A festive football cracker from the Dagger Diary

The Daggers Diary don’t let a small matter of rain, snow or Christmas get in the way of their quest to every game humanly possible.  Here is their update from the festive period.

After our last game prior to Christmas at Morecambe was called off as we started the final part of our journey to the game, it meant that the team would have had a bit of extra time to prepare for the two Christmas games, even if it has meant a wasted journey over that particular weekend.

This all meant that our last game before Christmas was the December 15th win over Barnet. The 1-0 win pushed us up into the top half of the table, although we have since slipped back a couple of places to 14th. The loss of Dwight Gayle to Peterborough has not proved (so far) to be as big a loss as first feared, although the winning margins have been tight. Gayle so far, has proved to be a player capable of stepping up to the Championship level, and he has netted on several occasions for Peterborough so far. Now that the anticipated transfer has gone through, it is to be hoped that Gayle will continue to progress and eventually end up costing Peterborough a fair bit of cash, and that we won’t be cashing in on any sell on clause that we might have requested.

As is traditional over the Christmas period, the games come thick and fast, assuming that they go ahead of course. After the postponement at Morecambe, the next opportunity to see the Daggers is a Boxing Day home game against Southend United.

We’ve already met Southend twice this season, and both have ended in defeat at Roots Hall. The league game finished 2-1 to the home side back in September, although it’s certainly arguable that the early sending off of Luke Wilkinson (which was overturned on appeal) helped contribute to the result. What isn’t arguable though is that Southend are having an excellent season, and are in fourth place, just a couple of points away from automatic promotion. Amongst their team is former Dagger, Gavin Tomlin. From a supporter’s point of view, Tomlin never quite seemed to fit in at the Daggers, and spent a fair amount of his time at the club on loan. Unfortunately, his spell at the club could be summed up by an incident at Bath City in an FA Cup replay; when taking a corner, he managed to kick the corner flag instead of the ball.

Tomlin looks to have flourished at Southend in a way that he didn’t at Dagenham, and I always think that it’s great to see former players do well. I just hope that it doesn’t happen today.

Wednesday 26th December 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Southend United, Victoria Road

Given the rain that fell on Christmas day morning (along with the thunder and lightning), there are several games that have already been postponed. However, the pitch at Victoria Road has managed to absorb the downpours over the last few days, and after an early check of the unofficial online forum to confirm that the game is on, I start my journey over to the ground.

Because of a tube strike, there is no district line running, which either means scrounging a lift, getting a couple of buses or walking for forty minutes or so. As it is a decent morning, I settle for the walk, and set out, aiming to be at the club a couple of hours before kick off. Despite the lack of available transport, Southend have sold out their allocation of 1200 seats for the away stand, and so the crowd today is very much boosted by the substantial away support.

It may be the season of goodwill to all men, but surely that doesn’t extend to providing your opposition with a goal lead within a minute, but that is precisely what we do. Not only is an awful start for us, but it is the afore-mentioned Tomlin who scores. There isn’t much of a celebration from the former Dagger, but the assembled masses from the coast aren’t going to let that stop them.

As is pointed out, the only positive to conceding so early is that there is plenty of time to recover and get back into the game. Of course, that would depend on you not conceding again, but twelve minutes later, that it is exactly what we do, and based on the early play, the game is already as good as over. It’s Tomlin who has the difficult job of tapping the ball home from a few yards out, after good work on the left by Assombalonga.

At the interval, we all stand around, in a stunned silence having witnessed a rather limp first half Daggers performance. We are all agreed that there need to be changes, but we are not sure how many it will be, and who it might be that is to be replaced. There is more than one candidate to be replaced.

As it is, there are two changes, and for the first ten minutes or so, it looks to have worked. The team are chasing and providing a bit of pressure on the Southend goal. Then Kevan Hurst cracks in a beauty from outside the area, and that’s about it. Even with thirty odd minutes to go, there doesn’t look like there is going to be any kind of heroic comeback, and in front of our biggest crowd of the season, it’s ending up a bit of a damp squib, which is not surprising as the rain begins towards the end of the half.

A 3-0 home defeat on Boxing Day is not the best way to finish the Christmas holiday, but it is only a small consolation that we have been beaten by a decent team. We just have to hope that the next game produces a better performance. However, that is against Port Vale, who just happen to be second in the table. As I begin the long walk back home in the rain, it’s not a happy thought.

Saturday 29th December 2012, Dagenham & Redbridge v Port Vale, Victoria Road

While we may have lost yet another player to Peterborough, we have gone international with his replacement. Signed from Italian amateur team Citta Di Pompei, Gianluca Gracco has apparently impressed enough during a trial prior to Christmas to sign on non contract terms. There were expectations that he may have been in the squad for Boxing Day, but ultimately that wasn’t the case. Given the “display” on Wednesday, perhaps the chance for our new signing to show his worth has arrived.

There is no place in the announced line ups for the Italian, and as the game ticks over to the third minute, we can at least cheer ourselves that we have lasted longer without conceding than we did on Boxing Day.

Well, not that much longer. The first goal arrives in the fourth minute, with Chris Lewington going walkies, trying to claim a Port Vale throw in. It leaves Tom Pope with a gentle tap in. If that’s bad enough, then eight minutes later, Jennison Myrie-Williams gets the second. While some voice their displeasure at the team, others just seem to shrug their shoulders and accept the seemingly inevitable outcome already.

Clearly we need something to get us back into a game that, up until this point, we have shown no such inclination so far. Just after the quarter of an hour, that lifeline is thrown; Sam Williams hits the deck inside the Port Vale penalty area, under what looks like a fairly weak challenge, but the result is a penalty kick. From looking totally out of the game with less than a quarter of it played, we now have a chance to get back into it. Of course, this depends on the penalty being converted, and it will be Williams who will take it; he sends the goalkeeper the wrong way, and now we are in with a chance.

For a while, it is getting interesting again, but while we have a glimmer of hope, it is almost extinguished five minutes before the break, and it comes while we are on the attack.

The Daggers have a corner, sending most of the team into the Vale area. However, it is cleared, and Louis Dodds is played through, with the Daggers defence chasing back forlornly. He is still outside the area, but executes an excellent lob over the advancing Lewington and restores Vale’s two goal advantage. It generates a ripple of appreciation from the home fans, as well as noting the defensive shortcomings of the home team in this instance.

Prior to the game, the dancing group perform to some tune although it isn’t to my musical taste. There are five of them, but as they re-emerge, there are only four, prompting one funny man nearby to ask if Peterborough have signed them up.

Despite the evidence to the contrary, I reckon that if we could get one goal back early in the half, that we might be able to get a point (or better) out of the game. The early goal though doesn’t materialize, and as the half drifts to its conclusion, most face up to the fact that this is going to end in a second disappointment in a few days. There is something to cheer, when Scott Doe lashes home late on, but despite the almost inevitable flurry of activity from the home team, it ultimately means nothing, as Port Vale secure a 3-2 win.

The only positive out of the day is that the performance (overall at least) is better than against Southend. The opening fifteen minutes of the Port Vale continued what had happened on Boxing Day, but we did at least produce a bit of fight after that.

New Years Day meant a trip to Northampton, where we don’t have a great record. A 3-1 defeat meant that we have finished the Christmas and New Year period with the princely sum of nil points. This has meant that the gap that existed between us and the teams at the bottom of the table has been worn away a bit. The next week will have us making two trips up north, to Accrington and then up to Morecambe. Points will be hard to come by at those venues, and while it is far to early to be pressing any buttons marked “panic”, we will need to start getting more points on the board. The gap will not last for ever, and all teams have an upturn in fortunes (however brief) during the season. Having done so well recently, we can not let the hard work go to waste now.

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