the daggers voice
Season Review 16/17
After suffering relegation the season before to consign them to their first non-league campaign in nearly a campaign, Dagenham rebuilt and regrouped to earn a hugely impressive 4th placed finish and, as a result, a place in the playoffs, an achievement that exceeded the expectation of everybody. From the highs to the lows and the joy through to the despair, I now take a fond look back on what was a season to remember.
It is May 16th and the campaign is finally over - but it has ended on an undeservedly upsetting note. We were beaten 3-1 by Forest Green Rovers and I am still hurting. I went to both games with so much hope, so much excitement, so much expectation, so much so losing didn't even cross my mind. But this is all forgotten in a heartbeat when I painfully cast my mind back to the same time last year, when I thought that my Dagenham had gone forever. Yes, as every fan will tell you, that season was so terrible; not just because we went down, but because of the manner. Nobody seemed to care. It is one of those memories that you don't want to exist, but needs to remind you just how far you have come.
Ever since relegation was confirmed on that tearful day in Leyton Orient on April 16th 2016, attentions turned to what would prove to be one of the most defining Summers in our history. I was just as nervous during those painfully boring months as during the previous season as I eagerly awaited news of player transfers and other developments during the club. Within weeks, several players had left the club, generating mixed feelings amongst the fanbase. Released were Jack Connors, Ashley Chambers, Clevid Dikamona, Ian Gayle, Ashley Hemmings, Zavon Hines, Justin Hoyte, Liam O'Brien, Josh Passley, Matt Richards and Ade Yusuff, while Doidge, Cureton and Labadie also exited the club, to my disappointment.
Gradually, players began to sign for us. First to put pen to paper were iconic duo Scott Doe and Luke Howell who returned to the club after a year away at Boreham Wood. I remember being in my room when I stumbled across the news and to say I was overjoyed is a slight understatement, as my friends at school the next day will confirm, I'm sure. And, after that, more were recruited by John Still, who added Justham, Williams, Robson, Robinson, Okenabirhie, Maguire-Drew (loan), Ling and Staunton to the team. At the time, I knew barely anything about the players, so began to research them extensively. After all, when there's literally nothing going on in a tedious Summer, you cling onto anything you can from your club.
Midway through June the fixtures were released and it was revealed that Daggers would start and end their season at home. I scanned through them meticulously for hours as all eyes looked ahead to August 6th. But before then, we had our pre-season schedule to negotiate. Our first friendly was an XI fixture at Ware, which saw a respectable 3-2 loss. My first chance to see the new look team came the following night as I watched us win 3-1 at Thurrock. The team gelled incredibly well and were dominant, with Hawkins x2 and Leo Donnellan scoring. A 4-0 win against Romford was then succeeded by two high-scoring victories away at Dunstable and Bishops Stortford respectively. Finally, the schedule ended with two impressive performances at home to league sides Leyton Orient and AFC Wimbledon, though both ended in losses. Pre-season drew to a close and, overall, I was very optimistic.
Slowly but surely, August 6th rolled around, and eventually it arrived. It was a beautiful day in East London and Victoria Road was nervous as Dagenham and Southport emerged for the season opener. The Daggers were superb and recorded an excellent 3-0 success, with plenty of positives and even a missed penalty. At the end of the day, they sat top of the table. But just three days later, we came crashing back down to earth with a 3-0 reverse away to Chester and they slipped down to 11th. What followed, though, was one of their best runs of form in the season, as Guiseley, Lincoln, Woking and Wrexham all fell victim to the free-flowing Daggers, who struck 9 goals in the process including a hat-trick for Hawkins infront of the BT Sport cameras against Wrexham. August ended negatively as Sutton United claimed victory on a Bank Holiday Monday, but John Still's side still sat 4th at the end of the month. Another positive was a double signing announced on the opening game, as it was announced that Paul Benson and Corey Whitely had joined.
At the beginning of September, the East London outfit suffered their first home loss with Boreham Wood triumphing 2-0, but this was quickly forgotten as Dagenham proceeded to win their next four. The first of these was away at Solihull Moors where another Hawkins treble accompanied goals from Okenabirhie and Maguire-Drew as they won 5-2. Hawkins then found the net twice in a row in successive 2-0 victories over Dover and North Ferriby respectively at Victoria Road as they briefly regained top spot, which they would occupy until the beginning of October. On September 24th, Dagenham headed to Bromley for a local derby. The match ended 3-1 and Hawkins, now the league's top scorer, put in a MOTM performance by converting a penalty and assisting Maguire-Drew. The other goal came courtesy of Corey Whitely's first, and first of many, for the club.
October would prove to be a challenging month for the club as they faced a difficult run-in, playing Tranmere, Eastleigh, Macclesfield, Aldershot and then-runaway-leaders Forest Green - but amazingly DRFC would remain unbeaten against all of them. First came the visit of promotion-chasing Tranmere Rovers in a televised fixture kicking off at the later time of half five. The visitors would go down to ten men but still hung on for a point, and Dagenham's disappointment at only drawing to one of the league's best sides showed the belief that had been instilled into the team. However, three days later, they were unexpectedly beaten away at Torquay United in a match where captain Scott Doe also saw red, but such was their inconsistency, Whitely then set up a 1-0 victory at Eastleigh, before two home wins in cup competitions followed; a youthful side disposing of Southend in the Essex Senior Cup before a professional 3-1 win over Wealdstone in the FA Cup fourth round qualifying with goals from Okenabirhie, Maguire-Drew and, of course, in-demand Oliver Hawkins. A week later, on October 22nd, Macclesfield Town were the visitors, and they would snatch a point in injury time, the first of many late goals at that venue during the campaign. Okenabirhie also scored but concerningly went off injured, another trend that would continue. But they had players who could fill the goalscoring void and three days later Corey Whitely struck a late winner over Aldershot Town. At the end of October, first met second in what promised to be a thrilling encounter at the New Lawn as Forest Green hosted John Still's men. An injury crisis led to a threadbare-looking side starting the match and they were duly outplayed, with ex-Dagger Murphy of all people firing home the first. I remember being there and thinking we would get hit for four or five but amazingly, we dug deep to draw the game. Hawkins was the man who fired the leveller with a fantastic header. The Dagenham of last season would've dropped their heads but instead we worked even harder, and got our rewards.
November, though, was by far the worst month as a spell of horrific injuries culminated in a woeful run of form that saw us lose our play-off place altogether. It started reasonably enough with a goalless stalemate against Halifax in the FA Cup, but then came by far their worst result of the season - a humiliating 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Gateshead. Things did not get better as a 2-1 loss at Halifax saw Dagenham dumped out of the FA Cup. Form seemed to improve slightly after successive clean sheets in away wins at York City and Maidstone, with Guttridge finding the net in each game alongside, unsurprisingly, Oliver Hawkins. Despite this, though, Barrow would record a win in Essex in a 4-1 scoreline that flattered them a little. And three days later it got worse as lowly Torquay completed the double with another 1-0 success. It was a very low month for Dagenham and form would need to pick up in December for sure.....
And at the beginning it did, with a hugely-impressive 2-1 victory at free-scoring Dover Athletic. Paul Benson scored his first goal in his second spell at the club before Maguire-Drew made it two and, despite Ricky Miller registering one of his forty goals during this season, they held on to earn a surprise result. But they couldn't build on this, and next week suffered an embarrassing loss at home to Worthing in the FA Trophy. It was the equivalent of a Premier League side losing to one in League 2 and another disappointing result at a home which was seeming more like a torturehouse than a fortress. A week later, on 17th December, Dagenham welcomed Solihull Moors to Victoria Road. This was a chance for the hosts' to earn some much needed points and put in a good performance and........they were 3-0 down inside twenty minutes. Boos rung out all around the ground, which was in disbelief. But amazingly, they fought back to earn a scarcely-believable 4-4 draw which probably said more about Solihull in more honesty. But it showed that Dagenham don't give up and. as bad as the performance was at times, it's the points that matter. Onto Boxing Day now, as Dagenham headed to Cressing Road, but the year would end sourly as Doe was sent off in a 3-2 defeat.
But on New Years' Day, they gained their revenge with a dominant 3-0 triumph over the 10-men Iron. Maguire-Drew, Guttridge and Whitely all found the net as they put on a silky display for the BT Sport cameras and this would start a good run for the club. The next game brought a 4-0 victory over North Ferriby, Hawkins x2, Guttridge and Okenabirhie finding the net, but it would be two weeks until they next took to the pitch. It was worth the wait though as a determined performance saw Tranmere Rovers beaten by two goals from Whitely and Hawkins.
The opening game of February brought one of the most joyful moments of the season. The hosts', having already missed a penalty, took the lead through Sheppard's blistering strike, but the game was turned on it's head by two Chester goals. It seemed like the game would end that way, until the last five minutes when two last-gasp goals saw the Daggers snatch all three points and spark jubilant scenes all round the stadium. Seven days later they made the long trip up to Merseyside to face Southport and, again after falling behind, rallied to win 4-, courtesy of Okenabirhie, Maguire-Drew, Whitely and an own goal. However, the inconsistency that plagued their season soon surfaced again as two shocking home performances followed, a 2-1 home loss to Guiseley before a thoroughly undeserved victory over a mightily-unfortunate Bromley side only beaten by a moment of quality from Jake Sheppard. They were not to be as lucky the following Tuesday however, with Maidstone winning 2-0 in Essex.
That brought an end to February, and March started on a similar note, with a narrow loss at in-form Gateshead, but this was followed by one of the best performances of the campaign as another late goal helped them defeat Forest Green 2-1. Another away loss at Barrow followed, despite Whitely scoring directly from a corner, before Aldershot outclassed the Daggers with a 3-1 victory, with Doe scoring a mere consolation. The month ended with yet another late victory at Victoria Road, Frankie Raymond scoring a sublime winner after an excellent passing move to defeat York City and consign them to a first loss in over ten games.
And so, the last month of the regular season began. Eastleigh had nothing to play for and it showed as Dagenham romped to a 4-0 victory, set up by Whitely's excellent hat-trick, helping to secure their play-off place. Two days later, though, Lincoln City would win 2-0 on Monday night, but Dagenham regrouped to win 4-1 at Macclesfield Town. They collected four points over the Easter period, winning 3-1 at Boreham Wood in a match where Benson struck twice before drawing 2-2 with Sutton United despite being two goals up. Their play-off place was finally secured in the penultimate fixture at Wrexham, as Benson scored the only goal, and the final game saw nine players rested yet a point still earned against Woking to ensure they finished fourth.
This meant that they would host Forest Green first in the play-offs, and this ended in an entertaining 1-1 draw, as Maguire-Drew cancelled out a controversial, and much disputed penalty from Liam Noble. This meant that winner would take all at the New Lawn three days later, but for Dagenham, it wasn't meant to be, as they just fell short. Forest Green won 2-0 and would win at Wembley the following weekend to earn their place in the Football League. The Daggers will go again next season.
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.