After a weekend in Spain, Brian Parish returned to his favourite spot at Victoria Road for the clash with Rotherham United.
Just when we thought that we may be turning a corner and hoped that we would start to get ourselves out of the mess that we found ourselves in just before Christmas, the last few games have shown that that it is going to be a long, fraught and testing time until the end of the season. Since the draw at Southend United on January 2nd, we’ve lost league games to Hereford, Crewe, and then on Tuesday night, down at Torquay. Although the overall display at Torquay had not been too bad, even that didn’t bring much comfort to those of us who had made the long trip to the south west, and it was even less helpful when we got back to Victoria Road at 3 in the morning.
There has been some debate in the last few weeks as to whether our troubles started on the very day that we beat today’s opponents in the League Two play off final, which although it now seems like a lifetime ago, was in fact only May 2010. Although we had a year in the heady heights of League One, it alerted other clubs to the ability of our players. We could see that people like Danny Green, Romain Vincelot and Paul Benson could play at a higher level, so while it was great that they hung around at the club so long, it was that day at Wembley that probably meant that the vultures would come circling, which is what they duly did. No one begrudges the opportunity for these players to move on, as it is a scenario that we readily accept when supporting a club like this. However, there are two possibilities; firstly, a win means that players are more noticeable if we are playing in a higher division, and that means that, as a smaller fish in a bigger pond, that we could find ourselves losing key personnel. The second option is that, if we had failed to win that day, perhaps they would still have gone, and then we would have been having the type of season that we are presently having, twelve months ago.
What it all boils down to is a simple question. Would we swap that glorious day out at Wembley and a year in League One, for the stability and playing in League Two, plodding along in mid-table for five years? I reckon most would opt for the day at Wembley, and to hell with what happens next. You can talk about that day out for years; a midweek game at wherever is unlikely to still be recalled twenty years down the line, whereas when Nursey scored the winner at Wembley, everyone who was there will knowingly smile and go all misty eyed at the memory.
Our record against Rotherham is, to be brutally honest, terrible. In seven previous league meetings, we’ve managed two draws, and five defeats. We have played against Rotherham at four different venues in the league and play offs, and that win at Wembley is our only victory. Our visitors arrive in a mid-table position, but they are just five points off of a play off place, which would give them a chance to return to Wembley. On the flip side, we need the points for our attempt to stay in the division. While we have suffered three straight league defeats, Rotherham have lost three out of their last four, so this could be a close run thing between two sides that have not got great recent form.
Saturday 28th January 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Rotherham United, Victoria Road
With the game between Liverpool and Manchester United on every screen you could find in the clubhouse, only those who had an affiliation to either of those clubs stayed inside as we filed into the ground around 2pm. The chance to be first in the queue for food is a big pulling point to get inside relatively early, and besides, with everyone staring intently into their phones, we would find out who won soon enough.
The cold snap that had been predicted hadn’t quite made it as far as Dagenham, although by half time, the atmosphere was decidedly chilly enough without it. There had been one change from the team that had started at Torquay on Tuesday, with Brian Woodall returning in place of Adam Cunnington, who went back to bench warming duties. Dropping out completely were Eion Wearen and Jake Reed, which also meant a return for Josh Scott. However, the first half had been poor. Very poor in fact, with a couple of Billy Bingham efforts going wide of the visiting goalkeepers left post being our nearest attempts at goal. At the other end though, it had not gone so well for us.
Within ten minutes of the start, Mark Arber had been caught out, and appeared to try and haul down Lewis Grabban as he went through on goal. Luckily for us, he escaped his clutches and got his shot away, which was saved by Lewington at the expense of a corner.
By the time the half hour had come around, we are already 1 down. The Daggers defence has failed to deal convincingly with a ball into the area, and it falls to Danny Harrison, who returns it with a dipping volley over Lewington. It is an excellent strike, but there is already a resigned air about the home support, which manifests itself in a rush to start forming a queue at the tea bar, hoping to beat the half time stampede. As the half time whistle goes, I make one more note on my piece of paper, but am asked how many I have made for the game so far, and it’s not many.
If the first half had been poor, then the second made you wonder if they had replaced all twenty two players, as the game turned totally on its head.
The first Daggers change is made at the resumption of the game, as Josh Scott (soon to be achieving prodigal son status) is bought on in place of loanee Ahmed Abdulla. Opinion is split over Abdulla, with many seeing him as lightweight in the centre of midfield, while others just don’t rate him at all. Personally, there are glimpses of why he is at West Ham, but it is arguable that this isn’t quite the style of team for him to be playing in. The introduction of Scott means an alteration in formation as well, with now three players up front in a 4-3-3 formation. Clearly, despite the evidence of the first half, our management feel that they can get something from the game.
It takes just five minutes for that feeling to be justified. A free kick from Mickey Spillane is heading towards the back post, where it seems that all have stopped to watch the ball float harmlessly out of play. All except Jon Nurse that is; the hero of Wembley arrives at the back post to head the ball into the far corner of the net. It takes a second to register that we have scored, before everyone starts to celebrate. All the gloom and doom that had been around at the half time interval has disappeared, and the singing has started again.
For the next few minutes it is the home team in the ascendancy, with Scott going close with a header, and it is just after the hour that we take the lead. As the attendance is announced as 1744, Abu Ogogo (who scored an o.g. at Crewe last week on his 100th appearance for the club) lines up a shot from outside the box. Ogogo had started the game at right back, but he has now switched to central midfield, and Spillane has gone into the defence, allowing our former Arsenal right back the chance to get forward more; the shot is deflected by Mark Bradley, and with Rhys Taylor in the Rotherham goal already starting to move to save the ball on its original trajectory, can do nothing about this sudden alteration, and is stranded as the ball nestles in the netting. Again there is a delay before the celebrations begin, but begin they do, and we are now leading a game that we looked out of just twenty minutes earlier.
At Wembley, we took the lead, only to lose it within a minute. When we went 2-1 up, it took Rotherham five minutes to level it up again. Today, it takes them about ninety seconds to score their second goal. A cross from the left wing by former Dagger Scott Griffiths is headed home by Alex Revell, unmarked in the middle as he takes his chance, the mood has unsurprisingly changed all over again, and now we are hoping that we can just hold on for a point.
But, like that day at Wembley, we get back in front again, and stay there. With thirteen minutes left on the clock, a right wing corner is played into the near post, and Scott Doe is there is score with a header. If you are thinking of making some online bets and are unsure which bookmakers to use to make these bets, then why not come to coral betting and check out their odds! You would have certainly made a fair bit on Scott to score that one.
To say the rest of the game is nervy would be an understatement of massive proportions. Firstly, there are a couple of near misses from Rotherham that have us all convinced that they were actually going in and just about to blow it all again. Then, there is a flurry of activity from the referee’s notebook. Michael Raynes has already been booked for a foul on Josh Scott, when with a couple of minutes to go, he and Spillane have an altercation in the penalty area, as we prepare to defend a free kick. Personally, I have no idea what has happened, but the ref has obviously seen something, as he cautions both players again, meaning that Raynes has to go. Several United players surround the official, but the home fans are just singing cheerio to the departing visitor. The free kick is defended and repelled, although as the fourth official holds aloft the board showing four minutes of stoppage time, there is more that a bit of surprise, as none of us can recall a physio being called into action, just four goals and the regular substitutions.
The four minutes elapse and another Rotherham foray into our area has just been successfully defended when the whistle goes. The relief is tangible, and it is to the team’s credit that, having been one down at the interval, we have been able to come back and win against a decent side. There is time for an appreciative round of applause for Scott Griffiths before the team commence their warm down lap of the pitch, with the fans singing ringing in their ears. A good day has been made better with the news that we have moved back up to 22nd in the table, just one place outside the relegation places. However, it doesn’t get any easier; next weekend, we have a long trip northwards to Morecambe, when we get to visit their new stadium for the first time. Before that though, we should enjoy this victory, as they haven’t come along that often this season.