Tuesday 4th September 2018, 1945 Kick Off
Dagenham & Redbridge FC vs Braintree Town FC
The Build Up
After watching the top two sides in the Vanarama National League South side battle it out on Saturday, on Tuesday evening came the chance to watch the teams immediately above them in the league system slug it out in East London. Dagenham, who were coming into the match on the back of a decent 0-0 draw at home to Salford City, would be relishing the opportunity to leapfrog Braintree Town, who were one place and one point above them at the foot of the Vanarama National League.
The Daggers, formed in 1992 through a merger of Dagenham with Redbridge Forest have flown high in the Football League as recently as 2015/16, when they were relegated from EFL League Two to the top tier of non-league. With a strong squad, and expected to compete for promotion, Joh Still’s side eventually placed 4th, then 11th in 2017/18 as the money disappeared and players were sold, released and raffled off to make ends meet. During the summer, Still was poached by newly relegated Barnet, and took the likes of Craig Robson, Mark Cousins and Andre Boucaud with him. However, Dagenham pulled off a real coup getting former England manager Peter Taylor through the door, but a start of two points from eight games (I’m sure Harry Redknapp mentioned those stats once or twice…) to leave them bottom is a far cry from when Jon Nurse sent them into EFL League One only eight years ago.
With two draws and four losses in their last six, only one side is in worse form than the Daggers at the moment – and only by goal difference – and as chance would have it, they were coming to play tonight. Brad Quinton’s Iron have found life difficult in the top flight of non-league since Diaz Wrights winning penalty dispatched Hampton & Richmond Borough back in May. The man hired from Enfield Town deserves real credit for the late season run which saw Braintree earn a Play Off spot by finishing sixth, but by his own admission it has been difficult to recruit the players to compete, and even this week he was still adding to his squad – making four signings in the past seven days.
Braintree finished third in this division just three seasons ago, losing out to eventual winners Grimsby Town in the Play Offs. Relegation followed the next season, and then immediate promotion back to the National League. Having drawn away to Boreham Wood on Saturday, the signs of improvement were there, and everything was set up for a cracking match.
The journey involved a trip to the end of the Earth. Or at least the end of the District Line, so after almost two hours of battling the entire breadth of Greater London in rush hour traffic, I was eventually chucked up out of the TfL network in the Essex/London conurbation. Victoria Road is a short walk (8 minutes according to google maps) from the station, so I arrived at the ground in plenty of time, and took the now familiar turning off the main road onto the street for which the stadium is named.
I spent £6.70 on a chicken pie, chips and Diet Coke, which felt like brilliant value after having my balls ripped out through my wallet at Woking on Saturday. £3 was enough for the programme, meaning that along with the ticket (£15), the whole thing can easily be done for under £25. Less really – there’s no obligation to eat a full meal at the football, I just choose to, because I bloody love cholesterol.
Braintree started the match with their tails up, and bolstered by the recent return of Billy Crook to midfield, settled into the high pressing game of which Quinton is such a fan. Within four minutes they could have scored twice, and it looked as though their sabre-rattling was worrying the Daggers.
Firstly, a decent cross from the right was well headed towards goal by new arrival Dave Nieskens, who joined a week ago from Barrow. His header dropped towards Kodi Lyons-Foster, but the right back couldn’t make up the distance, and it was smuggled away for a corner by Alexander McQueen. From the seemingly miskicked corner, Mo Bettamer got across the near post and flicked goalwards, but again McQueen was in the right place at the right time, stopping the ball dead on the line and hacking clear. Four minutes in and two vital interceptions by Dagenham’s new right back.
On ten minutes the home side crafted their first chance, when Lamar Reynolds, recently of Newport County drove at the right hand side of Braintree’s defence. He got past three, but when he cut inside and shot his effort was deflected back into play. This was a rare moment of promise for the Daggers in the first half, as Braintree were executing their instructions far better across the pitch. It was evident that the energy and pressing – so typified by Luke Allen – were forcing mistakes in Dagenham’s defence and midfield, typified by one specific case where the midfielder who started out at Cambridge United almost single-handedly forced the ball back to Elliott Justham, who shanked it out of play.
On 22 minutes, Dagenham skipper Matt Robinson hammered in a shot from thirty yards, but it was straight at Killip in goal for the Iron. This signalled the start of an improved by Dagenham, as they managed to play more in Braintree’s half in the second quarter. On 31 minutes, one of Luke Pennell’s indirect fire throw ins caused nervousness in the away box, and when it was flicked on came to Tomi Adeloye at the back stick. Adeloye did nothing wrong, but Killip, who signed from Grimsby in the summer was across his line to block quickly.
It was Braintree’s turn to threaten five minutes later, when Justin Amaluzor hassled Liam Gordon as if he was a single lady at closing time, and won the ball back in the corner. He crossed low, and captain Ricky Gabriel was only a foot away from connecting at the back post.
The best chance of the half though, came with five minutes left, when Adeloye smashed a shot against the crossbar. The summer signing from Hartlepool has already got one for Dagenham, and was inches away from grabbing a second here. He was picked out by an incisive pass on the edge of the area and time and space to select his shot. He eschewed the delicate option and went firmly for the driver, but his rising shot cannoned off the woodwork.
Level at half time, but it certainly hadn’t been boring. Typified by mistakes, both sides were clearly nervous, and neither wanted to slip up. Braintree had started by far the quicker, but as the half wore on, Dagenham came more and more into the game, with the lively running of Elliott Romain up front giving them a useful out ball.
As soon as the second half started Braintree were put under pressure by the Daggers. Ollie Harfield got forward well from right back to nick the ball off Patrick Webber as he was trying to see it out of play, and whipped in a dangerous ball. Kodi Lyons-Foster was jonny on the spot with the clearance though, and his diving header snuffed out the danger. Five minutes later, Adeloye was continuing his personal battle with Killip, but again it was the former Grimsby stopper who came out on top. An accurate cross found him over the head of Lyons-Foster, and even though he put his header back across well, Killip saved impressively.
Straight away from that, Braintree went up the other end, and both Billy Crook (blocked) and Mohammad Sagaf (wide) went close, before Liam Gordon went on a good run down the left and shot well over for Dagenham. The game was really heating up, and around the hour mark Mo Bettamer blazed a free kick over from 25-ish yards. Straight from that goal kick, Elliott Romain went on a delightful run from inside his own half, beating three or four Braintree defenders. When he slipped the ball wide, Harfield dug out a pinpoint cross to the feet of Lamar Reynolds in space. And I mean a lot of space. And time. Too much maybe, because with all the poise of a panicked kid who’s lost his mum in the supermarket, Reynolds snatched at the chance and sent it deep into the Dagenham sky.
The chances were coming thick and fast now though, and almost immediately Amaluzor shot, but it was straight at Elliot Blandtescosandwich in Daggers’ goal. Then, on 65 minutes, Adeloye couldn’t get the ball out of his feet quick enough to shoot when found by Romain, and his effort was well blocked. On 67 minutes, Luke Allen’s slide-rule pass set Cameron James free, but the Colchester loannee (clearly they like them in Braintree) also shot straight at Justham.
There followed a more stagnant ten minute period, as although Dagenham had a lot of the ball they didn’t really create anything of note. On 77 minutes Romain played another dangerous ball across the deck about two yards off the line but there was no touch, then on 82 minutes a lofted cross by Matt Robinson was nodded over by substitute Noel Leighton, who had done well to get above Killip. A minute later, Leighton was involved again, when another fine delivery by Romain found him in the box. Goal side of the defence, he was surely about to set the net bulging, but he was felled by Ricky Gabriel in desperation, giving fellow sub Chike Kandi the chance to score from the spot.
Kandi stepped up, and showing nothing but confidence, fired his penalty into the net. It was a fine strike, and absolutely nothing Killip could do between the sticks.
The goal was timed at 84 minutes, leaving only six plus stoppage time for Braintree to claw something back. It felt cruel, but there could be no suggestion the goal hadn’t been coming. Despite the even first half, Dagenham had been by far the better side throughout the second period. With the exception of a corner headed wide by substitute Reece Grant (who should be a definite starter at Braintree in my opinion), the next ten minutes were well controlled by the Daggers, as they harried and hassled, keeping play firmly in the Iron’s half for most of it.
The Wash Up
1-0 to Dagenham & Redbridge at full time is a result that will delight Peter Taylor. It may not have been pretty, and Braintree definitely had chances of their own, but a second clean sheet and a vital three points to lift them off the bottom cannot be sniffed at.
Braintree will set off on the short journey further into Essex licking their wounds, as Brad Quinton must have targeted this as a possible win. Indeed, had McQueen not have been so well/luckily placed twice in the first four minutes, this match could have been very different. The fact that Quinton kept his squad out on the pitch for a good fifteen minutes post-match, having watched the elated Daggers celebrate with some of the 1,098 crowd indicates that he wasn’t happy with what he had seen. Crook and Allen in midfield looked good, whilst Sagaf showed some nice touches at times, but overall there wasn’t enough threat up top. I like Bettamer and Amaluzor, but this wasn’t one of their better games, and it’s possible that the nippier Grant may have had more joy. Braintree’s overlapping full backs – Ricky Gabriel and Kodi Lyons-Foster – are also important to their attacking play, and it was no surprise that once Romain came more to the fore, pinning them back, that Braintree’s threat was diminished.
As for Romain, he certainly looked the man most likey, and were it not for him taking on more of a provider’s role, he would have fancied adding to his tally of three for the season so far. My vote for Man of the Match, he was pushed all the way by Liam Gordon, who was up and down like a male pornstar’s arse for the whole match. Matt Robinson also played well in central midfield, and was a calming influence when things got scrappy in the middle third.
Peter Taylor has had a difficult job on his hands since arriving at Victoria Road, and this is still surely likely to be a long, hard season for the Daggers, but four points against Salford City and Braintree Town leaves them undefeated in September. Not a bad start to the autumn.
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