International Stadium | Att: 764 | Vanarama National League | 30/3/18
01. James MONTGOMERY 02. Theo VASSELL 03. Scott BARROW 05. Neill BYRNE 06. Jamal FYFIELD 08. Richard PENIKET 09. Danny JOHNSON 10. Jordan BURROW 13. Patrick McLAUGHLIN 16. Russell PENN 17. Kieran GREEN
30. Mark COUSINS 02. Ben NUNN 03. Luke PENNELL 05. Craig ROBSON 08. Charlee ADAMS 09. Chike KANDI 11. Fejiri OKENABIRHIE 14. Dan SPARKES 17. Andre BOUCAUD 24. Mason BLOOMFIELD 29. Jake HOWELLS
Wasteful Daggers spurn crucial chances in North-East contest
Though the Daggers can take many positives from an energetic display which yielded a second-successive clean sheet, they will ultimately be left ruing many missed chances, including a last-gasp penalty from Jake Howells which could've made their long trip North all the more enjoyable. Instead they will have to settle for a point from this encounter, which was well-contested and played at a high-tempo between two evenly-matched sides; though neither had much to play for, it was a competitive contest with both the Heed and the Daggers playing with freedom and enjoying sustained spells of pressure. In the end though nothing could separate the sides, and though the match hinged on Howells' missed spot-kick in the dying moments, Dagenham return to Victoria Road with a share of the spoils, which is certainly a decent result for John Still and his team.
Such was the impressive level of performance last week against Fylde that there were no changes made for the trip to Gateshead, with the experimental duo of Kandi and Bloomfield trusted with goalscoring duties once again after both finding the net last Saturday. They would be the focal points of a Dagenham attack which looked to pick up where they left off in their last fixture, but would be up against a tricky Gateshead outfit, whose credentials were outlined by their appearance in the FA Trophy semi-finals recently. With the bright Spring sky providing the backdrop for what would be a lively clash, the Daggers began with positive intent as they applied early pressure, with Sparkes' heading their first attempt on target into the arms of Montgomery before more good work from the visitors led to a corner which unfortunately came to nothing. That was swiftly followed by Gateshead's first set-piece as the game adopted an end-to-end flow, and the Heed produced a good delivery which led to a shooting chance for Mclaughlin, whose fizzed effort prompted a scramble which was eventually cleared.
After a high-tempo start, the game finally settled down temporarily and it was a while before the next chance arrived, but it was a crucial one. With fifteen minutes on the clock, Fejiri Okenabirhie - a rejuvenated figure in recent months - tried his luck on the edge of the box with a strike which seemed destined for the top-corner, but his quality was matched by goalkeeper Montgomery, who produced an equally-fantastic save to tip the ball away to deny the Daggers, and it wouldn't be for the last time. Gateshead managed to survive this, and a subsequent spell of pressure, before responding in similar fashion with a state of opportunities of their own: firstly an off-balance Johnson flicked a close-range header wide before Burrow's ambitious lob left Cousins worried but landed just over the crossbar, while Johnson was a good touch away from breaking beyond the away backline. This onslaught was only disrupted by the occasional chance from Dagenham, such as Sparkes' devastatingly-dangerous cross, which was floated into the box and laced with temptation that the crowd of red shirts somehow resisted, or Bloomfield's close-range shot, which was well blocked.
Gateshead resumed this intensity and retained the edge after the break, beginning the second half with a flurry of chances to break the deadlock. A move involving Burrow and McLaughlin culminated in the latter seeing a shot deflected by a covering defender, then the same player struck a dipping half-volley over the crossbar, clearly establishing himself as a dangerman. This was reinforced in their next attack, as McLaughlin was again involved to link up with Burrow to swing a cross in for Johnson to crash his effort over. At the other end, Dagenham tried to regain the ascendancy as Norwich-bound Bloomfield supplied Sparkes, but the winger fired over in a moment which epitomised how wasteful both sides were. This was followed in a change of tactics by John Still, with Kandi withdrawing for Howell, who took his place in a new 4-5-1 formation, however it failed to have an instant impact because it was Gateshead who neared an elusive opener when Jordan Preston, himself a substitute, swivelled and curled narrowly wide.
As the match entered it's final twenty minutes, momentum again switched to the visitors and while Boucaud's effort was tipped over and Okenabirhie pulled his shot wide from a tight angle, as Bloomfield also saw an attempt flash just wide, neither side seemed any closer to an opener. That was until the 83rd minute, when it seemed perfectly poised for the Daggers to snatch a late winner. Bloomfield and Adams had already gone agonisingly close before the chance they'd been waiting for finally arrived; Okenabirhie tumbled over Fyfield's challenge and the referee pointed to the spot. This was it, a glorious chance to snatch a late winner, however Jake Howells - who probably shouldn't have been taking it in the first place - saw his effort powerfully parried by Montgomery, who perfectly anticipated the flight and weight of the ball. Dagenham's chance had gone and their terrible penalty record continues, however unlike September's reverse fixture, the spot-kick proved costly and proved the difference between a win and loss. A draw in the end feels like a defeat, but in the end a draw was probably a fair result which accurately reflected the balance of play.
NEXT UP: Home v Maidstone United, Monday 2nd April 2018 at 3pm, Vanarama National League, Victoria Road