Saturday’s horrific home defeat to Cheltenham was a mortal blow for Dagenham & Redbridge as well as their fans. However, like falling off a bike it is best to get straight back on it, and so our very own Brian Parish focused on the distraction of an Essex Senior Cup game against a team three levels below the Daggers. Surely nothing could go wrong? Could it?
Whilst Saturday will take some time to get over, thankfully, we have another game to play almost straight away. That though is not to lessen the challenge we face tonight. While Canvey Island may be a few divisions below us, we know precisely how difficult it can be to get a result here, having visited on more than one occasion in the conference, and prior to that, in the Isthmian League.
Although it is just the Essex Senior Cup, this is a chance for some who have experienced the non-league days, to re-visit those memorable days gone by. A chance to go to places that we have yet to visit, or even just the chance to “change ends” at half time is generally a good enough reason to turn up for these games. Plus in a season that is going from bad to worse, we’ll take anything that is going our way. And as it’s been ten years since we actually won the county cup, if we can get to the final, we’ll certainly take it.
For the first few years of the twenty-first century, Canvey Island and Grays Athletic were leading the way from Essex, and both looked set fair for a long stay in the top flight of non-league football. Grays even went as far as to reach the conference play offs, but ultimately, both clubs fell from the conference. Grays were relegated a couple of years ago, sold off their ground, and are currently ground sharing with East Thurrock United.
For Canvey, the drop came about not because of performances on the pitch (they were mid-table in their last season in the conference, in 2005-06), but because the club were reliant on one person paying the bills. When they decided to withdraw the funding (and Canvey were getting only 300 for home games at times), the club felt that they had no option, but to resign their position in the conference. They re-emerged in the Isthmian League, where they have remained, but at least unlike Grays, they have retained their own stadium.
Park Lane can be a decent place to visit on a summer’s day. Indeed our last league visit, in August 2005 was a baking hot day, made even worse by the stupid decision to wear jeans. We won though, which helped, and the convoy off the island back to the mainland of daggers fans is a happy memory.
A couple of months later, we were back and this time, for tie in this very competition. A much changed Daggers team were beaten 4-1, although we did see Paul Benson score his second goal (of three that season) in a daggers shirt. Canvey always seem to have taken this competition very seriously, even when they were doing well in the conference, which is something that we haven’t done, as this has in the past, been the preserve of youngsters and reserves. However, after Saturday’s drubbing, perhaps we might see a few more first team players on view.
Tuesday 21st February – Canvey Island v Dagenham & Redbridge – Park Lane
If you stand on the home terrace, you can see the ships passing the ground in the Thames Estuary. At times, this can seem better than the game, and in that last visit, we probably paid more attention to what was going on in the waterway, than what was happening on the pitch.
Tonight’s game has to produce a result, as there are no replays in the Essex Senior Cup. A few of us reckon that there should be no extra time either, but I can’t see that happening. Canvey are the highest ranked opposition that we have faced in the competition this season, but down the road, Concord Rangers are also through to the semi finals, so it could be an island derby to win the trophy.
A quick look at the daggers team warming up reveals how seriously we are taking this. Of our starting eleven, almost all have played in the first team at some point this season. The exceptions are Luke Wilkinson and Connor Okus, so it is a line up that, while much changed from what we would expect to start in a league game, has more than enough experience.
It’s a fresh night down on the island, and as we approach the ground, we spot a chip shop. Not sure what the food inside the ground will be like, we make a mental note of the route from there to the ground. However, when we arrive, we all decide that it’s too far to walk back, and although we would probably have enough time for a walk there and back, we all elect to go straight in. As it turns out, we have probably made the right decision.
For the first half, we are probably the better side, with Jake Reed and Rob Edmans both having good chances in the half to give us the lead. However, they are either pulled wide, over or the Canvey goalkeeper James Russell is in the right place at the right time to make a save. At the other end, Dave Hogan is captaining the Daggers (as he has done throughout this competition), and he hasn’t been troubled too often. Canvey lose Steve Ward (a.k.a. the Ginger Sex God) during the half, and this results in a shuffle around of the back four, but despite the good chances that we have created, it is still 0-0 at the break.
At half time, we wonder down to the other end of the ground, and sit down in the seats closest to the Estuary. There is a brief chat with some of the backroom staff about our upcoming games at Plymouth and Morecambe, but it’s interrupted by the re-emergence of the players, and once the tunnel area is cleared, we move on to our new location.
The second half continues in much the same vein as the first, with the home team launching the occasion attack, but the Daggers looking the better side. There are more near misses for the visitors, but the best chance comes as we go into stoppage time. Adam Cunnington had replaced Jake Reed twenty minutes into the second half, and for a while, we probably had to the tallest front line that I can recall in Daggers shirts. Having managed to work himself into a decent position to shoot, Cunnington draws back his foot, takes the shot, and lifts it just over the bar. It would have been great to have nicked it then, but then again, it may well have only been an equalizer, had Canvey taken a chance a few minutes earlier. Hogan had rushed from his goal and not cleared the ball properly; having crossed it into the middle, a shot from someone in yellow (we were at the other end of the pitch and couldn’t read the numbers properly), was blocked after it looked as though it was on target. With no further chances in the last three minutes, we went straight to penalties.
This was our third shoot-out this season, having won at Leyton Orient and Walsall, and also the third different goalkeeper we had used in them. Having taken a 1-0 advantage after the first round, we eventually ended up at 4-4 after the regulation five each. The next two were scored, before Wilkinson’s penalty was well saved by Russell. The winning kick was greeted by some big celebrations in the home support, while we were allowed to slope away, having come up short yet again in this competition.
It’s hard to stay positive. I know all the arguments about this cup; it doesn’t matter, it’s only the reserves that normally play, it means more to the teams lower down than it does to us. But that misses the point. Any glimmer of hope would be most welcome at the moment. After Saturday’s debacle, a win here would have at least cheered me up a bit. But having witnessed another defeat (albeit on penalties), I feel even worse about losing this one that I did on Saturday. We can now (brace for a cliché) concentrate on the league, but at least making the final would have given us something to look forward to, however insignificant it may seem to some. We have sixteen games left (and with another cliché coming up), they are all going to be like cup finals. The problem is, is sixteen games enough to save our season?