the daggers voice
When Daggers and Halifax met in the league for the first ever time, back in September, everything seemed good. We had recaptured the form that propelled us to the 2016/17 play-off semi-finals and, even at that early stage, were looking like title challengers. On that sunny afternoon, goals from Craig Robson, Corey Whitely and a Scott Garner own goal saw us win comfortably as we produced another devastating attacking display.
Since then, though, so much has changed. Not only have things declined on the pitch, but we've suffered a similar financial collapse behind the scenes which appears to set up a worrying future for the club. Many rumours have been circulating but with White and Lokko now gone, possibly to reduce the wage bill, it's certainly a concerning time for the club.
Back on that gentle Autumn day, where our only worries were directed towards the on-pitch action, this current situation seemed miles away. When it was revealed that Hartlepool and Chester were in trouble, needing to raise a lot of money, I remember imagining if that was ever us. What would we do? What would happen to our great club? These then-hypothetical thoughts have presumably turned into a devastating reality.
However, this is the time where we need to get behind the club. This all starts in Yorkshire, where it's vital we all stick together as fans and give the players as much encouragement as we can. Our play-off ambitions must take a back seat as the long-term future of the club becomes our priority. That said, to win at the Shay Stadium would be brilliant, and hopefully would take our minds off this predicament.
It won't be easy though. Halifax have had a disappointing season by their expectations but in all fairness they've done well to consolidate their position in the National League after promotion last campaign. In Matty Kosylo they have a fantastic winger, we saw that when his wonder-strike knocked us out of last season's FA Cup.
He is that type of player who can really make something happen from nowhere with his skills and trickery. Our defence, I'm sure, will have a very difficult time, as they always seem to do. In addition to this is powerful forward Tom Denton who one might describe as the typical non-league target man; he's tall, strong but can also finish.
He's one of the main reasons why Halifax are now seen as a very physical team. We'll certainly be in for a battle at The Shay and the Shaymen will be desperate for points. Like the Daggers they are in poor form and Tuesday's narrow defeat to an improving Orient side saw Billy Heath sacked as manager. Personally I see this as quite harsh, they're not in immediate danger of relegation and Heath masterminded their promotion last year, but it shows that they have much larger ambitions than 19th in the National League, which is very respectable.
Should a new manager be appointed by 3pm on Saturday then they'll be out to impress, and will be confident ahead of the fixture given our poor form and various problems. We've had a poor start to 2018 but a win here could really kickstart an upturn in form. Hopefully as many supporters can turn up in Yorkshire, the team need it more than ever right now.
So two out-of form teams meet at the MBI Shay Stadium in a meeting between two weak defences. All is set for an entertaining fixture, but events in the week mean that this game doesn't seem as important as it should. Some fans want John Still out, but right now as I've said, we need to get behind the team as much as we can.
Transfer Deadline Day often turns out to be one of the most disappointing days in the football calendar. Much is expected and the prospect of eye-opening signings joining for ridiculous fees is one which not only captivates a football fan, but often leaves them glued to their TV in anticipation of something which ultimately very rarely happens. Yet despite the fact that it underwhelms year after year, Transfer Deadline Day remains as entertaining as it is unpredictable.
Yet, amongst the hype of Aubameyang to Arsenal, Giroud to Chelsea, Moura to Spurs and alike, there was a lesser-covered deal which is one of the strangest. Just minutes before the 11pm deadline, it was announced that Joe White had left the Daggers to join League 2 outfit Stevenage. It was the only deal in an uneventful Deadline Day for Daggers which centred more around Glyn Hopkin's potential exit than any incomings or outgoings.
When, at the eleventh hour, a notification saying 'Transfer' in big bold letters came up on my Twitter, I feared the worst. There had been apparent interest for a number of our players across the entire window, with Hartlepool manager Craig Harrison saying that he knows for a fact a couple of Championship clubs were looking at 'two or three' of our players.
Therefore, it seemed inevitable that one of our big players would be making an exit. Apparent interest for Okenabirhie and Ferrier aside, it seemed as if Corey Whitely was poised to leave the club amidst interest from Gillingham, Bristol Rovers and potentially Peterborough (unconfirmed). Even one of his teammates admitted personally that he expected Whitely to leave.
Therefore, to keep Whitely was pleasing, although he's been largely ineffective for months now as his four-month goal drought drags on. However, if we can get him playing to those standards again, it could be key to reigniting our season. Whitely is a confidence player, just one goal could get him firing on all cylinders again, which we desperately need.
You have to wonder if this was the bid John Still mentioned in his Solihull Moors post-match interview, where he wouldn't reveal any details. It's good that Dagenham are showing a bit of ambition and rejecting offers to show that we're no pushovers. Any bid has to be right and, although by our own admission we supposedly don't stand in a player's way, that doesn't mean we'll be weak to the demands of players.
However, this argument of us showing ambition was quickly dispelled by the Joe White transfer. The fee was rumoured to be either 3k or 15k. It is understandable that Stevenage would only be willing to pay a small fee for a risky, unproven player, but for us to sell a potential future star is really disappointing. When he signed a new three year contract only in August, we thought it was the future. After the setback of our academy closing, players such as himself and Tyrique Hyde would hopefully have been the fresh blood of Dagenham.
But obviously not. Joe White leaves with a rather incredible record: 1 start, 1 goal. His goal came against Gateshead in September and shows that what he currently lacks in strength and experience, he makes up with good positional sense and an eye for goal, which he backed up in his recent loan spell at Hendon. It's not like he would be the next Dwight Gayle in a long line of players whose rise we've contributed to, but he certainly has the potential to have a very good career, so it feels like we've been a little bit robbed.
When he made his only start, against Gateshead, it was because he'd earned it. He had the determination and desire which this club prides itself on. That 'Daggers' mentality that can't really be taught, you either have the passion or you don't. It will probably be a while before he's ready to make appearances for Stevenage but, playing alongside a better calibre of players, he'll learn well.
And so all that's left to do is wish him well for the future. The huge potential we've lost is Stevenage's gain, and I really hope he does well for them. Hopefully for us it won't prove to be a case of 'look at what you could've had'.
The Daggers head to Halifax Town on Saturday in their latest Vanarama National League fixture.
With both sides in contrasting form and needing points for very separate reasons, this could well prove to be a thrilling, end-to-end encounter at Victoria Road. Our promotion challenge has crumbled; we're slowly fading away from the play-off picture altogether when we should be going for the league. Solihull Moors though have picked up hugely under Mark Yates and arrive in the best form of their season, meaning that they will arrive with confidence that defies their league position.
It seems like whenever we turn a corner at the moment, it's almost instantly back to square one. John Still often says that the best teams get going around January, but this is a consistency that constantly evades us, and we're seeing the consequences now. On our day we can beat anyone, as the victories over Macclesfield and Dover show, but it's these kinds of games where we struggle, and that has ultimately cost us the league.
In reality, I think we all know the league has gone. Although things can change rapidly in this turbulent division, we've left ourselves too much to do. Infact, such is our decline that even a play-off spot is uncertain, so we're going to need every point we can get. Three on this occasion would certainly do us no harm, but it certainly won't be easy in any way.
Solihull are in the same bracket as Chester, Torquay and Guiseley, etc, who we have struggled against this season. No games are easy in this league, you can't underestimate anybody. In September, only a hugely-fortunate Jake Howells leveller denied Moors a victory over us, although we took the lead early on through Mason Bloomfield.
This was another thrilling encounter, as Daggers-Moors games have proven to be over the recent months. With 19 goals in the three matches we've shared, one thing you can guarantee is entertainment, especially considering the vulnerability of both defences. On this occasion, though, I'd happily take a scrappy 1-0 victory, just to halt the decline.
One player we should be wary of is Oladapo Afelayan, a pacy winger who has represented England C in the past, aswell as striking against us in September. He's impressed massively and is a crucial factor in their recent upturn in form. His team will sense another scalp, and it wouldn't be too surprising if he contributed to one and heaped more misery on the Daggers. After all, it's been a very disappointing few weeks.
Hopefully this year, though, we don't disappoint. Just as it's easy to go on a bad run, it's equally possible to embark on a good run just as quickly - just look at our opponents Solihull. Here's hoping we can gain a morale-boosting victory, which will put us in an ideal position ahead of a defining February run-in.
Well if that seemed bad in the flesh then it was even worse watching it back on TV. We were second best in every department; overrun in midfield, bullied in our own defensive area and not good enough in attack - bar the last ten minutes we not only lacked the quality but the passion and determination to break down a committed Sutton side clearly giving it all for their manager, can our players really say that?
Amazingly though, that spell at the end showed that Sutton were vulnerable to a bit of pressure, yet we didn't seem to try and put them under any all game. We actually could've nicked an albeit completely undeserved point when you consider the penalty Ferrier should've had if he went down, the fact that the ball probably didn't go out in the buildup for the first goal and the huge chance Cheek had. Even when we're awful we can at least manage to have some chances which I guess was the only positive in the kind of dreadful display we've seen far too often this season. Last campaign that kind of performance was a one-off, but now it seems like it's every other week. Not good enough.
The 2-1 scoreline suggests a tight, even contest but in reality they could've had at least 6, and probably deserved to. Even after they hit the bar three times, the post twice and had multiple others cleared off the line we didn't wake up and that first goal summed it all up for me. Yes it shouldn't have bounced but that's abysmal defending from Doe, especially after he'd got away with the exact same thing first half, and made even worse when you see him trudge away, shaking his head and looking around as if looking for others to blame. Just boot it out of the ground.
Then the second goal was just as bad, I think it was Ling's man. After all the free headers we'd gifted in our own box one was bound to count and it came to nobody's surprise when it did. This game showed how far we are away from potentially being Champions (we'd be happy enough to sneak into 7th right now) but the frustrating thing is that Sutton were pretty much gifted both goals even though they should've had more. How many times now have we played well for less than a half? Boreham Wood the other week, maybe Guiseley at home too, even Torquay (h), Chester away etc. You're never going to win games like that and when you do, such as the Guiseley game, your luck will run out eventually.
Many people seem to think Still's time is up, but I don't think we should be too hasty yet. It's still January and we have a third of the season to go and in this league things can change in the space of a week. If we don't make the playoffs though in what is a generally poor standard league (ie the leaders losing 6-0 yesterday) then it's time to reconsider definitely. If it wasn't for what he's done for us in the past, would we be content with this under say another manager?
Anyway, as they say onwards and upwards, Solihull next. Will be a much harder game than it sounds and with confidence slipping I can easily see a third consecutive defeat, hopefully not though. You also have to consider that it's the Anti-Racism game so there will be a higher crowd and pressure to win, which we tend to struggle with. A victory is a must though, especially given how poor we've been recently.
2018 begins with potentially-thrilling home clash against local rivals Leyton Orient in a match that we simply must win. With just one point from our three recent fixtures, we have found ourselves out of the play-off places as the league title is slowly drifting away from our reach.
Though Saturday was a significant improvement as we took a point at Ebbsfleet, a very tricky place to go, the performances haven't been good enough lately and we desperately need to start picking up form again. This is a pivotal part in the season, and any team who formulates a good run has the chance to pull away at the top of the division. At the minute that's looking like Macclesfield, but just a couple of wins could propel us right back in contention.
If that wasn't incentive enough, it's a match against Orient, which are always memorable occasions. Just last Tuesday we suffered the frustration and humiliation of a second defeat away at the O's already this season and the fans are desperate for us to finally avenge some of that pain, and finally earn some East London bragging rights.
But it won't be easy, as we found out last week. Orient have found some form recently under Justin Edinburgh, but were sent crashing back to earth on Saturday with a narrow loss at home to Bromley, which isn't that bad given that they had to play nearly all of the game with ten men, after Bondz N'Gala of all people received his marching orders. To make things funnier, it was all down to a dreadful backpass from Joe Widdowson.
Talking of whom, Widdowson should expect another frosty reception today, and that's another reason why we should be eager to win. He must've taken immense pleasure in beating us (twice) and couldn't celebrate the goals enough. It'd be so sweet if we could not only get one over Orient, but also him.
On Boxing Day the fans were in fine voice but I didn't see the same passion from the players, The occasion bypassed us, and it was so disappointing, especially being relentlessly mocked by the home fans. They're likely to bring 1200 today so it'll be an intimidating atmosphere, but that should be relished. The players should be determined and give 110% - John Still of all people knows how much this game means.
So a new year and hopefully, to a certain extent, a new Dagenham. We've been too inconsistent in 2017, especially on our travels, and a win today could go wonders for us, especially with two more home games fast approaching. A victory would be fantastic for the fans today, if only to have the satisfaction of shutting that lot up.
Orient fans must think we're overrated and poor, but that's not true. We've been underwhelming against them, but we can't bottle it today. This is a potentially-season-defining fixture, which will test our mental strength, something I've found myself questioning recently. Let's prove to Orient that East London belongs to the Daggers, and let's not ruin what will be a bumper atmosphere and bumper attendance.
COME ON YOU DAGGERS!
2017 marked our first full year back in non-league's top flight and was full of up's and down's - from the delight of making the play-offs on that simmering day in Wales to the despair of seeing our eventual promotion challenge ended on a heartbreaking afternoon against Forest Green which was a devastating end to a fantastic campaign.
Ultimately, this was a year which continued a new era at the club following the end of a nine-year stay in the Football League and our fantastically-rebuilt team exceeded all that was expected from the fans, which I can't praise them enough for. As our initial bid to make an instant return failed, we had a long Summer to recuperate and get the result out of our systems, ready to mount another challenge.
Those fabled trips to Charlton, Southampton, Portsmouth seemed a lifetime away, but the more time we spend in the National League makes you appreciate those days all the more. Instead, they were replaced with journeys to places such as North Ferriby and Maidenhead United, a reminder of just how far the Daggers had come in our short 25-year history, but also how far we had managed to fall, all because of one disastrous year.
Another busy Summer was in store as John Still wanted to ensure we could go one better this time. We sadly waved goodbye to Jordan Maguire-Drew, who will be fondly remembered at the club. Even though it was ultimately meaningless, I'll never forget his goal at home to Forest Green in the home play-off semi-final, which even the thought of brings a smile to my face.
In his place, though, came two quality strikers in the form of Morgan Ferrier and Michael Cheek and they would go on to endear themselves to the fans. Ferrier in particular is adored now, and his incredible goal at home to Ebbsfleet United in August will go down as one of my favourites of all time. Cheek had netted 20 goals for relegated Braintree the season before and him signing signalled another statement of intent from the Daggers.
Several more players were recruited and Dagenham were expected to have a rather successful year. Optimism soared after an incredible August where the Daggers went unbeaten. We were scoring goals for fun and looked a cut above the rest in the National League, even at that early stage.
It's safe to say many people were getting carried away, but why wouldn't they? We'd battered then-leaders Bromley 5-1, Corey Whitely was on the form of his life and a battling draw at Maidstone with ten men even proved we could dig deep when need be. The signs were overwhelmingly positive, but nobody knew that things would begin to decline.
September began well, with an impressive win over Gateshead, where we showed that we could perform even without Whitely. However, the first defeat arrived at Hartlepool and, with us rattled, was swiftly followed by a second. People were claiming that cracks were starting to appear, but we responded with last-minute goals against Solihull and Torquay to pick up points, despite admittedly shaky performances.
Our first week in October was one of the biggest in our year, as we travelled to high-flyers Aldershot and Woking respectively. Although we earned a point at Aldershot which again outlined our promotion credentials, we were then beaten at Woking, despite dominating. Once again, the next defeat was hard to recover from and we went on a bad run after that, losing to Orient in the FA Cup and suffering a last-minute loss to Wrexham, but form picked up and we managed to end the month with 4 points against Macclesfield (then top) and Maidenhead.
We were suffering from a bad case of travel sickness, though, and we lost our first game of November against Tranmere Rovers, meaning we were without an away win since the first week in August. However we would go on to break that record in the middle of a fantastic four-game winning run that propelled us right up there, beating Guiseley after being 2-0 down, Dover (then top), Chester emphatically and then Barrow, also away, to begin December.
But we typically underperform in December, and this year was no different as we are still winless since that display at Holker Street. An FA Trophy exit to seventh-tier Hereford meant there was to be no cup success this season and our defensive problems plagued us in the games that followed, with a shock loss to Eastleigh coming before another loss away to Orient. And the year was ended on Saturday, with a 1-1 draw at Ebbsfleet.
So it's certainly been an interesting year, and we're currently just on the cusp of the play-offs, but with a match in hand. Whatever happens it's generally been a proud year to follow the Daggers, and here's to an even better 2018, when we can maybe go one better.
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.