Fancy a 250 mile each way trip to the North West? On a day when temperatures barely touch zero? Nope – neither did I. But the Daggers Diary team set off on the long trek up to Fleetwood with the wind and snow battering the TBIR sponsored Ford Transit.
It’s been almost a month now since the departure of John Still from the club, and the first five games under the leadership of Wayne Burnett has been in parts encouraging, and in parts frustrating. The win at Rotherham a fortnight ago was a classic snatch and grab raid, in that we were under the cosh for most of the game, but somehow emerged with the win. The encouragement has come from the different style of play that has been used, where we have tried to keep the ball on the ground a lot more. That’s not to say that the previous regime was a long ball one; I would never go against the management of John Still, simply because although we were labelled as long ball merchants, we still had some creative midfielders who would never have thrived had they been bypassed as much as suggested.
Success came in the form of promotion to the league, and then to league one, but it may well have run its course. The change of style has meant that the ball has disappeared from view at home games less than before. However, there are times, and this is the frustrating bit, when we have tried to pass it too much, instead of getting a short away. I guess that it takes time to switch from one style of play to another, and perhaps the middle of the season is not the place to do it. But they have, they are and it’s not going too bad. Burnett’s five games in charge have bought just one defeat, which is definitely an encouraging start.
Despite this, we just don’t seem to be able to pull away from the teams that currently occupy the bottom few positions in the division. Just when we think we have produced a result that will get us that little bit of extra breathing space, those trying to stay up close the gap again, and we are left looking over our shoulders again. Over the last few weeks the gap has never been much more than half a dozen points, which is the gap as we go into today’s game between us and York in twenty-third place. All have seven games left, and so while we are still in a decent position in terms of the points gap between us and the rest, it will only take a couple of bad results (whether they be ours or wins for those around us), to set us back in the relegation mix again.
Saturday 23rd March 2013, Fleetwood Town v Dagenham & Redbridge, Highbury Stadium
The weather this last week obviously hasn’t been good, and is more like the middle of December, than the middle of March. Leaving Dagenham at half past seven in the morning, the snow has been falling, but luckily it is not settling. However, as we get closer to the appointed pit stop at Norton Caines, the snow is much deeper, and there are several inches of the stuff in the car park at the services. Everyone heads straight inside, while the snow continues to fall, and we all only venture out once the coach is opened up again, as we prepare to depart.
While we are at the services, we all check the various websites waiting to see which games have survived the weather, and which have been called off. Our game is still on, and Fleetwood are confident that it will go ahead. As we leave the services, the snow is quite thick, but about twenty minutes up the road, it’s clear, and there doesn’t look like there has been anything here. A few months ago, Dagenham Dan and I looked into the possibility of attending the Northern Ireland game against Russia, which was scheduled to be played the night before this game. As we get closer to Fleetwood, it’s probably just as well we didn’t get any further than planning, as we would either never have got there, or been stuck.
Our usual group is a bit lighter than normal. Dan is on family duties today, while Mark and Luis are unavailable for this one. There is a full coach for this one though, which is great given the distance involved, although the new ground factor is probably one reason why it’s full.
This will be the Daggers first visit to Fleetwood, who have enjoyed a meteoric rise through the leagues in recent times. The ground has been extensively redeveloped, and new stands surround the pitch. Back in 1939, when the ground was opened, they managed to play one game before war was declared with Germany. It took them seven years before the second was played. For the club today, there are just four games left at home (including today), in order to for them to complete a very successful debit season in the league and claim a play off spot.
Arriving at the ground just under two hours before kick off, most of the travellers immediately head towards the club house, which is impressive, with plenty of screens, showing the Rangers game, plus Sky Sports News. There is also an offer at the bar, with two pints of cider for the price of one, which means that more than one table is full of glasses relatively early on.
With the away terrace shut, those who have had travelled are in the last two blocks of the main stand, which turns out not to be a bad position. The away terrace would have taken the full effects of the strong wind blowing across the pitch which will play a part in the game later on, with crosses not reaching their intended targets. While some can be attributed to poor technique, the breeze is definitely a factor. From our changed position, we can clearly see the Highbury stand opposite, but then we look a bit closer, and we notice that there is another stand behind. It’s only a fraction of the size, but it’s clearly visible. None of us can think of another ground where there is a stand in front of another.
The game starts well for us. Within the first four minutes, we have hit the crossbar twice, and then get a penalty following a hand-ball. Medy Elito steps up and sends the goalkeeper the wrong way, putting the ball to the keepers left. In Wayne Burnett’s six games in charge so far, we have won four penalties, scoring three and missing one. That averages at one every 135 minutes, which is not a bad stat.
The lead lasts roughly two minutes, and it disappears in slightly bizarre circumstances. Junior Brown is allowed to get a cross in from the right hand side, but it looks as though it is going to drift into the side netting. However, it doesn’t, and while Lewington reacts slowly to the ball heading towards the near post, his flap means that the ball eludes him and somehow hits the far post and goes in. While Lewington will kop some flack for the goal, the defence is equally as culpable, as it is slow to react to the ball going out to the wing in the first place.
It’s a theme that continues throughout the game. We just look totally lethargic, with passes going astray and a general lack of awareness as to where the opposition players are. Both Ilesanmi and Wilkinson look to be having poor games, but in truth there is no one in light blue that is really distinguishing themselves.
For most of the first half, our sub goalkeeper, Jordan Seabright, has been warming up on the touchline in front of us. After an hour, he enters the field of play, as a substitute for Lewington, who is obviously not feeling right, or carrying an injury. By the time he makes his entrance, we are 2-1 down, thanks to a long range strike by Gareth Evans, whose hit from outside the area beats Lewington and creeps inside his right hand post. No one has really closed him down quickly enough, and we have paid the price once again.
As the half wears on, we force a few corners, but don’t really threaten Davis. The passes continue to be misplaced, and it is enough of a disjointed performance to bring the thoughts of relegation back to the forefront of the mind. With many games being called off, we have now played more games than those below us. As the game winds down, we force a couple of corners, but still the home keeper, clad in white, doesn’t appear to have got his kit dirty. To be fair, Seabright hasn’t really been tested either, and although there are four minutes to be added on, nothing changes, and the final whistle brings a 2-1 home win.
It’s been a disappointing day out. It all started so brightly, but in the end it’s just been a poor performance. Too many played poorly, and no one in the light blue away shirt played well enough to lift themselves above the other subdued performances. Fleetwood, I felt, weren’t brilliant either, but they looked much more “up for it” than we did, and in the end, deserved the three points. We are asked to leave the stadium via the now opened away terrace, although there is some difficulty getting the flag untied and back in the bag. Upon embarking the coach, the general mood is one of disappointment, and it’s not difficult to see why.
While we have lost a manager in the last month, I wonder why at times, there isn’t a transfer window for managers, as there is for players. If a club wants to change their manager or head coach, then they should only be able to do it during a certain period of the season. It’s the situation with players, so why not with managers as well? If a manager resigns, then they can not take another job until the next window opens. With twelve games to go, our season has been disrupted, which is clearly not ideal. The results haven’t been too bad, but it still doesn’t help.
The journey back south is marked by ever increasing snow fall, and a thought that this is going to be another nervy finish to a season. Over Easter, we have Barnet away on Good Friday, which has just become a huge game thanks to today’s results. On Easter Monday, we play Bristol Rovers, whose upturn in form has moved them from the bottom two to the top of the lower half of League Two. Neither of those is going to be easy, although at the moment, I am hoping that we are inconsistent enough to produce a much better performance at Barnet than we put in today. Part of me thinks it can’t be any worse.