The Daggers Diary team take the long road up to Morecambe to see whether their promising start to the season could continue.
Last weekend’s win over Bristol Rovers at Victoria Road was a first win in five league games for us. Granted, there had been three 1-1 draws in that run, but also a 3-0 defeat at Mansfield which was described as “not the best day out we’ve ever had” by those that attended. The defeat at the Conference champions was swiftly followed by a home tie in the JPT against Colchester.
Going one down just before half time had us facing up to another early exit from a cup competition, but a second half recovery, aided by a much better performance and a red card for former Dagger Magnus Okuonghae produced four goals without reply to earn a second round trip to Southend United.
Exeter City then provided tougher opposition a few days later. While the performance was good, the wasting of so many chances when we were on top meant that we never capitalised on our one goal lead, and in the end, were grateful to hang on to a point, as the visitors scored their first away goal of the season, and threatened to follow it up with a second.
It was a similar story last Saturday against Rovers. Once again, we scored first, and were playing quite well, but gradually it levelled out and soon we were under the cosh. When Brian Saah was penalised for handball inside the area, the feeling of deja-vu was the overriding emotion as the ball was placed on the spot. Matt Harold’s spot kick though was well saved by Chris Lewington, and despite a few more nervy moments, the game was settled by a second Daggers goal to produce that first win since York City visited in mid-August.
The new style of play is winning a few people round, although this is certainly not being reflected in attendances. For the last few years, we could take some small comfort in the fact that we were at least getting more people than Accrington. Last week’s gate of 1,423 was the lowest for some time, but follows a trend that started last season. In a week when Leyton Orient’s request for a review of the decision to allow West Ham to take up tenancy in the Olympic Stadium was refused (and with it, the possibility of cheap tickets flooding the area), it’s slightly worrying to see so many empty gaps appearing at home games. There are some deals on to get more people into places like the Boleyn Ground at the moment (the league cup tie on Tuesday against Cardiff is £15 for anywhere in the ground), but will this take floating fans away from clubs like ourselves and Orient? Mostly, ourselves and Orient are at home when West Ham are away, so it could be argued that they are not denying either of us supporters. However, I would suggest that perhaps the pricing structure at the lower level is turning people away.
It costs £17 to buy a terrace ticket on the day of the game at Dagenham. £17? Really? If we were playing in some sparkling new stadium, then perhaps I would expect it, but not at the moment. Victoria Road isn’t as bad as all that (I have been to far worse), but it isn’t the Ritz. I think it is this that puts people off, and means that while we are at home, people that could be coming to our game are either shopping, or at home watching Soccer Saturday, and all the excitement that brings.
Will West Ham moving to Stratford be the death of Leyton Orient? Only time will tell, but while it’s important that the small clubs survive, just because they have been around for whatever length of time, doesn’t give them the right to stick around. There was a national outcry when Woolworths went bust a few years ago, but we all survived the resulting retail Armageddon, and the high street is as busy (or not) as it was a few years ago. For too long, football clubs have appeared to be outside the normal business model, simply because they were football clubs. They have to live in the real world, and if any club goes to the wall (mine included), then that is the way it is to be.
Saturday 21st September 2013, Morecambe v Dagenham & Redbridge, The Globe Arena
This is the earliest start for a league game that we will have on the coach this season. When the alarm goes off at an eye blurringly early 5am, I am tempted to turn over and go back to sleep. I eventually emerge from my slumber, and get going, preparing for the long coach journey ahead.
The sun isn’t even up when I emerge at Dagenham East station, and there is barely anyone around, but as I get to the car park outside the club house, there is a small, hardy band of fellow travellers already there. The coach will not be full today, so some of us will be lucky enough to get a double seat to ourselves. While it may not sound much, it does make a difference, especially on such a long journey.
Today is my eighth visit to Morecambe, although first to their new stadium, and I probably shouldn’t be going today if I want the Daggers to get a result. On the seven previous trips, we have managed precisely one draw. For all those trips (and miles), that is a fairly lousy return, although that does include two play off semi finals which, although we lost both on the day, produced positive overall outcomes for us.
In May 2010, we played in the last game at Christie Park, in the League Two play off semi final. As the mist rolled in towards the end of the game (bringing momentary thoughts of the game being abandoned), the final whistle was blown, and almost instantly there was a wave of fans from the other end of the ground running towards to us. Our jubilation at progressing was instantly turned to trepidation as to what was about to happen, but with thirty yards to go, they just starting sliding on the ground, and congratulating us on winning. Relations between the two groups have always been good, stretching back to our conference days, and hopefully that will continue today.
Morecambe come into the game in a good run of form, having won their last four games, highlighting how difficult our task will be this afternoon. However, it is us that has the first chance of the game, although a shot by Zavon Hines is deflected just wide of the keeper’s near post.
The new stadium is quite similar to Christie Park, with the main stand down one side, and a narrow, uncovered terrace opposite. The only differences are at each end of the stadium, where the covered terraces are not as deep as previously. It is still a nice stadium though, and as the game starts to settle down, the home side begin to get on top of the game. As we pass the ten minute mark, there are chances for both Jack Sampson and Padraig Amond, the latter’s shot flicking the top of the cross bar.
As the home side dominate the game, we break away, and on twenty minutes, we take the lead, thanks to a left footed shot by Abu Ogogo. It stuns the home fans, and surprises a fair few of the travellers as well. Abu has scored a few already this season, thanks to his new central midfield role, which allows him to get forward more often. His second goal in as many games gives us the unexpected lead.
Chris Lewington is the busier of the two goalkeepers and makes several saves, although he is helpless just before the interval which maintains our lead. There is a cross from the left win by Kevin Ellison, which is met by a glancing header by Sampson, which deflects off of a defender for a corner. From the resulting outswinging kick by Ryan Williams, Amond is able to easily lose his marker and head goalwards, although it loops over the bar. Lewington has a go at his defence, and is then called upon to make an excellent save from another shot (this time by Williams) but the lead is maintained.
The second half is only a few minutes old when Morecambe get their equalizer. Morecambe are awarded a free kick on the left hand side, which is crossed over, and met by Amond, whose header finds the net. It is a thoroughly deflating moment for the visitors, and it takes a few minutes to get over the disappointment. Flagging legs mean that Brian Woodall replaces Afolabi Obafemi and it provides a bit more of an attacking threat for the Daggers, as Obafemi appeared to be dropping too deep at times. We look as though we are trying to play 4-5-1 when we don’t have the ball, but it does rely on players being able to support the lone forward quickly, and far too many balls were being pumped up to Murphy and coming straight back at us. While Murphy isn’t entirely successful in the air, the lack of any meaningful back up arriving quickly enough means that Morecambe are able to recover the ball quickly, which means Stuart Drummond is able to start another attack. Drummond is one of those players that seems to have been around for ever, and is one that I have admired even when we were in the Conference. Highly accomplished, his supporting cast is excellent, and it is, at times, not difficult to see why Morecambe are in good form.
Our inability to defend a set-piece comes back to haunt us with thirteen minutes to go, and it looks like it will cost us the game. A corner from the Morecambe right is not cleared, and the Morecambe centre back, Mark Hughes is able to lash the ball home. The chances of their winning five in a row have just improved considerably, and it is, probably on the balance of play, deserved.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a blow though, as by now, many Daggers fans would have crossed the referee, Scott Mathieson from their Christmas card list. Most fans will watch a game through a slightly view, but there are some decisions that are slightly baffling, while others that appear to be clear cut are not given. The one good thing is that he is consistent, although that really isn’t saying too much.
With three minutes to go, we have what could be our last chance. It is still taking some getting used to, but there is a patient build up from the Daggers, and the ball is worked out to the left wing, The cross is headed back across goal by Ogogo, but Murphy’s header is saved by Barry Roche. The ball breaks to Brian Woodall, but he is challenged at the crucial moment, and his effort crashes into the roof of the stand behind the goal. That looks to be the last chance.
Four minutes of injury time are added, but it is looking increasingly like a forlorn hope of getting anything from this one. The team though don’t stop, and as we enter the depths of the last minute of added time, Zavon Hines is given the ball on the Daggers right, He is faced by Tony Diange, but gets past the left back and delivers a low cross to the near post, where Rhys Murphy is able to flick the ball past Roche and into the net. This silences the home crowd, and the opposite reaction (naturally enough) in the small away contingent. There are barely twenty seconds left when the game restarts and when the whistle is blown for full time, the silence from the home fans is telling, while there is joy unconfined from those few that have made the journey north.
As we leave the ground, the main talk amongst the Daggers fans is of the referee, and that we deserved a point. I argue otherwise, suggesting that although the decisions may have gone against us, it wasn’t the referee that allowed Morecambe to keep the ball for so long, and it certainly wasn’t him that allowed us to concede two sloppy goals. Based on the possession of the ball, and how much they created, I thought we were fortunate to come away with a draw, although the officials diluted that somewhat. The result was apparently “justice” according to one, but I think that’s not correct. Morecambe were better than us, but just didn’t take their chances and we did.
A draw keeps us in a decent position, and continues our good start to the season. While nothing is settled in September, it is encouraging to see the team doing well, and picking up points when we arguably don’t deserve to. It’s the second time this season that we have equalized in stoppage time away from home, which shows that we are able to keep going, even to the bitter end. It almost feels like we have a small part of the old Dagenham back.