A Supporter's perspective
Peter Taylor called it 'embarrassing'. Joan Luque said it was 'a horrible day' and that he felt sorry for the fans who 'didn't deserve a performance like that at all'. Matt Robinson stated that the players 'have to have a long look in the mirror'.
Many people have taken to social media to apologise for last weekend's horror-show at Carshalton. Actions speak louder than words, though, and it's how we perform in the next few days that will determine whether those words are sincere or empty. A couple of tweets aren't nearly enough to erase that performance from our minds and therefore an emphatic response is desperately required.
It's been over two weeks since our unbeaten run stuttered to a wobbly end with two home draws followed by eventual defeat to Notts County. That might turn out to be a positive thing, though, as we were becoming content with a draw simply because it 'extended the run'. We became so obsessed with our unbeaten streak that we seemingly forgot that you lose more points with a draw than you gain. Any team with supposed play-off or promotion ambitions should be targeting three points wherever they go, against whoever they play.
Take our next two games for example; Wrexham struggling, Barrow flying. They're at completely contrasting ends of the table and their away form differs hugely, Wrexham officially the league's worst team on their travels and Barrow the best. Those are statistics we simply have to ignore as it's very conceivable that we could lose to Wrexham and beat Barrow. It shouldn't influence our tactics either.
We were better in our games against high-flying Yeovil, Halifax and Bromley than we were at home to Chorley, which just illustrates not only how unpredictable this league is, but how the table doesn't matter at all from the moment both teams emerge from that tunnel. Another match that was trickier than the standings would've suggested, was Chesterfield away, at a time where they were essentially gifting three points to everybody they faced.
We unconvincingly got a draw that day and Taylor devoted his post-match interview to preaching how good a point it was against the pre-season promotion favourites. Our opposition today, Wrexham, were also tipped to have a good campaign yet sit 21st ahead of kick-off, so much of today will hinge on whether we perceive it as a game against a big historic club with a sizable fanbase, or one against a side that are statistically the fourth worst in a fairly poor division.
Wrexham are obviously struggling and I'd like to think that the fact they've played three more games than us in the last fortnight would give us a little bit of an edge perhaps. However, with a new manager and their main striker JJ Hooper now back fit after a two-month layoff (he scored the winner on Tuesday night), they're likely to be much sterner opposition than the table would indicate.
Barrow have won their last sevan games in the league, elevating them to the lofty heights of fourth in the table. On paper it's one of the hardest matches you could have as it's not too often that you face a side that have won their last seven, but they've got a long trip to Torquay today and another marathon trip in three days' time so let's hope that shifts the contest in our favour.
Let's get back on track. We have two big home games on the horizon and it's important that we pick up points - up the Dags.
The 42 places separating Carshalton and Dagenham in the footballing pyramid made this the biggest shock of the FA Cup fourth qualifying round.
People will look at this result and see it as a big upset, simply orchestrated by the magic that has become synonymous with this famous competition. People will look this result and assume that Carshalton were incredibly motivated and fought valiantly to earn a highly unlikely victory. People will look at this result and think it must have just been the underdog's day.
After all, they're Isthmian Premier and we're National League. We're a full time, professional outfit who are supposedly chasing promotion to the Football League, while Carshalton's team consists of players assembled on a budget undoubtedly dwarfed by ours, who will be at work for the majority of the week.
Of course that's what makes the FA Cup what it is. Anything can happen is it's motto, and throughout the competition there will be much bigger shocks than merely one non-league team beating another. However, that doesn't disguise the fact that this result was embarrassing and unprofessional for us as a club. We can't just dismiss it as the FA Cup being the FA Cup.
The reality of the match paints a far more dispiriting picture than the result indicates, however. In truth we weren't outclassed at all, but that's perhaps the most worrying aspect. Carshalton played like what they were, an Isthmian Premier League team, and they still managed to beat a full-strength Dagenham & Redbridge without really coming under too much pressure in the end.
They didn't play above themselves, they didn't stun us with their fighting spirit - they were average and it was still too much for us. We weren't as bad as other sources are making us out to have been, we were in control of the ball for the majority of the encounter yet didn't seem to be capable of taking our attacks to the next level. There was just no presence or creativity, and against Carshalton Athletic, that's worrying.
So it was the same old problem, we were toothless in attack again. Quigley did nothing aside from inexplicably giving away needless foul after needless foul, and Balanta had a rare off-day. McQueen I thought was decent if unspectacular, as was Dobson, but Taylor took both of them off as the familiar confusing substitutions resurfaced.
It's only fair to give Carshalton the credit they deserve too, as they were refreshingly confident and fearless. In the first half they backed off somewhat, but it was like as soon as they realised we weren't as dangerous an opponent as they were expecting, they took the hand-break off - and we couldn't deal with it.
Their number 11, Ricky Korboa, is destined for big things. He was outlined as Carshalton's danger man prior to the contest and lived up to that tag with a sensational display. His pace and trickery left Will Wright floundering for the entire game, but crucially he was able to build on these attributes with a bit of end product, which wingers of a similar ilk so often lack.
I hope they get a great tie in the next round of the competition as it's what they deserve. Someone like Sunderland or Portsmouth at home would be a historic occasion for them, and also serve the purpose of showing us what we've missed out on. It's the first time in 22 years they've made the first round, and given our recent runs in the competition I wonder if we might endure similar fate.
So this will go down as a shock, but in name only. None of us are really shocked, are we? This happens far too often to be a one-off, with Hereford, Worthing, Halifax, Southport all other examples of us failing to perform against lesser opposition. That dream third round game away at a Premier League side will have to be put on hold for another year.
JUSTHAM (6) - Nothing really notable about his performance. Let down by the defence for both goals.
GORDON (6) - Energetic going forwards but was often caught cold in the counter-attack.
CROLL (6) - Solid but unspectacular. Shaky at times but we're a better side with him than without him.
ONARIASE (6) - Not a lot to report on. Sacrificed in the second half when we changed shape.
WRIGHT (5) - Completely at the mercy of their winger Ricky Korboa. A lot came from that flank.
MCQUEEN (7) - Thought he was decent. Looked the most likely to create anything.
ROBINSON (6) - Struggled against three centre midfielders, but certainly not our worst player out there.
BRUNDLE (5) - Looked like a player without much minutes recently. Gave the ball away often.
DOBSON (6) - Livelier than most of his teammates but a bit one-dimensional when it comes to the left foot.
BALANTA (5) - Uncharacteristic. Struggled against a defence who backed off rather than being drawn in by his quick feet.
QUIGLEY (5) - Didn't look a danger whatsoever. Even a team two leagues below dealt with him effortlessly.
GRANT (7) - Made a good impact and I'm delighted he got a deserved goal, a great finish too. Should start more games.
KANDI (6) - Didn't get involved as much as he would've liked, but still got stuck in and showed some decent movement.
LUQUE (5) - Only got a handful of minutes on the pitch so wasn't able to do much in his short cameo.
The significance of the competition may have diminished into merely an afterthought for those nicely perched in the upper echelons of the English game, but for sides like ourselves the FA Cup has the potential to be massive. Magical moments lasting a split second can be remembered for decades and sometimes even keep teams afloat in an era where the gap between the rich and poor seems to be widening to an alarming extent.
Our last successful run took us to Everton for a day that epitomised the rewarding nature of the competition, however since then we've barely remained in it long enough to dream of another experience of that magnitude. We've managed to make the first round - which was once our automatic entry point in our Football League days - once since relegation to the National League, losing out to FC Halifax Town, Leyton Orient and Boreham Wood respectively.
Last year we witnessed a small dose of FA Cup magic as our dramatic stoppage-time comeback at Boreham Wood earned us a replay that seemed improbable at best, however that soon wore off as it only extended our run in the competition by a mere three days. However, this time out there's a little more confidence after manager Peter Taylor, speaking at the recent Fans' Forum, guaranteed we would be treating the FA Cup with the utmost importance.
Most people listening to the draw a couple of weeks ago would've been hoping to be paired with a lesser-ranked opponent, however that doesn't mean we can afford to underestimate Carshalton today. After all, in recent years our clashes against sides of a similar ilk paint a fairly solemn picture, with notable defeats to Hereford and Worthing reinforcing how we can't afford to treat them more leniently than any other National League opponent.
Carshalton are going to be hugely motivated for today's game, such is the prospect of a potential trip to Sunderland or Ipswich in Round 1. As we should know ourselves having frequently adopted the tag of 'underdog' in our 27-year history, they're going to have an extra yard of pace, an extra dose of strength and an extra decibel of noise from their supporters. We're only a relatively small club ourselves, but are still a huge upgrade compared to the usual calibre of opposition to visit their Colston Avenue ground, Horsham, Folkestone, Hornchurch etc,
We need to be professional - we're a full-time team with a significantly larger budget and aspirations for a Football League return. Of course, this is the FA Cup and anything can happen as we're so often told. We're expected to win the game, but conversely that means Carshalton have nothing to lose.
So let's not be a news' story tonight - whether scruffily or convincingly, let's make sure we're in that hat for Monday's first round draw. Up the Dags!
As Winter began to descend upon us last season, we embarked on an incredible run that seemed to come out of nowhere. We beat Fylde, we beat Bromley, we beat Havant & Waterlooville, we beat Hartlepool United and then, after a fairly underwhelming draw at home to ten-man Halifax, we earned back-to-back wins against the top two in the league, Salford City and Leyton Orient.
All in all, we earned 19 points from a possible 21; everything was going brilliantly and a vibrant feel was restored to the club. Then we played Barnet at home and it all dissipated from there. We plummeted down the table as quick as we ascended it, only accumulating 22 points throughout the next four months. Relegation fears were reignited and that Barnet game was the start of the decline.
Fast forward ten months and Barnet will set their sights on piercing another unbeaten run of ours in a game that could prove to be massive given that both sides are nicely perched in the play-off places ahead of kick-off. Barnet sit fifth in the table, above us by virtue of a solitary goal. A win for either side today would be huge, especially as three points often prove to be the difference between winning the league and finishing second, getting a home semi-final or not and even making the play-offs altogether.
Recently we seemed to have found the right balance between attack and defence. As many people expected, the eagerly-awaited first clean sheet at Maidenhead had a big uplifting effect on the team and we've since managed three more shutouts in our last four games, meaning the only goal we've conceded in five games has been that unfortunate deflected strike at home to Hartlepool.
Of course, we've not found the net for two Saturdays running, although that doesn't discredit the chances we've created in those games. Last weekend we encountered a Chorley side that set up purely to nullify our threats, which is perhaps a testament to how well we've been playing recently. Today Barnet will come at us, so unlike last weekend there will be spaces to exploit.
Barnet's recent form has been mixed, with two victories, a draw and two defeats in the past five games. A midweek trip to Fylde wouldn't have been ideal ahead of preparations for this game, but the momentum generated from their eye-opening 4-0 win should counteract the fact that they've only had three days to focus on Dagenham, compared to the six we've had to look ahead solely to today's game.
Darren Currie's team have threats littered throughout their squad, highlighted by the four different scorers they had in midweek. Much like the Daggers they don't have a primary threat and, just as we have Balanta, Quigley, Luque and Dobson chipping in, the Bees have Simeon Akinola, Wes Fonguck, Josh Walker, Alfie Pavey and several others who are capable of providing an individual threat to us today.
That threat might be heightened by the absence of Luke Croll, who was sent off against Chorley last weekend. Thankfully, Peter Taylor confirmed at Thursday's Fans' Forum that Kenny Clark is fine to start against Barnet, so it's likely that Liam Gordon will come into the starting XI at left-back. Chike Kandi and Mitch Brundle are still unavailable, but should be in contention for next Saturday's trip to Stockport.
So today's game is finely poised and it should be an open, entertaining contest between two evenly-matched, creative teams. The finer margins might just settle this one.
The last few weeks has seen a brilliant surge in form during which we've really began to unlock the true capabilities of our squad. An excellent run of eight games unbeaten has taken us into the play-offs, with confidence amongst both players and supporters growing week by week.
It's a far cry from five weeks ago when we entertained Boreham Wood on a Tuesday night. A shambolic 3-0 defeat made mockery of our supposed promotion ambitions as we ended the night in the bottom four and boos rung out across Victoria Road. Now, that night seems considerably longer ago than it actually was, and the fact that we're closer to the top than the bottom is a testament to the players, manager and staff who have all helped plot our turnaround.
However, some would say results like today are the difference - the difference between drawing and winning on occasions like today represent the difference between being a promotion outsider or genuine contender. Too often, away from home especially, we've seemed to settle for a point; Eastleigh away and Chesterfield away were two prime examples of that. We didn't lose either, but they weren't results that left supporters too enthused.
Today was a good point, albeit tinged by the fact we should've got all three. The fundamental difference between today and those two games outlined above were that we maintained a good standard throughout and never accepted just a point. We didn't go for the easy option and right until the end could've won it. The performance we produced at Plainmoor could've easily yielded a 1-0 or 2-0 win.
What was lacking today wasn't down to individual mistakes, it was just a general absence of the edge we've had in recent weeks, all throughout the team. The spark was missing; though we played some tidy football and created a few chances, we never had that crucial key ingredient. I couldn't really put my finger on it, but something was missing compared to our other performances in the last few weeks. We weren't quite on it.
Part of that is of course down to the nature of the opposition. Torquay are a good side, still revelling in the momentum generated by their title triumph last season. They nullified us well, containing Balanta and Luque more than any other side we've faced, and were decent going forwards. Exactly like us, though, they never really reached their peak performance levels. Also like us, they could've easily won the game though.
For a 0-0 it was quite entertaining, even in spite of there being few significant goal opportunities. Both teams hit the bar, but aside from Dobson's thunderous strike in the second half, there was no real opportunities that looked destined for the back of the net. Dagenham and Torquay cancelled eachother out well and it made for an interesting encounter between two similarly-matched teams. Neither outfit really looked dangerous. On the day, though, we probably should've won it.
It will be viewed as a positive point, and it's fair to say the positives definitely outweighed the few negatives that there are. That we limited the league's top scorer, Jamie Reid, completely, is a testament to the solidity we've found in our defence. Many people reckoned that one clean sheet would be all it would've taken to spark a good defensive run and so it has proved with just a single goal conceded in our last three games (a deflected one at that).
In addition to this, we've now got Harold Odametey back, and presumably Mitch Brundle and Chike Kandi shouldn't be too far either. Unfortunately, Harry Phipps left Torquay on crutches and losing him would be very frustrating, not only because we're flourishing under the combination of him and Robinson, but also due to the fact that Phipps is finally getting the minutes he deserves. For him to be sidelined would be gutting as he is in increasingly-improving form.
He had another good game at Plainmoor, but the standout players were those who formed the defence. In particular, Manny Onariase was outstanding and he made a number of perfectly-timed tackles that broke down dangerous Torquay attacks. We didn't have that much cohesion or precision at the other end; Balanta, Quigley, Dobson and Luque not really getting into any sort of fluent rhythm, either individually or as a unit.
So in the end it was a tale of what could've been. Daggers were never quite on song, but a draw at Torquay can't be viewed as anything other than a positive. We have another game rapidly hurtling towards us and Sutton away on Tuesday is a game we should be targeting three points from, although given that they've just thrashed Chesterfield 4-0, it certainly won't be easy, not to mention the fact that our record there is dreadful.
Eight unbeaten and a clean sheet - it could certainly be worse but we need to turn a couple of away draws into victories in order to take the next step. We're becoming hard to beat and long may it continue.
Like so many other football supporters around the country, I was plunged into a state of shocked silence when the news of Bury's expulsion from the EFL filtered through during the early hours of Tuesday morning.
That such a harrowing turn came mere hours after a last-gasp takeover bid seemed to indicate that there was indeed light at the end of the tunnel, will feel like a final punch to the face for supporters who have suffered so much in recent times. To watch your club crumble into nothingness, and a rich history diminish into faded memories, simply doesn't bear thinking about.
It's incomprehensible. As complex and unfathomable as the intricacies of Bury's demise are, the viewpoint of the fans is simple. They just want to watch their team play football, and that's been taken from them in the cruellest way possible due to incompetence from top to bottom.
Stewart Day lit the fuse on Bury's problems then Steve Dale, a callous man who will never understand the pain he's caused, made it so much worse. The EFL just watched, like a motionless spectator rather than a supposed governing body who are meant to protect each of it's clubs; when they finally acted, it was to punish the innocent bystanders while the guilty perpetrators walk away and wash their hands of it.
They've lost nothing, but the fans and the staff have lost everything. They're dazed, they're confused, a piece of their hearts have been snatched from them. Sure, they might reform as a new entity, but it may never feel the same and the pain that has been caused on this fateful week would have left permanent wounds. The looks on the faces of the Bury supporters shown on the TV coverage have been nothing short of heartbreaking.
Contrary to some public opinion, though, it wasn't the responsibility of big clubs to bail Bury out, although when you see that 15/20 top flight teams were in favour of contributing to former Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore's ridiculous 5 million pound departing gift yet not a single one of them even put a tweet out about Bury, it's perhaps an indictment of the current state of English football. The gap widens and the imbalance increases.
So, in a couple of weeks when the situation dies down in the public eye, everything will return to normal. Sky Sports, tabloids and websites will go back to telling us how much money Alexis Sanchez is on per week while Bury will be consigned to the history books, their 134-year history only existing in the minds of those who have lived it.
This week, football fans have asked so many questions as to how and why this mess unfolded. However, the one question at the forefront of so many people's minds was this: What if it was me? What if it was my club?
It's made a lot of people reflect. As people woke up on Tuesday morning, every lower league football fan would've thought how grateful they are to have a club with which they can share so many memories. The thought of it one day being taken all away is bad enough, but the reality would leave everlasting pain. We all think it would never be our club, but this sorry mess acts as a timely reminder of the true fragility of lower-league football. If it can happen to Bury and nearly happen to Bolton, it can happen to any of us.
That's why I'm so glad that my club, Dagenham, seem to have a stable future under the astute ownership of the Americans. Our financial struggles weren't nearly as bad as Bury's, but there was still a time where our long-term future looked somewhat uncertain.
So, as we go to Chesterfield this weekend, there will be a lot more perspective and tolerance. A refereeing blunder will seem a bit less frustrating, a last minute defeat won't be the end of the world. We'll exit that stadium, regardless of the result, grateful that we can do it all again next week.
That's a luxury Bury fans will never have again.
Joe Quigley missing from two yards, Alex McQueen clipping a corner straight out of play in stoppage time, Peter Taylor taking off our three brightest players - there were a number of moments which summed up yesterday's entire game with such precision and accuracy.
Their manager Pete Wild said that we could and should have got a point. It's hard to disagree with him but the premise that we were unlucky and didn't get the rub of the green is just wrong. Halifax deserved the three points for the simple fact that they actually looked dangerous in and around the box, which is where - for all our acceptable play in other areas - it all fell apart for us.
It's true that we knocked the ball about well at times, it's true that we were much the better team up until Halifax scored with their first shot on goal. However, with a manager who exhibits such baffling tactics and a team that are so wasteful when the chances finally fall to us, we were always going to lose.
Luque and Dobson are good crossers of the ball but when the main talisman of our team who is supposed to be a threatening presence in the area is actually a complete passenger who offers very little, then it's no wonder that our creativity came to a sudden halt. It's no wonder that we haven't scored in two of our three games so far - only Chorley and Eastleigh can say the same.
Quigley's miss was absolutely dreadful, our third contender for 'miss of the season' in as many games. What did we expect, though, from a striker who averages 1.5 goals per club? What did we expect from a striker who has failed at four bottom-half National League sides in the past? What did we expect from a striker who Shamir Mullings, the man he's currently rivalling as possibly our worst player in the last decade if not longer, kept out of the Maidstone team?
He's not 'finding his feet', he's not 'settling in', he's not 'adjusting' - he's awful and I know that's a brave judgement on somebody based on three games but it's fact. Taylor hasn't unearthed a 20 goal-a-season striker just waiting to be unleashed; the most skilful and intelligent thing Quigley has done so far is managing to not connect with a cross that was practically on the goal-line. Seeing him stay on the pitch despite doing nothing in our three fixtures to date is torturous.
Even more so when players who look sharp are inexplicably taken off. Quite why we'd withdraw Luque, Dobson and Eleftheriou when we're 1-0 down and trailing with time running out, was beyond the 74 travelling fans. The substitutions ironically killed the game at a time where we were getting closer. Had we brought on Grant for Quigley, we could've got a point or at the very least given it a much better go than we eventually mustered. The players he took off, plus Balanta, were the only ones creating anything.
Therein lies the problem with Taylor. Even at 1-0 down he was trying to limit Halifax rather than strengthen us. In his post-match interview he then played down the result by emphasising how hard it is to go to the team top of the league - we're three games in and Halifax are a bottom-half team who will be closer to relegation than promotion.
So there we go. Days after a very impressive victory at Dover, we revert to type and are brought crashing down again. In order to get the 16 points Peter Taylor is targeting from August, we need to win four of the five remaining games this month which isn't going to happen. Two big home games coming up though and we need points from them.
The hugely-contrasting nature of our first two performances of the season have done nothing in terms of helping supporters decipher whether we're actually any good or not. On the basis of the Woking performance we'd be lucky to stay up yet judging by Tuesday at Dover we should be targeting the play-offs at a minimum.
So are we one, the other or somewhere in between? Of course we can't read too much into either of the two performances so it will take upwards of eight games to judge where we're at and how the campaign is likely to pan out. Today will perhaps be the most accurate reflection so far of our team's credentials as we head to Halifax in what will certainly be a tricky contest.
The Shaymen, under new manager Pete Wild who has instilled bundles of confidence into his team, are the only team with a 100% record so far. Not only does this epitomise the competitiveness of the National League this year (in 2018/19 there were four clubs with two wins from two), but it gives an indication of the kind of opposition we'll be up against today.
Generally, Halifax aren't the greatest outfit in the division but once again we've caught them in August, where they tend to get off to a flyer before inevitably falling away. As usual, they're the early pace setters and it's the third year in a row where they've topped the table in the opening few weeks.
They're going to be well up for it today as they're in front of their own supporters and obviously full of confidence. However, I'm quietly optimistic about this one - we're the better team on paper and the wide, expansive Shay surface would suit us perfectly if we set up like we did at Dover, where we were excellent down the wings.
There have been few places more miserable to visit in recent years than Halifax, with our visits to the MBI Shay Stadium being marred with instances of severe misfortune, from our 2016 FA Cup exit to 2016's. As the Daggers return for an away game which seems synonymous with anger and frustration, Peter Taylor will not only be looking to end our bad luck in West Yorkshire, but indeed his own this season
I can't see Taylor deviating from the lineup that proved so successful in midweek, where we produced a controlled and assured display to defeat a decent side who not many will beat at their own ground. In particular, Dobson, Luque and Balanta were brilliant and they linked up brilliantly with fluid interchanges and intricate interplay.
Bagasan Graham at left-back and Ángelo Balanta as an attacking midfielder are things Peter Taylor has never tried before yet they proved highly effective. Balanta ran the show in his deeper role and was assisted by the wingers Luque and Dobson, whose directness and crossing caused problems.
Of course, if Taylor does fancy mixing it up a bit then he has two highly capable players in Liam Gordon and Reece Grant, both of whom were unfortunate not to start in either of our games so far. After two fairly pedestrian displays, Joe Quigley's position may be under threat but I expect Taylor to persist with him.
Halifax beat Hartlepool 2-0 on Tuesday evening and their lineup was as follows: Sam Johnson; Jerome Binnom-Williams, Michael Duckworth, Matty Brown, Nathan Clarke; Cameron King, Josh Staunton, Niall Maher; Jeff King, Danny Williams, Tobi Sho-Silva. By all accounts, Cameron King has been pulling the strings in midfield and so we'll have to watch out for him today.
Earlier in the week, Halifax manager Pete Wild said “I’m not going to sit at home worrying about Dagenham and Redbridge, I’m going to make sure that my lads are ready to go." - I hope Taylor adopts the same mentality and goes for it, playing to our own strengths without worrying about what Halifax are capable of. We focused too much on nullifying Woking's threat last weekend and got what we deserved, but on Tuesday we played on our advantages and it worked so let's hope for much of the same.
So let's see what today brings and no doubt we'll learn more about the team with each passing game. It's going to be difficult, but let's hope the long journey is worthwhile and we return to Dagenham with our second victory on the road in just a few days, ahead of two upcoming home fixtures. If we get something today, then all of a sudden things will be looking decent.
Up the Dags
That there's only been two games in three days of the brand new Vanarama National League season, yet we've already seen two performances of vastly-contrasting proportions, indicates that we could be in for another nine months of fluctuating unpredictability, where it's as possible that we can turn up and be brilliant as it is we'll be awful.
Having bounced from one extreme to the other in the last few days, we can neither be too disappointed with Saturday nor too delighted after last night because, as we've seen under Peter Taylor in particular, things can change so rapidly. To get the first three points on the board is massive though and doing it while playing really well against a decent side certainly bodes well for the future.
Saturday was dreadful in every aspect, we were weak in defence and toothless going forward. Fast forward a mere 72 hours and we were a transformed side who looked full of confidence and sprayed the ball around the pitch with almost a self-assured arrogance about us. So what changed? Well, James Dobson and Joan Luque were absolutely tremendous and, as glorious as last night's victory was, it's almost tinged with the frustration as to why we didn't do the same thing ahead of Saturday.
Credit to Peter Taylor though, he made the necessary changes and it paid dividends. For once we focused on ourselves and let our offensive strengths counteract everything Dover had to offer, and I hope we adopt a similar mentality ahead of our trip to early pace-setters Halifax in a few days' time. There are still problems in the team but, unlike against Woking, we had enough creativity and potency to render those insignificant.
Balanta up front was easily the best player on the pitch and his movement was brilliant all night. He started and finished the move which put us ahead, won the winning penalty and overall proved a menace all night. Him, Luque and Dobson caused havoc, especially for an ageing Scott Doe at the heart of the hosts' defence, and for their full-backs Taylor and Passley who were constantly exposed. We seemed to target their weaknesses and exploit them at every opportunity.
How we didn't win by a greater margin though was quite incredible as we missed an open goal, hit the post twice and failed to convert when Worgan had slipped and left 80% of his goal gaping. Our opener was absolute class, an intricate counter-attacking move from one end to the other in a matter of seconds, and came at a time where we were dominating the game. However, from the moment Alfie Pavey emphatically headed Dover level, their tails were up and we struggled.
As soon as you concede after missing the chances that we did, you just feel like you're going to be punished and, as Dover ended both halves by throwing everything at us while camping inside our half, we looked fragile. Away to a very good side though, who won't lose too many times at Crabble this season, that's perhaps to be expected and it takes nothing away from our performance. In truth, it was a well-contested game between two similarly-matched teams who both performed well.
It could and maybe should have been a draw but in the end what tipped it in our favour was the very thing that has worked against us for so long - our superior finishing, the cutting-edge we possessed. That's what happens when we play our most threatening and creative players, plus we still had Reece Grant on the bench. I'd like to see Grant start soon as Quigley was pretty much a passenger yet again; he may win less flick-ons (supposedly) but he'll do significantly more damage with the ball at his feet.
Dover were decent and that's why winning away from home to them was so impressive. Inih Effiong, the battering-ram powerhouse up front, bullied us all evening while his strike-partner Alfie Pavey looked really dangerous, especially with his head. In their midfield, it was nice to see Jack Munns do well (though not too well of course) and get the reception he deserved from our supporters.
Fittingly, our winner came from the penalty spot, something that seemed quite fitting. Brundle's spot-kick was clinical and cool, with the feelings of delight just about eclipsing the feelings of surprise at seeing the ball nestle into the net! Finer details like having a good penalty-taker could honestly be the difference between finishing mid-table and on the cusp or in the play-offs - by scoring 75% of our penalties we could earn as many as ten points more, which is huge.
It's only one win, but what a win it was. Brundle, Clark, Luque, Dobson and Balanta were all absolutely brilliant and, though we were shaky defensively, the determination to preserve our lead was excellent.
It couldn't have been more different to Saturday and to be off the mark feels good. Already we've got more points this season than the entirety of August last campaign, not that that's the benchmark. Onwards and upwards, Halifax Saturday should be a great day and let's hope we can get three points against the only side with a 100% winning record.
Up the Dags
A healthy budget made available for Peter Taylor who could sign people at his discretion, several talented new signings through the door, pace and height spread evenly throughout the squad, two very good players for each position and, best of all, the exciting claim that we were targeting the play-offs at a bare minimum.
And yet all the optimism dissipated after just seven minutes of the new season, the supposed new era where we were going to really go for it. Seven minutes was all it took to realise that, for all the promises and all the expectations, the fundamental problems of last season still exist.
Woking at home, with all respect to Alan Dowson's side, was supposed to be a good start for us. Three points against a part-time, newly-promoted outfit who shouldn't have been able to pose too much of a threat to us given the season that, we were told, was in store for us. It was a game that, on paper, many teams would have wanted to start with.
Yet Woking didn't just merely 'pose a threat', but they overpowered us all over the pitch. Two scrappy set-piece goals settled the game but, in truth, it seemed as it was always going to go in the Cards' favour from the moment we saw the starting lineup. Really, we shouldn't have been surprised after some of the inexplicable decisions we witnessed last season.
Not starting Joan Luque, James Dobson and Reece Grant was bizarre for so many reasons, especially due to the fact that the latter two were signed for undisclosed fees. We were so interested in them that we were willing to pay fees for their services, something largely rare at this level, only to drop leave them out of the lineup for the first game.
It's not like they didn't have a good pre-season, either. Luque, Dobson and Grant were all impressive in all of the friendlies that they featured in, but the reason they didn't start today was because perhaps they showed a bit too much attacking threat. Bagasan Graham and Alex McQueen, wingers that can also play as full-backs or wing-backs, were safer options, certainly more conducive to our game plan which was clearly to limit Woking.
Quite why we insist on playing for a point against average-at-best teams will constantly baffle supporters. Woking didn't worry about us at all, instead focusing on their game plan which they executed to perfection. Maybe if we'd have done the same and fielded players who are adept at scoring or creating, then we wouldn't have been humbled at home to a part-time side.
That's not to disrespect Woking, who were very good. In particular their defensive line was solid and, at the other end, they pressed with continuity and intensity. Then, when they had opportunities to utilise their aerial power at set-pieces, they seized them clinically. It was a good away victory for them and a lesson that it's more effective to have lesser-ability players that are set-up effectively than have ones that are supposedly decent, but are organised poorly.
Meanwhile, 95% of our crosses were either headed away by a defender or effortlessly caught by keeper Craig Ross. Maybe that's because our best crosser of the ball was on the bench, or maybe it's because our target man Joe Quigley offered very little up front aside from incomprehensibly missing our two best chances that were put on an absolute plate for him.
We've got strength in every position, yet today we were eclipsed in every department. We've got height in our team, yet we conceded two point-blank tap ins from crosses that weren't cleared. There's a lot that needs to be addressed, but at least we have the luxury of another game in just three days' time at Dover.
It may only be one game, but this wasn't a one-off and will happen time and time again if we set up like we did today, with attacking talent on the bench and a centre-half playing at left-back. However, we have to trust that Taylor knows what he's doing and will put it right on Tuesday.
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.