The last three games have followed a familiar pattern, to the extent that they are barely worth describing. Two home games yielding our favourite 1-1 result, and a loss on the road. Any neutral who has been following the form probably made a tidy sum on the Daggers in recent weeks.
The return of Solomon Taiwo prior to the Hartlepool game was cause for celebration, and his influence was clear in a first half the Daggers dominated. Scannell’s volley from a few yards was pushed away superbly by Kean, Taiwo fired a volley over the angle from distance, but despite all the pressure there was nothing to show for it at the break.
Minutes after the restart it was a visiting player who helped us on our way, turning Ifil’s low cross past his own keeper to give the Daggers the lead. Tomlin had a golden chance to seal the victory when he robbed a defender and ran into the box, but after doing all the hard work his finish was scuffed straight at the keeper. The story of his season so far, you might suggest.
His strike partner in this game fared little better. Scott had earnt a recall after some impressive substitute outings, but he proved frustrating with very little involvement. It is difficult to understand why he sometimes seems unwilling to use his power and pace to good effect, and why his touch on the ball can vary so wildly between his good and bad days. Perhaps he is feeling the pressure of expectation given his inexperience but you would hope the management can coax last season’s version out in the near future.
A nervous Daggers side spent the final half hour of the game retreating into their own half and allowing the visitors possession of the ball. Quite why we stopped doing the things that had served us well is anybody’s guess, but it proved to be a rather naive tactic. The defence was unsettled by the decision to replace Ifil with Walsh and shift Doe to full-back, a position he has never seemed comfortable with. A shot from the left hit the far post, McCrory almost sliced the ball over his own keeper, and Arber then spooned one against his own crossbar.
Although Savage nearly finished it very late on after picking his way through a clutch of defenders, Pools got the draw when a shot from the edge of the box deflected through the legs of Walsh and dribbled past Roberts for an agonising own goal.
Visiting Southampton a few days later was never going to be a game to put things right. They operate in a completely different stratosphere to us. Players such as Lambert and Fonte cost in excess of £1m and many of the squad commanded six figure fees. It is obscene at this level of football especially for a club that was recently in £27m worth of debt, but crowds of 20,000 will buy you these sorts of players.
The no-contest wasn’t helped with an injury to Roberts, leaving Lewington to make his debut in probably the hardest match of the season. Having never played higher than Conference South for a doomed Fisher Athletic, it was a big ask for the young keeper.
Rather than one of the expensive stars, it was home-grown youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who made the difference on the night. At just 17 years old, he already looks like a future Premiership player. Very early on he tied McCrory in knots before chipping the ball towards the back post. Lewington was horribly positioned and could only help it into the net. Tomlin’s against the bar was a brief respite for the Daggers but Chamberlain ended our hopes shortly before half-time with a cheeky lob from the side of the box, which dropped in at the far post.
After the break Lambert manouvred his considerable bulk past Doe to tee up Barnard, and then Chamberlain subjected Ifil to some treatment having finished with McCrory, chipping in from the left flank for Fonte to head home the 4th.
A welcome distraction from league football came in the shape of Leyton Orient’s second visit to Victoria Road this season, in a game which promised all the blood and thunder of a local derby. It certainly didn’t deliver.
In a much-changed Daggers side, Savage and Nurse were elevated from the bench, Ogogo and Antwi returned from injury, and new signing Victor Palsson started in a 3-man midfield.
A lot of promising play never really clicked into gear for the Daggers and the only real chance saw Savage put a free header wide of the target from Green’s free kick. Just before the break Orient took the lead when the ball deflected off Vincelot straight to Revell, whose scuffed shot squirmed through Lewington’s legs. Within seconds the Daggers were level with the only real piece of quality of the whole afternoon. Green’s superb free kick from the corner of the box went in with help from the inside of the near post.
With everything set up for a rousing 2nd half, it deteriorated into one of the most boring games of the season. With neither side very interested in winning, as demonstrated by our refusal to replace the tired and ineffectual strikeforce, the only chances were a Vincelot drive just over the bar, a Cox effort superbly saved by Lewington’s legs, and a Revell shot which came back off the post.
So we’ll be visiting Brisbane Road next week to do it all again, hopefully with a bit more determination and quality from both sides. Another display like this one in an evening match could end up putting the whole crowd to sleep.
There is very little to learn from this run of matches which we didn’t already know. We must find a striker who can score regularly, otherwise we are in big trouble. Taiwo and Palsson look like they will give us a very strong midfield, and the return of Antwi and Ogogo will surely help shore up our back-line. The only other cause for concern is the form of McCrory. He hasn’t been on top of his game this season, and after being run ragged at St Mary’s he looked very nervy on Saturday with 4 mistakes in the first 10 minutes. He’s young and is a great prospect, but perhaps it is time to rest him.
Next up is a visit to Yeovil. Three defeats in the last four have seen them join us in the relegation zone, and with one of the less impressive home records in the division this is certainly the sort of game we need something from. Come on you Daggers!