THE dAGGERS vOICE
It's still debatable whether our magnificent unbeaten run stretching almost two months was an accurate reflection of what we can do with players like Wilkinson, Balanta or Onariase in the team, or whether it was merely momentum carrying us further and further. We can't expect to beat the likes of Orient and Salford every week, but one thing that's certain is that we don't deserve to be 16th in the table.
Had we started the season with our current squad it's quite conceivable that we'd be battling in the playoffs. Though we're only twelve points off with plenty of games to potentially overturn that deficit, it's likely that we'll just miss out. However, even to be talking about play-offs when we were dreading National League South football just three months ago speaks volumes about how far we've come. We're a changed team and the American Revolution is only in it's infancy.
Though it could be said that our campaign is finished because we're most probably going to find ourselves lodged in mid-table between the places of 10th and 14th, the next few months will be very important as they lay the foundations for 2019/20. All the progression we make from now until May will be carried into the promotion push we're expected to sustain, as the owners look to help guide us into the EFL again.
Above all else, though, the next few months are about enjoying football. November onwards has delivered me some of the most exciting times I can remember while supporting this club. When we were losing almost every game enroute to relegation to the National League, the matchday experience was utterly horrible. Now it's the exact opposite irrespective of the result and the fact that we've got to that stage now, especially considering what it was like during the first three months of the season, is a testament to the work being done behind the scenes.
One of the best pieces of work performed by the club was announcing Conor Wilkinson on an 18-month contract on Thursday. We've now got Goodliffe and Onariase on loan until the end of the season, we've got Wilko, Balanta and McQueen here until the summer of 2020, and we've got Clark and Phipps here until 2021. That's a huge part of our future right there, especially in Conor Wilkinson, whose arrival signals a huge statement of intent from the club.
No doubt he'll go straight into the side that will face Maidstone United today. Last week in the Trophy we were toothless up front in spite of our efforts, and we were crying out for someone like Conor just to make something happen, removing us from the constant cycle of building up a sustained attack, passing it sideways for a bit and then crossing it to absolutely nobody. Conor brings presence and intelligence which makes everybody play better.
Today is an opportunity to get 'back on the horse' so to speak, to start another run. We have three very winnable games starting today and the momentum generated by a couple of consecutive wins will be massive. Maidstone are in crisis somewhat, they're on their third manager of the season and judging by the comments on their online forum, are heading towards relegation. It's down to us to exploit their low confidence.
They sit 23rd in the league and have only picked up six points at home all season. Their fortunate victory over Barrow in August remains their solitary success at the Gallagher Stadium, where they've lost their last four including Tuesday's most recent loss to Maidenhead. They conceded four on that occasion and are clearly weak at the back, yet we'll be taking nothing for granted as this league has shown many times that it's unpredictable.
Anything but three points ill be seen as a disappointment, but I have every faith that we'll perform to our best and that will yield deserved reward.
Up the Dags
When unknown figure Conor Wilkinson arrived at the club prior to our home game against Fylde in November, both his previous goalscoring record and comments from those who watched him at his previous teams indicated that we'd be left largely underwhelmed by the Irishman. It was portrayed to us that we'd loaned in a lazy striker whose bad attitude and outbursts of aggression overshadow any fledgling ability he may have had.
Two months on, he tops both our goal and assist charts despite only being at the club for ten games. Such was his effect on the club and the supporters that the news he'd returned to Gillingham devastated us as much as the departure of anyone would've, and he was only on loan so it's a testament to his contribution. His performances were exciting and he contributed to a goal on average every single game. Yet Conor Wilkinson was so much more than the goals he scored.
He was the type of player for us who instantly generates a thrill just by receiving the ball because everybody knows what he's capable of doing. While he fits the bill of a clinical target-man, he's shown his worth in other areas and can often be found defending resiliently in his own box, like against Boreham Wood when he single-handedly prevented us conceding by clearing a dangerous header off the line. His mere presence causes panic, and gives supporters hope that no matter the situation or deficit, we're never truly out of a game.
His goals have been varied; Conor has shown his ability to find the net in a range of different areas. From his outstanding flicked equaliser at Salford to his unbelievable solo effort originating from the corner-flag at home to Havant, he's been dangerous in all positions on the pitch. Added to this, he's established himself as a good shooter from distance as both Fylde and Havant & Waterlooville can verify. However, there was always the sense that his spell at the club was temporary at best.
Wilkinson's awareness, skill and technical ability are miles away from the typical standards of the National League, as he's capable of performing in League 2 at the absolute minimum. Glimpses of talent were seen in League One in brief instances, no more than when he scored a magnificent goal away at Portsmouth just under a year ago, but a fractious relationship with the Gillingham manager meant that he couldn't perform at his best. Unfortunately, that was a recurring theme amongst supporters of his previous clubs, which was somewhat worrying.
It seems, though, that Conor Wilkinson and Dagenham & Redbridge are a perfect match, with both bolstering the other. Without Wilkinson, we're as toothless up front as our limp FA Trophy display at Salford showed, a lower mid-table side at best. For Wilkinson, without the Daggers he'd be undeservedly frozen out of the Gillingham team, with confidence at rock-bottom and frustration growing. It seems obvious that, while many may say that his attitude sabotaged himself, he's also been mismanaged.
We've managed to get the best out of him and it looks like Conor is finally enjoying his football. We haven't really seen any negative signs so far and the reaction to some of his teammates' goals proves that he has developed passion for the club, and it's great to see. It must've been hard to perform when you get rare minutes on the pitch, but here Wilko has the freedom, and the unwavering support of the fans.
To land him on a permanent deal is absolutely amazing, and more evidence of the brilliance of our new owners. I personally can't remember being more excited about any signing over the last five years - this is a huge part of our future. The club, and owners, deserve immense praise for making this happen, on top of countless other aspects that they've done which will improve the club. It was a difficult 2018, but those who stuck with us when we were on the brink of devastation are reaping the benefits now.
And the ironic thing is that, if Hopkin hadn't pulled out so unceremoniously, we wouldn't be in the situation we are now. Under these infectiously-passionate Americans, our future is bright and the possibilities are endless. Wilkinson is a massive part of that. Him and Balanta are one of the best partnerships in the league already and hopefully that continues to blossom.
Up the Dags, and up the Conor Wilkinson!
We entered 2018 with strong hope and expectation that we could make the end-of-season playoffs, before it all fell apart and the very existence of the club was jeopardised. There were catastrophically low moments, ultimately offset by euphoria of new investment, which inspired us to an incredible run of form. Players came and went but the biggest change came when Peter Taylor arrived at the helm in place of John Still.
The Daggers went from relegation certainties to comfortable mid-table security with just a few signings, earning some of our most impressive victories since we returned to the National League. Though 2018 will forever be synonymous with our financial instability, crazily it turned out to bring some of our best moments in many-a-year. The dramatic turnaround at Hartlepool, ending Salford's unbeaten home run and getting one over on Leyton Orient, at long last, all went a long way to repairing the wounds of February.
So we enter 2019 with fresh optimism and a sense of security that we certainly lacked at this stage last season. Such was the chaotic and turbulent nature of the twelve months preceding it, that nothing to happen this year would really surprise me. Ultimately, though, I suspect it's the year where we'll finish around the middle of the pile and then bring in new faces to sustain a promotion challenge in 2019/20.
Like last year, we begin against Leyton Orient and a win would not only preserve our excellent form over the last ten games, but would already give 2019 it's first outstanding moment. For the first time in ages, it's Orient looking to get revenge over us rather than the other way round. On Boxing Day, we came from a goal down to win 2-1. It was an incredible comeback and finally gave us the bragging rights over our London neighbours.
Even if we lose today, we've proven that we're no longer at Orient's mercy but three points today would be simply magnificent. Losing our unbeaten run against Barnet was disappointing but unfortunately it was just one game too many for us, and the absence of Jack Munns and Alex McQueen proved monumental. If they're back today which I presume they are, then we'll be at our strongest and we can take on any team in those circumstances.
Orient themselves will approach today with a bit of trepidation, especially as only a Dean Brill penalty save prevented a third away defeat in a row at Dover on Saturday. Only one victory from four, that being against lowly Chesterfield, makes this their worst run of form this season. They lost to Boreham Wood prior to being defeated by us; with Wrexham closing in on them at the top of the table, they need three points and this attributes a lot of pressure to today's game.
Last week was somewhat of an off day for them and they should be a lot more fluid today, especially at Brisbane Road, where they've only tasted defeat once. Josh Koroma and Macauley Bonne need no introduction to us. Koroma highlighted his threat with a lovely toepoked opener, but Bonne was largely quiet and will look to impose himself more on our defence today. Whether Jobi McAnuff is available could play a crucial role in deciding the outcome as his inclusion on the wing not only bolsters their wide options, but usually allows Koroma to play in his favoured position up front.
But we can damage the O's as much as they can damage us. Against Barnet we had five at the back but also two defensive midfielders so essentially had seven players sitting back, therefore we lost the midfield and this left Balanta and Wilkinson completely isolated. Munns is the centrepiece between defence and attack and gives us so much coherency. He's nippy, runs at defenders and wriggles through even the tiniest of gaps.
Wilkinson is one of the best strikers in the division. He's always lively and in just seven games has established himself as both our joint-top scorer and joint-top assist-maker. His combination with Balanta is superb and has yielded so much reward in recent weeks. It's amazing to see how far we've developed and a massive part of that is our mentality when playing top teams. Harrogate, Fylde, Salford, Orient. Played 4, won 4 - no fear.
Momentum may have drained somewhat but I've already seen that these boys have mental courage. It's gonna be a big day with lots of supporters making the short trip and getting behind the team.
Brisbane Road has always brought us misery in the past, from FA Cup exits to suffering relegation there in 2016. Last week we shrugged off our previous disappointments against them and now we have a chance to build on that.
UP THE DAGS!
A year that began with things as bleak as you could possibly imagine ends with optimism at it's highest point in recent years. Despite there being very realistic fears that that the existence of the club could be in jeopardy, it's amazing that we enter 2019 feeling hopeful for the future. There were notable departures, both on the pitch and amongst the staff, but with our new American owners are gradually rebuilding our club. So, as a frantic twelve months come to an end, it's time to look back on the defining moments, from the sublime to the heart-sinkingly traumatic. There have been great goals, lose-yourselves-in-the-moment madness and times where you wonder why you even do the stuff you do.
MOMENT OF 2018
Balanta's header up in Salford was magical. Seeing Nunny's deflected strike roar into the net on Boxing Day, knowing we'd finally got one over on the perennially-superior Orient, was just as euphoric. However, the one moment which instantly springs to mind is that goal from Robinson at Hartlepool. Everybody thought that the 6am start and mountainous trek up north had been worthless and as the clock ticked past 90 minutes with us still 1-0 down, having barely threatened all game, it was all over. Of course, though, we produced the comeback of the season and after Goodliffe powered home a free-kick, moments later an Adeloye cross was spilled to Robinson. Time almost stood still, then there were incredible scenes. I flew down about ten steps of stairs, defying gravity in the process. It was simply outstanding, the memory of it always will be, and I feel that epitomises the belief of the current team. There are other moments that stick in my mind as being memorable, some not even pleasurable yet they all still encapsulate what the club is all about. For example, in our darkest hour against Aldershot back in February just a few days after our financial crisis had become public, we went 1-0 down early on and immediately everybody began chanting a few decibels louder. That show of defiance and support I found remarkable in the circumstances. Similarly, the support given to the team around August and September, irrespective of the result, was brilliant to see. Other joyous moments include Romain's opener at Barnet, which would probably eclipse the joy of the Hartlepool winner had it not been ultimately inconsequential to the result. It's a similar scenario with the FA Cup comeback at Boreham Wood, which would've been a right contender had we not lost the replay in limp fashion, meaning it counted for nothing.
I'm not going to include anything much our financial crisis because that was more a period of sustained misery rather than anything that could be pinpointed by a split second's events. I think the moment when we all found out that our best player at the time, Michael Cheek, had left two days before the start of the season was one of our lowest this year because the excitement ahead of a new campaign almost completely dissipated. Of course, when we found out that there was a chance we wouldn't even be in existence, it was absolutely terrible, but even then there was overriding hope. Similarly, finding out that John Still, the man most would have trusted to use his experience to help us battle relegation, resigned, was another awful moment, only worsened when he pitched up at Barnet just twelve hours later. Yet there can only be one winner for the lowest moment of 2018, and it came in the midst of our problems to make matters worse. The frustration and sheer bemusement at finding out that our game at Halifax had been postponed at around 2pm, with every Daggers fan already there following a long journey, simply can't be topped. Three days later our best players started departing with alarming regularity, so not only had we missed out on a chance to potentially enjoy one last win before everything came crumbling down, but we also lost our last opportunity to see them play for the Daggers. Thanks for that one, Halifax.
BEST GOAL SCORED
Dagenham & Redbridge are more characterised by scruffy tap-ins than thirty yard screamers, but that hasn't stopped us scoring some great goals this calendar year. Whether it's for individual quality alone, like Okenabirhie's postage stamp strike against Chester in February, or it's because of the team play involved, such as McQueen's against Hartlepool in August, or even one that isn't particularly special or has the capacity to stand out in a collection, but was just massively significant - Kandi's penalty against Braintree for example - there are many to choose from. Of course, Matt Robinson's winner against Hartlepool could quite justifiably come out on top given the amazing emotions it evoked but, according to the three attributes above, I've gone for Munns' strike against Fylde. Being a tap-in, it doesn't seem too difficult a finish but it was expertly dispatched by the midfielder, who showed his determination to get into the box in the first place. It also proved to be the winner and everything about it was perfect; the team play was excellent, summed up by the quality of Robinson's throughball, the finish was superb and it was significant too because it earned us a vital three points that were the springboard for our amazing sequence of form. Other notable mentions were:
- Wilkinson against Havant & Waterlooville, the best for individual ability alone. The striker got the ball by the corner flag and somehow burst along the byline, skipping effortlessly past challenges before cutting in and applying an equally-fantastic smashed finish into the top-left corner.
- Okenabirhie's aforementioned goal against Chester. At a time where he could literally do no wrong, this was a superb strike from a man at the peak of his powers. Checking inside on the edge of the box, there were no options for Fejiri so he went for the shot and somehow swerved it into the minuscule angle between post and bar.
- The best free-kick scored at Victoria Road since Billy Bingham somehow belted a 30-yarder against Hartlepool some three years earlier. This was another left footed-strike, coming from Dan Sparkes against Woking back in April. Everything about it was perfect as it bounced off the crossbar and over the line, from a similar distance.
- This one doesn't really get the respect it deserves, Jack Munns against Halifax a few weeks ago. His first touch is excellent, taking it away from two defenders in the box, but he still has so much to do from an angle that is becoming increasingly tighter, yet he swung it perfectly into the right-hand side of the net.
- Okenabirhie again, this time with a strike so precise that the keeper is as much of a spectator as the supporters at the Racecourse Stadium. After a neat spell of passes, he gets a yard and curls it into the corner off the post, equalising for the Daggers who went on to win 2-1.
MOST ENTERTAINING GAMES
Daggers 4 Hartlepool 2 | A really good game but never one that the Daggers were in jeopardy of losing. We dominated from pretty much the start but only led 1-0 at the break through Dan Sparkes' first for the club, yet the game exploded into life after the interval. Hartlepool equalised but a mass burst of goals saw Daggers make it 4-1 in the space of sixteen minutes, before a late consolation took the gloss off things somewhat.
Daggers 3 Chester 2 | It was the second season in a row that Daggers went into the final ten minutes losing 2-1, having initially taken the lead. This time it was Okenabirhie who gave us the lead before the strugglers turned the tables with a sudden comeback either side of half-time. However, Okenabirhie equalised late on before an own goal broke Chester hearts, and history had repeated itself in dramatic fashion.
Daggers 2 Leyton Orient 1 | Daggers' record on previous Boxing Days was poor, their form against Orient even worse, and things seemed to be going the traditional way when Josh Koroma fired the O's ahead. When McQueen equalised almost instantly, though, the momentum changed and a late winner was on the cards, secured when Nunn smashed past Brill at his near post.
BEST & WORST DISPLAYS
A lot of our better displays this year would've probably come in the last couple of months and, in particular, the one against Orient stands out for the determination and resilience we demonstrated, plus how much it meant to everybody. However, on that occasion we were sloppy at times and there have been more complete performances. The one against Havant was dominant and the football we played was superb, so it would probably be that. Harrogate was similar, but our standards slipped in the last ten minutes which wasn't the case against Havant. there are a few main contenders for worst display but given the standard of our squad from August to October, poor performances are understandable. What isn't understandable is losing at home to relegation-threatened Solihull Moors while playing abysmally - that's the worst we've played in some time.
Dagenham & Redbridge are becoming one of those teams that nobody wants to play. Back-to-back victories over the top two teams in the league, Salford City and Leyton Orient, have equipped us with a level of stylish confidence that means we approach every game in search of another win to add to our ever-growing collection. Three months ago, it was 'anything but three points against that lot is failure'. Now, it's 'we'll be lucky to get a point there, that would be a great result'.
These boys are special and slowly carving a pathway into one of the great Dagenham sides. We've got an abundance of quality within our ranks, we've got nerves of steel which means we can win games even when we're a goal down in stoppage time, but above all else we've got that Dagenham spirit. You can't buy it, or learn it, you've either got it or you haven't. As the likes of Nunny and Goodliffe lose themselves in the moment after every great win, it's obvious that they possess that unteachable mentality.
Now we experience the typical overexcitement that leads to a sudden rise in expectations. Such was the manner with which we began the season that finishing 13th would be absolutely incredible in the circumstances, but after beating four of the top seven and coming from behind in three of those games, play-offs aren't impossible. Ten games ago we were relegation certainties, now the fact we're even talking about play-offs shows how far we've come. If we can beat the top two, though, we can beat anyone.
So the next team to try and end our tremendous run of form are Barnet, and it's a game which brings the curtain down on a rollercoaster 2018. Twelve months seems minuscule compared to the magnitude of the drama crammed into it, which would be enough to fill half a decade. But it's ended well and I can't imagine many times, genuinely, since we went down from League One that the vibe around Victoria Road has been this good. Contrast that to January, it's crazy!
Back to today's game, and it promised to be a feisty one with the return of manager John Still, who would receive an interesting welcome for sure. However, and you couldn't write this, he's retired on the eve of the game. It's frustrating and the timing feels very deliberate. Although he left under a cloud of deceit, though, the man took us to League One and I love him for that, but it will remain forever tarnished by his undignified exit from us unfortunately. It's hard to shake that ill feeling.
Darren Currie will therefore take charge of the game and it seems to have instilled a lot of hope towards Barnet fans ahead of the game. He might play a new system but we can rejoice in the fact that it's still very much John Still's mob we're playing and, though it's taken the spice away from the encounter, it's a good incentive for the boys. Not that they need an incentive anyway, I have every confidence we can keep up our hot streak today.
We'll stick with the side that beat the leaders on Boxing Day - it would be mad not to providing we don't have any fresh injury concerns. It would appear that both Matt Robinson and Tomi Adeloye have picked up a knock after both were absent from the squad completely. Nathan Smith and Liam Bellamy have gone missing as well, but I doubt anybody has even noticed if I'm being honest. We've got a great starting lineup, albeit somewhat reliant on loanees, but there's quality everywhere.
Barnet arrive having lost three of their last four league fixtures, all by a one-goal margin, despite some impressive cup results sandwiched inbetween. Their biggest problem this season has been a lack of territory in the opposition box, with too many lazy players by all accounts. They have some decent players, Mark Cousins, Craig Robson and Wes Fonguck all seem very decent players for this level, but it just hasn't worked out. John Still probably jumped before he was pushed.
They'll head to the Daggers as desperate for victory as us, especially given that their adored former player Darren Currie will be taking charge. Currie is one of a number of familiar faces to be heading back to the Chigwell Construction Stadium. His former counterpart will now be his assistant today, Junior Lewis, whose emotionless monotone is very familiar with us. Cousins and Robson deserve good receptions, so does Boucs although he won't play, but Charlee Adams perhaps less so after his behaviour in August.
So it's another game to look forward to and a local derby. As Mr Still used to say, they're the hardest to win and almost resemble cup matches at times. Both will want to win, certainly neither will want to lose, but I think we'll have enough to get over the line today.
It's over to the lads to do us proud as always,
Up the Dags.
The sharp recoil of Christmas crackers, the glowing grins of children struggling to contain their excitement, blankets of snow enveloping the calm skies, the indulging aroma of meat and potatoes wafting through every house, festive songs on a seemingly-endless loop, remnants of wrapping paper resembling debris after an earthquake, following the tearing open of Christmas presents and the annual visit of Father Christmas.
Then you have Boxing Day football, as intricately intertwined within archetypal seasonal celebrations as all of the above. Fierce local derbies demonstrating everything other than goodwill and generosity, watched by supporters who always have that extra slice of anticipation, such have been the celebrations of the previous 24 hours. At least, that's always what happens with the Daggers. And then we lose. Bragging rights are gone, and Christmas is ruined.
Here we go again, another year having passed since we entered those games against the O's last season, full of confidence given our superiority, only to destroy all hope with two of the tamest displays you are ever likely to see from Dagenham. Our luck on Boxing Day may be bad but our fate against Leyton Orient has been worse, with seven years having passed since Romain Vincelot scored two headers to earn our first victory in League One. That was ages ago, but it feels even longer.
It doesn't take a genius to work out that it's been downhill ever since, and a fixture that was once quite a good derby for League 1 standards now takes place in the Vanarama National League. Both clubs have neared the brink of extinction then were saved by new owners, for whom we are both immensely grateful. Yet the will to win is still as strong as ever - it's a game nobody wants to lose. The form table promises an absolutely tremendous encounter, destined to be a tight battle, hopefully exhibiting the fierce passion everybody wants to see.
They sit atop the tree at Christmas, with a four point lead at the summit and a sense of invincibility amongst their supporters. Macauley Bonne, the division's top scorer, carries their main threat and it's a testament to his talents that Premier League clubs are supposedly interested. Then there's future star Josh Koroma, a nippy and marauding winger who loves nothing more than a one-on-one with a defender. His tally of seven goals is respectable but, of course, he's overshadowed by Macauley Bonne.
Anchoring the side is Jobi McAnuff, who may be in the twilight of his career but exhibits all of the qualities of a model professional and shows no signs of deteriorating in ability. Our last two goals conceded have both come from corners, an area we seemed to be superb at defending up until recently, and that will be music to the ears of McAnuff, who can deliver a fantastic cross. Let's not give him the chance to, though.
Extra spice will be added to the clash with the inclusion of two ex-Daggers amongst Orient's lineup. Joe Widdowson will likely receive a hostile reception but Sam Ling, a good servant to the club and someone who our fans loved, deserves a better one. He was one of the sacrifices for the survival of the club when financial instability dawned upon us, but before then was arguably the best right-back in the league prior to then.
Coming up against that talent and an astute manager in Justin Edinburgh won't faze us. Daggers are the only team in the division in better form than Orient over the last ten games and come into the clash after beating Salford City away. The highs don't come much higher than that, but it wasn't a one-off because two other high-flyers in Fylde and Harrogate have succumbed to the Daggers revolution recently.
We fear nobody, approach every game with no fear, and have the belief to beat any side. Orient at home is an easier game than the one we played just three days ago so we've got every chance of getting something. Wilko and Balanta are bang in form and will certainly cause problems, and we've got solidity in every position. There's not a single player I look at and think 'Orient will exploit him, he's weak'. That's a testament to the squad and to Peter Taylor too.
It's a game both will look forward to, both be determined to win, and both will try their hardest to do so. Orient have sold out their allocation (fair play) which means there will be a bumper attendance of around 3000 at Victoria Road. What a game we have in store, the two most in-form sides going head-to-head. Another test of the extent we have progressed and a big one at that, but we've passed every one with flying colours so far. Absolutely buzzing for this one, the spoils will be more than just any old win.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everybody,
Up the Dags. You've brought a smile back to all of our faces over the last few months and no doubt will continue to do some. Keep doing us proud. Keep battling. Keep embodying the Daggers spirit.
Adam Rooney was playing Europa League football with Aberdeen not too long ago. Nathan Pond was the figurehead of Fleetwood, two leagues above, for whom he chipped in with many goals from defence as recently as last season. Winger Danny Lloyd, also plying his trade in the third tier of English football, was on a wage of 80k a year at Peterborough and another player competing in his division was Rory Gaffney, an important asset to Bristol Rovers especially during the season they were promoted to League 1.
Then you have Danny Whitehead, who learned his trade at West Ham as a youngster and helped Macclesfield to their National League title win last season. Finally, completing their list of players that should be playing at a higher standard, Matt Green from Lincoln City. He chipped in with fifteen goals as the Imps challenged at the top of League 2 in 2017/18. Managing them all is the well-known Graham Alexander, while billionaire Peter Lim and Manchester United's Class of 92' shareholders Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs all keep a keen eye on things.
That was the challenge that awaited Dagenham & Redbridge, whose biggest signings this season arrived from Boreham Wood and Ebbsfleet United. The core of our team consisted, by contrast, of the likes of Harry Phipps and Alex McQueen, who would go on to compete fiercely with Salford's stars. Phipps was released by Maidstone and McQueen was a signing we could only get for six months because of financial limitations. Other members of our starting lineup were academy graduate Liam Gordon, Gavin Hoyte who signed on the cheap after leaving Eastleigh and a few loanees. It was almost a different world to what faced us.
While the Daggers team huddled prior to kick off, Salford merely stood in their positions with casual nonchalance, as if the task of brushing Dagenham aside was so easy it didn't need to be discussed. Yet two hours later the same red shirts were once again standing around, this time watching a sea of yellow shirts celebrate with their delighted supporters after inflicting Salford's first home defeat of the season. In 2018/19 they'd averaged 2.5 points at the Peninsula Stadium, where they'd lost just once in 2018.
It was a truly brilliant, battling display from the boys. We had to withstand a lot of pressure as is to be expected when Salford have that amount of quality amongst their ranks, but in the end I think it was a victory we deserved. A lot of territory went to the hosts' who put us under sustained spells of pressure yet never really had too many clear-cut chances. In the end, we were composed and managed the game superbly.
The goals were absolutely brilliant. Balanta and Wilkinson both conjured up tremendous headers but they were just as influential at the other end where one of them would smash the ball away just when it seemed as if a goal was looming. Not only that, but our strikers showed their intelligence by tempting fouls to earn us a reprieve from the danger. Everybody on the pitch fought their hardest.
It's another example of how far we've come - nobody expected us to get even a point at Salford, let alone three. We're the most in-form team in the league and that's a testament to the no-fear attitude with which we approach every game. Every player is giving everything to the cause and really epitomising what it means to be a Dagger.
We simply wouldn't lie down, even when it seemed for all the world like they were on the verge of finding the net, one of our lot would burst their lungs to get a block or tackle in and for me that sums up our recent turnaround. We have the quality as demonstrated by two outstandingly good headers, we've got the belief to beat any team and you can see that by the way we were unfazed, but above all else we've got desire and that's one department that Salford couldn't use their millions to outdo us in.
All in all an absolutely fantastic day and stands us in great stead for a busy few days, Salford away is a harder game than Orient at home in my opinion so who knows what will happen there? They won't be looking forward to it, that's for sure! So proud of the boys, we're an absolute pleasure to watch and you could see how much it meant to the team.
Oh what fun it is to see the Dagenham win away! Merry Christmas
It was on the 21st April that Salford City last suffered a league defeat at the Peninsula Stadium, where they've averaged 2.5 points per game this season in a tremendous run of form only bettered by two sides across the top five divisions: Luton Town and Salford's near-neighbours Manchester City. Yet they're not the only team in good form and, being one of only two teams to have collected more points than the Ammies since the start of November, the Daggers will arrive in Manchester with quiet confidence.
Becoming the first ever team to defeat Salford City in the National League is a tough ask when you consider the millions of pounds splashed by them to get to this stage. Their meteoric yet despised rise through English football owes less to hard work and desire than it does the expansive wallet of five of Manchester's most decorated footballers, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, plus Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, who assumed majority control of the club recently.
It's not as simple as money acquainting to direct and instant success though, a lesson many have been taught in the past. Salford are astutely managed and rely on expertise, just as they do cash. They've also shown respect to the quality of the National League by investing heavily in new talent such as Adam Rooney and Rory Gaffney, whose combined goals so far lend themselves perfectly to Salford's ambition of short-cutting their way to the Football League.
They're not the first team to introduce new levels of finance to non-league football but it's frustrating for sides such as Gateshead who cannot possibly compete with them at any standard. Their approach to this season was perfectly outlined this week with their signing of Lincoln striker Matt Green, who bolsters an already-brilliant strikeforce and only adds to the talent that they have distributed throughout the dressing room. This includes, also, ex-Peterborough winger Danny Lloyd, powerful centre-back Nathan Pond, the imposing presence of Carl Piergianni and keeper Chris Neal.
It's not a game we should approach with a defeatist mentality, though, because no team in this league is unbeatable and Salford won't relish a visit from a side like us. We're bang in form and have overcome a number of talented sides such as Fylde, Harrogate and Ebbsfleet in the FA Trophy, so we're used to playing outfits that are challenging at the better end of the table. For us, this begins a frantic period of four games all in quick succession.
After Salford it's Leyton Orient (H), Barnet (H) and Orient (A) - a period that could define our campaign and potentially see us as high as the play-off places (hypothetically, of course) yet as low that we could be looking over our shoulders again. It's crucial to get off to a good start to that spell because it really can set the tone, and it's not completely inconceivable that we lose all four games! Similarly, if we manage to nick it at Salford, we'll feel invincible and surely go from strength to strength in the following days.
The reverse fixture resulted in a 0-0 draw, meaning we're one of few sides to get anything from the high-flying Ammies, and one of even fewer to stop them from scoring altogether. That doesn't tell the full story, though, because they spent a lot of that game with ten men after a moment of petulance from Danny Lloyd, who was subsequently sent off and without whom Salford would've probably won. That was when we were devoid of both quality and talent so the fact that we got a draw in any circumstances will be a source of optimism, especially as we know possess assets capable of causing panic.
This is without doubt the biggest challenge to our unbeaten run - most people will be heavily backing the hosts' to win quite comfortably. In their last league fixture, however, they gave Chesterfield their first victory since the second weekend of the season and, should they suffer another off-day, we'll be ready to take advantage. It's almost a free hit for us, we should have no fear, there's nothing to lose. We've been somewhat fortunate in recent weeks so hopefully we play better, though nobody will complain with any sort of result even if we play poorly.
So bring on the challenge. Whatever happens, we're in a much better position than a couple of months ago, with the players doing us all proud. I'm sure that will continue this weekend. Finally, safe travels to those making the long trip up north - let's cheer the boys to another victory.
Up the Dags
Make no mistake, we were going down. As we lost game after game, each with less vigour shown than the last, it was obvious that we were on a steady decline which would culminate in us playing Vanarama National League South football next term because, for all the effort and endeavour, we lacked the quality to survive in a cruel and unforgiving division. We weren't too far away, yet we constantly fell short; no owner, an inexperienced squad - no hope. The campaign had unfolded exactly as we feared it would.
That is in no way a message of disrespect to the team, who fought harder than any previous Daggers side and this was typified by Elliott Romain's work rate, but we simply weren't good enough. One of the worst starts any team had made to a season in non league's top tier throughout the last decade had already left us a monumental task as early as September. The first win eventually came, and was followed by a second, but it was only papering over the cracks, proven by the fact we lost our next five.
Yet, in the second week of December, here we are. The most in-form team in the National League with four straight victories in a run of eighteen points collected from a possible 21, we're playing some glorious football and look a completely transformed side to the one in August. I remember Ben Goodliffe urging the fans to 'stick with us' after our game at Halifax in the third week of the season. We have, and here's the reward: nine points off the playoffs, relegation concerns seemingly a distant memory.
Amongst those successes have come some fearless displays against very talented sides, too. Nobody can argue that we've had a generous run of form because Harrogate and Fylde, who both visited Victoria Road two weeks apart, are two teams who will be up there come April - we beat them both. Key to this has been some big signings, namely Balanta and loanees Wilkinson and Onariase, who have been the missing piece to the Daggers. As well as that, you have Munns, without whom we are a different side.
It's not just quality that we have, but determination. Last week at Hartlepool, nobody would've given us a chance as we slumped into stoppage time a goal behind, but we somehow bagged two late goals to win the game in spite of one of our worst performances in a while. We dug in and proved that we never give up. That never happened months ago because there was no belief but, even when we didn't apply too much pressure on Saturday, we knew that we were capable of scoring when the chance came.
There are bigger tests to come, though. Our festive period provides a huge challenge as we face three games against the current top two, travelling to Salford before a double-header against Orient. In addition to that there's the small matter of Barnet's trip to Victoria Road at the end of the month, which promises to be tense. Therefore, with it being almost inevitable that drop points in the coming weeks, we need to make it easier on ourselves by winning today.
The opposition today are FC Halifax Town, always a difficult team to read. It seems traditional for them to enjoy a blistering start, where they top the table and look like genuine contenders, before a plummeting descent drags them into a survival battle. They were second after defeating us in August, yet since then have endured a dramatic decline which sees them 16th ahead of this weekend's reverse battle, directly below us in the table.
From what I understand there's pressure on the head of manager Jamie Fullarton, who seemed to be doing a very stable job, but seems to have stagnated somewhat. The manner in which he steered the Shaymen clear of the drop last season deserves immense credit, however he seems unable to halt their slip this time around. Having won just a single away game all season, itself coming on opening day against Braintree, many of their supporters are expecting a defeat this weekend, which could seal Fullarton's fate.
Last week they had a positive distraction from their domestic woes as they hosted AFC Wimbledon in the second round of the FA Cup, a tie that they earned after impressively beating Morecambe in a first round replay. While they acquitted themselves well against the League 1 Wombles, ultimately they couldn't bridge the sizeable gap in quality, but it wasn't without a very good effort from the team.
Yet that journey is over and it's back to league action for the Yorkshire outfit. Their vital victory against Dover Athletic a fortnight ago was their only three points haul in fourteen matches, which saw some heavy defeats on the road including a 3-0 reverse at Aldershot and 4-0 demolition away to Ebbsfleet United. They still have some talented players, mainly their main asset Matty Kosylo, who will be one to watch this weekend. His trickery and pace has proven our undoing in the past.
Should today's encounter emulate previous meetings then it will be an open, attacking game of football. Seven goals were shared throughout last season as both sides won their home games, with Daggers prevailing 3-1 at home at a time when Halifax sat top. We made two trips to the MBI Shay Stadium but only one game got played and it resulted in a 2-1 defeat for us on a cold Tuesday night.
So it's another test for the team and we can't take anything for granted. We can't play as badly as we did throughout spells seven days ago, yet at least you know that we won't be giving up under any circumstances. This is a game we're very capable of winning and it will stand us in good stead ahead of the Christmas run-in.
Keep doing us proud,
Up the Dags.
As darkness envelops every waning afternoon, while icy winds whip through every heavily-layered soul nearby, it's clear to see that we're approaching the time of the year synonymous with togetherness and joy. However, the weeks around Christmas have always been difficult for Dagenham & Redbridge as we typically struggle with form; in both of our post-relegation National League campaigns, this spell has very nearly proved the undoing of our season and we'll be doing everything in our power to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself this year.
The arrival of Winter this year of course coincides with a trip to one of the coldest places in the country, Hartlepool. A 249-mile round-trip to the North East may not seem like the most ideal way to spend a Saturday but such has been the standard of performance by our rejuvenated side in the last few weeks, that it could be very worthwhile. Our upturn in fortunes has been dramatic as some effective new signings have helped us to a run of five victories from six encounters, which places us at the very summit of the form table, and we seem to be getting increasingly better by the week.
Weeks ago, though it seems longer because of our rapid rise, we were stuck in the drop zone not knowing where the next point would come from, yet from the ashes of this has emerged a title-winning spell of form. Aside from a defeat to Sutton United at the beginning of November, we were faultless, beating Harrogate, Dover, Fylde, Bromley and Havant & Waterlooville. Against Fylde and Harrogate, we proved that we're capable of defeating talented outfits and it showed that we're actually not too far away from that standard. Against Havant and Dover, we demonstrated our ability to win pressure, six-pointer games. All good signs.
We're playing with a supreme level of confidence with there being a slick arrogance about us that almost resembles the way we were performing last August, when we were blowing teams away and had players like Morgan Ferrier, Michael Cheek, Corey Whitely and Fejiri at the peak of their majestic powers. Peter Taylor has been criticised and I'll admit that I've been sceptical with some of his tactics or decisions, but he's doing nothing wrong at the minute - it's glorious to see. This weekend, Taylor and his troops face another test with their being an expectation behind us winning, especially given Hartlepool's recent form.
They're the only team against whom we played earlier on in the season and, on that simmering August afternoon, they were well-drilled and had a lot of quality amongst their ranks. Alex McQueen rounded off a tremendous team move to hand us a deserved lead but we crumbled in the second-half, conceding two sloppy goals which proved decisive. It was a frustrating encounter but epitomised how every game seemed to unfold in the first few weeks, but now we have the quality that we lacked then.
Conor Wilkinson has been integral to our transformation as he's scored four goals in three games and has been absolutely clinical so far. He's a pest to the opposition but one thing that's clear is that he's capable of playing much higher up the pyramid, but for one reason or another he's just lost his way. This loan spell seems to be benefiting both parties at the minute, though, and long may the mutual benefits remain.
Another one without whom we wouldn't be nearly as good is Jack Munns, who is very familiar with Hartlepool fans after a spell there last season. As a young lad living a long way away from home, he struggled there but seems to found a settled rhythm at Daggers. He's formed a good partnership with Balanta, who is contributing more and more with every game. His first goal for the club against Bromley was vital because it's got the monkey off his back somewhat, and this allowed him to bag his second in our midweek victory over Havant, which was easily our best performance of the season.
While things are going brilliantly for Dagenham, things are very different at Hartlepool, who have lost six consecutive league games. Naturally this would seem like a great time to play the under-pressure Pools but they parted company with their manager Matthew Bates on Thursday, which means that they're likely to enjoy the customary boost that follows every sacking. Craig Hignett will take caretaker charge of this weekend's clash but while he may inject a bit of hope into Hartlepool, it's still the same players who lost six in a row and that should fill us with confidence.
Bates seemed like a promising manager but his inexperience showed, as he was unable to turn their fortunes with pressure mounting after every defeat. They suffered recent losses to Bromley, Dover, Wrexham, Sutton and Barnet, but it was Tuesday's 2-1 reverse to AFC Fylde that sealed Bates' fate, and when the attendance for that game was announced as their lowest in two decades, it became clear that something needed to change because people were voting with their feet.
Their clash with Barnet was broadcast live on BT Sport and they certainly weren't terrible, yet they just struggled to create chances and everything seemed disjointed with the side, who were clearly unsettled. Their main threat is always Liam Noble, one of the talented players in the division and a true professional, though admittedly someone not too fondly regarded by supporters of other clubs. However, I believe that we have it in us to limit his control on the encounter.
So two sides in contrasting form meet at Victoria Park but previous form counts for nothing in the National League. Last season we were brilliant throughout away at Hartlepool yet suffered a smash-and-grab defeat, so anything can happen. I hope for a similar performance with a result to match this time. As Matt Robinson said in his pre-match interview, we owe them one after August's defeat, so that's all the motivation we need.
Safe travels everybody,
Up the Dags. Keep doing us proud boys.
I am Joel Page, an avid Dagger who travels across the country watching the club. Over the last few years, I've absorbed the turbulent rollercoaster ride that comes with supporting the Daggers and have seen us both at our highest and our lowest. From 'that' day at Wembley to watching us suffer a devastating drop into non-league, it's all a part of the journey.