Daggers do a number on the Dale

Fresh from the sunshine in Barcelona, the Daggers Diary team returned to happy to East London for the visit of Rochdale and their tippy-tappy football.

It may only be two weeks, but it seems like an age since I last saw the Daggers play. On December 29, we lost at home to Port Vale, our second defeat at Victoria Road in three days. New Years Day didn’t bring any joy either, with a defeat at Northampton, although given that we have never gained as much as a point in the previous seven games, it wasn’t much of a surprise.

Last Saturday though, as Dagenham Dan and I watched the top two teams in the Spanish Tercera division (group 5), the Daggers were claiming an important win up at Accrington. While this was then followed up by a 2-1 loss at Morecambe (on a night when the home club made it free to attend, attracting over four thousand in the process), the win at the Crown Ground at least provided a break in a dodgy sequence of results.

Today’s visit of Rochdale brings around the now annual Daggers against Racism day. Cheaper ticket prices are supposed to have the ground heaving, but this hasn’t necessarily been the case in past years. Last years game against Bradford was marred by several people being arrested for making racist chants against a group of Asian boys. Thankfully those now convicted are barred from the club, but it did mean that more than one person questioned whether this year’s event should go ahead.

With the L.B.B.D. being probably one of the more diverse borough’s in London, it is certainly important that the club not only attract fans from all sections of the local community, but keep that support, so that they keep coming back.  Dan and I had cashed in our old DVD’s, CD’s and even agreed to sell psp games like the trusted old Football Manager for our trip to Barcelona, so we welcomed a cheaper Saturday.

Saturday 12th January 2013, Dagenham & Redbridge v Rochdale, Victoria Road
It is very cold as we make our way towards the club house, three hours prior to kick off. The bar is almost deserted except for a few early drinkers, and the (so far) lone bar person. As time ticks round to the start of the QPR v Spurs game, more start to wonder in, heading to the bar before gaining their vantage point for the game on tv. Talk is about who made the trips up north in the last week, as well as our trip to Barcelona last weekend.

As we start to make our way through the car park to the terrace turnstiles, the sound of someone singing starts to drift across. To be fair, the young kid on the keyboard, sheltering under a hastily erected gazebo isn’t bad, although it isn’t quite what we are used to. Normally we have a prize draw ticket seller shouting, trying to get people to buy as they enter the main stand.

Inside, we are just relieved that nothing has been either burnt or stolen in the last couple of weeks. Standing, chatting to a couple of stewards, as well as Sean (it is difficult to describe Sean without writing an essay), I am also quite pleased that they have moved the warm up goals to the other side of the penalty area, or we could be in some danger from errant shooting. There has been more that one occasion when conversations have been interrupted by footballs heading in our direction, thanks to the goalkeeping coach not being able to shoot straight.

The ground doesn’t immediately start to fill up with people, and it’s more of a steady trickle rather than a flood as we make our way round to our usual spot in the Sieve. Most of the people around have been watching the games from (more or less) the same spot for years, and once again they are in attendance. As the game draws near though, it’s clear than the attendance isn’t going to be great, and it will later on be announced as 2,289, which is only about four hundred up on our average for the season so far.

Pre-match, there are rumours about two of our players possibly being on the way to other clubs. I’m informed that Derby are after Femi Ilesanmi, while Mickey Spillane is the subject of some discussion regarding a possible move away. Femi’s performances this season have been very good, and so a higher club looking at him is no surprise, but there are few raised eyebrows about it being a Championship team. Femi starts the game, but Spillane is left on the bench. It is often the way with fans, who get a shirt with their favourite players name and number on the shirt as a birthday or Christmas present, then see that player leave within weeks. So it is with Craig, who recently received a new away shirt adorned with Ilesanmi and number 3, and is now hoping that the rumours aren’t true.

The first half is one that won’t live long in the memory, but with Chris Lewington producing two excellent saves, the half was scoreless. That it was 0-0 at the break was also down to a miss from Brian Woodall that looked like a chance that was easier to score than to put it over the bar from almost in front of goal. Although he registered his first league goal of the season at Morecambe on Tuesday, this would have dented the confidence somewhat.

At half time, the Daggers cheerleaders performed a routine, having missed their pre-game one as they were stuck in traffic. Then there is a signing ceremony, with various members of the “Kick It Out” campaign and local dignitaries on what, from a distance, looks like a giant whiteboard. Then various kids teams parade around the pitch waving flags with the message “Daggers against Racism” printed on them. It’s a worthwhile message, but many are not looking at the pitch, instead queuing for the burger bar.

The second half is a much better affair, and it’s a game that is holding the attention much better. As it wears on, the first goal looks to becoming ever more crucial in determining the outcome of the game, and thus the destination of the points.

Rochdale, wearing a home kit that bears more than a passing resemble to Internazionale, have an impressive away record, with six wins from thirteen games, and with eighteen minutes left, it is they who get that all important first goal.

For Rochdale, it is the second time that they have had the ball in the net in the half, although that effort, by Andrew Tutte was disallowed for offside. We were at the wrong angle from our vantage position, but a fair few though the decision looked favourable to us. However, it was Tutte who profited the second time round, when Lewington was only able to parry a Bobby Grant shot into his path.

There is an immediate deflating of hopes in the home section, but about two minutes later, we are level. Once again the goalkeeper (this time, Josh Lillis) is only able to parry a cross from the left, and Abu Ogogo is able to score from a couple of yards out.

With both teams in mid-table (Rochdale in twelfth, ourselves in fourteenth), perhaps a draw would have been the favoured forecast for this particular game, but two minutes into stoppage time, there is a winning goal for the Daggers.

Good wing play down the left hand side has got the home defence all out of shape, and the ball finds itself at the feet of Sam Williams. On the edge of the area and facing goal, many expect him to shoot, but instead he plays it right, into the path of an unmarked Medy Elito. Elito is calmness personified, as he places the ball past Lillis for the winner, and those that haven’t left early celebrate a late, late winner.

It’s always nice to win, and to win late is just that little bit sweeter. This win means that we overtake Rochdale, although we actually only move up one place. The division is still very tight, and to add weight to that, we are now in thirteenth position, but only three points behind Southend, who occupy that all important last play off place. We have played a game more than most directly ahead of us, but to be where we are is not something that we may have contemplated a few months ago. The remaining weeks in January are going to be important in terms of transfers (whether that be arrivals or departures), and we have to hope that there won’t be too much disruption to the team. However, if we lose players, then we will, like all teams, just have to get on with it. A few more wins will see us safe for another year. If we can win a few more on top of that, then who knows where we could end up?

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