It’s been a few years since we made the long pilgrimage to see the, erm, Pilgrims but it was always a great day out. Fortunately, The Daggers Diary team did the trip for us yesterday.
Having left the clubhouse during the closing stages of the Manchester United v Fulham cup tie, it was hard not to feel a bit down side following our defeat at home to Morecambe last Saturday. There may have been a touch of admiration for the results of both Luton and Bradford (oh for the days when that was us), but although we are in a relatively comfortable league position at the moment, we are all very aware that it can change all too quickly.
Today is an away game, and we venture to the most southerly and westerly ground in the football league; Plymouth Argyle. During my early formative years watching football, I can remember Plymouth reaching the semi finals of the FA Cup, with the nation’s media eager that the plucky underdogs from Division Three produce an upset against top flight Watford. In the end, a goal from George Reilly sent Watford to their first FA Cup final, while Plymouth had to try and secure their future in the third division, which they did, although nineteenth place doesn’t immediately suggest a team reaching the last four of the cup.
The other memory I have of Plymouth is Daggers related. Since promotion, I haven’t made the trip to Devon, but the one time I have visited was back in January 2003. On that occasion, we had been drawn away to Argyle in the third round of the FA Cup, and although there were two divisions between us at the time, we travelled back to Essex with a fantastic 2-2 draw. The replay at Victoria Road went down in club folklore, as we secured a 2-0 win, with the second goal being a header from Junior McDougald after a cross from Mark Janney which was described as “Beckham-esque” on the highlights that night.
Since our first league meeting in 2010, our league record against Plymouth is fairly awful, with just two goal-less draws to show for five meetings between the two clubs. There have been times in the past few years when we have wondered if we would be playing; with financial problems meaning that Peter Reid had to sell a Cup Final medal, Plymouth have been up against it in a financial sense.
As we make the journey, the transfer window has been shut now for the rest of the season, and for us, it’s not been too bad. We lost Dwight Gayle to Peterborough prior to Christmas, and then Michael Spillane to Southend, but mainly it’s been positive for us. Players like Luke Howell (who was a big loss when injured last season) have extended their contracts, along with Matt Saunders and Jake Reed. There have been a couple of players go out on loan (most notably, Josh Scott to Ebbsfleet), but at the last knockings of the window, Ben Strevens, last seen in a Daggers shirt in 2009, re-signed for the club from Gillingham. Part of the side that won the Conference, and that then came so close to the play offs in 2009, Strevs left to go to Brentford, but having been at Wycombe and Gillingham since, he has returned to Victoria Road just under three years after leaving.
Saturday 2nd February 2013, Plymouth Argyle v Dagenham & Redbridge, Home Park
There are times when I wonder I go to these games, and these times are often when the alarm clock shatters the silence, and destroys the world of sleep, to announce in its annoying bleepy noise that it is time to get up. Today’s trip means an alarm at 5am, as I want to try to get a run of about three miles in before I join up with my fellow coach travellers for the trip west. The run is quite pleasant, although cold, and it’s nice before the long journey to have a bit of peace and quiet, although even as I am running, I am already thinking that this time would probably have been better spent still sleeping.
It’s cold, dark and damp as I arrive at the club just before 7am, although there are already half of those that will travel by coach waiting for the transport to arrive. According to Graham “pub finder” Harriss, there are thirty three travelling on the coach, and as it’s a forty eight seater, we’ll all get a seat each. So that’s handy, as I didn’t really want to stand all the way to Plymouth.
The service stop at Bristol Gordano is uneventful, as neither the Burger King, or KFC are not open until 11am, which is about half way through the scheduled forty five minute stop. However, there is a model of a triceratops outside the entrance, so it can’t be all bad.
The driver has estimated that we will arrive at Plymouth around a quarter to two, and must have been pushing the speed limit, as we arrive fifteen minutes before expected. Some disappear to the pub, some to the social club, while I go straight to the ground. Handily for today, I have been given a press pass, and so after finding my way into the ground, I head for the press box. Walking into the ground, there is the fantastically overpowering aroma of pasties, pervading the area below the stand. Having just eaten as we were nearing the end of our journey, the smell is enough to get the juices flowing, but I am just about able to resist.
While three quarters of the ground is of a modern construction, the press box is in the oldest part of the ground. It is a bit tight, but not as bad as at York, where each pod was about the size of a postage stamp. The view is fine though, although watching football through a door is like watching the tv from standing in the hall way.
There is a place in the starting line up for Ben Strevens, which wasn’t expected when we were discussing the possible eleven on the coach. In case we don’t know what is happening elsewhere, there is a handily placed tv right above the press area, although there is enough sunlight on it to make it only partially visible, if of course it had been switched on.
The first half is, well, to be polite, poor. While we seem to win a stack of corners, we do very little with them. We even manage to beat the first defender on one occasion, but there is nothing to come from it. Our record from corners is not the best, and the quality (if that is the correct word) often leaves much to be desired. However, on the evidence of the first half, we might have found a team worse than us from the set-piece, and Plymouth threaten even less from theirs than we do with ours.
The two best chances of the half though, are both from the home team. There is a volley from Luke Young which clears the roof of the stand behind the goal, but the best two come later in the half. The first is after twenty five minutes; a left wing cross is left by Lewington, and the ball is retrieved at the back post. The ball finds its way to Reuben Ried who can only be a few yards from the goal, but somehow he scuffs his shot, and it bobbles from his foot, and into the grateful arms of a diving Lewington.
That is the second best; eight minutes later, Roman Murray is in the right position from a left wing cross, but from about four yards out, manages to hit the cross bar. Plymouth end the half much the better of the teams, but you can see that if they are without the ball for even a small amount of time, the confidence just seems to drain from them. During the half, there is one occasion where a white handkerchief is waved, almost in surrender. Having slipped into the relegation places due to Bristol Rovers winning last night, it’s hard not to think of this as an act of resignation.
We aren’t completely impotent, as Luke Howell has wasted a chance from a header almost right in front of goal before the home side have their chances. To be honest, all three should have been scored, but perhaps it is about right in the grand scheme of things that they aren’t.
The second half starts promisingly for the home team, with first Luke Young denied by an onrushing Lewington, and then Reid has a header cleared off the goal line by Ilesanmi, (foolowing a fine save by Lewington) who does well to get the ball away, being under pressure by Guy Branston .It has bought the home crowd to life, having been more than a bit muted as the game resumed.
This early pressure though is about as good as it gets, and as the game edges towards the hour, Plymouth are seeing a lot more of the ball, but are doing nothing with it. Crosses are over-hit, ending up in the seats behind the goal, or just not getting anywhere near their intended target.
After Luke Howell is cautioned for a foul on Young, the game starts to meander, and there are substitutions every few minutes. The mood amongst the local scribes is not good, and with twenty minutes to go, the door is shut on the press box. It means that what noise there was inside the ground is muffled, although there wasn’t that much to start with. The hardy eighty-four that have made the trek from Essex have the occasional burst, but there isn’t much to cheer, and that applies to the home support as well.
There are three minutes of stoppage time added on, and there is a chance for each; Luke Wilkinson has the Daggers last effort of the game, although his shot is comfortably saved by Jake Cole. At the other end, and with time running out, Matthew Lecointe is allowed to run and shoot, but seemingly in slow motion, the effort is wide and with it, the last hope of either side of breaking the deadlock disappears.
In the programme, it mentions that the last two encounters between the two clubs have ended 0-0. Well, now we can make that three. On the way to the game, many would have been happy with a point from today, and after the game, that is still the case. We have managed to get something having lost the last two games, but it doesn’t look good for Plymouth at the moment. There was little threat, although a bit more luck in front of goal wouldn’t go amiss. On another day, the shot that hits the bar goes in, or rebounds to a team mate who smashes the ball home. Comments overheard during the game mainly seemed to be that they looked doomed, and while is still some time to go, they will have to get their act together quickly.
For us, the return of Ben Strevens could be an excellent move. Showing much of the assurance of his previous spell, it was great to see the deft touches and link up play that marked out his time with us before. However, we need to win a game again, as although this keeps the scoreboard ticking over, we have played more games than those around us. It doesn’t get any easier next week, with Cheltenham visiting Victoria Road, prior to a trip to Gillingham. Points will be at a premium over the next couple of weeks, so this was important, but three would obviously been better. We still need, as an estimate, another twelve points, and we have to get those as soon as possible so that the run in to the end of the season isn’t as stressful as it has been in recent years.