Bottom of the league, you are having a laugh!

A week is a long time in football, two weeks a lifetime.  But we know that form is only temporary and anything can happen on any given Saturday.  Could Dagenham and Redbridge continue their good form? Well we sent Daggers Diary’s very own Brian Parish up to Port Vale to find out.

Eleven days ago, following our draw at Barnet, the bottom of league 2 got a whole lot tighter with several teams separated by only a few points. Last weekend saw the Daggers take on Accrington Stanley in one of those “must win” games, so beloved by media and fans alike at this stage of the season.

A visit from the Stanley also brings Accrington Pete to Victoria Road. Accrington Pete is Dagenham Dan’s dad, and having been to several encounters at Dagenham, he had yet to see his team lose. He even ventured up to Accrington on our supporters club coach a few years back, and they won that as well, so when he strolled into the bar an hour or so before kick off, my hopes of a result weren’t that high. They were even lower when the visitors were 1-0 up at the break.

The last five minutes of normal time (plus the six added on for stoppages) saw a total change in the game. First, Brian Woodall scored in the eighty-fifth minute to send the smallest crowd at Victoria Road this season into raptures (aside from the away fans, naturally) at the prospect of saving a point. Then after it had all got a bit daft in the penalty area as Accrington prepared to defend a free kick (and losing Toto Nsiala to a red card for an “off the ball” incident into the process), Scott Doe rose salmon like at the back post to record the eventual winner, and put belief back into the Daggers cause that relegation could be avoided.

Starting the day in last place, by the close of the day, we had risen to 21st, which got a huge cheer in the bar after the game when it came up on the various tv screens dotted around.

Today sees our attempt to save our place in the football league take us to Burslem, for a game against Port Vale. Burslem is part of the conurbation known as Stoke on Trent, which is also made up from the towns of Hanley, Tunstall, Longton, Fenton and Stoke.

Our home game against them in December was marked with protests from the visiting fans regarding their clubs board, which has continued to dominate local media coverage. Things have not been helped by the club going into administration, thereby incurring a ten point penalty. It has even got so bad that, according one of the local newspapers, the club was even been sued by their own shirt sponsor over an unpaid loan.

Saturday 31st March 2012, Port Vale v Dagenham & Redbridge, Vale Park
Having arrived at Vale Park around half past one, quite a few of those who had travelled up walked back for about five minutes to the Bulls Head pub. For those of us who stayed in and around the stadium, a walk around the ground bought us out to the home team’s training pitches, which looked in good nick. A lone woman was walking her dog around the Bycars End of the ground, and while she strolled on, the dog lagged behind, pausing only to cock a leg against an outside wall, and decorate it.

Entering the stadium, the pitch is in good condition like the training surfaces, but the main noticeable thing is the size of the pitch, which is one of the largest in the league. It certainly looks it, and it is a wonder that they don’t come round with complimentary binoculars for those in the stadium.

The teams warm up, and there are a couple of changes from the win against Accrington last week, with John Akinde missing out, and Brian Woodall recalled to the starting line up, along with Billy Bingham who replaces Josh Parker. Akinde is at least on the bench, which gives us a few different options if we need them. However, Parker disappeared at half time last week, and isn’t even included in the substitutes.

The ground is only slowly filling up, and with twenty minutes before kick off, the away section probably has only about thirty people in it. However, as the time ticks down to the start those that have made the trip up from Essex start to wonder in, and as Dagenham Dan battles to put his giant flag on the netting covering the seats, those not starting the game for the visitors start to wonder back to the dressing room.

It is also noticeable that there are different team shirts in the Railway Terrace, with Wolves, West Brom and others clearly visible; it is explained to those not in the know that this is all because they are here to support the home club in their times of hardship.

After the team huddle, and a minute or two of “Let Me Entertain You” by Robbie Williams, the game starts off, with a decent turn out from Dagenham, all of whom seem to be congregating at least half way back in the seats.

There is a yellow card within the first sixty seconds; Anthony Griffth is cautioned for a foul on Abu Ogogo, and their battle will continue through most of the half. The first five minutes are actually quite open, although Vale register the first two chances at goal. The first is not strictly a chance, but Lewington, under pressure from Marc Richards, is able to hang on to a high cross. A minute later, Richards is involved again, but his shot is straight at Lewington.

Billy Bingham has the first Daggers shot at goal, although his shot from outside the area is comfortably held by Tomlinson. The ball is transferred to the other end, and Louis Dodds is the next one to try and get an early goal, although the shot is once again straight at Lewington.

The open start though doesn’t last, and it now starts to settle down. By the mid way point, Vale are definitely on top, and with Brian Woodall up front on his own for the Daggers, there are times when, particularly up against the giant Clayton McDonald, he looks isolated. There are times when the ball looks just to be dumped into a clear area of the pitch, just to buy some breathing space.

As the half progresses, some members of Vale’s youth team wonder past, one of whom is devouring a box of malteasers. It’s good to see that, in this age of players looking after their diet to maximise their potential, that a footballer can see be seen to be downing a large box of honeycomb and chocolate.

Half an hour has been played, and the referee now earns public enemy number one status. Richards hits the deck just outside the penalty area, and while the crowd howls for a free kick, nothing is given, and this will mean that from now on, every decision against the home team is roundly booed.

The Daggers go close just after this, when a Damien McCrory corner is headed wide by Mickey Spillane, before the second caution of the game, with Sam Morsy booked for a foul on Jon Nurse. In the last five minutes, Richards is denied by Lewington, before we get the moment that is the closest we get to a goal. Medy Elito works himself a decent shooting position on the edge of the box, and his curling left footed effort hits the inside of the Vale keepers right hand post, and rebounds along the goal line and out the other side. Two minutes are added on, but the half ends goalless.

The Daggers have the first chance of the second half, with Billy Binghams shot deflected wide for a corner. From the set play, Elito’s corner from the left is met at the near post by Scott Doe, but his glancing header is comfortably saved. At the other end, Williamson goes close for Vale, but his flicked effort at goal is just wide. It is a narrow let off for the Daggers.

The only goal of the game arrives on sixty five minutes. Damien McCrory is entrusted with the responsibility of taking a free kick from the right hand side. His in-swinging cross is met by Mickey Spillane, and the ball goes through the goalkeeper into the net. This brings unbridled joy in the away end, while the home fans seem to get deflated. While there are still twenty five minutes to go, there is no roar of encouragement to get their team going again.

The first boo from the home fans arrives five minutes after the goal, and it just seems as though they don’t expect their team to get back into the match. Although Vale are still the dominant team in terms of possession, they aren’t really doing enough with it, with crosses into the Daggers penalty area cleared or dealt with without too much fuss by the visiting defence.

The Daggers are trying to make a change, when they are pegged back by a couple of Vale attacks, culminating in McDonald forcing Lewington into a good save over the top. However, from the resulting set-piece, Charlie Wassmer is climbing all over Tom Pope, and the referee has no real choice but to award a penalty.

Marc Richards takes the ball and places it on the spot. His kick though doesn’t look the best, and Lewington dives to his left to make the save. The ball rebounds, and the flurry of players chasing the rebound means that there is no significant touch goal-wards on the ball. It is eventually hacked clear, and the Daggers are able to finally vacate the penalty area.

It’s Vale’s last chance of the game. Four minutes are added on, but the home forays forward are repelled, and the Daggers look as though they could get another on the break. There are already fans leaving when the final whistle blows on a massive away win for the Daggers. There is a slight delay when the whistle is blown, but when the visiting support realises the game has ended, there is unrestrained joy at another crucial three points gained.

It’s a huge win for us. After losing at home to Northampton on March 13th, I will quite openly admit that I thought we were finished, and I wasn’t alone in that opinion. However, ten points from the last four games is the kind of form that we were requiring to get out of the mess that we had found ourselves in. It’s arguable that this was the last away game this season that we could realistically expect to get anything from (we have to visit Gillingham, Aldershot and Shrewsbury), but this win moves us five points clear of the relegation places, and that could be a decisive gap. With all the teams at the bottom still to play each other, this could be a big day in our season, and Friday’s home game with Burton Albion is just as important as today’s was. Let’s just hope we get the same result.

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