I just haven’t had the time to add my sixpennethworth about the anniversary of the ‘last game’ at The Valley. I too had my piece of turf, which survived in a Chinese takeaway dish for about a year. I still have the cuttings that I took; and when I shuffle off this mortal coil and someone goes through my stuff they’ll probably find a bag of what looks like ... well, they will probably conclude that I smoked some very strange stuff in my time. It’s hardly a day to celebrate, but getting Lennie and Robert Lee back was appropriate. Would have been good if the team had delivered the win. Instead what was delivered was the most disappointing of the small number of games I’ve managed so far as a splendid start (not just since we scored) was progressively squandered and then a get out of jail goal at the death wasn’t held on to. If not unforgivable, bloody close. We know we have no divine right to beat anyone, but when for the first 15-20 minutes you demonstrate how much better than the opposition you are, to fail to take the points is criminal.
The team was as against Tranmere. Worner again got the nod over incoming Luke Daniels in goal, while Jackson held onto the left-back berth ahead of Fry, Francis picks himself at right-back, and Doherty and Llera were retained in the centre of defence. Wagstaff and Martin took the wide slots, Racon and Semedo central midfield, and Anyinsah partnered Benson up front. And the opening 10 minutes were a delight. Racon was fully involved and linking up well with Martin in particular, Semedo was controlling midfield, and assisted by their defence (in particular a goalkeeper who seemed totally incapable of reading the flight of a cross, or getting anywhere near one), we could have been three up. Martin cut inside and hit the bar, Wagstaff forced their keeper into a decent save (he seemed OK with shots), and from a corner Doherty headed against the woodwork. Just when you start to think it might be one of those days the goal came. It was a carbon copy of the Doherty header, only this time Llera got on the end of the cross to head in from a couple of yards.
Dagenham & Redbridge were looking like rabbits in the headlights (bottom of the league and without a goal let alone a point on their league travels so far) and yes, if it had been a boxing match it would have been stopped. Trouble is, when you score a goal that simple there’s a tendency to start thinking that all you need to do is sling in a cross and more will come. It was basically downhill from then on as we first took our foot off the pedal. It didn’t seem to matter for a while since as and when we picked up the pace we looked capable of scoring more. But they came into the game more, starting to realise that they weren’t beaten yet. A poor Llera ball forward was returned with interest, only for their forward to shoot tamely, and at least it seemed we would make it to the break ahead, allowing Parkinson to stress that the game wasn’t won yet.
Instead the officials intervened just before half-time (funnily enough until then I though the ref at least was having a good game, playing good advantage on occasions and being largely unnoticed). The ball went out of play for a throw to us, as indicated by the ref, only for the linesman to insistently keep his flag pointed the other way. The ref had been closer to the ball (his ‘assistant’ struggled all afternoon with the idea of keeping up with the play) but allowed himself to be overruled. Ball into box and a rather lame challenge in the air saw their forward change direction. Even though he didn’t look like getting near the ball, the penalty was given. It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it was very soft.
OK, you think during the break, you’ve got to up it again and win the game. Instead we got worse. Parkinson decided to replace Anyinsah with Sodje, even though he’d been causing them problems with his running and looked lively. I’ve no problems with Sodje, but the thinking seemed to be ‘it’s easy to score against them with balls in the air, so we’ll bring on another big guy and hoof it forward’. Racon and Martin became less and less involved and, not surprisingly, with something to cling onto Dagenham were playing with determination. The tables had indeed turned.
Not long into the second half I said I thought we were going to lose, and if it hadn’t been for a couple of good saves from Worner we may well have done. Llera was caught out a couple of times by a more than useful front man (apparently someone they brought in on loan recently) and not only were they looking more determined than us, they were passing the ball better. Wagstaff was replaced by Reid, but that proved to be a cameo as he seemed to pull something and had to be replaced himself maybe five minutes later, with Fry coming on and Jackson moving forward.
The fans were getting more than restless as it appeared that points were going to be thrown away and as we struggled to get anything going through the second half. Just when it seemed we would have to settle for disappointment, on the stroke of 90 minutes we scored. Nothing complicated, but this time the cross (from the left) wasn’t aimed at the keeper’s throat, instead pulled back and an inrushing Jackson had the time to get enough on the header to see it beat the keeper’s dive. At last, praise the lord, let’s get out of here with a win we didn’t deserve. Instead with four added minutes there was still time for them to work the ball down the right and deliver a wicked cross that was converted from a few yards out. That just left the disappointment.
Over the 90 minutes Dagenham deserved their point; they might have claimed all three. That sentence along is damning enough. If you’re going to try to win the game by playing football for 15 minutes you need more than one goal to show for it. And if Parkinson told them at half-time to go long I hope he learns that aimless punts forward aren’t enough to beat anyone. There’s still a lot of improvement to come, we are told, and it starts on Tuesday night. It’s my mum’s birthday, so I’m not the only one hoping for a treat.
Player Ratings (have to say these do look strange, but I’m struggling how to mark players when for many they would have earned 8-9 for the early showing and 4-5 for the second half; perhaps today the truly bad mark goes to whoever determined how we would play in the second half):
Worner: 8/10. Kept us in the game in the second half with a couple of very good saves. Have to watch it again to see if there was any fault for their second goal.
Francis: 7/10. Another impressive display; he looks to me like a very good piece of business.
Jackson: 7/10. Comfortable at the back and goes forward later on to score the goal that should have been the winner.
Doherty: 7/10. Very good game; assured and won most of what he went for. Should have scored with the first header though.
Llera: 6/10. Headed the ball out and in very capably, but was caught out on the ground. Don’t know who was penalised for the penalty.
Wagstaff: 6/10. Bit of a curate’s egg of a game. Lively early on but seemed as though scoring three in the league already meant shooting was a priority over getting quality balls into dangerous areas.
Racon: 6/10. Also impressive in the opening phases, but barely seen in the second half as the ball usually sailed over his head forward or back.
Semedo: 7/10. First-half I had him as our man of the match as he was strong and active, taking the captain’s role with relish. But nothing much worked for anyone in the second half.
Martin: 7/10. Same again. Early in the game seemed capable of beating them on his own.
Anyinsah: 7/10. I couldn’t see the case for taking him off at half-time, but so be it. He emerges with more credit than most for not being involved in the second.
Benson: 5/10. Disappointing. I’ve been quite impressed with him to date, but today it didn’t happen. One decent header in the second half but struggled to hold the ball up (admittedly not easy given the service) and basically didn’t cause problems and wasn’t involved in the key moments. Don’t care about him not scoring yet, just keep the head up.
Subs: Sodje (5/10 – I’m a fan of his and think he’s been unlucky not to have started games recently, but his coming on today didn’t work out). Reid (how can you give a mark for five minutes?). Fry (6/10 – no problems, but did seem to get away with one rather nasty tackle).