Go East my son…

As I headed East to sample some Non League action at Rush Green, a mile to the south the Daggers Diary team were preparing for a goal fest at Victoria Road.

After witnessing the draw at home to Accrington on September 15th, we were all back at Victoria Road three days later for a game against Northampton Town. Dagenham Dan was enjoying the delights of Marine against someone else, having been required to be in Liverpool for work that week. Honestly, no commitment some people.

However, we did at least have Timbo grace us with his presence for the first time this season. A regular in the centre of defence for the supporters team, he bought along five year old Vinnie for his first game. The game wasn’t the most exciting you will ever see, so precisely what Vinnie thought of it could probably be summed up in what happened at half time. As the players troop off the pitch with the game scoreless, Vinnie takes to running around the crush barriers in the covered terrace. A slightly older Stuart is doing the same thing, keeping the youngster entertained. As we watch this unfold, we all reckon that he will sleep well later that night. And so will Vinnie as well.

The second half started badly for the Daggers, and only five minutes had been played when Akinfenwa scored the only goal of a game that rarely got above the boring rating that it had enjoyed in the first half. Although Bristol Rovers got a point that evening, we somehow managed to stay out of the bottom two again. On the way home, Dan sent a text message to ask how it had gone, and the reply was short; “poor, very poor”, which summed it all up quite nicely really.

If the attendance against Accrington was disappointing at just over 1500, then that night’s was even lower, and that included a far higher turnout from our visitors. Taking away the visiting fans meant that there were just over 1200 home supporters in attendance, which given that we like to think that we have at least 1500 hard-core home fans, wasn’t good at all.

After that, we had a trip north to Rochdale. Or at least the team and those that travelled did, as I was attending a wedding on the day. Early news wasn’t good, but the trip must have been worth it in the end, as goals from Spillane and Howell gained us a point. The sending off of Kevin McIntyre was clearly a turning point, but it was good to notice that we were able to take advantage of this break. Having a couple of other Daggers fans in attendance meant that I was on score update duty, and while it intitally wasn’t going well, at least it ended ok for us.

The luxury of having no midweek game leading into last Saturday’s game at home to Wycombe must have helped, as we finally registered our first win of the season. For the second week in a row, I was missing (no commitment some people) as I had (foolishly) signed up to run the Loch Ness marathon. However, the Saturday afternoon prior to the run on Sunday went rather well if I say so myself. As I watched Inverness beat a poor Dundee United side by 4-0, Dagenham Dan’s updates of our game were a welcome boost to my morale going into the run.

With the shackles of waiting for that first win finally loosened, a midweek trip to Port Vale was probably not the best of things to have, but a point gained away to the team currently second in the division was another excellent result. Although we have drawn five this season (out of ten played so far), we are at least to use a cricketing term, keeping the scoreboard ticking along. It’s just that we need to get a few more wins, rather than just plodding away with singles.

Today’s opponents are Bradford City. This is the ninth league meeting between the two clubs, and even now, I still have a bit of trouble believing that we are playing them. I know that it’s been ten years since their relegation from the Premier League, but it’s still a touch mad to think that we are playing them in the league. Over recent years, Bradford City have been many peoples pick for one of the promotion places from League Two, but for a variety of reasons, this has just not happened. This year though, they have made a decent start to the season, and are in seventh place at the start of play. Like us at the bottom though, there is a long, long way to go before the end of the season.

Saturday 6th October 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Bradford City, Victoria Road
Our little section at the eastern end of the London Underground district line is closed this weekend, so we have the curse of the replacement bus service to contend with instead. Combined with the roads around the station being dug up for pipe replacement works, and it means that the normally narrow roads around the station are tighter than normal, thanks to a couple of hundred traffic cones and temporary traffic lights.

The club house, when we eventually arrive, is emptier than normal. It is still early (we arrive just after mid-day), but it can’t be entirely down to the trains not working? Someone explains though that the supporter’s team is playing away to Ipswich this morning, so that might have something to do with it. It means that there is more space to spread out and we are not as cramped up as we have been in the past. It’s all quite civilized really.

It’s not only the club house that was empty as we enter the stadium, as it’s also quite quiet in the ground as well. We reckon that the crowd will be up on the last few games, but only because the results have improved. If we had not been doing so well, then it might have been hard work to clear 1200 today.

While the attendance is only just above the average for the season, the game will eventually provide more than enough drama and jangling of nerves for a good long while. There is no inkling of this in the first half, as the Daggers take a two goal lead. Attacking the newest part of the ground, the first goal arrives after only six minutes, when Billy Bingham, on his fiftieth appearance for the club slots home the rebound after a shot by Williams is parried by the Bradford keeper. I had chosen the build up to the goal to visit the burger bar as the queue had disappeared, and just managed to turn round in time to see the goal. It was a close run thing, but at least I didn’t have the food in my hand as I jumped up and down, otherwise it could have got messy, especially with all those onions on the floor.

The second is a well worked move; a cross from the right wing by Ogogo is heading low into the middle, where Gayle dummies the ball into the path of Spillane, whose right foot shot flies past the keeper for an excellent goal which brings appreciative applause for the move from the celebrating home fans.

Those really are the two highlights of the half. Apart from the goals, we haven’t offered much more in attack, and Bradford have been worse. As the team depart from the field of play (to be replaced by long ball punting substitutes and a half dozen girl dancing group), the thought is that Bradford can’t be that bad again.

It takes just another six minutes for the Daggers to extend their lead to 3-0. This time, a corner from the Daggers left is headed home by Luke Wilkinson, and the game looks safe. Wilko was signed from Portsmouth two years ago, around the same time as the play off final, but has spent the majority of the intervening time on loan at one place or another. Now with a few games under his belt in the first team, he is starting to look a good addition to the squad.

Nahki Wells has been causing the Daggers problems throughout the game, although up until this point his main contribution was to be cautioned in the first half. Now he tumbles in the penalty area in front of the away fans, and there are a few in the home section as well that think it might be a spot kick. The referee is having none of it though, and waves the appeal away.

Wells though is just getting going. Two minutes after the unsuccessful penalty shout, he gets a goal back for the visitors with an excellent free kick. Now the away team looks like they mean business and while the hope is restored in the visiting fans, the home supporters are already starting to feel that this is by no means as secure as it was four minutes earlier.

Within another five minutes, Bradford reduces the deficit further. As the Daggers defend a corner (or what passed for defending at that moment), Chris Lewington appears to go into headless chicken mode, and fouls an attacker; who it is, we aren’t sure at the time. The yellow card is brandished; Wells takes the penalty and sends Lewington the wrong way. This is not the way that it should have been going only ten minutes earlier.

It’s all getting a bit too nervous for our liking, and big gaps are now appearing in our team, as they try to stem the Bradford surge. After the third goal, we have resorted to playing with one up front, and Bradford have capitalised on it, and then some. Now, having lost the initiative, there are moments when it seems a matter of time before the equalizer arrives.

Yet when the next goal comes, it’s ours, and despair turns to relief and ecstasy in a split second. Dwight Gayle is asked to chase a ball over the top of two defenders, one of whom looks to have a yard start on him; somehow he squeezes between the two of them though, and from the edge of the area, lashes his shot into the corner of the net to restore our two goal advantage. More than one expresses the though in the aftermath of the goal that they thought it was wide, but it’s been given and we can relax again.

Or maybe not. Luke Howell picks a stupid booking for throwing the ball at a Bradford player with six minutes to go. The throw from the Bradford left eventually finds Alan Connell who deposits the ball into the net, and suddenly we are back into panic mode again.

There are five minutes to be added on, and it takes ages to complete. Bradford still manage to create two more chances that have some resorting to prayer, or simply looking away when they attack. One header loops over Lewington and drops just over the crossbar, while another whistles inches past the post. With nerves now sufficiently jangled to warrant even a post match drink for Dagenham Dan, the referee finally brings proceedings to a close, and somehow we have managed to win, by 4-3.

Did Bradford deserve something from the game? Certainly, and as they journey back home, they must be wondering how they didn’t. Did we deserve to win? Well, the truth is that I really don’t know, but we took our chances, something that we were all bemoaning only a few weeks ago. That’s now seven goals in two home games, and at least it looks as though we now know where the net is. According to an interview with Medy Elito (our new Mo Farah look-a-like) confidence was high, even before last weekend’s first win of the season. It will be higher after this, but the nerves might take a bit of time to recover.

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