fools some of the home fans in the popular side into thinking that they have taken the lead.

Five minutes before half time, and the fans are not fooled this time, as the ball does actually go into the net. A foul on the left hand side of the penalty area (by Ilesanmi on O’Kane) results in a free kick to Torquay, which is quickly taken, and the Daggers defence is not alert to this possibility. The ball eventually ends up at the feet of Lee Mansell, and his shot is lashed past Lewington to give the home team the lead. It’s hard to take, as we have more than matched Torquay up until this point.

The last five minutes consist of Torquay gaining the upper hand in the game, and there is an almighty goal mouth scramble in which they almost make it 2-0, but luckily for us, the ball is hacked away. The priority is clearly to hang on until half time, and get through to it with just the one goal deficit. Any more, and this will be very difficult to come back from. Thankfully the team manage to get through to the interval with no further addition to the scoreline, and it is 1-0 to Torquay at the break.

The peace of half time is shattered by a shrill voice over the public address system, announcing the 50/50 winner, as well as the number of a lucky ticket whose owner will have a chance to win £25 in the crossbar challenge. The first effort would be more trouble to a mole who has just stuck it’s head out of the ground (and this is described as “close”) than the cross bar, although the second effort is close, but still doesn’t hit. It means that the prize rolls over to the next home game (to £50). While this is going on, the ground staff are working on the penalty area that the home team will be defending in the second half., but appear to leave well alone the other end where our keeper will be positioned.

The start of the second half is one way traffic, with the Daggers not managing to get the ball out of their half, and it is starting to look like the worst for us. But as we get to the ten minute mark in the half, we are starting to get back into the game again. The crowd is announced as 2280, with 39 away fans. The home terrace is busy, which could be attributed to the fact that Main Stand has been demolished. In its place is a large wall, behind which we can see the adjoining school. The amount of footballs lost over the wall is impressive, and tonight, we must be approaching two dozen clearing the obviously not high enough wall.

The closest we come to a goal arrives just after an hour has been played. A foul on Bingham by Mansell results in the Daggers gaining a free kick just outside the penalty area, and in perfect free kick territory. Two players emerge as favourites to take it, but the one entrusted with the effort is Spillane; his curling effort looks to be creeping just inside the post, but Olejnik flings himself across the goal to save the attempt and push the ball out for a corner. Spillane’s anguish is replicated by those on the terrace, as we all thought that it was going to creep in. It is an excellent save, and demonstrates perfectly how things can seemingly conspire against you if you are stuck at the wrong end of the table.

The game continues with its ebbs and flows, but the goal keepers aren’t really tested for the remainder of the game. Stevens shoots straight at Lewington with less than ten minutes to go, but while Torquay can’t quite put the game out of reach, we can’t actually get that goal that would get us back into thie one either. With five minutes to go, the Daggers have a free kick near to the home goal, but it is Torquay who actually get the scoring chance from the situation although Stevens is denied again. Three minutes are added on, but there aren’t any further chances, and it ends in a 1-0 home win.

There are a couple of our number who reckon that we are now doomed, and that we might as well give it up now. Although it is looking tough for us at the moment, it can still end in a positive way for us. In our first season up, it was looking grim for us at this stage of the campaign, but we had a great run where we collected enough points that would eventually see us safe. Those that attended Crewe on Saturday assured me that this was a much better display than on Saturday, but we need to start finding the goal. If we can’t do that then we are finished.

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