Saturday 24th March 2018, 1500 KO
Dagenham & Redbridge vs AFC Fylde
The Build Up
Saturday found me once again bracing myself to run the gauntlet of travelling across London via the rail network. A two hour journey to Dagenham East – which is about as far as I can travel without leaving London – was made all the more enjoyable by South West Trains demonstrating their usual repertoire of cancellations and last minute amendments. Hopefully the match I was going to, between Dagenham & Redbridge and AFC Fylde in the Vanarama National League, would be worth it.
Formed in 1992, the Daggers came about via a merger of Redbridge Forest and Dagenham, two clubs with a rich nonleague heritage. In the mid 2000s a series of promotions saw them reach as high as EFL League One in 2009/10. Relegation in 2011 led to five years in League Two, before a return to the National League in 2016.
Under manager John Still the Daggers secured a 4th place finish in their first campaign back in nonleague, but due to financial woes, are now in what Still described recently as “the hardest [season] of his life”. Sitting 11th, but a full 12 points from the Play Offs, mid table solidity would represent a genuine achievement for a club who are struggling to pay the bills, or even to remain solvent. With the club committed to playing contracts, the cessation of financial support by major backer Glyn Hopkins in December hit them hard, and the likes of Corey Whitely, Morgan Ferrier and Sam Ling were all sold to rivals to help balance the books.
A midweek #savethedaggers fixture against West Ham raised around £40,000 for the club, as the Hammers played a strong side. The likes of Michail Antonio and Pablo Zabaleta ran out 3-1 winners, and whilst £40,000 is a great return and will undoubtedly help, it’s impossible not to think how much difference even 1% of the monthly salary of those West Ham players could make. The difference between the haves and have-nots of English football has never been more apparent.
Their visitors today were AFC Fylde, a club who have no such financial concerns. The Lancashire side have spent the last decade steadily progressing up the nonleague system, since leaving the West Lancashire leagues in 2007. Manager Dave Challinor, who joined from Colwyn Bay in 2011, took the Coasters to the title in the Vanarama National League North last season, and they have hit the ground running in the top flight.
In 8th place coming into today’s fixture, AFC Fylde have their eyes on the Play Offs, with Dover only two points away, and Wrexham and Aldershot suffering slight dips in form. Buoyed by Danny Rowe’s 22 goals so far, they’ve won three, drawn one and lost two of their last six matches – including a 7-1 shellacking of the aforementioned Shots.
Dagenham & Redbridge’s Victoria Road ground is a short walk from Dagenham East station, on the District Line. It is very much a “proper” football ground, and can cater for 6,078 people, the majority of which is standing. At £21 an adult ticket, the prices are standard for the National League, but an early bird season ticket means Daggers regulars can get their fix for around £8 per match. Not bad at all.
A well-stocked and somewhat psychedelic programme set me back £3 on arrival, and the obligatory chicken pie, chips and Diet Coke (disappointingly they were all sold out of home-made shepherd’s pie…) cost £6.30. Whilst eating this, a pleasant chat with a home supporter revealed that Daggers’ fans weren’t particularly confident going into this match, and this sense of almost unease was conveyed from the stands throughout the ninety.
I guess this unease is linked to the loss of confidence around a club which is currently talked about almost entirely with regards to their financial difficulties, and this has translated onto the pitch. Having lost four of their last six, the arrival of 13-goals-in-three-games Fylde, and in particular Mr Rowe, would not have been welcomed, but right from the get go, the Daggers defence had them well marshalled.
Despite Fylde having the better of the opening stages, and getting the ball forward well, they were unable to unlock a solid look Daggers defence, and it was the East Londoners who got the first shot away. After ten minutes, Fejiri Okenabirhie, fresh from his England C hat trick on Tuesday night, cut into the area and had a shot deflected behind for a corner.
Two minutes later, Dagenham & Redbridge were at it again, this time Mason Bloomfield in the thick of hit. The man who this week agreed a transfer to Norwich for the summer showed great tenacity to win the ball back in midfield, before teeing up Chike Kandi. Kandi centred well, but Okenabirhie got his bearings all wrong and sliced it high and wide into the grey sky.
Then came the moment the away fans had been waiting for. 51 of them had made the 253 mile journey down from Wesham (not sure I believe that’s a real place), and sang hard for their main man Danny Rowe. On 22 minutes, he was set free through the left hand channel, and Mark Cousins’ goal opened up in front of him. Rowe slid the ball home, but as I focused on his face for the celebration the familiar clang of ball on post told him, and me, that’d he’d missed.
This was the only clear chance for Rowe all match, and I was a little disappointed after all I’ve heard not to see the best of him. Credit for that has to go to Luke Pennell and Craig Robson who controlled him well all match, and also to John Still, that bastion of East End football, for setting his side up to mitigate his threat.
Appropriately, on 24 minutes, Dagenham’s number 24, Mason Bloomfield had a shot deflected wide, which led to a corner. This set up a few minutes of good pressure from the Daggers as they won three corners in a row. When one corner was cleared, Danny Rowe absolutely cleaned out two D&R players in midfield, and astonishingly the referee didn’t blow. When Rowe spread the ball wide to Jack Muldoon, he made the most of contact by Ben Nunn’s shadow and hit the deck. To resounding boos, and despite the home side missing two players undergoing treatment, Rowe elected not to cross, and slammed the free kick wide.
This wasted opportunity was costly on 33 minutes when the home side went ahead. The busy Okenabirhie clipped a gorgeous cross field pass in to Bloomfield, who collected at full stretch. A neat backheel found the marauding Ben Nunn in support, and when the Cambridge-born right back squared it, there was Chike Kandi to make it 1-0.
It was 2-0 shortly after, as Dagenham and Redbridge’s forward quintet pulled the Fylde defence apart again. When the pace of Okenabirhie stretched the defence, the Coasters went safety first and put the ball out for a throw. A well worked throw gave Sparkes the chance to cross, and when he drilled it in low, Mason Bloomfield was able to beat his marker and steer the ball inside the near post.
Two minutes later AFC Fylde came a brilliant goalline clearance away from halving the deficit. Another dubious foul was called against the hosts, and Fylde’s free kick was flicked on well by former Kidderminster man Jordan Tunnicliffe.
Mark Cousins made a rash decision to leave his line and found himself so deep in no man’s land he had to be picked up by Black Beauty. This allowed Simon Grand to loop a header over him and on target, but Luke Pennell – excellent throughout – rushed back and made the goalline clearance. This was the icing on a cake of a performance by the former Dunstable centre back.
Pennell’s clearance ensured the score remained 2-0 at half time, and it was a thoroughly deserved lead. Rowe had been contained so well he was dropping deeper and deeper to get involved, and the likes of Jonny Smith and Jack Muldoon were forced wide and away from danger when in possession. With Mason Bloomfield orchestrating, Okenabirhie, Kandi and Sparkes were having real joy stretching the Fylde backline.
Sparkes had Jay Lynch scrambling early in the second half, when his cross-cum-shot had to be well saved by the visiting ‘keeper. Lynch made a spectacular stop minutes later from a similarly spectacular Bloomfield effort, only for both of their good work to be rendered moot by the offside flag.
On 59 minutes, the Daggers threatened again when Jake Howells calmly and impressively worked it out of defence. Howells had a strong game at left back and got forward well, and on this occasion he worked the ball in to Okenabirhie’s feet. The Hendon-born winger found Kandi and he cut in from the right and bent a shot. The shot hit Bloomfield’s head, and with Lynch worried, the ball went just over.
Two minutes later, a carbon copy cut in from the right by former Leatherhead man Kandi gave him the space to slip in Okenabirhie. Okenabirhie, who was clearly desperate to score, forgot his big boy studs and slipped at the crucial moment, his shot being blocked by Luke Burke.
With just over an hour played, it was clear AFC Fylde would not get back into this, and they began to get petty. Late tackles and sly elbows became their hallmark, with Rowe and captain Lewis Montrose central to the theme. In all honesty, the only reason they finished the game with 11 men was because referee Mr Brook only remembered he was allowed to book people in the 75th minute. In particular, Montrose floored the tenacious Charlee Adams with an elbow twice in under a minute, resulting in the man in black giving Adams a talking to. Odd.
Clear cut chances became fewer and further between as Dagenham & Redbridge sought to see out the match, but they didn’t stop pouring forward. Sparkes, Kandi and Okenabirhie were having great success getting around the back of Fylde, but every cross was either deflected, or just missed its target.
Okenabirhie became more and more desperate to score, and for the last five took to driving towards goal single mindedly every time he got possession. A 90th minute shot was well saved by Lynch, and that was as close as he would come. On 92 minutes James Hardy showed great skill to pirouette into the Dagenham box, but when the 19 year old shot low Mark Cousins was equal to it and able to hold. That was to be the last of the goalmouth action for either side, as the referee blew his whistle shortly afterwards, with the match finishing 2-0 to Dagenham & Redbridge.
The Wash Up
A slightly below average crowd of 1,168 were treated to a highly competent performance by Dagenham & Redbridge today, and John Still will be just as pleased with how they defended as how they attacked. They could have won by more, but the clean sheet was key.
A huge element of that defence was the tenacious and incessant work by Adams and Andre Boucaud in midfield, who never baulked despite some pretty snide unpleasant rough housing by Fylde at times. Behind them, Pennell and Robson had a fine performance, ably flanked by Nunn and Howells.
For Fylde, this result means they are now five points from the Play Offs – coincidentally the same amount of points they are ahead of the Daggers. I wouldn’t say they played badly per se, but their game was too effectively disrupted by Dagenham. I thought that Jay Lynch had a good game, and James Hardy showed some tidy touches in midfield. The battle between Jordan Tunnicliffe and Mason Bloomfield was also great to watch.
Which brings me on to Bloomfield. Despite strong showings by Chike Kandi, Dan Sparkes and Fejirie Okenabirhie, Bloomfield is my man of the match. He worked hard throughout, but married that with great quality on the ball. He tired toward the end, but that was justified with how much he had done in the first 80 minutes. Still only 21, Bloomfield has already racked up ten clubs in his short career, and is set to make that eleven when he moves to Carrow Road in the summer. Initially due to join their U21 side, he will hope that these sort of performances will see him playing first team football early in the new season.
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