Our Daggers Diary team headed down to Victoria Road for the final game of the season, knowing that next season they will be welcoming the likes of Fleetwood, Chesterfield and Rochdale next season, safe for another campaign that at times was very dubious.
The final day of the season has finally arrived. There have been times when it has felt like this day would never come along, and when it arrived, that it would be more like a wake. However, just when we appeared doomed, a run of almost championship winning form rescued us, and after the draw with Crawley two weeks ago, our future in the Football League was assured.
While unable to halt the Shrewsbury promotion party last week, the mood around the club has been much better, and we can approach this one more relaxed than we have been able to in the last few years. A win (coupled with results elsewhere) could see us finish in the giddy heights of 18th.
Today’s visitors are Bristol Rovers. Relegated with us last season, they come into this final game safely placed in 12th. The team above them, Aldershot, are eight points ahead, so they won’t be finishing any higher. However, like us, they will want to go out on a winning note.
Saturday 5th May 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Bristol Rovers, Victoria Road
The start is a typical end of season game, where neither have anything to play for. There is a sizeable contingent that has travelled from Bristol and a lot of them are in fancy dress, as seems to have become a tradition for the final day of the season. Amongst those in the away section, there is one Mr Blobby, one Rocky Balboa and several other assorted costumes.
The first (and only) goal of the half arrives just after the mid-way point, and Brian Woodall is the scorer. Up until that point, the closest we get to a goal is after just two minutes, when Matt Harold’s shot clips the top of the cross bar. Once the goal is scored though, it just seems to completely deflate the visitors, and although the half will end with a 1-0 scoreline, there is the threat of more to come.
Brian Woodall has improved immeasurably over the season. Signed from Gresley during last summer, I think most expected him to be a bench-warmer at best, and possibly even to spend some time away from the club on loan. However, injuries have seen him play over forty games this season, and emerge eventually as the teams top scorer. His (as it turns out, first) goal is a bit reminiscent of former Dagger Paul Benson; Josh Parker is fed the ball on the right side of the area, and his cross is met perfectly with a right footed volley that gives the Rovers keeper no chance. It’s a lovely goal, and the sort that you might have scored in a game of headers and volleys over the park with your mates.
At half time, the usual club draw results are announced, and once more I have failed to win anything; of course, if I had actually managed to buy a ticket for any of them, I might have had a bit more luck.
The last forty five minutes of a long, long season start and the Daggers are well on top. Shots by Ogogo, Spillane and Bingham keep the visitors penned back, so it is unsurprising then that, within ten minutes, its 2-0, and Woodall has netted again. Baudry is able to pick out the forward with his pass, and this time, his left foot shot goes beyond the dive of Conor Gough. Dan turns round to correctly point out that the perfect hat-trick is still on, and he has more than enough time to do it. All we need is for him to stay on the pitch, and not get substituted.
Just after the hour, the Daggers extend their lead, and Danny Green is now on the score sheet. When signed a couple of years ago, he was the second player of that name to be on the Daggers squad list. The other left twelve months ago to join Charlton, but Danny J has spent most of his time at the club actually somewhere else, having spent time out on loan. However, like last year when he returned for the last couple of games and looked good, he has done the same thing again. Having robbed a Rovers defender of the ball near to their own penalty area, he advances across the box before slotting the ball past Gough. As a contest, it’s all over now.
Woodall will complete his hat-trick on eighty-one minutes, and although it’s not the perfect one that we hoped for, it will do none the less. The ever improving Billy Bingham is allowed to pass the ball to the forward, who is able to score to complete our biggest win of the season. Danny Green almost adds a fifth in stoppage time, and as the Rovers fans do their conga up and down the stairs of the away stand, the game dwindles to its conclusion. As the sun breaks through, the final whistle is blown, and finally, its all over. The Daggers have won 4-0, and we can all decamp to the bar to watch the cup final. At the end of the season, 19th place isn’t bad, and at least we have broken the fifty point barrier again.
Well, we can, but first the club makes its players of the year awards first. Both teams leave the field of play, and the Daggers return a couple of minutes later to applaud the fans before gathering in the centre circle to hear who has won. In the end, Michael Spillane takes the top prize, with Abu Ogogo and Brian Woodall, second and third respectively; Spillane will also eventually win the supporters club player of the year, with Ogogo and Scott Doe joint second. Once the awards are finished, then we make our way out of the ground, and into the club house for the Chelsea v Liverpool game. It’s already packed, but luckily Dagenham Dan and Graham have already marked out their territory, and we just pile in, and just make the start.
As the first half is played out, it’s a chance to sit back and relax, but also to think about the season just completed. The run with which we finished the season (one defeat in ten games) shows what can be achieved with a settled side. The few voices calling for the managers head earlier in the season never really reached a crescendo, even after losing nine league games in a row. But it just feels a bit, well, odd, that we stayed up based on three spells of decent form; the first was right at the start of the season, winning three out of the first four games, the second was at Christmas, and then the last ten games. After looking doomed after Northampton in March, one Dagger promised to have his head shaved if we stayed up. So, at half time in the final, in front of the assembled patrons and with a plastic sheet on the floor, he duly went through with the bet, and raised about £150 for cancer research.
There have been moments to saver this season; for some, beating Barnet at Christmas is always a good thing, or finally beating Accrington when Dan’s Dad turns up. But while we have ended the season well, it’s also important to remember that it didn’t look like we were going to do it for quite a while, and not just in March. Those nine, horrible, awful shambles that bought a grand total of zero points had us looking like a relegation team way before Christmas. That we got out of it is a testament to the players and management, although it was also them that got into the mess in the first place.
But it’s often forgotten that the supporters play a part in team success (and failures) as well. Far too many clubs change their manager at the first sign of trouble. Myself and Graham were approached by one highly placed person in the club on the way home from another pre-Christmas home defeat, and during a ten minute conversation were asked if we would get rid of the manager. The emphatic answer was “no”, and it turned out to be the right one. There have been more than a few managerial changes in League Two this season, and not all of them worked. The fans stuck (by and large) with the team, and everyone involved with the club has been rewarded with that loyalty and faith with another season in League Two. It may not sound like a lot to some, but to us, it still does. And while I will renew my season ticket for 2012/13, I won’t be doing it just yet. I need a few weeks without football first, and probably a lie down.