the daggers voice
For our two home pre-season friendlies, against fellow London EFL sides Leyton Orient and AFC Wimbledon respectively, I was joined by Dad, then my nan Sheila, as Daggers succumbed to two narrow losses but two good workouts.
In the Orient game, I went straight from training, which ended at 7pm meaning I would miss the autographs. After training ended, Dad picked me up and we went straight to Victoria Road. Although it was a friendly, I was still excited for three main reasons; firstly, we had had an excellent pre-season so far and had been scoring goals for fun so I was keen to see how he fared against higher opposition, secondly, because it was the first game back at our home, and thirdly, to see the new-look programme. When we arrived, the first thing I did was get the programme, which seemed different and definitely lighter than the black, dull background we had last season (which set the tone for the campaign) so it was a relief to see a red and blue template again.
Inside the ground, I first noticed the pristine, luminous green pitch that stood before me. It was a truly wonderful surface which deserved such credit to the dedicated groundstaff. There was a few patchy areas, but other than that, it was a great surface that would hopefully lend itself well to the team throughout the season. I then recognised that there were actually quite a lot of people there, by pre-season standards. Clearly others were excited to see how we'd play against higher opposition like the O's, too.
The teams strode onto the pitch as the tannoy burst into life, announcing the strong Orient team which contained high-profile players such as Dean Cox. Daggers were wearing their red and blue 'sash' kit, while the visitors sported last season's blue and white away strip. The game got started and I feared that Leyton Orient would win convincingly. I was very wrong. Daggers started the game very strongly and Okenabirhie forced the keeper into a good save early on, to chants of ''OOOHHH!''. The O's began to force a way back into the game but the Daggers took the lead. On 20 minutes Okenabirhie flashed a ball across goal which Hawkins slotted home, as I roared my approval. It was a brilliant moment which filled me with confidence.
Orient drew level before half-time through Gnanduillet's brilliant strike. A brilliant cross from dangerman Cox found Gnanduillet who produced an acrobatic effort which flew past Cousins into the middle of the goal. It dampened the mood a bit, but I was still happy at our performance come half-time.
Light turned to dark in the second-half in more ways than one. The O's introduced Paul McCallum which seemed to inject them with fresh energy as they took control of the match and found a home on the edge of our 18 yard box. As they piled on the pressure, Dad said to me that he thought they'd score in a minute. Then, they won a free-kick on the edge of the box. When Daggers lost 3-1 to Orient last August, Cox scored a free-kick from about 30 yards which Dad said was initially 'too far out', though I thought he'd score. But this one was definitely within near range. As he stepped up to take it, I held my breath, expecting a simultaneous roar from the away end as the ball would nestle in the net. The Orient fans thought so too, chanting ''DEANO!'' as he prepared to take the kick. However it just went over the bar, to my relief.
The match ticked into its final seconds and it seemed we had ridden the storm. Except we hadn't. Another pinpoint ball into the box, brilliantly saved by Cousins, but in came the head of McCallum to power the follow-up into the net. Having conceded countless last-gasp goals last season - I wasn't at all surprised. Some things never change! But I wasn't too disappointed. There was no head-down dejected trudging out the ground like I did months ago (mainly because it wasn't competitive) because we actually played well, which is the main objective of pre-season. On the way home I wrote my match report and discussed the match with Dad. I concluded that although we had a lot of work to do, the team had gelled incredibly well and we were making progress. It was good to be back.
Four days and a new away kit release later, we were back in action as we hosted League One side AFC Wimbledon.
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.