It is crisis time at Dagenham and Redbridge FC. It wasn’t long ago that we talked about the Plymouth match in “must-win” terms – we lost that, and the next four. Seven straight defeats, one win in the last twelve matches. That, my friends, is relegation form.
The most worrying aspect is that you can’t see where a win is coming from. A month or so ago, the team wasn’t playing terribly but was making mistakes in both boxes. Now we’re still making the mistakes, but we have also lost all concept of how to play football. Effort comes in sporadic bursts rather than by the bucketload as we’ve come to expect in recent years.
Where is it going wrong? The defence is an easy place to start – 15 goals conceded in the last 5 games, including a penalty in every single one of those. Captain Mark Arber is playing like a man whose 34 years aren’t just catching up with him, they’ve galloped past him into the distance. Giving the ball away in bad areas, not winning his aerial duels, being caught for pace and easily given the slip. Scott Doe isn’t covering himself in glory either – red cards in both his last 2 games and some rather tentative displays. Ogogo has been out of form ever since a cast appeared on his arm.
It is difficult to lay all the blame at their door though, given how little help they receive from midfield. Kevin Maher’s 4 games back before another injury consisted mainly of a one-paced jog around the middle of the field with the occasional pass or header. The number of tackles or interceptions he made could probably be counted on one hand and he seems to have a habit of giving runners a free pass into our box. Oliver Lee, who has only just returned to West Ham, also seemed incapable of doing any of the graft required to play in central midfield.
We have also persisted with 2 very attacking wide players which means only Peter Gain is doing anything to help the defence. When you are struggling and conceding so many goals, it might be a good idea to adopt a slightly more cautious approach. Talking of the wingers, it seems Gavin Tomlin’s purple patch is over and we are struggling to fill the other berth with only DJ Green fully fit. DJ at least puts a shift in, even though he is struggling to make an impression. It is a big ask for a young lad such as him to lift a poor side.
With experienced players such as Maher, Arber and Tomlin not really doing enough to arrest this slump, it wasn’t exactly devastating to find them all injured for Saturday’s game against Shrewsbury. Moving Ogogo into midfield finally gave us the energy, tenacity and tackling ability we’ve lacked for most of the season and Femi did a superb job in the middle of the defence. Rose, who came in at right-back, didn’t have such a successful start though as he headed a hopeful punt into the path of Gornell for an early opening goal.
Despite this setback, our new-look line-up meant we looked decidedly more secure than we have in recent weeks. It remains to be seen whether Maher and Arber will be put straight back into the side when they return to fitness, but it would be very harsh if they were.
There is, of course, another major problem in our recent performances; scoring goals. Or rather, not scoring goals.
In the last 3 matches we have barely mustered a shot on target. It has been deckchair time for opposing keepers who could probably take a nap during play were it not for the constant goal-kicks yielded by our aimless long balls. We haven’t even looked like we might manage a goal, and indeed the only one we have scored in these matches was a free kick which was badly dealt with by Crawley’s Shearer.
Jon Nurse has been a fixture, mainly due to the chronic injury problems plaguing our other front-line forwards. Unfortunately this is perhaps the worst period of form for the Barbados international since his first season with the club. Yes he has managed a few goals this season, but he hasn’t been at the races for large parts. He seems to lack any kind of sharpness or spark, and the tireless running and tenacity which used to be his main qualities simply aren’t showing up.
He has largely been paired with Woodall, who is learning fast but of course is still very inexperienced. He often shows ability in the air and on the deck and can hold the ball up and defenders off, but in reality both him and Nurse are living on scraps.
The quality of the ball forward has been dreadful in recent weeks. This was typified by the last 30 minutes of Saturday’s game, where every single ball forwards seemed to be a lump onto the head of Ian Sharps. Nursey jumps well for a guy his size, but what chance does he have against mammoth centre halves?
We have been direct ever since John took over, and I have absolutely no problem with that. But to play that way, you need a couple of things: the ability to direct well-judged long balls into the channels, and forwards who can win those balls, lay it off, and then make a beeline for the penalty box. We currently have neither of these. It seems to me that nobody wants the ball for fear of losing it, and the majority of our balls forward are badly directed and badly weighted.
So what is Plan B? Well, it is something John doesn’t think exists – we play our way, we work on playing that way all week, and we implement it on Saturdays. I can completely understand this, but surely it is possible to vary it slightly? Take Saturday for instance – Plan A is our usual way of playing which involves trying to hit the channels. However, what we are actually doing is hitting the centre halves on the bonce. We are failing to execute our plan, but we keep doing the same thing over and over again.
By this point we had a man advantage, and our main danger men, the wingers, are seeing absolutely none of the ball. Can’t we find a way to go through the midfield so we can get the ball wide? I’m not asking for 127 passes, but maybe a forward or a midfielder could come short for the ball and knock it to Green or Scannell. It doesn’t even have to be on the floor – it could be a clipped pass into the chest of Woodall. But what we surely cannot keep doing is hammering the ball onto the defender’s head.
It will be very interesting to see how John deals with this in the coming weeks. And yes, before anybody asks that particular question; it should definitely be John who gets the chance to rectify this predicament.