the daggers voice
This season, there's going to be only one team who prevents us from winning the title, and that's ourselves. We're our own worst enemy and it's so frustrating because we all know that we're good enough, but at the minute we're just letting ourselves down.
Take our recent run for example. Only Dagenham & Redbridge could win four games in a row and then lose the next three, undoing all of our good work in the progress. It's come at the worst possible time too, in the midst of a busy and hugely crucial period in our season. Last campaign we lost the league, I'd say, before the end of the year and I'd hate for that to happen this time around, too.
But that's what's happening. The title is slowly slipping away and, come Monday, it could be beyond reach altogether. Either that or it could be back on but, at the minute, I can only see one thing happening. We really lack mental strength at this time, the kind of mental strength that saw us snatch last-minute victories earlier on in the campaign.
One of the biggest problems is that we appear to lack leadership, that Abu Ogogo type player who can single-handedly drag you back into games. We have Scott Doe but unfortunately he's been one of our biggest problems recently. He contributed to both of Eastleigh's goals on Saturday and then inexcusably let his marker go for the first on Boxing Day. He also conceded the penalty from which Hereford scored their winning penalty in the FA Trophy tie.
How are you supposed to respect a player in the dressing room who has made those mistakes recently? Were it not for reputation and the fact he holds the captaincy, Doe would surely be dropped. Bondz N'Gala got shipped out for less, which brings me to another point: it makes no sense to help out our biggest rivals in any situation, but especially given our defensive frailties.
It's so frustrating to see us return to our old ways after we looked like we'd turned a corner defensively and, if that wasn't bad enough, we've really lost our way in attack too. Ferrier and Cheek are both fantastic strikers who both bring something different to the team, but they can't survive without service. I thought the return of Sparkes would really sort that, but if anything his inclusion seems to have unsettled the squad.
One big conundrum that John Still faces refers to Craig Robson. When we play him in defence, the midfield suffers but when we put him in midfield, the defence in turn suffers, so it must be puzzling for John Still to accommodate him. I think the best solution would be to play him alongside Lokko in defence and for Howell to play alongside Boucs in midfield.
But in defence we have a real crisis and I feel our recent run of clean sheets was only really papering over the cracks. Ling is a cracking player now but it's easy to forget that he was our third choice right-back last term, which seems incredible. Now, our defence was hardly incredible last season, but I'd be slightly tempted to swap for the one we have now. Sir Alex Ferguson once said ''attack wins you games, defence wins you titles'' - we're starting to see that.
Looking at teams around us, our defence is severely lacking in comparison. Wrexham are the obvious example, but even looking at teams such as Dover and Sutton for example, their backline is much stronger and ours and you can't say that they have better resources or funds than us because they don't, so it all comes down to recruitment. Of course, we also released two of Dover's first-team defenders, Passley and Femi, who I'm sure we'd happily take both of right now, and what are we left with?
We've got a winger playing at left-back and only two centre-backs who either aren't on loan or are loaned out (I also hear N'Gala will probably make a permanent switch to E10) - this isn't building for the future. It isn't a short-term solution, we're supposed to be be preparing for some sort of future whether we go up this season or not. This is a makeshift defence and it's not one which will earn you promotion with maybe the exception of Robson and Ling, who are both excellent. We're making the same mistakes we made last season. Once again, attack wins you matches, defence wins you titles.
One thing that's been particularly noticeable in recent weeks is that we also appear to be lacking fitness-wise. Perhaps the busy schedule is taking more of a toll on the players than expected, which is worrying given that we have 2 games in 3 days coming up. Against Eastleigh and Orient we seemed to have run out of steam after twenty minutes - even Ferrier looked exhausted. I know Still has said that the Winter run-in isn't a problem for the team, but maybe it's time to delve into the exterior options, even if just to remind the players that their place isn't guaranteed.
The main reason all of this is frustrating is because we all know what our team is capable of. We've alsolutely blown teams away this season and even the defence has performed admirably on occasions. The so-called best teams, the likes of Macclesfield and Dover, have looked very ordinary against us. Even teams that have beaten us such as Woking, Sutton, Wrexham etc, haven't looked like title material. I imagine other team's fans will also say that about us, but I honestly believe that we have enough quality to win the league.
We won't, though, for a number of reasons. One of those is that we're simply too inconsistent. There's no middle ground with us, we're either brilliant of dreadfully bad. We can't maintain a good standard of football every week, and momentum just doesn't exist at this football club. Another thing is that we can't grind out results like typical title contenders can.
Teams like Lincoln 2016/17, who combined a healthy team balance with clever tactics and even gamesmanship which also enabled them to snatch points when need be. That's what title winners do, they win at all costs, and the key to it is form. Even Forest Green; whenever I watched them either when they played us or on television they never looked amazing, or better than us by any means, but they found the ways to win and eventually that earned them their promotion, at our expense.
But I understand that it will be impossible to emulate what either of those teams achieved, because I think that no club in the league look good enough. But while the wheels appear to have somewhat come off recently, there's still half a year to go and we can still achieve our dreams. There's a long way to go but it's one step at a time, and the focus remains on Ebbsfleet, and then another pulsating derby against the O's.
We have a talented bunch of players and all of us are proud of how we did last season, but we really need to start playing as well as we can and, who knows, maybe we'll go one better this time.
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.