the daggers voice
Since the Daggers were relegated to the Vanarama National League at the end of the 2015/16 season, many people have been very surprised by the high standard of football in the division. Indeed, there is often a negative outlook on non-league, but it actually isn't too much of a contrast to the Football League.
It's refreshing to see teams such as York and Hartlepool struggle in a division which they were so confident ahead of. At Dagenham, nobody expected or even thought that we would finish as highly as we did last season, but John Still completed a remarkable squad overhaul which was only denied an instant play-off final appearance by Forest Green, thanks also to a frankly pathetic dive from Bugiel.
Alas, though, we went again. Here we are in December, exactly halfway through the season, sitting very respectably in fifth. Very few points separate the sides at the top and so it is all to play for ahead of a Festive period which really could make or break a club's campaign. A spell of four games in ten days can stretch a squad to it's limit, so it will be a chance for everybody to prove themselves.
Not many teams will go into this period in as good form as the Daggers. We have won four games in a row, with three clean sheets which, considering our defence is often deemed unsatisfactory, is incredible. After an FA Trophy trip to Hereford, we will entertain rivals Leyton Orient in a double-header, host Eastleigh and enjoy another local trip to Ebbsfleet. Hard games but, for a club with our ambitions, ones which we should be expecting to win.
I never expected things to be as tight in December as they currently are. At this point last season, you only had a couple of teams in contention, and Daggers were just about in touch. This year, there are so many teams who have a genuine shot at promotion, and just slender margins separate them all, which begs the question: is the standard of the National League worse, or actually better?
I think it's a combination of both. While it could be argued that some of the teams doing well this season wouldn't have enjoyed nearly as much success if this was last season, I certainly believe that anybody can beat anybody on any given day, which adds to the unpredictability of things and makes it harder to build up momentum, hence why Daggers' current four-game winning run deserves immense credit.
It's hard to compare our squad to that of 2015/16 as both were fantastic in different ways. We have a better attack this year but arguably a weaker defence too, but after 23 games are in a similarly strong position. At this stage then we were 6th however with 42 points, only two more than we currently have, so there's not too much of a contrast.
One thing that has changed in the league from last campaign, though, is that there is no stand out team as of yet. Last season Lincoln City and Forest Green made lots of ground by Christmas, however one team is yet to take the 2016/17 National League by storm. This means that Dagenham have as good a chance as anybody to emerge as the best, all it takes is a bit of form.
And the Daggers certainly have it in them to push themselves to the next level. We've beaten teams such as Macclesfield and Dover when they were top of the league, and none of those struck me as an outstanding team. You could see why they were doing so well, but were never left with the genuine feeling that those sides were better than us.
Infact, even when we've been beaten this season, I haven't really seen us totally outplayed. Wrexham are one of the best teams in the division by virtue of their outstanding defence, but while they remain solid at the back, you get the impression that if you don't fear them and attack against them just as you would any other team, they can crumble. Macclesfield, low and behold, done this and won 4-1.
To date, Sutton would have to be the best team I've seen us face, and even they needed a last minute goal to defeat the Daggers after what was a poor display from Still's side. We threw that game away and Sutton were by far from brilliant, once again showing that no team in this league are amazing.
And so these next few weeks could become crucial for all the clubs. All it takes is one team to put a brilliant run together and that could prove to be the difference between now and the end of the season. Momentum is crucial and, with four games in just over a week coming up, this is the chance for us to continue our winning run, and who knows where it could take us?
But, first, we have a trip to Hereford in the FA Trophy. It might be seen as a distraction to some, but John Still will need to show them as much respect as they would a league side. You only need to look at what happened against Worthing last year to show the consequences of underestimating an underdog. Win this, and we might just go on a decent Cup run which ends with 90 minutes under the Wembley arch.
But our priority is the league, and I would happily take a loss at Edgar Street if it makes us focus more on our challenging Christmas run. The prospect of a mouth-watering double header against Orient is all the incentive the Daggers need, and we also host Eastleigh and travel to Ebbsfleet. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - but can Daggers begin to look like National League champions?
I am Joel Page, Dagenham & Redbridge FC fan. Here I will share some of my experiences.