Daggers start to look over their shoulder

All of the cheer seems to be fast disappearing down the A13 for Dagenham and Redbridge at the moment as the Daggers Diary team explain after Saturday’s result.

Two weeks ago, Easter arrived with all the seasonal feel of Winter. Not only did some of us get four days off (if we were lucky), a mountain of chocolate to scoff over the course of the weekend, but also two games to (hopefully) enjoy as well. For the Daggers, that meant a trip to North London for our last visit to Underhill to play Barnet, before an Easter Monday home game against an improving Bristol Rovers.

Victoria RoadIn the run up to Easter, the club went nuts with the loan signings, making five in the last few desperate hours before the time for last minute reinforcements run out. Not only was there another goalkeeper signed, but a couple of wingers, a left back and another centre back, which meant that when the team took to the field in Barnet, there was two debutants, plus another on the bench.

Obviously the new players needed time to get used to the rest of the team, but given that it was a local derby, the all round “meh” factor was almost overwhelming, as the teams played out a tepid 0-0 draw, only enlivened by a late sending off. In truth, not even that distracted from what had been a dull game. As we stood on the terraces, with clumps of snow still visible along the sides of the pitch, at least the team had managed to look relatively organized, which was about the only positive from our trip to the end of the Northern Line.

Three days later and organized was most definitely not the word to be used. Against Bristol Rovers, we were two down in six minutes, and three down inside twenty. There was a comeback of sorts (if you can call getting it back to 1-3 a comeback), but a fourth for the visitors meant that Jake Reed’s first goal for the club late in the game counted for nothing. Several weeks previously, we had looked relatively safe in mid table, but some poor (ok, awful) results have meant that we have slipped down the table to end up in a position where we were looking really quite nervously over our shoulder.

Whatever was worked on in training between Easter Monday and last Saturday must have worked though. Financial constraints meant that I had to miss the trip to Exeter (instead spending the afternoon at Ilford v Grays Athletic in the Isthmian League Division 1 North), but an early goal from Scott Doe gave us three points and a much needed win to increase the gap between us and the bottom two to five points.

Now that we have reached the fifty point mark, it is to be hoped that we don’t need too many more to stay up. Hopefully a result today will be enough to mean that we will all still be getting the Football League badges printed onto our shirts next season, rather than the Conference version.

It won’t be easy though. Today, we welcome Oxford United to Victoria Road, before we go into our final two games of the season, which will involve a visit to Aldershot, and then a final day home game with York City. With those two particular clubs occupying twenty-fourth and twenty-third positions respectively at the start of play today, it’s going to be a lively end to the season.

Saturday 13th April 2013, Dagenham & Redbridge v Oxford United, Victoria Road

In many ways, I just want this season over and done with. Even at this late stage of the campaign, I normally look forward to any game that I attend, but for some reason, today isn’t one of those. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that we still need a point or two to secure our place in the division for next year. Perhaps it’s the fact that I think we’ll be in this position (or worse) in twelve months time. Whatever it is, once the last game of the season against York is done and dusted, I’ll be quite happy to see the back of 2012/13.

For the penultimate time this season, I make my way to the club house, and see familiar faces as I make my way past the programme sellers and upstairs to the bar, where a smattering of fellow Daggers are located, supping on their first pint of the day. The talk is of last week’s display at Exeter, as well as the amount of beer consumed on the train journey to and from Devon. Having done a trip to Dorchester with them a couple of years ago for a pre-season friendly (and watching them drink enough to produce two different, opposing formations with beer cans, including substitutes), I can well imagine the train carriage was filling up quite nicely with bits of discarded tin as it arrived at Exeter. On that trip to Dorchester, it was like watching an early Sky Sports programme, but with cans instead of subbuteo players or draughts.

We have a couple of extra guests in our midst for the game as Luis is celebrating his eighteenth birthday with a party at the clubhouse after the game. Finally, he is able to legally drink in the bar prior to the game. As we sit, thoroughly engrossed in the Falkirk v Hibernian game on the screens in the bar, attention does turn to the game we are about endure, although the main topic is the increase in season ticket prices for next year. Normally these aren’t announced until it is confirmed what division we are in, but with only one home game left after today, they have been announced. Our terrace tickets have been increased to £300, which is the first rise for a couple of years. Three years ago, when we were in League One, many of us took advantage of an offer whereby those who bought before the play offs got their ticket at the price for the League Two season that was about to end. Consequently, we all did quite well for that one campaign in the third tier. Some aren’t happy though, although I am not too fussed, and even raise the idea of getting a seat for the new season. At only £40 more, it’s not going to work out too much more expensive, plus I might see more of the game. At times though, that might not be a good thing.

While we may have won a couple of away games recently, our home form has not been good. The last time we claimed three points at home was back on February 9th, and in the five games at Victoria Road since, we have picked up the princely sum of two points. Oxford haven’t done well in their last few games, but as the game progresses, there are precious little signs that today is going to change our run of poor home results. It takes almost half an hour before the first reasonable chance comes along (Jake Reed missing the opportunity), but Alfie Potter’s goal five minutes before the interval was the only time the scoreboard operator was bothered. By then, a few of us had lost interest in the game, which just seemed to drag on and on.

Over the course of the game, and watching us struggle, it lead me to think why (like so many) I put myself through this every week. When your team can’t take a decent corner, punting (seemingly) every opportunity to cross the ball straight to the opposition goalkeeper, whose is under little pressure as he collects the ball; when the wingers out on the pitch offer no threat and not much in the way of crossing ability; why we persist with what suspiciously looked like one up front for a home game, and why we don’t look like scoring in a home game after going behind, do I bother attending each week, and why would I even contemplate renewing my ticket for next year?

There is a kind of blessed release once the whistle has gone, and there are times when all the fun has gone out of it. Sure, today we had a chance near the end of the game, but Mo Sharif’s shot is probably just whistling past the International Space Station about now, and although it might have been undeserved, a point would have meant so much to us and would probably mean that we stay in the League for another year.

The last two weeks are not going to be fun. Although we aren’t playing, all eyes will be on Aldershot on Tuesday night, as they entertain Southend. Failure to win for the home team will mean that our visit next Saturday could be absolutely crucial. While our away performances have been better than those at home (could that be down to a lack of pressure, that we aren’t expected to provide the bulk of the attacking play?), facing a team battling to stay up will be hard work for this group of players, who could be in exactly the same situation as the Shots.

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