We signed off last time with a morale-boosting win over in-form Bury, which we hoped would signal the end of a dodgy period. This has proved to be wishful thinking with all the momentum taken away by the following week’s postponement at Rotherham. So after 14 days off, the Daggers travelled to Northampton for a freezing Boxing Day fixture.
Josh Scott returned to the side in place of the creaking Currie but it didn’t have the desired effect as both sides played out an awful encounter totally bereft of quality. Perhaps both sides were looking forward to getting back home in the warm for leftover turkey and a pint, and the crowd could’ve been forgiven for leaving early to do the same. However just when it seemed as if this would be the least eventful game of the season, the Daggers contrived to blow their chance. A handball in the box gave Arber the chance to snatch three points but he blazed over, and inevitably it came back to bite us. McKay’s ferocious shot was saved by Roberts, but the ball spun up and towards the goal. Whether or not it crossed the line before Roberts clawed it away is anybody’s guess, and indeed the linesman’s guess was that it had, despite him having to run ten yards before he was in the correct position to flag.
Just two days later Cheltenham visited Victoria Road sitting perilously close to the relegation zone. This was a great chance to put things right, but once again it didn’t go according to plan. Gain’s suspension meant a rather soggy-looking midfield of Spiller and Miller, with Nurse retaining his place on the left. After not seeing the ball for the majority of the last game Benson could perhaps be forgiven for putting a good chance straight at the keeper. Otherwise there was little to be encouraged by as the power and strength of Alsop and Richards gave us a tough time and Nana struggled to deal with Low. A goal just before the break was the killer as Richards’ header was deflected over the dive of Roberts by Nana.
There was little impact from the home side in the 2nd period either and Cheltenham sealed the win midway through the half. Nana gave the ball away on the right and the ball was instantly played past a short-handed Daggers defence for Low to run on and slot past Roberts. Despite introducing Currie and Thomas, nothing could be salvaged and the Robins saw out a deserved win. Thankfully this proved to the be final appearance in a Daggers shirt for both Nana Ofori-Twumasi and Adam Miller. Despite scoring two goals from his position of right-back, Nana could not mask his incredibly frail defensive attributes. As for Miller, we did need him to be more defensive than he naturally is due to Thurgood’s absence, but he never looked like proving an adequate deputy. Caught too far up the field on too many occasions, he over-committed himself in bad areas and it was very rare that we won good possession in the middle. And he was in dire need of a haircut.
Two Saturdays followed without matches due to Notts County’s cup exploits and Torquay’s frozen pitch, but there was finally some more action midway through January as Crewe were the visitors. Thankfully, there were returns for Gain and Ogogo and a debut for new loan signing Marlon Pack in midfield. Both sides played some neat football and went close before Josh Scott broke the deadlock. A slick move ended when Green whipped a nice ball over for Scott to guide his header over the keeper. Minutes later, Spiller teed up Green who placed the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the box, and he nearly scored again straight from kick-off with Benson’s follow-up also being turned away. Roberts made two wonderful saves to keep hold of his clean sheet, and as the game wore on Spiller came into his own with some excellent passing and movement to see the game out comfortably.
Unsurprisingly, the same eleven took to the field at Shrewsbury and picked up where they left off. Green slipped a nice ball through for Benson who unleashed a great shot across the goal from the corner of the box to give the Daggers a rare away lead. However, frailties crept back in as we conceded two awful goals before the end of the half. Firstly, a simple pass across the box was placed in the corner by Hibbert with a distinct lack of urgency in the Daggers back-line to cut the danger out. On the stroke of half-time (yes, again) the eventual winner came as Pack headed straight up in the air and somehow Leslie was allowed to bring the ball down twelve yards out, spin, and place the ball into the corner.
Both sides battled for another goal in the second half but really neither side looked to have too much in the way of creativity, and our fate was sealed with a pathetic decision to send Scott Doe off for an alleged elbow. The referee was in an excellent position yet still decided that the collision between Doe and Dunfield was a red-card offence. This led to a debut for new French signing (ooh la la) Romain Vincelot, but the only remaining chance fell to Gain whose deflected effort found its way into Button’s gloves on the goalline. To make matters worse, there was then the prospect of getting back to the town centre for the train home now that the Shrews play in a new – and all too common – out of town stadium.
Given that yesterday’s match was also off, the last game in this round-up is last Tuesday’s pointless exercise against Notts County. With County bringing in countless players on big money who are too good for this level, they should really be sweeping everybody aside. And swept aside we were, despite a decent early period with Josh Scott going close on a couple of occasions. The customary goal just before half time came when Davies curled a lovely finish into the far corner after hesistant defending.
The second period was spent mainly with County wasting every possible second without being penalised, especially after Davies curled a free-kick into the box which seemed to evade everybody before bouncing lamely into the net. The County fans were quick to smugly jeer every mistake by a Daggers player as they revelled in their lead. Everybody likes to see their side win, but the way the players and the fans carry on you would think they’ve actually achieved something when in reality they are purchasing success. Despite their past financial woes, they don’t seem to care that the money could disappear just as quickly as it arrived, plunging them into a situation with a massive wage bill they cannot fund. A little bit of humility goes a long way in football, and I think a lot of people will be amused if their arrogance ends in tears.
Anyway, back to the game and Benson missed a free header to make a game of it, before Ogogo was very unfortunate to deflect Hawley’s shot in for 3. And so ends a pretty awful period with a suddenly tough-looking match against Northampton to come next week. It seems we still haven’t solved the midfield frailty that has haunted us since Thurgood’s injury and with Day looking inconsistent at left-back, the goals are starting to leak in, especially just before the break. With our attacking form also sporadic as Green and Scott find their feet in their first season of League football, it seems to we need to target a more realistic mid-table finish and avoid being dragged any further towards the bottom half.