Seven days ago, I think it is fair to say that many Daggers fans had written off their chances of staying in the Football League. If they were to give ourselves a chance, then a win last Saturday against Macclesfield was imperative. And lo and behold they did. So with a midweek trip to Barnet to look forward to Brian Parish and Dagenham Dan hot-footed it up the Northern Line.
So while Dagenham Dan and I were taking in a weekend of Spanish football in Madrid, we were praying from afar that we might be able to get a positive result that would give us a bit of hope. As football fans, we are all liable to be a bit on the fickle side now and again; last weeks hero is this weeks donkey and all that. But a 2-0 win on Saturday, secured thanks to two Medy Elito goals means that, until tonight’s conclusion at least, we might just have our Dagenham back.
Victory though, came at a cost, with Luke Howell (only just back from a six month lay off) succumbing to another injury; despite initial messages to Spain saying that he had been carried off, it now sounds like that he might not be missing for that long. This is most definitely good news, as Howell had been sorely missed in the middle of the park, and although we were beaten by Northampton, he had looked as good as ever, and been a steadying influence.
With another two loan signings made prior to Saturday’s game, (both are from Crawley, with John Akinde returning to the club after a year, and Charlie Wassmer coming in), not only are we going for the title of most corners won in League 2, but quite possibly the most loan signings made in a single season. It’s a good job that numbers are not allocated to only one player throughout the season, because otherwise we could be pushing the high forties by now.
There are a few links between the clubs. For a start, John Still was manager for a while here, although his time is not remembered too fondly judging by previous visits to Underhill. He was the manager here before Tony Cottee’s ill-starred foray into management, and although he returned to try and keep the club up, the club eventually went back down. Another link is Mark Arber, and if anything he is even less liked in these parts, having left the club when they were relegated back to the conference.
Going the other way, Anwar Uddin was a recent Dagger to move to Barnet. Anwar was our captain when we won the conference in 2007, was our first captain in the football league, and his last act in a Daggers shirt was to lift the league 2 play off trophy with Mark Arber at Wembley in may 2010.
Wednesday 20th March 2012, Barnet v Dagenham & Redbridge, Underhill
The travel to a midweek fixture at Barnet is always a joy to behold, particularly on the Northern Line. Lots of people crowded into not quite enough space, and then for more than enough time as well.
As we get close to the end of the line, the stadium becomes visible, and the floodlights show a low lying mist over the ground. There aren’t that many people milling around, and after entering the ground, it becomes apparent that the stadium will not be full.
Prior to the game, there is a moment’s applause for Fabrice Muamba, and the presentation of a special shirt as well. The applause rings out for a short while, and then just as the Barnet official leaves the pitch with the shirt, we are off.
Within a couple of minutes of the start, the Daggers are lucky to be still level. A corner from the left is flicked towards the back post, where Damien McCrory is positioned to head the ball of the line. The action then switches to the other end, where Dean Brill in the Barnet goal has a less than Brill moment (sorry, couldn’t resist), dropping the ball from a routine cross from the right. The ball is cleared, but it is clear that both defences are not exactly covering themselves in glory.
A glance around the ground during the early stages of the game reveals a crowd that might struggle to reach the two thousand mark (it is later confirmed as 1725), which is a real pity given that it is a local derby, with much needed points at stake for both sides. Early comments from the home support though give a possible explanation for the apparent apathy, and with the home side in 20th at the start of play, their early optimism soon turns to frustration at being able to do the simple things right.
Barnet’s top scorer is Izale McLeod, and is joined in the home side’s attack by Ben May, and they are both looking good early on. McLeod is proving to be dangerous, although in one attack he manages to draw two defenders towards him, but then manages to beat himself and ends up knocking the ball over the end line all on his own. However, it appears that his pace could be a problem.
The first goal arrives just after the half way point. Medy Elito is seemingly hemmed in near to the left corner flag, but somehow gets out of the tight spot he found himself in, and puts over a decent cross, which is met by Mickey Spillane, whose header eludes Brill to give the Daggers the lead. This produces much celebration in the away section, as these things normally do. Within a couple of minutes the lead should be increased but somehow the Daggers contrive to hit the woodwork three times in about three seconds, The first header hits both the bar and post, and then Akinde’s follow up is tipped onto the bar by Brill, and the home team have escaped.
As has often been the case this season, this is a costly moment, as within sixty seconds, Barnet are level. McLeod is played through and his deft lob over Lewington into an unguarded net is met by equal levels of happiness by the home fans. The away section now goes a bit quiet. Barnet enjoy a period of superiority after the goal, but despite an additional two minutes, neither side can add to their tally, and at the interval, it’s 1-1. All the excitement has proved too much for one Daggers fan, who is ejected from the ground; having gone through last season without an arrest, this (coupled with the Bradford game a few weeks ago), is destroying our decent record with the police.
The second half gets underway, and although the mist has disappeared, it is getting cold. The early stages aren’t much to get excited about, although Barnet do have a couple of shots at goal which are comfortably saved. There are a few Barnet fans though, that are getting some strange looks from those around me. For a start, one asks the assistant referee on our side of the pitch “whose side are you on lino?” I though all officials are meant to be neutral, despite what we all may think of them? And then we have the future England managers.
Not the two daggers fans who applied to replace Fabio Capello, but two Barnet fans, whose constant blinkered watching of the game would have been absolutely hilarious, if it wasn’t for the fact that we can all do exactly the same thing some times. If Barnet were attacking, then it was clearly onside (even if it wasn’t), and the opposite for the Daggers. Then we were treated to their tactical genius, about which player they would substitute and why, which was a pleasure to hear. It’s a shame, but we all do it, even if we don’t like to admit it. We can all get blinkered in support of our team, and it’s a bit of an eye-opener when you actually go to another ground, and hear it. There have been times this season when, if I had been in their position, I would probably have been doing the same thing.
Ricky Holmes is proving to be a problem down the Barnet left, but his end product is fairly inconsistent, and Ben May, having had a really good first half, has disappeared a bit. With eighteen minutes to go, the Daggers are back in front, and this time, Scott Doe is the scorer. A corner from the left, taken by Damien McCrory is met by Doe at the near post, whose flicked header nestles in the far corner stanction of the goal, Trevor Brooking style. There is a moment of hesitation before the noise from the away end, but this could be a crucial goal in our season.
Like in the first half though, it doesn’t take Barnet long to equalize, when Ben May scores from miles out, having spotted Chris Lewington out of position. His lob at goal is placed well enough to elude the scrambling goal keeper; it’s a good strike, and owes just as much to his ability to spot the errant goalkeeper, as it does to Lewington’s momentary lapse of concentration.
Both teams try to win the game, but there is a distinct lack of composure when it is needed. Both teams look capable of producing that one slip that might let the opposition in, but neither can capitalize, and it is only when the final whistle is blown that everyone can relax. A draw is probably a fair result, but while both might be reasonably pleased with the outcome, neither will feel completely happy with it.
Making my way back to the tube station, I ponder a couple of things. Firstly, how long it is going to take me to get back home, but secondly, if this is two points dropped, rather than one won. Leading twice in a game and only claiming a point is not great, but approaching the stadium prior to the game, most would have gladly taken a point. Both teams face testing times before the end of the season, and while we finish the night still in last place, there is now only one point separating the bottom four teams. Not only that, but five points cover the bottom seven clubs. This is not over by a long way just yet.