A pre-season of intense proportions came to a decent end in the urban town of Hemel Hempstead in a performance which epitomised the progress that the Daggers have made recently, with a hard-fought victory against the National League South outfit who, like all of Dagenham's other preparation opponents, offered a valuable test. Being just a single division below Peter Taylor's team, Hemel were always going to provide a close encounter and this allowed the Daggers to benefit from the experience of facing a side of similar calibre as the new season continues to hurtle towards us at an alarming pace. On an energy-zapping afternoon in Hertfordshire, the Daggers continued to gel seamlessly and, while there were some expected lapses in concentration, generally the performance was pleasing. They led by three at the break with new loan signing Will Wright scrambling home before Michael Cheek struck a clinical brace. However, the scoreline flattered Dagenham slightly and in the second half, the hosts' made it more respectable by getting two back to threaten a comeback which didn't materialise. Though the Daggers were able to win, the results only start to matter next week and Peter Taylor will be more impressed by the fitness, organisation and attacking on display.
Dagenham started with three trialists, clearly keen to impress. After a more disappointing display against Cambridge in midweek, the whole team were livelier in the opening stages, looking to earn their places for opening day. However, despite beginning at a good tempo, the Daggers conceded the first opportunity of the game as Hemel Hempstead embarked on a dangerous attack but while the situation seemed ominous, thankfully the ball was cleared owing to some good defensive work. Two minutes later, the Daggers went up the other end and with virtually their first attack, scored an early opener. It came from a long-distance free-kick which was floated into the box and culminated in a goalmouth scramble. As Hemel struggled to clear, the ball found its way to loanee Will Wright and the defender managed to bundle the ball in amidst a crowd of bodies, giving his new team the lead.
Quickly, Hemel Hempstead looked to recover from that setback and they continued to create chances, which forced Dagenham's defence into some good blocks and interventions. In the eleventh minute, Cowell exploited an exposed away defence to surge forwards and fire an effort towards goal, but the attempt never really troubled the returning Justham in the visiting goal. As the game quickly began to resemble a typical pre-season friendly, with both sides attacking in numbers and possession constantly undergoing a turnover, Dagenham & Redbridge were the next to attack. Elliott Romain, the very epitome of a tireless worker, was so unlucky not to reach a cross following excellent work from Chike Kandi, adapting to his new role as a winger, and trialist Alexander McQueen, formerly of Carlisle. This was the catalyst for a prolonged period of Dagenham domination; they were keeping the ball well and carving many opportunities.
Barely had their last chance gone astray when the ball was on the other flank with Liam Gordon, who proceeded to force his own opening. The ever-maturing full-back raced forwards into the gaping space before checking inside and fizzing a low effort into the side netting. However, while this one unfortunately was missed, Dagenham made no mistake with the next chance to come their way after a disastrous mistake amongst the hosts' backline. Michael Cheek collected the generous gift and went through on goal with the onrushing keeper, who was beaten by a composed finish into the bottom-left corner. Similar to the aftermath of the first goal, this sparked an immediate response from the team wearing red. Watt was integral to most of their offensive exploits. He first saw a bursting run cut out by trialist McQueen, then glided beyond Wright only to drag his effort wide.
The match hinged on one team taking their chances and the other not, a theme which continued into the break as the Daggers notched their third goal to take a commanding lead. Michael Cheek, demonstrating the kind of clinical instincts that Dagenham will be reliant on this season, smashed home his second of the afternoon to add gloss to an impressive Daggers' performance. The striker sidestepped his marker inside the box and with a predatory touch, again struck it beyond the helpless grasp of Walker in the Hemel Hempstead net. That marked a pleasing end to a good half of football during which Peter Taylor would've been left with good omens. For the second half, five changes were made with Moore, Robinson, Blanchfield, Balogun and Hoyte all seeing some of the action, enabling them to get more minutes under their belt. However, as is to be expected, the substitutions disrupted their flow and this led to a home resurgence.
Hemel Hempstead first earned a free-kick in a threatening position but the chance was spurned and could only strike the wall. At the other end, Elliott Romain tested the keeper with a firm shot after good work from McQueen, but it couldn't prevent Hemel remaining in the ascendancy. Inevitably, they got a deserved goal back when Oligioe squared for his strike partner Cowell to convert easily. Dagenham went close when Wright towered a header over from a corner, before they seized control of the contest again, controlling possession. As the clock ticked down, the home outfit cut Dagenham's lead to just one goal when Ward fired past Moore, just moments after his side had missed a one-on-one. However, it was too little, too late for Hemel and Dagenham emerged from the contest 3-2 winners.
It concluded a positive pre-season for Peter Taylor's new-look side. Now the preparation phase is over, attentions turn to the big kick off next Saturday, when things really start to matter. The Daggers begin their campaign locally, at Boreham Wood, where they will look to mark the first competitive game of the new era with a victory. The countdown commences.
NEXT UP: AWAY V BOREHAM WOOD SATURDAY 4TH AUGUST 2018 | 15:00 | VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE | MEADOW PARK