The Daggers reinforced their strong start to pre-season by earning an impressive draw against a full-strength Colchester United side in what was their sternest test thus far, and the one most reflective of the calibre of opposition they are set to face next season. While it was not a performance completely devoid of errors and lapses in concentration, the Daggers looked confident when attacking and also defensively resolute against a team boasting offensive strength such as Harry Pell and Mikael Mandron in an even, end-to-end contest on a gleaming Victoria Road surface. Overall the test was beneficial for both outfits and demonstrated the competitive nature which has gripped games between the Daggers and the U's in the past, however in the second half - with Dagenham leading through Michael Cheek's earlier free-kick - the match descended into a typically uneventful pre-season affair, with spontaneous waves of substitutions killing the game as a contest. In the end, Colchester grabbed a deserved and inevitable leveller late on but while it denied Taylor's men what would've been a hard-fought victory, once again there were many positives that could be taken from a decent evening's work.
We're getting to that stage of the preparations where the manager begins to gain an insight into what his possible starting XI will be, and from this lineup you can already see Taylor is familiarising himself with certain patterns and combinations around the pitch. Apart from the injured Elliot Justham, Ben Nunn and James Blanchfield (none severe), all first-team players got more minutes against a Colchester team also vaguely resembling the one they'll be expected to start the campaign with in just under three weeks' time. It was guaranteed to be a valuable test for the Daggers and yet another indication of where they are at the minute, because such have been the changes around the club recently that any learning curve is vital for the team. However, the standard of Dagenham's play has been pleasantly-surprising so far and this was a pattern which continued in the early stages of the contest. Colchester had the first opening with Pell lashing over from close-range but it was the Daggers who made a brighter start; they seemed energetic, bright and good on the ball. In the ninth minute, this was converted into a meaningful chance as a corner made it's way to the far post, where a crashing header from Pennell looked destined for the bottom-right corner only for sharp reflexes to deny the England-C international.
The talismanic Mandron was the biggest threat to Dagenham's visibly-solid defence, which was marshalled by on-trial central defender Aarron Racine who looked to have forced a good partnership with Luke Pennell, also having a good game. Mandron offered a warning sign to the backline by wriggling free and curling narrowly wide, but with the U's sitting a league above their Essex counterparts it's expected that they'd create openings, yet Daggers will still be frustrated by the manner in which they let it happen. Fresh from that scare, they ventured forward and it wasn't long before Chike Kandi, again deployed as a winger, burst into the box and crossed powerfully across goal. Alert to the danger, Prosser cleared but moments later the defence wouldn't have an answer as a catalogue of errors handed the hosts' a big opportunity which was ruthlessly snatched. It came from an avoidable deliberate handball outside the box, which allowed Michael Cheek to fizz a low free-kick into the bottom-right corner beyond the grasp of the helpless keeper. It was a great show of intent that Dagenham seized the opportunities that came their way and it marked a decent start to the game for them.
The game refused to settle down. Dagenham's organisation was enabling them to create chances and they continued to venture forwards, as Romain was the next to go close. The forward typified his own attributes as a player by giving his all, even in a mere pre-season friendly, and anyone could see he was keen to impress. The work rate was nearly matched by a goal as he shot wide from just inside the box, a well struck effort but not enough to truly trouble Barnes in the visiting net. However, while they had been largely underwhelming in the first-half, Colchester still showed their superiority at times and they improved towards the end of the half. However, the home side's half ended with concern as winger and potential future fans' favourite Lamar Reynolds had to be taken off in what we can hope was a precautionary decision. With the concept of a friendly evidently passing him by, Harry Pell launched into a venomous challenge on Reynolds which resulted in the introduction of Ollie Harfield, whose first start at Victoria Road the previous Friday was capped with a brilliant goal. That was the last action of the first-half and at the break Daggers made several changes, including another cameo for trialist Kiran Khinda-John, who had also impressed in Friday's game.
However, while fresh legs would usually ignite the game, instead the substitutions seemed to kill it. As Dagenham struggled to find consistency and rhythm, Colchester took control in a second-half they dominated. Justifying their loftier position in the English pyramid, they nearly found the net six minutes into the second half when Pell completely evaded his marker from a corner but nodded wide from point-blank range. More substitutions followed for both sides before the U's continued to assert their new-found superiority; Mandron's vicious effort from distance was well parried before Collins smashed a header against the bar from a corner. Colchester were much the better side at this point but it didn't look as if Lewis Moore was to be beaten. Hanging on, Dagenham twice watched Mandron burst into the box and fire over the crossbar as they struggled to contain the attacker. However, while it looked as if they may hang on, the goal Colchester richly deserved arrived late on when Diaz Wright latched onto a defence-splitting ball, took a good first touch and calmly slotted into the bottom corner past Moore to earn his team a point.
While Dagenham couldn't earn a victory, they remain unbeaten in pre-season and though there is still much more improvement to be undergone, surely they will be very happy with where they are at in this current stage. Meanwhile, as the countdown to the big day continues to tick down rapidly, they will head to Bishop's Stortford on Saturday afternoon.
NEXT UP: AWAY V BISHOP'S stortford SATURDAY 21st JULY 2018 | 15:00 | PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY | PROKIT UK STADIUM