SUMMARY: In a low-tempo encounter which demonstrated the need for Daggers' supporters to persevere with their young side, they acquitted themselves well but just fell short in a few areas and paid the price for a lapse in concentration which was duly punished by a Boreham Wood side, who themselves were considerably weaker than last season. For a curtain raiser and the beginning of a new era which promises gradual improvement, Peter Taylor will be satisfied with his new side's first showing in what were testing conditions, yet they can feel slightly unfortunate not to have snatched a point after a flurry of late chances. In truth though, excluding that late onslaught, Dagenham lacked a cutting edge and failed to carve out many opportunities, despite showing glimpses of promise in other areas. The afternoon ended on a disappointing note with the deserved dismissal of Ben Goodliffe just as his team seemed to be edging close to a leveller, but ultimately the overall performance indicated that while there is still work needed, early signs are still positive.
TEAM NEWS: Peter Taylor's first Dagenham & Redbridge lineup had an average age of around 22, containing very few players with previous National League experience and though that naivety would be evident at times, in the circumstances it was a solid first showing from them all. Five players made their first starts, including Harry Phipps, who signed on a permanent basis on the eve of the new campaign. However, the game came too soon for Lamar Reynolds, Ben Nunn, James Blanchfield and Luke Pennell - all were either on the bench or unavailable but are expected to make a full start in midweek.
A sense of trepidation, intertwined with nervous excitement, enveloped the build-up to this eagerly-awaited contest at Boreham Wood, where glorious conditions made for an excellent environment by which to get your campaign underway. It was the type of day you'll dream about during those misty November nights, and there was a distinct before-season vibe around Meadow Park. As Dagenham fans began to cram the uncovered South Terrace directly behind one of the goals, the clock slowly ticked to indicate that the start of a brand new season - and for the Daggers, a fresh start altogether - was dawning on us. Soon after, the teams were strolling onto the gleaming carpet-like pitch, to a raucous reception from the visiting supporters, and the 2018/19 Vanarama National League season commenced.
From the kick-off it was obvious what kind of encounter it was destined to be, as both teams continuously misplaced passes and were wasteful in possession. When either side finally made inroads towards goal the final ball was the only thing letting them down, with both teams clearly missing their star strikers Morgan Ferrier and Michael Cheek, who left Wood and Daggers for Walsall and Ebbsfleet respectively in the build-up to this clash, disrupting the preparations of both managers. Clear-cut opportunities were at a premium as the sweltering sun visibly drained the players. As a result, several water breaks throughout the match meant that it lacked fluency and rhythm; it was in danger of becoming a huge non-event. Finally, after an uneventful first ten minutes which both sides spent feeling each other out, the shackles appeared to come off somewhat and this led to the first few chances of the game arriving.
The first indications of inexperience came when Bradley Ash worked his way into a good position and prompted a foul from the covering defender, who should've held firm and covered the vacant space. Experienced pro Kieran Murtagh delivered a whipping free-kick into the box and the set-piece had pace, precision and power which made it difficult for Justham to anticipate the ball, as he had done successfully so far. Powerful defender David Stephens managed to tower above everybody to crash a header towards goal, a huge concern to the away side, and it was through sheer luck that it didn't dip in time and instead flew over the target. Thankfully this was something of a wake-up call to the Daggers, who then mounted their first attack against a strong Wood defence, containing smart defenders such as Femi Ilesanmi and Manny Parry, who were dominating Romain and Kandi.
Daggers' new strike partnership, at least until Peter Taylor identifies Cheek's replacement, had failed to hold the ball up successfully against a ruthless backline, who weren't giving the forwards any time to pick a pass or get the ball under control. When Kandi or Romain would eventually escape their clutches, they would lack adequate support from the midfield and simply relinquish possession again. It was a similar story at the other end where Dagenham's defenders were not leaving anything to chance, often looking panicked and wanting to get rid of the ball as soon as they could. In the 15th minute, the opening arrived for Daggers as a good sequence of passing led to a ball being threaded through to Chike Kandi, but frustratingly the run was mistimed and he was flagged offside when just a second of caution could've yielded a big chance for Dagenham, and possibly an opening goal. This, and Ricky Shakes being inches away from reaching a through ball which was so nearly perfect at the other end, was the story of the half.
It had been a cagey affair but Daggers' defence were performing well, as was Justham behind them and the keeper continued to outline his aerial presence by plucking everything out of the air, including a Femi Ilesanmi cross which was laced with pace and seemed to be leading to danger in a packed box. There were only a few further opportunities of a low-key first-half, and all fell to Boreham Wood who ended strongly. Champion powered another free header over from a corner, before Ash couldn't quite connect with a teasing cross and then Femi thundered a fierce strike agonisingly wide of the post in what was the last action of the half. As the teams re-emerged for the second 45 the trend of home domination continued but this time you could just tell it was leading to a goal. Several last-ditch blocks from crosses at the byline denied Wood before Murtagh's curler forced Justham into a a quick save. Dagenham were hanging on but the inevitable goal wasn't delayed for long and came via the main dangerman Balanta, who turned home a cross from Ricky Shakes.
It was the exactly what the home side deserved for their high-intensity start to the second half and offered an important lesson to Dagenham about never switching off. Now they were forced to go forwards more but this led to more exposure at the back and nearly a second for Wood as Femi fired wide. A change was needed for Dagenham if they were to fight back into the contest and Taylor responded by introducing tricky winger Lamar Reynolds to the action at the expense of Harfield, who had underwhelmed on his debut. Instantly the change had an impact as Daggers began to play expansive football, utilise the wings and fire balls in behind the defence. Wright smashed an effort at Huddart before Reynolds skilfully worked his way into the box and whipped a sumptuous strike towards the top corner, forcing another brilliant save. It was now a different game and as Reynolds had an effort blocked, before seeing a free-kick drop tantalisingly adrift of the post, you felt Daggers would find a way back into the contest. However, devastatingly, those chances were all but ended with a moment of naivety from Goodliffe who launched into a challenge before being dismissed by the referee. This drained Daggers and despite six minutes added on, they succumbed without a further whimper but can be proud of their efforts. On another day they would've bagged a point but on this occasion, it wasn't meant to be.
NEXT UP: HOME V MAIDSTONE UNITED TUESDAY 7TH AUGUST 2018 | 19:45 | VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE | VICTORIA ROAD