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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of August 2005)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Cambridge Utd                   4    2    0    0    6    1    2    0    0    3    0    12   
2nd     Wrexham                         4    2    0    0    4    0    1    1    0    4    2    10   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Portsmouth                      4    2    0    0    5    1    1    0    1    4    3    9    
4th     Rochdale                        4    0    2    0    2    2    2    0    0    4    1    8    
5th     Northampton                     4    1    1    0    4    2    1    0    1    3    3    7    
6th     Tranmere                        4    1    1    0    3    2    1    0    1    2    2    7    
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Bristol Rovers                  4    1    1    0    5    4    1    0    1    1    2    7    
8th     Dag & Red                       4    1    1    0    4    2    0    2    0    4    4    6    
9th     Oxford                          4    1    0    1    3    3    1    0    1    5    5    6    
10th    Shrewsbury                      4    1    0    1    2    1    1    0    1    2    3    6    
11th    Cardiff                         4    1    1    0    9    4    0    1    1    3    4    5    
12th    Hull                            4    1    1    0    3    2    0    1    1    5    6    5    
13th    Carlisle                        4    0    2    0    2    2    1    0    1    2    2    5    
14th    Bristol City                    4    0    0    2    3    5    1    1    0    4    2    4    
15th    Peterborough                    4    0    2    0    3    3    0    2    0    3    3    4    
16th    Norwich                         4    1    0    1    2    1    0    1    1    3    4    4    
17th    Bournemouth                     4    1    0    1    2    2    0    1    1    0    2    4    
18th    Huddersfield                    4    1    1    0    5    4    0    0    2    2    6    4    
19th    Reading                         4    1    0    1    2    3    0    1    1    2    4    4    
20th    Wigan                           4    1    0    1    2    2    0    1    1    1    6    4    
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Barnsley                        4    1    0    1    4    5    0    0    2    1    4    3    
22nd    Swindon                         4    0    0    2    2    6    0    2    0    5    5    2    
23rd    Watford                         4    0    2    0    3    3    0    0    2    0    4    2    
24th    Port Vale                       4    0    0    2    0    3    0    1    1    0    3    1    

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • The Confederations Cup sees a couple of shocks, as Brazil and hosts Argentina are knocked out in the Group Stage by South Africa and Australia respectively. The cream eventually rises to the top, with Germany lifting the trophy after Kevin Kurányi scores a 16th-minute winner in yet another Final showdown against Italy.
  • At the Club World Championship in Turkey, Gennaro Ivan Gattuso scores twice as Milan defeat CONCACAF champions Chicago Fire 2-1 in the Final. Silvio Berlusconi celebrates with a quiet night at home.
  • Ten days after becoming world champions, Milan's attempt to qualify for the Champions League ends in humiliation. Having beaten Amica Wronki 2-0 in the first leg at the San Siro, they then collapse to a shock 3-0 defeat in Poland - after conceding twice in the final 10 minutes! Gérard Houllier's side drop into the UEFA Cup, where they are drawn against another Polish team - Groclin Grodzisk - in Round 1.
  • Hélio dos Anjos starts his Manchester United reign straight from where Sir Alex Ferguson left off. His new Brazilian striker França scores four goals in four games as United beat Blackburn in the Community Shield before recording three straight Premiership wins. Things don't go quite so well for Crewe's new boss John Collins, who loses his first three Premiership matches after taking over from the retired Dario Gradi.
  • Two former Real Madrid 'galacticos' find new homes after becoming free agents in the summer. Portugal forward Figo signs for mid-table Serie A side Udinese, apparently after a recommendation from their scout Denis Smith. Meanwhile, playmaker Zinedine Zidane returns to France and signs for Nantes.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • Hurricane Katrina devastates large parts of the southern United States, with the city of New Orleans in Louisiana being worst-hit. It kills over 1,800 people and causes $125billion worth of damage.
  • The Labour Party mourns two of its most high-profile figures. Robin Cook - the former Foreign Secretary who quit Government in 2003 in protest against the Iraq War - dies of a heart attack at 59. Less than a fortnight later, Mo Mowlam - the former Northern Ireland Secretary who helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 - passes away from cancer aged just 55.
  • King Fahd of Saudi Arabia dies after 23 years on the throne. He is succeeded by his half-brother Abdullah, who becomes the fifth son of the famously prolific Ibn Saud to rule the oil-rich Middle Eastern state.
  • R&B singer Rihanna releases her debut album “Music of the Sun”. This unassuming 17-year-old from Barbados soon announces her plan to take over the world by putting out a new single every month for the next nine years.
Edited by CFuller
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SEPTEMBER 2005

After surviving our first four matches in Division 2 undefeated, things were heating up for Dagenham & Redbridge. Our September schedule began with a visit from Wigan, who were just outside the relegation places after a slow start to their campaign.

 

3 SEPTEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Wigan Athletic

We seemingly had no luck in front of goal during the first half. Junior McDougald hit the crossbar from an excellent pass by Ryan Carter after just four minutes. Several later shots from McDougald and our other attackers were well saved by Wigan goalkeeper Gary McGlynn, whose patchy form before that game apparently didn't matter here.

 

We upped the pace and went more direct early in the second half, which eventually got us our rewards. After 55 minutes, Des Hamilton picked out McDougald with a fantastic long ball that our long-serving striker flicked home with ease.

 

And while it might have still been summer for a few more weeks, Craig Winter was thriving in attacking midfield. The Scotsman doubled our advantage eight minutes later, tapping in a low cross from left-back Kerry Mayo. The Latics were well beaten, though a shot from captain Neil Roberts gave our goalkeeper Glynn Thompson a late scare.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (McDougald 55, Winter 63)

Wigan Athletic - 0

Division 2, Attendance 4,562 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 7th, Wigan 22nd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Thompson; Hawkins, Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Hamilton, Lacey, Carter (McLean); Winter (Gledhill); Mwaruwari (Alsop), McDougald. BOOKED: Mwaruwari.

 

We are traditionally very strong at home, and a third win in four matches at Victoria Road marked a promising start to our life in a new division. But if we were to survive, we also needed to pick up results away from east London.

 

One of our longest trips this season took us all the way to Hull, in East Yorkshire. The Tigers were under the stewardship of veteran manager Dave Bassett, who led them into Division 1 in 2004 but failed to keep them up beyond a single season. Their pursuit of an immediate re-promotion hadn't started too badly, with just one defeat in five games.

 

10 SEPTEMBER 2005: Hull City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Dave Bassett's boys took only five minutes to hit the front, courtesy of their veteran French striker Marc Libbra, who pounced on a killer ball from midfielder Shaun Derry after a mistake by Daggers defender Lee Matthews. We had several chances to hit back, though it wasn't until Junior McDougald thundered in Mark Janney's low cross in the 30th minute that we drew level.

 

The Tigers showed their teeth again in the 43rd minute, tormenting us with their quickfire attacking play before Derry blasted home for 2-1. Once again, McDougald provided the answer to Hull's question, heading in a lobbed ball from strike partner Benjani Mwaruwari to get us level just before half-time.

 

At 2-2, it was anyone's guess where this match would go... or at least it was until the 74th minute. A fierce drive from right-back Craig McEwan rattled our woodwork and served as a warning shot. Five minutes later, Gavin Mahon skipped across midfield and weighted a fabulous pass to substitute striker Paul McKnight, who outpaced the experienced Matthews and sent Hull back into the lead.

 

Of course, we'd recovered from two deficits, so we still believed we could do so again. Matthews almost redeemed himself in the 87th minute by setting up McDougald, who blazed over a great chance for a hat-trick. We then had one final equalising opportunity through attacking midfielder Craig Winter, who got his head to a Kerry Mayo cross... and flicked it inches past the post. Our unbeaten start was over.

 

Hull City - 3 (Libbra 5, Derry 43, McKnight 79)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (McDougald 30,45)

Division 2, Attendance 9,176 - POSITIONS: Hull 4th, Dag & Red 8th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Thompson; Hawkins, Maher, Matthews, Sharps (Weekes); Janney (Winter), Hamilton, Lacey, Mayo; Mwaruwari (Devine), McDougald. BOOKED: Sharps.

 

I wasn't too disappointed about our first defeat of the season. We'd played pretty well for the most part, but Hull were just more comfortable in possession and more clinical in front of goal. When all was said and done, we'd lost to the better team.

 

After the match, three teenagers were promoted to our reserve team. John Powell (18) is a pacey and selfless right-winger who looks to have a fair amount of potential if he can sharpen up his crossing. Alan Jones (17) also has plenty of speed and technique, and he can play anywhere in midfield or attack.

 

However, I'm not as hopeful about forward Peter McCann (also 17), who is pretty average and demanded exorbitant wages when we were discussing a full-time contract. Peter needs to be more realistic, or he'll never make it as a professional footballer.

 

We then returned to Victoria Road to host Northampton, who were in 3rd place and already looking confident of achieving a second promotion in three seasons. Damien Lacey had unfortunately picked up a groin strain on the eve of this match, which meant youngster Alan McLean took his place in midfield, and Lee Matthews took on the captaincy.

 

14 SEPTEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Northampton Town

Craig Winter had now settled nicely into the Dagenham team, and after just seven minutes, he was celebrating his first assist for the club. A skilful exchange of passes with Benjani Mwaruwari ended in the Zimbabwean striker heading the opening goal past Northampton goalkeeper Jorgen Nielsen.

 

The Cobblers were soon losing their cool. Former England defender Andy Hinchcliffe was lucky not to be sent off in the 12th minute, when he reacted angrily to being booked for bringing down Winter. His team-mate Nielsen did see red six minutes later, paying the ultimate price for a professional foul on Junior McDougald. He was replaced with Joe Murphy, who could do nothing about Benjani's subsequent penalty.

 

Though we were 2-0 up and one man up, we made heavy weather of killing Northampton off later in the first half. We were punished seven minutes before the break, when a rare attack from the hosts ended in former Manchester United winger Ben Muirhead halving our goal advantage. Would that be costly?

 

A minute before Muirhead's goal, Sean Maher had the ball in the Northampton net, only to be denied his first Dagenham goal because of an offside flag against McDougald. The Irish defender did beat his compatriot Murphy again in the 54th minute, pouncing on the loose ball after the keeper had awkwardly saved Benjani's volley. This time, Sean was allowed to celebrate breaking his duck, and it was 3-1 to the Daggers!

 

But of course, it was Mwaruwari who had the last word. Ryan Carter cracked open the Cobblers' defence in the 71st minute to help Benjani complete his hat-trick, after which he was subbed off to a standing ovation. We hadn't simply beaten Northampton - we had smashed them!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (Mwaruwari 7,pen18,71, Maher 54)

Northampton Town - 1 (Muirhead 38)

Division 2, Attendance 5,953 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Northampton 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Thompson; Hawkins (Gledhill), Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Hamilton, McLean (Carter), Weekes; Winter; Mwaruwari (Alsop), McDougald.

 

We were back in the play-off places... but for how long? Next up was a long journey west, to face an entertaining Bristol Rovers side whose first seven matches had seen them score 15 goals and concede 16.

 

17 SEPTEMBER 2005: Bristol Rovers vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Bristol Rovers made the brighter start and nearly scored in the seventh minute, when Stuart Brightwell's free-kick hit the post. Fellow winger Danny Pugh did likewise in the 27th, and Brightwell scuffed the rebound. Those misses came back to haunt the Gasheads on 38 minutes, as a low strike from Craig Winter gave Dagenham a 1-0 lead that we honestly didn't deserve.

 

Our first-half luck didn't return for the second. Three minutes after the restart, star striker Junior McDougald - who had provided the assist for Winter's opener - felt a twinge in his thigh and gestured to come off. He was replaced with Sean Devine, who had a quiet afternoon in front of goal as we struggled to extend our lead.

 

By the closing stages, with our advantage still at 1-0, I turned my focus towards preserving it. A tiring Sean Maher was replaced in defence by vice-captain John Anderson, who was making his first appearance this month, having been dropped after a decline in form. I mean, what could go wrong?

 

Deep into stoppage time, Bristol Rovers sought the luck of the Irish as they went on one last attack. Centre-half Trevor Challis squared the ball to Irish international midfielder Alan Mahon, whose last-ditch 20-yard strike found the top corner - and brought a wide smile to the face of his Rovers manager Pete Mahon (no relation). All the stats suggested that Gasheads probably deserved at least a point, but we still felt very hard done by.

 

Bristol Rovers - 1 (Mahon 90)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Winter 38)

Division 2, Attendance 9,744 - POSITIONS: Bristol Rovers 12th, Dag & Red 6th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Thompson; Hawkins, Maher (Anderson), Matthews, Mayo; McLean (Hamilton), Carter, Weekes; Winter; Mwaruwari, McDougald (Devine).

 

A painful second half in more ways than one. As well as missing out on two points that would have lifted us up to 3rd place, we also had to contend with the news that Junior McDougald was out for two weeks with a thigh strain. Having provided four goals and three assists in eight matches this term, the in-form American would be hard to replace.

 

Four days later, we welcomed Glenn Hoddle's Bolton to Victoria Road in Round 2 of the League Cup. The Trotters' last match had seen them lose 3-0 at Old Trafford against the mighty Manchester United, but this would be a very different experience for them. Could our underdogs spring a surprise?

 

21 SEPTEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Bolton Wanderers

Julian Alsop might not have scored yet this season, but I put my trust in the big target man to break apart the Bolton defence. Jules got his first chance after seven minutes, but Trotters keeper James Evans made simple work of his header. Benjani Mwaruwari and Des Hamilton would also have shots saved by the young Scotsman later on.

 

Though England striker Michael Ricketts was captaining this Bolton team, the visitors' main attacking threats came from a couple of Nordic internationals. Norway striker Thorstein Helstad and Sweden midfielder Kennedy Bakircioglü each had shots hit the woodwork either side of the half-time break. By the 75th minute, Glenn Hoddle was seemingly so desperate to reverse his team's fortunes that I heard him trying to phone a faith healer - called Eileen something.

 

Hoddle need not have worried, because for the second game in a row, we would have our hearts broken in the closing stages by an Irish midfielder. Bolton finally made the breakthrough four minutes from time, when Chris Dawson's corner was headed home by Republic of Ireland B international Kevin Nolan. I thought we were doing well enough to at least take the game to extra-time, but it wasn't to be.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Bolton Wanderers - 1 (Nolan 86)

League Cup Round 2, Attendance 5,970

DAG & RED LINE-UP (5-3-2): Pollitt; Maher, Bayliss, Matthews; Hawkins, Mayo; Carter (Winter), Hamilton, Weekes (McLean); Alsop (Devine), Mwaruwari.

 

Another valiant League Cup performance had ended in a late, narrow defeat to Premiership opposition. Still, we could dry our tears with the £59,700 we made in gate receipts - a new club-record.

 

Another big Victoria Road crowd was anticipated when Norwich came to town. It's incredible to think that the Canaries were flying high in the Premiership a little over a decade ago, yet now found themselves battling to avoid relegation into Division 3.

 

24 SEPTEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Norwich City

The first half was a surprisingly eventful one for teenage midfielder Ryan Carter. Having been booked in the 40th minute for a foul on Danny Hudson, Carter posed an even greater danger to Norwich with a powerful strike that was well stopped by Damian Beckford-Quailey. That was our best chance in a combative opening period, which was a stressful one for our opponents, who made two substitutes before the break!

 

Carter and right-back Lee Gledhill were both on yellow cards at half-time, so I told them to calm down. I was soon wishing I'd given the same pep talk to our left-back Kerry Mayo. Kerry reacted so poorly to receiving a yellow card in the 47th minute that he angrily kicked the ball away, earning him another! I couldn't hide my dismay for Mayo's behaviour as he headed down the Victoria Road tunnel in disgrace.

 

Within moments of Mayo's dismissal, our 10 men predictably fell 1-0 behind. Anglo-Danish centre-back Brett Solkhon - who replaced the experienced Phil Babb in Norwich's defence after just 14 minutes - scored his first Canaries goal to break the deadlock.

 

Norwich's narrow lead lasted just five minutes. Nick Weekes might have been thwarted by a firm tackle from visiting full-back Alex Powell, but Carter got to the loose ball and blasted it home. The homegrown hero celebrated his equaliser wildly with his team-mates... until things took a dark turn when centre-back Shaun Maher pulled a calf muscle. 16-year-old midfielder Simon Warren had to replace the injured Irishman, making just his second competitive appearance.

 

City were back on the offensive in the 69th minute, when a shot from the experienced winger John O'Neil was pushed behind by Glynn Thompson. Powell tried an inswinging corner, and 21-year-old John Sutton (the younger brother of ex-Norwich striker Chris) outjumped Des Hamilton to head in what proved to be the clincher. Fortress Victoria Road had been breached twice in four days.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Carter 52)

Norwich City - 2 (Solkhon 47, Sutton 70)

Division 2, Attendance 5,973 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 10th, Norwich 18th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Thompson; Gledhill (Hawkins), Maher (Warren), Matthews, Mayo; Carter, Hamilton, Weekes; Winter (Sharps); Devine, Mwaruwari. BOOKED: Gledhill, Carter, Mayo, Devine. SENT OFF: Mayo.

 

What a let-down. As poorly as we'd played overall, Kerry Mayo's needless sending-off was probably the main reason for our defeat. Our left-back received a one-match ban - ruling him out of our next home game against leaders Cambridge on 8 October - and a stern warning.

 

We head into the autumn sitting in mid-table - two points off the play-off places, but six clear of relegation. With seven matches on our October schedule, our season really could go either way.

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of September 2005)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Cambridge Utd                   9    4    1    0    14   5    2    1    1    5    3    20   
2nd     Rochdale                        9    3    2    0    11   6    3    0    1    7    5    20   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Swindon                         9    2    0    2    6    7    3    2    0    17   10   17   
4th     Reading                         9    3    0    2    9    6    2    1    1    7    7    16   
5th     Wrexham                         9    3    1    1    8    5    1    2    1    8    7    15   
6th     Tranmere                        9    3    2    0    7    3    1    1    2    3    4    15   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Oxford                          9    2    0    2    9    7    3    0    2    10   10   15   
8th     Carlisle                        9    2    2    1    9    9    2    1    1    8    6    15   
9th     Cardiff                         9    2    1    1    14   7    2    1    2    11   11   14   
10th    Northampton                     9    2    2    0    7    4    2    0    3    9    12   14   
11th    Dag & Red                       9    3    1    1    11   5    0    3    1    7    8    13   
12th    Hull                            9    2    1    1    7    6    1    3    1    12   12   13   
13th    Bristol Rovers                  9    1    3    0    9    8    2    0    3    10   13   12   
14th    Huddersfield                    9    2    2    0    12   9    1    1    3    7    12   12   
15th    Portsmouth                      9    2    2    1    15   13   1    0    3    6    8    11   
16th    Port Vale                       9    1    1    2    4    5    2    1    2    4    5    11   
17th    Peterborough                    9    2    2    1    9    9    0    2    2    5    10   10   
18th    Norwich                         9    2    0    2    5    4    1    1    3    6    12   10   
19th    Bournemouth                     9    1    2    1    4    4    0    3    2    1    4    8    
20th    Bristol City                    9    1    0    4    9    13   1    2    1    8    8    8    
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Shrewsbury                      9    1    1    3    4    5    1    0    3    4    8    7    
22nd    Barnsley                        9    2    0    3    8    10   0    1    3    3    8    7    
23rd    Wigan                           9    2    0    2    7    6    0    1    4    2    12   7    
24th    Watford                         9    1    2    1    6    7    0    1    4    3    9    6    

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • England are among the latest countries to qualify for the World Cup, as midfielders Joe Cole and Seth Johnson score the decisive goals in a 2-0 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina. Spain also book their place at next summer's finals - without conceding a single goal. Iker Casillas might have had a say in that.
  • While Manchester United saunter to the top of the Premiership once again, Liverpool's title charge stutters, with just one win from their first five matches. The Scousers respond by paying Monaco £10million for creative winger Ludovic Giuly, who twists his knee on his Anfield debut against Newcastle.
  • Premiership clubs have mixed results early in the Champions League. Chelsea suffer a shocking collapse in Denmark, throwing away a 2-0 lead before conceding a 90th-minute winner against Brøndby. Meanwhile, Leeds record a stunning 3-0 victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp... but then lose 3-0 at Club Brugge a week later!
  • Lille make a strong start to the Ligue 1 season, with midfielder Michael Essien and striker Dado Prso both in hot form as they win five of their first seven matches. Defending champions Monaco are also unbeaten... but they are also in the relegation zone after five consecutive draws!
  • Could Bayern München's Bundesliga dominance be under threat? Ottmar Hitzfeld's superstars suffer a humiliating 5-0 defeat at Hertha BSC that knocks them off top spot. The new leaders are unbeaten outsiders 1.FC Köln, whose fresh-faced 38-year-old manager Jürgen Klopp implements a high-intensity playing style that German journalists call "gegenpressing".

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • 16 years after losing the Ashes, England's cricketers regain the little urn by beating Australia in a thrilling five-match Test series on home soil. The country immediately goes barmy, while star player Andrew Flintoff gets sozzled before planning a new career in showbiz.
  • The Daily Mirror releases an exposé showing supermodel Kate Moss and her musician boyfriend Pete Doherty taking cocaine. Moss loses her advertising contract with H&M, while Doherty becomes THE biggest rock star in Britain. How does that work?
  • In Formula 1, Michael Schumacher’s five-year reign of terr... ific driving is over. 23-year-old Fernando Alonso wins the Drivers’ Championship with two races to spare, becoming the youngest world champion in history.
  • The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten publish 12 cartoons, many of which depict the Prophet Muhammad. This angers many Muslims and leads to protests worldwide.
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OCTOBER 2005

The new Division 2 season had entered one of its busiest periods. There were seven rounds of matches scheduled, and it was anyone's guess where this mid-table Dagenham & Redbridge team would be positioned come Halloween. A good run of form would place us firmly in the play-off picture, but if our recent string of poor results continued, the relegation places would be on the horizon.

 

First up was an away game against one of the teams who came up with us from Division 3 last season. Oxford had made an inconsistent start, winning five of their opening matches but losing the other four. That said, the U's had one of the league's joint-top scorers in Lee Trundle, who was itching to add to his eight-goal haul.

 

Having hurt his calf in our most recent defeat at home to Norwich, defender Shaun Maher was unable to join the Daggers at the Kassam Stadium. Captain Damien Lacey and striker Junior McDougald were still recovering from their injuries.

 

1 OCTOBER 2005: Oxford United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

As expected, Oxford set their stall out to attack in the early stages, with Lee Trundle putting his first shot just over the bar after just three minutes. Two minutes later, we launched our first counter-attack through Benjani Mwaruwari, who put himself in the shop window with an impressive solo goal that sent us 1-0 up!

 

After a couple of narrow misses at both ends, an entertaining match took a major twist ten minutes from half-time. Our defence was unable to cope with a killer cross from New Zealand winger Leo Bertos, who set up the equalising goal for teenage midfielder James Newell. Bertos followed that up a couple of minutes later by giving Oxford the lead, burying the rebound after Glynn Thompson made a mess of Newell's shot.

 

Our defence suffered a blow six minutes into the second half, when a shin injury ended right-back Lee Gledhill's match. Despite that, we soon pushed forward looking for an equaliser, only to be met by a string of fantastic saves from Alan Fettis. The Northern Irishman wasn't the first goalkeeper to play a blinder against us, and he wouldn't be the last.

 

Oxford took control in the closing stages, and by the 81st minute, it was all over. Journeyman defender Wayne Brown doubled their lead from a cross by substitute Chris Blackburn, and Neil Cooper's side celebrated a massive victory in their pursuit of back-to-back promotion. Meanwhile, defeat saw us slip into the bottom half for the first time.

 

Oxford United - 3 (Newell 35, Bertos 37, Brown 81)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Mwaruwari 5)

Division 2, Attendance 7,437 - POSITIONS: Oxford 5th, Dag & Red 14th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Thompson; Gledhill (Hawkins), Bayliss, Matthews, Sharps; Carter (Melton), McLean, Weekes; Winter; Alsop (Devine), Mwaruwari. BOOKED: Carter.

 

Including our League Cup defeat to Bolton, we'd now lost three matches on the trot. If we were to get out of this rut, I would have to make major changes.

 

I called centre-back Dave Bayliss, winger Mark Janney and strikers Sean Devine and Victor Renner into my office - and told them all that they were being relegated to the reserves and transfer-listed with immediate effect. Frankly, none of them were good enough for regular Division 2 football and were now surplus to requirements.

 

I also warned three other players - Julian Alsop, Lee Gledhill and Stephen Melton - that they would be heading the same way if their performances did not improve. We couldn't afford to keep any stragglers around at this level.

 

After that, I injected some fresh blood into the team. Firstly, we took the powerful 20-year-old Scottish right-winger William McQuade on a season-long loan from Derby.

 

He was soon joined at Victoria Road by the more experienced Spencer Prior, who had made over 500 league appearances - and spent many years in the Premiership with Leicester, Derby, Manchester City and Gillingham. The strong 34-year-old centre-half signed from the Gills for £65,000 and would take on the captaincy with immediate effect.

 

Prior led the Daggers out for the first time when we hosted league leaders Cambridge a week later. Teenage striker Robbie Walsh also made his first Dagenham start, while McQuade was on the bench, hoping to make an explosive impact if required. With Kerry Mayo serving a one-match ban, Ian Sharps deputised at left-back.

 

8 OCTOBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Cambridge United

This match saw the return of our former keeper Ian Bennett to Victoria Road - a place where he hadn't exactly enjoyed the best of times two seasons ago. Cambridge's soon-to-be 34-year-old goalie had another nightmare after nine minutes, when Daggers midfielder Nick Weekes whipped in a corner - and captain Lee Matthews headed in his first goal since coming back home.

 

Bennett did try to keep the floodgates from bursting wide open, but by the 26th minute, we had doubled our lead. Another Weekes corner was converted by another of our big summer signings - in-form midfielder Craig Winter.

 

United were shellshocked, and it took them nearly the entire first half to launch a response. Though Scott Bannerman's 45th-minute shot was saved by Mike Pollitt, his team's next attack did fool our goalkeeper. Pollitt was beaten to a right-wing Ian Ridgeway cross by the head of Adam Bolder, who pegged us back to 2-1.

 

Given how his set-pieces had given us the lead, it seemed fitting that Weekes should be the man to restore our two-goal cushion. In the 68th minute, Winter returned the favour to Weekes, who dribbled into the Cambridge box and then stroked a cool shot past Bennett. Though Bannerman did get another goal back for the visitors six minutes later, there was no need to panic... especially with Ian Bennett in the opposition goal.

 

After 79 minutes, Bennett made his biggest mistake yet. Substitute John Anderson went clean through on the Cambridge goal when he was taken out by Bennett, who was finally put out of his misery with a straight red card. Substitute keeper Paul Robinson then conceded Benjani Mwaruwari's penalty, which sealed a 4-2 Dagenham win!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (Matthews 9, Winter 26, Weekes 68, Mwaruwari pen80)

Cambridge United - 2 (Bolder 45, Bannerman 74)

Division 2, Attendance 5,536 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 9th, Cambridge Utd 1st

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Pollitt; Hawkins, Prior, Matthews, Sharps (Gledhill); Carter (Anderson), McLean, Weekes; Winter; Walsh (McDougald), Mwaruwari.

 

Were we returning to form, or was that just a fluke?

 

Next up was a mid-table clash at Ninian Park against Cardiff, who hadn't yet kept a clean sheet this season. Our new loanee winger McQuade would set out to wreak further damage on the Bluebirds' defensive record when he made his Daggers debut.

 

11 OCTOBER 2005: Cardiff City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

This match also saw Damien Lacey - an ex-Swansea midfielder, no less - return to the Dagenham line-up after a month out with a groin injury. But while Lacey was fit again, we would soon have a couple more injuries to contend with. Left-back Ian Sharps pulled up after just 19 minutes, and an even bigger blow came when striker Junior McDougald was stretchered off five minutes from half-time.

 

In terms of attacking action, the first half saw the two teams have one shot apiece. Cardiff made the most of their opportunity in the 28th minute, when Peter Thorne's flick-on was punched away by Daggers keeper Glynn Thompson, only for Thorne's strike partner Keigan Parker to blast in the rebound.

 

By contrast, our only chance of the opening period was volleyed horribly wide by Benjani Mwaruwari. Thankfully, Benjani's next effort in the 49th minute was much better, rocketing past Tony Williams in the Bluebirds goal. Sadly, Williams didn't put a foot wrong in the closing stages, as his assured shotstopping meant we only took one point back home from Wales.

 

Cardiff City - 1 (Parker 28)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Mwaruwari 49)

Division 2, Attendance 7,411 - POSITIONS: Cardiff 14th, Dag & Red 11th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Thompson; Hawkins (Winter), Prior, Matthews, Sharps (Gledhill); McQuade, Weekes, Lacey, Mayo; Mwaruwari, McDougald (Alsop).

 

Sharps would only be out for around 10 days with a twisted knee, but the news about McDougald's injury wasn't so positive. He had torn a groin muscle and was ruled out for the best part of three months. We had plenty of firepower in this team, so replacing Junior wasn't exactly a priority, but it was still a major blow.

 

As we came to terms with this latest setback, we watched the FA Cup Round 1 draw. The drawmasters had been quite kind to us this time, giving us a home game against Chester, who were recently promoted back to the Conference after three years in the regional leagues.

 

Our next league match saw us go on the road again, meeting 16th-placed Portsmouth at Fratton Park. Pompey were relegated from Division 1 last season, and their journeyman coach Roy Hodgson was already facing a battle to stop them dropping down another tier.

 

18 OCTOBER 2005: Portsmouth vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Portsmouth were unlucky not to take the lead after just six minutes, when Juan Carlos Socorro drove a low shot against the crossbar. Unfortunately, the Venezuela left-winger did s(o)core in the 23rd minute, comfortably beating Glynn Thompson after a great set-up from David Nielsen on the right wing.

 

Benjani Mwaruwari pulled us back level in the 25th minute, helped in part by an assist from his young strike partner Robbie Walsh. Pompey's director of football Harry Redknapp clearly looked impressed with Benjani, who had another opportunity to catch the eye in the 38th minute.

 

Walsh's pace and skill won a foul off left-back Alessandro Zamperini in the area, prompting the referee to award us a penalty. Unfortunately, Benjani's spot-kick prowess let him down this time, as Shaka Hislop made a strong save from the Zimbabwean.

 

Portsmouth had been let off the hook, and they stole the lead again nine minutes into the second half. Gary O'Neil's cross found his midfield colleague Darryl Powell, whose header slipped past Thompson for 2-1. Glynn had now conceded two goals from two home shots on target, and I couldn't stand the thought of his shaky goalkeeping costing us another game. Mike Pollitt took his place between the posts for the last half-hour.

 

By contrast, Portsmouth's shotstopper wasn't so Shaka... er, I mean shaky. Hislop withstood a deluge of Daggers attacks, and I was starting to believe that we were going to come away beaten when an old hero came to the rescue. Just as the referee was about to blow full-time, Kerry Mayo put one last ball into the Pompey box, where supersub Julian Alsop drove in his first goal of the season to snatch a 2-2 draw!

 

Portsmouth - 2 (Socorro 23, D Powell 54)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Mwaruwari 25, Alsop 90)

Division 2, Attendance 5,887 - POSITIONS: Portsmouth 17th, Dag & Red 10th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Thompson (Pollitt); Anderson, Prior, Matthews; McQuade, Mayo; Weekes, Lacey, Hamilton (Winter); Mwaruwari, Walsh (Alsop). BOOKED: Matthews.

 

Welcome to the party, Jules! I'm glad you could join us at last!

 

Alsop's reward for his late equaliser was a return to the starting line-up when we welcomed Wrexham to Victoria Road. The Dragons were perennial play-off contenders - their previous three seasons had seen them finish 6th, 5th and 7th, and they were now faring even better in 4th place.

 

22 OCTOBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Wrexham

Julian Alsop picked up straight where he left off. The big target man's first shot after nine minutes hit the post, and his next effort a couple of minutes later did the same... but his luck was in this time, as the ball deflected into the net. That was a moment of redemption for our three-time Player of the Year, and also for midfielder Des Hamilton, whose killer ball opened up the opportunity.

 

Unfortunately, Wrexham would finish the first period as strongly as we'd started it. Left-winger Kevin Cooper unlucky hit the post in the 39th minute, but midfielder Richard Dunning's 41st-minute strike did manage to beat ex-Dragons keeper Mike Pollitt in the Daggers goal. 1-1, and still all to play for.

 

After wasting several opportunities to restore our lead early in the second half, a frustrating afternoon turned into a potential horror show. Wrexham's right-winger Scott Huckerby was taken out by a clumsy tackle from Damien Lacey, who had otherwise been consistently solid in our midfield. Delapo Olaoye took the penalty, which comfortably beat Pollitt, and our Welsh visitors had the lead.

 

In a moment of annoyance, I decided to sub Alsop off immediately and bring on Robbie Walsh in his place. Just six minutes later, that was looking like a surprisingly smart move. The 18-year-old got himself into space to receive a cross from Benjani Mwaruwari, and a powerful header restored parity!

 

Our game ended on a sour note in the 78th minute, when substitute winger William McQuade suffered a twisted knee that would sideline him for the next three weeks. Despite having to play the final dozen minutes with only 10 men, we somehow held on for a point.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Alsop 11, Walsh 70)

Wrexham - 2 (Dunning 41, Olaoye pen64)

Division 2, Attendance 5,986 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 12th, Wrexham 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Pollitt; Hawkins (Gledhill), Prior, Matthews, Mayo; Carter, Lacey, Hamilton; Winter (McQuade); Mwaruwari, Alsop (Walsh).

 

In our last three matches, we'd faced six shots on target and conceded from five of them. For all our excellent attacking play, the state of our defence was utterly shocking, even with the addition of Spencer Prior.

 

For our next away game at 2nd-placed Rochdale, I decided to switch to a very defensive 5-3-2. A fit-again Shaun Maher returned at centre-half to try and help us snap a run of 10 games without a clean sheet.

 

25 OCTOBER 2005: Rochdale vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Glynn Thompson went back in goal for our trip to Spotland - but by the 23rd minute, I was wishing I'd sent him to Scotland instead. A low cross from Christian Fox was met by a good but not outstanding shot from Rochdale striker Gavin Holligan, which Thompson probably could've got a glove to.

 

With Glenn Roeder's Dale attacking us hard and not giving us much time on the ball, it was a real struggle to get back into the game. Our plight was only worsened when left-back Kerry Mayo gashed his shin just before half-time. Mayo was replaced with Lee Gledhill, and I decided to make a more significant change during the interval. The 5-3-2 game way to the more usual 4-3-1-2, with defender Shaun Maher coming off for attacking midfielder Craig Winter.

 

In truth, the tactical overhaul didn't really help when it came to settling us down. Things went from bad to worse in the 56th minute, when Rochdale asserted their dominance with a second Holligan goal, set up by a square-ball assist from midfielder Claus Bech Jørgensen.

 

Just before Rochdale went 2-0 up, I made my final change by replacing midfielder Des Hamilton with rising star Alan McLean. Alan was just a week shy of his 20th birthday, and with 15 minutes remaining, Nick Weekes gave him an early present. Weekes played a perfect weighted pass to McLean, who dribbled to the edge of the Dale area and then rocketed in his first senior goal!

 

Then, barely a minute after one Scotsman had quietened the Spotland crowd, another stunned it into silence! Winter came into the penalty area after Benjani Mwaruwari's header was parried by Ian Gray, and a poacher's finish completed a turnaround. From 2-0 behind, we had salvaged another 2-2 draw - our THIRD in the space of eight days!

 

Rochdale - 2 (Holligan 23,56)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (McLean 75, Winter 76)

Division 2, Attendance 5,461 - POSITIONS: Rochdale 2nd, Dag & Red 15th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (5-3-2 Defensive): Thompson; Maher (Winter), Prior, Matthews; Hawkins, Lacey, Mayo (Gledhill); Weekes, Hamilton (McLean); Alsop, Mwaruwari.

 

A great comeback, but now the injuries were getting ridiculous. Mayo's shin injury thankfully coincided with Sharps' return to full fitness, which meant he was free to start our home game against a Carlisle side who were just outside the play-off spots. After four consecutive draws, could we end a frustrating month with a decisive result?

 

29 OCTOBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Carlisle United

After sitting out the last game, our young striker Robbie Walsh got another chance to show why his talents were coveted by top-flight clubs. The Irishman only needed five minutes to make an impact, unleashing a killer strike from Nick Weekes' through-ball.

 

Nine minutes later, though, another Irish striker found the net to pull Carlisle back level. Richie Foran's low shot was met with so little resistance by Glynn Thompson that I immediately told my loanee goalkeeper what I thought of his recent form. The fourth official put the subs board up, with Mike Pollitt coming on to replace a bewildered Thompson.

 

In the 19th minute, we set our sights on going back ahead. Julian Alsop's beeline towards goal was interrupted by a tackle from Cumbrians defender Leo Roget, but Craig Winter got to the loose ball and played Weekes through for 2-1 Dagenham. All was well at Victoria Road again...

 

...until the 39th minute. Pollitt turned away a powerful strike by Carlisle left-winger John Hore, only to watch left-back Adam Drury score the follow-up shot from Jimmy Davis' chipped delivery. Weekes did combine with Walsh again just before half-time to restore our advantage, but even at 3-2 up, there was a very real fear that we would soon lose the lead once again.

 

Our fears came to pass 10 minutes after the restart. Carlisle once again exploited our lack of width, when Hore's cross from the left wing was met with a clinical finish by former Manchester United striker Davis. Now it was 3-3!

 

We fought tooth and nail over the final 35 minutes to try and take the lead for a fourth (and hopefully final) time. Despite the best efforts from Weekes and Walsh, who probably could've shared the 'Man of the Match' award between them, we couldn't quite turn one point into three. Even after Roget was sent off for a frustrated kick at Damien Lacey in the 88th minute, Carlisle's defence managed to hold out.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Walsh 5, Weekes 19,45)

Carlisle United - 3 (Foran 14, Drury 39, Davis 55)

Division 2, Attendance 6,000 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 12th, Carlisle

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Thompson (Pollitt); Hawkins, Prior, Matthews, Sharps; Weekes, McLean (Lacey), Carter; Winter; Alsop (Mwaruwari), Walsh.

 

A joy to watch going forward, but a complete shambles at the back. That sums up Dagenham & Redbridge to a tee.

 

I had finally lost my patience with goalkeeper Glynn Thompson, who had apparently forgotten what he was supposed to use his hands for. I cancelled his loan spell from Fulham a month early and sent him back to Craven Cottage with his tail between his legs.

 

We also said goodbye to 33-year-old John Anderson, who signed for Cambridge on a free transfer. The Scottish centre-back had served us with great distinction over the past three years, and having played a pivotal role in two promotions, he will go down as a Daggers legend. Sadly, an average rating of 6.00 across a dozen Division 2 matches just isn't going to cut it.

 

I won’t lie, those are two brutal decisions I’ve taken, but I hope they will give the rest of the defence a much-needed shake-up.

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of October 2005)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Cambridge Utd                   16   6    1    1    19   8    3    1    4    10   13   29   
2nd     Wrexham                         15   5    1    1    13   7    3    3    2    18   16   28   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Port Vale                       16   4    2    2    12   8    4    2    2    6    5    28   
4th     Norwich                         16   6    0    2    15   8    3    1    4    13   17   28   
5th     Rochdale                        16   5    3    0    19   10   3    0    5    10   15   27   
6th     Swindon                         15   3    2    3    11   11   4    2    1    22   14   25   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Portsmouth                      16   4    3    1    21   15   3    0    5    12   14   24   
8th     Shrewsbury                      16   4    1    3    14   8    3    1    4    14   13   23   
9th     Carlisle                        16   3    2    3    13   14   3    3    2    17   14   23   
10th    Huddersfield                    16   4    3    1    20   15   2    2    4    10   15   23   
11th    Northampton                     15   5    2    1    15   9    2    0    5    11   18   23   
12th    Dag & Red                       16   4    3    1    20   12   0    6    2    13   16   21   
13th    Oxford                          16   4    0    4    18   15   3    0    5    15   18   21   
14th    Tranmere                        16   3    5    0    12   8    2    1    5    7    13   21   
15th    Reading                         16   4    1    3    13   10   2    2    4    12   20   21   
16th    Cardiff                         16   3    3    2    20   12   2    2    4    14   17   20   
17th    Bristol City                    15   2    0    5    13   17   4    2    2    17   15   20   
18th    Peterborough                    15   3    3    1    13   11   1    3    4    11   17   18   
19th    Bristol Rovers                  15   2    5    1    19   19   2    1    4    14   19   18   
20th    Barnsley                        16   4    1    3    17   16   1    1    6    6    15   17   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Bournemouth                     15   3    2    2    9    7    0    5    3    2    8    16   
22nd    Hull                            16   2    1    5    12   20   1    5    2    14   17   15   
23rd    Watford                         16   3    3    2    11   9    0    2    6    9    18   14   
24th    Wigan                           15   4    0    4    13   11   0    2    5    3    15   14   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • Here we go again. Five consecutive victories send Manchester United seven points clear of Arsenal, already putting them on course for a fourth Premiership title in a row. United have won 10 of their first 11 games, while Gary Megson's West Brom are on an equally spectacular run, having lost 10 of their 11 matches.
  • After leaving Manchester United in the summer, former Republic of Ireland midfielder Roy Keane embarks on a new chapter, succeeding Jimmy Sandison as player-manager of Division 2 side Barnsley. Keane immediately tries to win the Tykes players over by giving them ice cream and taking them to Flamingo Land.
  • Dado Prso's excellent scoring form for Lille continues, as a brace against Paris-SG and a hat-trick against Le Mans help 'Les Dogues' build a nine-point lead in France's top division. The ponytailed Croatian is now odds on to take the Ligue 1 golden boot from Monaco's Shabani Nonda - not least because Nonda is serving a 90-day ban for assaulting the referee against Toulouse.
  • Madrid are back on top of La Liga... but with an erratic Real Madrid floundering in mid-table, it's Atlético Madrid who hit the front! The strike duo of Uruguayan veteran Fernando Correa and 21-year-old Fernando Torres are in fine form as Atléti win seven straight matches, including a 1-0 victory over 2nd-placed Athletic Bilbao.
  • 19-year-old Tottenham prospect Joe O'Shea scores on his international debut as the Republic of Ireland secure a World Cup place by beating Northern Ireland 2-0. Holland also progress after Ruud van Nistelrooy scores 22 goals in eight qualifiers, but Denmark - who finished 4th in 2002 - miss out on a play-off place on goal difference.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • African American activist Rosa Parks passes away aged 92. In 1955, Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama after refusing an order to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This started a bus boycott that eventually kick-started a nationwide civil rights movement.
  • …and it’s goodnight from him. Ronnie Barker - one half of the “Two Ronnies” comedy duo with namesake Corbett, and the star of 1970s sitcom “Porridge” - dies of heart failure in Oxfordshire at the age of 76.
  • A Sky News presenter breaks the news that the playwright Harold Pinter has died... but then corrects herself and states that Pinter has actually won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Fortunately, the 75-year-old creator of "The Birthday Party" and "The Homecoming" sees the funny side and revels in his resurrection.
  • Nickelback’s new album “All The Right Reasons” gets a lot of attention for all the wrong reasons. For starters, why does Chad Kroeger have to sound so constipated when he tells us to LOOK AT THIS PHOTOGRAPH?!
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  • 2 weeks later...

NOVEMBER 2005

After the early cancellation of Glynn Thompson's loan spell from Fulham, I was in the lookout for another goalkeeper. Thankfully, I didn't have to wait long or look far to find one.

 

Taking over Dagenham & Redbridge's number 1 jersey is 25-year-old Robert Green, who joins us from Millwall on loan until the end of February. Though he has never fulfilled the potential he had as a youngster at Norwich, Rob is still a pretty solid and very agile Football League shotstopper.

 

Green hoped to make an explosive start to his Daggers career when we went to Tranmere on Bonfire Night. The Merseyside club were level on points with us, only trailing on goal difference. Though their recent form under John King had been disappointing, we still needed to be prepared for a battle at Prenton Park.

 

5 NOVEMBER 2005: Tranmere Rovers vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Robert Green immediately made the Daggers goal his own, making several saves to keep various Tranmere players off the scoresheet in the first half. Centre-back Lee Matthews also deserved some credit for winning many key tackles and headers, but our attack was struggling to get going...

 

...until the fourth minute of the second half. We caught Tranmere on the hop, and when midfielder Ryan Carter's shot was spilled by goalkeeper Darren Trigg, the rebound was calmly finished by Craig Winter! Craig then struck again four minutes later, with a low shot bypassing Trigg to double our lead.

 

Rovers gave us a scare in the 58th minute, when ex-Chelsea right-back Leslie Hughes blasted in a superb shot that cut our advantage back down to one goal. Fortunately, Winter allayed any fears by completing his hat-trick in the 68th minute. A bullet header from Julian Alsop's cross rounded off an outstanding solo performance by the flying Scotsman!

 

Tranmere Rovers - 1 (Hughes 58)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Winter 49,53,68)

Division 2, Attendance 8,169 - POSITIONS: Tranmere 17th, Dag & Red 9th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins, Prior (Gledhill), Matthews, Sharps (Mayo); Weekes, McLean, Carter; Winter (Hamilton); Alsop, Walsh. BOOKED: Prior, Sharps.

 

That was our first away win this season. Had we turned a corner?

 

A week later, we were at home to the team who were just one place and two points ahead of us. Bristol City had just come back down from Division 1, having been relegated after a single season back in the top flight. In former German international Paulo Roberto Rink, they had one of the division's form strikers.

 

12 NOVEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Bristol City

A mishap in the Bristol City defence gifted us the opening goal after 18 minutes. Centre-back Nicky Hunt almost headed a wayward clearance onto his own net, and was thankful to goalkeeper John Karelse for pushing it out for a corner. Hunt didn't feel so grateful just moments later, when Dagenham captain Spencer Prior rose highest to head in Nick Weekes' corner and sent Victoria Road rocking!

 

The Robins' defence managed to hold firm for the rest of the first half, but they lost their way again after the break. Weekes latched onto a killer through-ball from midfield colleague Craig Winter to make it 2-0 after 62 minutes. Benjani Mwaruwari then struck in the 79th minute to put the seal on what looked like a comfortable 3-0 win.

 

Unfortunately, the Daggers aren't allowed to keep clean sheets anymore. Prior's centre-back partner Lee Matthews gave away a totally unnecessary penalty in the 88th minute after tripping Tony Thorpe. Though Ian Kilford's spot-kick was well saved by Green, the former Wigan midfielder drove in the rebound, giving Bristol City a consolation.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Prior 18, Weekes 62, Mwaruwari 79)

Bristol City - 1 (Kilford 88)

Division 2, Attendance 5,976 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 8th, Bristol City 12th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins (Gledhill), Prior, Matthews, Mayo; Weekes, McLean (Lacey), Carter; Winter; Mwaruwari (Alsop), Walsh. BOOKED: Matthews.

 

That match marked the end of Jocky Scott's tenure as Bristol City manager, as he was sacked the following afternoon. I'll admit that the prospect of managing a club with City's resources - not to mention talent - was a tempting one. However, I wasn't desperate to leave the Daggers just yet, so if the Robins wanted me, they would need to make me a very attractive offer.

 

I also wasn't desperate to sell our in-demand starlet Robbie Walsh. We'd turned down a couple more offers from Coventry and Dundee United for the 18-year-old striker, whose dozen appearances so far this season had yielded two goals and three assists.

 

Now it was time to look ahead to the cup competitions. The Football League Trophy Round 1 draw had given us a tough away trip to Oxford in December... but the FA Cup draw had been much more generous.

 

Our FA Cup campaign began with what looked like a straightforward away game against Conference side Chester. Then again, City were captained by my old nemesis - 38-year-old Craig Forrest, who was the most unstoppable Canadian since Bryan Adams’ reign of chart terror in 1991. Would the former Rotherham goalkeeper haunt us once again?

 

19 NOVEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Chester City

I named a strong team for this match, but a combination of Craig Forrest and his woodwork kept us goalless for just over half an hour. The breakthrough finally came in the 32nd minute from our form man Craig Winter, who skipped past City midfielders Aaron Skelton and Stuart Taylor before driving home an unstoppable shot.

 

Though we were largely dominating the match, Forrest was still saving almost everything we fired at him. At times, it felt like he should have been goaltending for the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL, and not Chester in the Conference. However, there was nothing he could do about our second goal in the 59th minute, which Benjani Mwaruwari smashed in off the crossbar to effectively book our place in Round 2.

 

Chester's attackers finally showed up for the final half-hour. Shots from midfielders Sean McClare and Graham Thorpe kept our goalie Mike Pollitt on his toes, and striker Stephen Grant fared even better with a stunning free-kick in the 73rd minute. The final scoreline of 2-1 did perhaps flatter our visitors, but we'd still done enough to progress.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Winter 32, Mwaruwari 59)

Chester City - 1 (Grant 73)

FA Cup Round 1, Attendance 2,824

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins, Matthews, Maher, Mayo; Carter, McLean (M Jones), Hamilton; Winter (McQuade); Alsop (Griffiths), Mwaruwari. BOOKED: McLean.

 

We could look forward to playing Conference opposition again in Round 2. This time, though, we faced a journey west to Somerset, to take on Garry Hill's Yeovil side.

 

A few days later, Dundee United came back in for Robbie Walsh - and this time, Jim Leishman was deadly serious. Before long, we had agreed a sale worth £200,000, plus 25% of Robbie's next transfer fee. I was sad to be losing a talented youngster before he'd become a first-team regular, but at least we had made some substantial money through developing him.

 

Walsh's departure also opened the door for fellow striker Chris Griffiths to come back into the Daggers fold. The 19-year-old's cameo against Chester was his first competitive game for us since the Division 3 play-off against Lincoln 18 months ago. If Chris wanted to establish himself in the senior squad, now was his time to step up.

 

We hoped to complete a perfect November with a fourth consecutive win. The latest visitors to Victoria Road were 15th-placed Shrewsbury, whom we would have to face without midfielder Des Hamilton, who'd sprained his ankle in training.

 

26 NOVEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Shrewsbury Town

Shrewsbury's goalkeeper Justin Bray is not Canadian, but he may as well have been another Craig Forrest. Craig Winter, Benjani Mwaruwari and Julian Alsop were all over the Shrews attack in the first half, but Bray's superhuman reflexes frequently kept them at bay. The only shot that beat him in the first half was a piledriver in the 42nd minute from left-back Kerry Mayo, who unfortunately hit the wrong side of the crossbar.

 

For the second half, we tried to crank up the pressure and increase the tempo. Against an unflappable Shrewsbury side with a high-pressing game, that was a mistake. After 62 minutes, they struck on the counter, with Ryan Lowe breaking through the defence to tap in Chris McConville's left-wing cross.

 

Things went from bad to worse for Rob Green in the 74th minute. McConville outjumped the Daggers goalkeeper to head in a quick free-kick from Craig Taylor, and we were facing a second home league defeat this season. Though Alsop did get a shot past the virtually unbeatable Bray eight minutes later, his consolation goal was too little, too late.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Alsop 82)

Shrewsbury Town - 2 (Lowe 62, McConville 74)

Division 2, Attendance 5,989 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 10th, Shrewsbury 13th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins (Gledhill), Matthews, Prior, Mayo; Carter (Lacey), McLean (Griffiths), Weekes; Winter; Alsop, Mwaruwari.

 

This is what frustrates me about this Daggers team right now. We're entertaining, sure, but 16 matches have passed now since we last kept a clean sheet.

 

We've been on long runs like this before, but something about this feels deeply worrying. You can only make so many signings or tweak your tactics so much before you run out of ideas. For the first time, I'm seriously feeling that I've taken this team as far as I can.

 

Unfortunately, Bristol City isn't an option for me now. They gave the job to Frank Yallop instead. Bloody Canadians.

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of November 2005)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Wrexham                         19   6    1    2    21   13   5    3    2    24   18   37   
2nd     Norwich                         19   6    2    2    17   10   4    1    4    15   18   33   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Port Vale                       19   5    2    2    16   8    4    3    3    8    8    32   
4th     Rochdale                        19   6    4    0    23   13   3    0    6    10   18   31   
5th     Swindon                         19   4    2    3    12   11   4    4    2    27   21   30   
6th     Cambridge Utd                   19   6    2    2    21   11   3    1    5    11   15   30   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Portsmouth                      19   6    3    1    24   15   3    0    6    14   19   30   
8th     Huddersfield                    19   4    4    1    22   17   4    2    4    15   18   30   
9th     Northampton                     19   6    2    2    18   12   3    1    5    16   22   30   
10th    Dag & Red                       19   5    3    2    24   15   1    6    2    16   17   27   
11th    Cardiff                         19   4    4    2    24   15   3    2    4    17   19   27   
12th    Bristol City                    19   4    0    5    19   21   4    3    3    20   20   27   
13th    Shrewsbury                      19   4    1    4    15   10   4    1    5    17   16   26   
14th    Peterborough                    19   4    4    1    15   12   2    4    4    14   19   26   
15th    Carlisle                        19   3    3    4    16   19   3    4    2    20   17   25   
16th    Oxford                          19   5    0    5    22   18   3    0    6    15   19   24   
17th    Reading                         19   4    2    3    14   11   2    4    4    16   24   24   
18th    Watford                         19   4    3    2    14   10   1    3    6    13   20   21   
19th    Bournemouth                     19   4    3    2    12   9    0    6    4    4    11   21   
20th    Tranmere                        19   3    5    1    13   11   2    1    7    7    16   21   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Bristol Rovers                  19   2    7    1    21   21   2    1    6    14   24   20   
22nd    Hull                            19   3    2    5    17   24   1    6    2    15   18   20   
23rd    Barnsley                        19   4    1    4    19   19   1    2    7    7    17   18   
24th    Wigan                           19   4    0    6    15   16   0    2    7    6    20   14   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • Manchester United suffer their first defeats under new manager Hélio dos Anjos, losing to 10-man Liverpool at Anfield before being ostracised from the League Cup by Coventry. Hélio comes under increasing pressure after dropping Old Trafford favourites Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke - and falling out with Ruud van Nistelrooy.
  • Arsenal narrowly avoid a shock Round 2 exit from the UEFA Cup, only beating Legia Warszawa on penalties after losing the first leg 3-1 in Poland. Leeds aren't so lucky in the Champions League, crashing out at the first group stage for a third straight year after Barcelona exact their revenge at Elland Road.
  • There are wild celebrations in Cardiff, as Wales defeat Scotland in a Playoff to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958. Mark Hughes' Red Dragons overturn a 3-1 first-leg deficit to win 4-3 on aggregate, with Craig Bellamy scoring twice in the second half. Meanwhile, 20-year-old wonderkid Cristiano Ronaldo nets a brace of his own as Portugal overcome Turkey to book their tickets to Germany.
  • Having fallen to 7th in Serie A, Lazio's bid to retain the scudetto suffers a huge blow when captain Alessandro Nesta tears his ankle ligaments in training. Biancocelesti fans burn down the training ground in protest.
  • Atlético Madrid are leapfrogged at the top of La Liga by Barcelona, who recover from 2-0 behind to win 3-2 at the Vicente Calderón. Carles Puyol's 90th-minute winner comes as a huge shock - not least to Carles Puyol, who didn't realise he was allowed to score goals instead of just preventing them!

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • Football mourns the death of the legendary and mercurial former Manchester United forward George Best. The 59-year-old Northern Irishman passes away from multiple organ failure in a London hospital after losing a three-decade battle with alcohol addiction.
  • The professional wrestling world is shocked by the sudden death of former WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero at the age of just 38. One of World Wrestling Entertainment’s most popular ‘heels’, Guerrero struggled with substance abuse before passing away from heart failure at a hotel in Minneapolis.
  • It's a big month for women in politics. Angela Merkel is sworn in as Germany's first woman Chancellor, while Liberia's new President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becomes Africa’s first democratically-elected female head of state.
  • A 38-year-old woman from France becomes the first human to receive a face transplant. Isabelle Dinoire undergoes a five-hour operation in Amiens after being attacked by her dog, losing her nose, lips and chin.
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DECEMBER 2005

We were approaching the halfway point of the Division 2 season, and it was still anyone’s guess where we would end up. A chastening 2-1 loss at home to Shrewsbury had just ended a nine-game unbeaten and left us in 10th place - three points off the play-off places, and yet only five clear of relegation.

 

I was rather more concerned with our defensive record. By the time we arrived in South Yorkshire for the first game of a busy December schedule, it had been exactly three months since we last kept a clean sheet. A 2-0 shutout win over Wigan had been followed by 16 consecutive matches in which we shipped at least one goal.

 

But if our leaky streak was to end any time soon, perhaps it would end at Oakwell against Barnsley. The Tykes were second-from-bottom and were still trying to find consistency under their new player-manager - the smiley and cuddly Roy Keane.

 

3 DECEMBER 2005: Barnsley vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Benjani Mwaruwari was our greatest threat to the Barnsley defence in the first half. After firing Craig Winter's lobbed pass against the crossbar in the opening minute, our Zimbabwean marksman had better luck much later on. Six minutes before the break, Ryan Carter played Benjani through on goal, and a tidy finish saw us take the lead!

 

Winter also hit the bar on the stroke of half-time, though he did double our lead six minutes after the restart. The midfielder's volley from Julian Alsop's flick-on brought him a 10th goal this season and made it 2-0! Unfortunately, Alsop then ruined his good work three minutes later with an unprovoked headbutt on Barnsley midfielder Dave Brammer - and a straight red card!

 

We could have collapsed after going down to 10 men, but Roy Keane's Tykes were not playing well enough to threaten a comeback. Keane himself had two shots easily saved by Robert Green before his handball midway through the second half effectively killed the game off. Damien Lacey scored direct from the free-kick, and we were 3-0 ahead!

 

The Tykes did have one last chance to get on the scoresheet, six minutes from full-time. Greek right-back Giorgos Kiriazis flicked the ball ahead of experienced frontman Bruce Dyer, who blazed it over the bar. Green had held onto his first Dagenham clean sheet - and our first in 91 days!

 

Barnsley - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Mwaruwari 39, Winter 51, Lacey 67)

Division 2, Attendance 6,207 - POSITIONS: Barnsley 3rd, Dag & Red 9th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins (McQuade), Matthews, Prior (Maher), Mayo; Carter, Lacey, Weekes; Winter; Alsop, Mwaruwari (Griffiths). SENT OFF: Alsop.

 

A well-deserved win put us back to within one point of the play-off spots... but we would now face a lengthy run of matches without Julian Alsop. That stupid red card earned him a three-match ban and a one-week fine.

 

Right-back Lee Gledhill's absence from the Daggers team would be more permanent. After two years at Victoria Road, he was released to Rushden on a free transfer.

 

I then made a move for a new right-back, signing 28-year-old Michael Walsh from Port Vale for £55,000. Walsh is quick, strong and selfless - and his excellent positional awareness will no doubt bolster a Daggers defence that has often looked disorganised this season.

 

Also joining us was Declan Brady - an 18-year-old Irish defender who is determined to fulfil his potential as either a right-back or a centre-half. I'll be tracking his progress in the reserve team closely.

 

Walsh pulled on the Daggers jersey for the first time when we went to Yeovil for Round 2 of the FA Cup. Could we avoid a cup upset against the Conference mid-tablers - and set up a potential money-spiller in Round 3?

 

10 DECEMBER 2005: Yeovil Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge

At first, it didn't look good. When Norwegian forward Petter Halvorsen headed Yeovil into a shock lead after just three minutes, some travelling Dagenhamites were probably fearing this would be Dulwich Hamlet 2002 all over again.

 

However, this simply set up a redemption story for Sean Devine, who was making his first Daggers appearance in over two months. After 17 minutes, a killer cross from loanee winger William McQuade was driven in by Devine, whose equaliser put him straight back into my good books!

 

That goal also spurred us on to power through the rest of the first half. 20-year-old midfielder Alan McLean fired us ahead after 24 minutes, with just his second ever competitive goal. That was followed 11 minutes later by a second assist for his fellow Scotsman McQuade, who set up Benjani Mwaruwari's 12th goal of the season. 3-1 to the Daggers at half-time!

 

Yeovil started the second half strongly and almost pulled a goal back on 55 minutes, but Mike Pollitt got a glove to Glovers striker Micky Moore's shot. Five minutes later, Town midfielder Richard Walker saw his header intercepted by Devine, who powered home his second goal and effectively killed the tie off at 4-1!

 

Though the hosts did get a second goal through a stunning Sean Hankin free-kick in the 71st minute, it looked like it was too late to mount a comeback. Four minutes later, our teenage substitute Chris Griffiths opened his account for the season, and closed the book on an impressive 5-2 away win. For the second time in three seasons, we had made it through to Round 3 of the FA Cup!

 

Yeovil Town - 2 (Halvorsen 3, Hankin 71)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 5 (Devine 17,60, McLean 24, Mwaruwari 35, Griffiths 75)

FA Cup Round 2, Attendance 7,963

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Pollitt; Walsh, Matthews, Maher (Prior), Sharps; McQuade, Carter, McLean (M Jones), Mayo; Devine, Mwaruwari (Griffiths). BOOKED: McLean, Maher.

 

So... Manchester United? Arsenal? Liverpool? Leeds? Which big-name team would we get in the Round 3 draw?

 

Cardiff, away. Darn it.

 

The cup action continued in midweek, when we faced Oxford at the Kassam Stadium for Round 1 of the Football League Trophy. Our last trip there a couple of months ago ended in a crushing 3-1 defeat, so vengeance was very much on our minds.

 

13 DECEMBER 2005: Oxford United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

After being dropped for our FA Cup tie, Julian Alsop returned to the fold for one more game before he was forced to sit out the next three. Big Jules made the most of his opportunity, heading in William McQuade's right-wing cross to open the scoring after 17 minutes.

 

We had scored from our first shot on target, but Oxford would do the same six minutes later. Homegrown midfielder Dean Whitehead had recently reached 200 club appearances for the U's at the age of just 23, and he underlined his status as a Kassam Stadium favourite with a fantastic equalising long shot. At 1-1, it was anyone's guess which way this cup tie would turn.

 

In the 54th minute, it was Alsop who made the decisive move for Dagenham. His second goal of the night was another header, this time provided by a surprise assist from Oxford defender Wayne Brown. The U's slipped again in the 70th minute, as goalkeeping captain Alan Fettis was caught out by a vicious Sean Devine strike, which booked our place in the next round!

 

Oxford United - 1 (Whitehead 23)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Alsop 17,54, Devine 70)

Football League Trophy South Round 1, Attendance 3,734

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Walsh (Hawkins), Matthews, Prior, Sharps; McQuade, Weekes, Lacey, Mayo; Alsop (Griffiths), Devine (McLean).

 

Tim and Helen on Soccer AM gave us a relatively kind draw for Round 2, where we were pitted at home to a struggling Reading side. Perhaps this would be the year we went on a long Football League Trophy run?

 

While that draw was going on, we were heading to Staffordshire to face 5th-placed Port Vale in the league. Alsop began his three-match ban, but midfielder Des Hamilton was back from an ankle injury.

 

17 DECEMBER 2005: Port Vale vs Dagenham & Redbridge

The first half was basically the Robert Green show. Port Vale mounted their first attack in the 15th minute, but Green sprung into action to save a header from midfielder Matthew Spring. He then made another critical save just before half-time from Valiants captain Stephen McPhee, who had unluckily struck the crossbar earlier on.

 

We'd barely threatened the hosts at all in the first period, so I fired the players up to attack them early in the second. We got our reward after 51 minutes, when a rejuvenated Sean Devine broke the deadlock with a lethal volley from Benjani Mwaruwari's lob. However, Port Vale responded just two minutes later, with McPhee's third attempt on goal being the lucky one that finally beat Green.

 

The Valiants had their tails up, and with McPhee's pace proving too hot for our veteran captain Spencer Prior to handle, Scottish striker would get three more shots on target over the final half-hour. Once again, though, Green was in fine fettle, routinely frustrating McPhee with some blinding saves. We were now having to defend very deep, and then hope that a counter-attacking opportunity would arise.

 

In stoppage time, with the scoreline still at 1-1, opportunity knocked. William McQuade picked up the ball on the right wing and spurred us forward against a tiring Vale team. We quickly moved the ball from one flank to the other until Benjani's lay-off found left-winger Kerry Mayo, whose last-gasp winner silenced Vale Park - apart from the few hundred travelling Daggers fans who roared with delight!

 

Port Vale - 1 (McPhee 53)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Devine 51, Mayo 90)

Division 2, Attendance 7,896 - POSITIONS: Port Vale 6th, Dag & Red 5th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Walsh (McLean), Matthews, Prior, Sharps (Maher); McQuade, Hamilton (Winter), Lacey, Mayo; Devine, Mwaruwari.

 

What a way to propel yourselves back into the top six!

 

Another Dagger said his goodbyes, as Victor Renner headed to Spanish third-tier club Ejido on a free transfer. Big things were expected of the powerful striker when he signed from Peterborough in January 2004, but he never really lived up to the billing, scoring 12 goals in 40 games.

 

The last match of our pre-Christmas five-game road trip was at Dean Court, against a Bournemouth team who were just above the relegation zone.

 

21 DECEMBER 2005: AFC Bournemouth vs Dagenham & Redbridge

A miserable first half saw very little attacking action from either team. The one big moment came after 26 minutes, when Damien Lacey's corner was headed home by his midfield team-mate Ryan Carter to give Dagenham the lead!

 

And 1-0 was how the game finished. Frankly, Bournemouth's attacking threat was pitifully weak. Strikers Warren Feeney and Jason Sherlock had a shot apiece at the end of either half, but neither effort came close to threatening Robert Green in the Dagenham goal. We basically had no need to get too far out of our half, and we ground out a boring 1-0 win with the utmost ease!

 

AFC Bournemouth - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Carter 26)

Division 2, Attendance 3,847 - POSITIONS: Bournemouth 21st, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Walsh (Sharps), Matthews, Maher, Hawkins; McQuade (Hamilton), Carter, Lacey, Mayo (McLean); Devine, Mwaruwari.

 

Five away games, five wins! We'd cured our away-day blues - and that augured well for our return to Victoria Road!

 

Christmas Day might have been a no-go, but Boxing Day was alright for fighting when Watford came to town. We would do well to keep their in-form striker Heidar Helguson quiet, especially as our star defender Lee Matthews was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

 

26 DECEMBER 2005: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Watford

Frankly, this was almost as bad as our last match - but while our trip to Dean Court was lacking in quantity of shots, this game was lacking in quality. Both sides were dreadful in front of goal throughout the first half, when Dagenham's Sean Devine and Watford's Heidar Helguson in particular looked nothing like the efficient machines they had been in earlier fixtures.

 

The main issue was that both us and Watford were trying to play through the midfield, and then resorting to low-quality shots either from too far out or - more often - when there was not enough space. As the match wore on, it seemed like it would come down to which team would up the ante first - and I wanted that team to be us.

 

In the 76th minute, Peter Hawkins came into play on the left wing, and then chipped the ball into space for Ryan Carter. After a quick one-two with Damien Lacey, Carter then sought out substitute striker Chris Griffiths, whose low shot slipped underneath Hornets keeper Noel Mooney to extend our winning run to six games!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Griffiths 76)

Watford - 0

Division 2, Attendance 5,977 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Watford 18th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Prior, Hawkins; Carter, Lacey, Weekes (Sharps); Winter (McQuade); Devine (Griffiths), Mwaruwari.

 

Back-to-back 1-0 wins were nice... but I couldn't blame some Daggers fans from wanting a return to our usual free-scoring way. Thankfully, we now had Alsop and his regular strike partner Junior McDougald back from suspension and injury respectively for our final match of 2005.

 

On New Year's Eve, we faced a play-off six-pointer against Swindon at the County Ground. In our 2-2 home draw with the Robins back in August, we were up against a 39-year-old Nigel Martyn enjoying a late-career renaissance. Martyn had since hung up his gloves and joined Bristol Rovers as a coach, so perhaps we would have better luck against his successor?

 

31 DECEMBER 2005: Swindon Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Before we could put Stephen Robertson's shotstopping abilities to the test, though, we had to try and stave off a couple of early Swindon attacks. Right-back Paul Connolly's header in the 5th minute was parried by Robert Green, but a similar effort from striker James Hogg 10 minutes later did beat the keeper. First blood to the Robins.

 

James continued to Hogg the headlines at the County Ground by doubling Swindon's advantage just before half-time. The 21-year-old's quick turn of pace caught out our left-back Peter Hawkins, who clumsily brought him down for a penalty that was easily converted. If we were to come back from 2-0 down and win a seventh game on the bounce, we would need to do something pretty special in the second half.

 

My solution was to go for broke, make all three subs at once, and switch to a 4-3-3. My biggest change saw the fit-again Junior McDouglad joined Julian Alsop and Benjani Mwaruwari up front. All three men combined beautifully in the 65th minute. Benjani swung the ball towards Alsop, whose flick-on to McDougald was taken past the last defender before being blasted home! That was the first shot on target Robertson faced, and it had pulled us back to 2-1!

 

14 minutes later, the game saw its decisive fourth goal. Unfortunately, it came at our end, where the brilliant Swindon playmaker John Newton skinned Des Hamilton - another of our half-time subs - and set up a third Robins goal for his midfield partner Paul McAreavey. A fantastic year for the Daggers had ended on a rather disappointing note.

 

Swindon Town - 3 (Hogg 15,pen45, McAreavey 79)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (McDougald 65)

Division 2, Attendance 7,201 - POSITIONS: Swindon 6th, Dag & Red 5th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Prior, Hawkins (Hamilton); McQuade (Winter), Carter, Lacey (McDougald), Mayo; Alsop, Mwaruwari. BOOKED: Lacey.

 

That was awful - possibly our worst performance this season. It also arguably cost me the Manager of the Month award, which went to David Kemp at Port Vale instead. I’m sure Martin and Gary are proud of him.

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of December 2005)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Wrexham                         25   7    1    3    23   15   7    4    3    30   20   47   
2nd     Norwich                         24   7    2    2    20   11   7    2    4    22   20   46   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Port Vale                       24   7    3    3    27   13   5    3    3    10   9    42   
4th     Rochdale                        25   8    4    0    26   13   4    0    9    13   26   40   
5th     Dag & Red                       24   6    3    2    25   15   4    6    3    23   21   39   
6th     Swindon                         24   6    2    5    20   19   5    4    2    28   21   39   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Shrewsbury                      24   8    1    4    26   14   4    1    6    18   19   38   
8th     Cardiff                         24   4    4    3    24   16   6    3    4    27   25   37   
9th     Northampton                     24   7    2    2    20   13   4    2    7    21   30   37   
10th    Cambridge Utd                   24   7    2    2    23   12   3    3    7    14   20   35   
11th    Carlisle                        24   4    3    4    18   20   5    5    3    27   23   35   
12th    Huddersfield                    24   5    6    2    31   26   4    2    5    16   20   35   
13th    Portsmouth                      24   6    3    2    24   16   3    3    7    19   28   33   
14th    Reading                         24   5    5    3    19   14   3    4    4    18   24   33   
15th    Peterborough                    24   5    5    3    19   18   3    4    4    17   20   33   
16th    Oxford                          24   7    1    5    27   21   3    0    8    19   25   31   
17th    Bristol City                    24   5    1    6    25   26   4    3    5    26   30   31   
18th    Watford                         24   6    4    3    19   15   1    3    7    13   21   28   
19th    Bristol Rovers                  24   3    7    2    25   24   3    2    7    18   28   27   
20th    Hull                            24   4    2    5    21   27   2    7    4    22   26   27   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Bournemouth                     24   4    5    4    16   15   0    6    5    4    12   23   
22nd    Barnsley                        25   5    2    6    23   25   1    3    8    7    19   23   
23rd    Tranmere                        25   3    6    3    14   18   2    2    9    8    21   23   
24th    Wigan                           24   4    0    9    18   23   0    2    9    9    25   14   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • Arsenal crash out of the UEFA Cup with a 5-1 defeat at Saint-Etienne, lose six matches, and plummet to 11th in the Premiership. Oh, and their maniac German goalie Hans-Jörg Butt receives his THIRD red card of the season against Charlton. Gunners boss Arsène Wenger didn't see the incident because he was trying to zip his coat.
  • While Bolton and Crystal Palace emerge as unlikely top-four contenders, Liverpool's campaign stutters after playmaker Pavel Nedved is sold to Barcelona for £2.8million. The Reds also lose defender André Ooijer to Valencia for £10.75million, but boss Eric Gerets swiftly replaces him with... Paul Ritchie from Manchester City.
  • Ooijer is not the only big name to join Valencia's quest for La Liga glory. Rafa Benítez also signs up Zé Roberto from Inter for £10.75million, just five-and-a-half months after the Brazilian wing-back moved to the San Siro from Leverkusen. Meanwhile, Bayern München right-back Willy Sagnol makes a controversial £5.25million transfer to their Bundesliga title rivals 1.FC Köln.
  • As Lille extend their Ligue 1 advantage to seven points, Paris Saint-Germain plummet into the relegation zone after five straight defeats. In unrelated news, everybody hates Nicolas Anelka.
  • Andriy Shevchenko scores 16 goals in his first 16 league games for Ajax, who go top of the Eredivisie with 45 points and are still unbeaten. Unluckily for them, defending champions PSV - and their returning manager Dick Advocaat - also have 45 points and are also still unbeaten. Feyenoord fans can't believe it.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • Gay and lesbian couples in the United Kingdom can now enter civil partnerships, granting them similar legal rights to married heterosexuals. One of the first British celebrities to take advantage of this is pop megastar Elton John, who marries his film producer partner David Furnish.
  • Tony Blair has a new rival, as 39-year-old David Cameron is elected as leader of the Conservative Party. The old Etonian immediately tries to appeal to common folk by enthusiastically expressing his love for Aston Villa, the Arctic Monkeys, and West Ham.
  • Thatcher wins a popular vote for the first time since 1987. Journalist Carol Thatcher - daughter of former Prime Minister Margaret - wins the fifth series of ITV reality show “I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!”.
  • Nine plucky Brits are trained as space cadets at a Russian military base, and then blast off in a Shuttle for a five-day orbit of the Earth. Of course, it’s all an elaborate hoax by Channel 4; the contestants are never actually sent into space, and the whole series is filmed at a disused airbase near Ipswich.
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JANUARY 2006

We were now into the second half of our first season in Division 2. Things were going well, with us sitting in 5th place, but a disastrous New Year's Eve defeat at Swindon was a reminder that it could yet fall apart.

 

We kicked off the new year by saying farewell to Stephen Melton. The 27-year-old attacking midfielder had been an important player for us during our first couple of seasons in the Football League, but the arrival of Craig Winter had seen him lose his starting place. Melton was sold to non-league Lough United for £10,000.

 

A few days later, we returned to action by hosting fellow play-off challengers Huddersfield at Victoria Road. We had a point to prove, having let a 3-1 lead slip in the final six minutes when we visited the Terriers in West Yorkshire earlier in the season.

 

4 JANUARY 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Huddersfield Town

Hold that thought, as we took a two-goal lead in this match too. Indeed, we were 2-0 up inside the first 15 minutes, thanks to a couple of great moves from Benjani Mwaruwari. After his 10th-minute flick-on was volleyed home by Craig Winter, the Zimbabwean sensation blasted in a superb strike of his own.

 

The next 75 minutes, however, told a very different tale of two goalkeepers. Neil Cutler was almost unbeatable for Huddersfield, doing everything he could to stop Benjani, Julian Alsop or whoever from extending our 2-0 advantage. At the other end, Robert Green looked unsteady between the Daggers posts, not least when Chris Beech's half-volley gave the Terriers a goal back just before half-time.

 

Things continued in that vein throughout the second half. Though Ryan Carter created some great chances from midfield, every shot on target we had was stopped by Cutler, who clearly didn't want a repeat of the 3-3 thriller from back in August.

 

Green did make an excellent save from striker Robert Gill in the 72nd minute to keep us ahead... but he was far less secure in the closing stages. As we tried to shut the door on Huddersfield, the Terriers' teenage left-back Roger Brennan found a way through in the 89th minute. After skipping past both Carter and Damien Lacey, Brennan unleashed a rocket that Green didn't see coming before it found the top corner. Another win had slipped away.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Winter 10, Mwaruwari 15)

Huddersfield Town - 2 (Beech 45, Brennan 89)

Division 2, Attendance 5,991 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 5th, Huddersfield 13th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Prior, Mayo (Sharps); Carter, Lacey, Hamilton (McLean); Winter; Devine (Alsop), Mwaruwari.

 

[Sigh] We need to stop making a habit of this, lads.

 

Two days later, young midfielder Alan McLean gave us some good news by signing a new four-and-a-half-year contract. The 20-year-old Scotsman had become a semi-regular in the first-team this season, and he was now eager to impress me even more.

 

Perhaps a little too eager. Later that morning, McLean got carried away in a training match, and a mistimed slide tackle on Junior McDougald sent the striker crashing to the turf. The crunch of bone was almost as audible as Junior's scream. I knew straight away it was not good news.

 

Before long, head physio Richard Harper had confirmed our worst fears. McDougald had broken his leg and would not play again this season.

 

Barely 24 hours after such a horrible setback, we had to recompose ourselves for an FA Cup Round 3 trip to Cardiff. Robert Green's faux pas against Huddersfield meant that veteran Mike Pollitt got another chance in goal.

 

7 JANUARY 2006: Cardiff City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

This was a low-quality first half, with each team mustering a couple of shots that flew way wide or over. The first moment of brilliance came in the 43rd minute, when Cardiff striker Keigan Parker headed home a killer cross from the Bluebirds' exciting teenage midfielder Richard Edwards. La tristesse durera.

 

Captain Spencer Prior had to fire us up for the second half, and he played a key role in getting us back level four minutes into the second half. After Prior cleared Cardiff skipper Ian Maxwell's free-kick out of our box, Benjani Mwaruwari ran onto it and dribbled all the way into their penalty area. A ferocious strike followed, and it was 1-1!

 

Unfortunately, Prior's hard work would come undone in the 77th minute. The veteran defender lost track of the Bluebirds' substitute striker Glynn Hurst, who broke free and volleyed in a cross from right-back Mark McGregor. Despite Mike Pollitt's best efforts, there was no keeping that one out.

 

And with that, our FA Cup journey was over, but not before we had another injury setback. Left-back Peter Hawkins gashed his leg in the closing stages, forcing us to see the match out with 10 men. Come full-time, I was congratulating Paul Bracewell in the Cardiff dugout and wishing him the best of luck in Round 4... but unbeknownst to anyone at Ninian Park, Bracewell would soon set his sights even higher.

 

Cardiff City - 2 (Parker 43, Hurst 77)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Mwaruwari 49)

FA Cup Round 3, Attendance 9,814

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Pollitt; Walsh, Maher (Sharps), Prior, Hawkins; McQuade, Hamilton, Lacey (Weekes), Mayo; Alsop, Devine (Mwaruwari). BOOKED: Prior, Lacey.

 

I was now having serious doubts over whether Spencer Prior was the right man to captain this team. His performances since signing from GIllingham in October had not exactly improved a shaky defensive record - his average rating over 17 games was 6.82 - and at 34, physical abilities were on sharply declining.

 

For our midweek league game at Peterborough, I dropped Prior from the squad completely and gave the armband back to Lee Matthews. Unlike Prior, Matthews had been consistently excellent for us and was showing few signs of slowing down, despite only being a couple of years Spencer's junior.

 

11 JANUARY 2006: Peterborough United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Barry Fry's Peterborough were an old-school team who favoured a fast-paced long-ball game, so we had to be prepared for an array of attacks in the first half. Fortunately, our returning keeper Robet Green was ready for anything, and he superbly shut Posh out not just for the first 45 minutes - but for the next 45 too.

 

Mind you, this rare Daggers clean sheet didn't come without a scare or two. Paul Miller sent a header inches wide in the 55th minute, while his Peterborough strike partner Leon McKenzie's effort in the 77th minute also missed the target. McKenzie was an aggressive frontman who certainly packed a punch, though he would take his aspirations of a future boxing career a bit too seriously later in the month. 10 days after this match, McKenzie received a six-month ban for punching the referee in another league game at Shrewsbury!

 

As far as this match was concerned, our own prizefighters couldn't land a serious blow on the Peterborough goal. Posh keeper Matthew Gilks saved a 14th-minute effort from winger William McQuade but was otherwise untested in a one-sided contest that somehow finished goalless.

 

Peterborough United - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Division 2, Attendance 11,752 - POSITIONS: Peterborough 12th, Dag & Red 6th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Janney, Hamilton (Carter), McLean, McQuade (Sharps); Winter, Mwaruwari (Weekes). BOOKED: Carter.

 

If you've been following us for some time now, you'll know just how rare 0-0 draws are when it comes to the Daggers. That was actually our first goalless stalemate since we went to Hartlepool in April 2004 - nearly 21 months ago!

 

Naturally, I was hoping for a bit more excitement at Wigan three days later. The Latics were on a rotten 12-match losing run in the league, which had left them marooned at the bottom of Division 2 - and facing a return to the Football League's lowest tier for the first time since 1997.

 

14 JANUARY 2006: Wigan Athletic vs Dagenham & Redbridge

In fairness to Wigan, they could have been even deeper in the mire had it not been for their consistently solid goalkeeper. Gary McGlynn was almost flawless in the first half of this match, when he was beaten just once - by a 29th-minute strike from Sean Devine that was correctly called offside. Rookie centre-half Robbie Gerrard also deserved at least some credit for keeping the deadlock intact at half-time.

 

After surviving our first-half onslaught, Ray Mathias and his Latics gave us an almighty scare five minutes into the second half. Daggers goalie Robert Green was called into action twice within a matter of seconds, saving first from winger John Perkins and then from midfielder Graham Hyde.

 

We'd averted what would have been a painful smash-and-grab, but now we had to kill off our surprisingly resilient opponents. In the 68th minute, Kerry Mayo delivered an incisive free-kick delivery to Craig Winter, whose cheeky lob was met by a sweet header from Benjani Mwaruwari. Benjani's 15th goal of the season gave us a narrow lead, which we preserved after some excellent late defending from 'man of the match' Shaun Maher.

 

Wigan Athletic - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Mwaruwari 68)

Division 2, Attendance 6,691 - POSITIONS: Wigan 24th, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Carter, Lacey, McLean (Hamilton); Winter; Devine (Griffiths), Mwaruwari.

 

After the Huddersfield debacle, Green had bounced back with consecutive clean sheets. Indeed, I'd been so impressed with Rob's overall form since joining us in November that I wanted to make his loan deal from Millwall permanent. And when I heard that Tranmere had made the Lions an offer to sign him, I knew it was time to act.

 

Within a matter of days, we'd agreed a club-record £300,000 fee with Millwall, and Green had signed a £2,500-per-week contract to join Dagenham until June 2011. It was a very expensive deal for a club of our stature, but I firmly believed that Rob had the potential to be our number 1 for many years to come.

 

Green's first match after becoming a full-time Dagger was in the Football League Trophy against Reading, on the day before his 26th birthday. The Royals were in good form under their Aussie-born manager Craig Johnston, so we faced a real battle to get to the South Quarter Finals.

 

17 JANUARY 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Reading

Reading might have had Belgium international Erwin Lemmens in goal, but it was Holland who made all the difference for them in the first half. More to the point, it was left-winger Chris Holland who broke the deadlock after 21 minutes, from a killer cross by namesake right-back Chris Makin.

 

The Royals couldn't build on their lead before the break, and we punished them six minutes after it. Craig Winter's prolific form in attacking midfield continued when he burst through unchallenged to stab in a low cross from Damien Lacey.

 

Shortly after our equaliser, Reading boss Craig Johnston took a big gamble to try and turn things back in his team's favour. 37-year-old striker Paolo Di Canio saluted the travelling fans as he was subbed off for 21-year-old Gary Mullen, who added some fresh energy to the attack.

 

By the 65th minute, Mullen's strike partner Martin Butler had restored Reading's advantage. By the 88th, the contest was truly over, with Mullen outjumping Shaun Maher to head in their third and final goal. As far as our Football League Trophy was concerned, it was a Royal knockout.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Winter 51)

Reading - 3 (Holland 21, Butler 65, Mullen 88)

Football League Trophy South Round 2, Attendance 765

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Weekes (McQuade), Hamilton, McLean (Lacey); Winter; Alsop (Devine), Mwaruwari.

 

Reading had four shots on target and scored three of them. That's 300 grand bloody well spent, isn't it?

 

Eh, who cares about that Leyland DAFT Windscreen Vans Trophy anyway? We were all about the league, and our play-off push continued with a visit from Bristol Rovers. With Benjani Mwaruwari in form, we were confident of making hay against one of the worst defences in the league...

 

...or at least I was until Benjani tore a groin muscle on the eve of the match. Out for three months, apparently. That left us with just Julian Alsop and Sean Devine as our senior strikers. Brilliant.

 

21 JANUARY 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Bristol Rovers

Bristol Rovers were experiencing a worrying downturn in form under their new manager Brian Flynn, who replaced the Dunfermline-bound Pete Mahon in late October. Despite that, it was the Gasheads who broke the deadlock after 14 minutes, courtesy of a clinical low drive from left-winger Lee Hodges.

 

After a couple of unsuccessful equalising attempts, our luck turned on 33 minutes. Des Hamilton rifled in a shot that Rovers goalkeeper Casper Ankergren could only push back towards the midfield maestro, who blasted in the rebound for 1-1! That was a much-needed confidence booster for Hamilton, whose recent form had been - to put it kindly - pretty mediocre.

 

By contrast, this was turning into a memorable season for another Daggers midfielder. Alan McLean's breakthrough campaign continued with an assist three minutes into the second half, as Sean Devine headed his long ball in to give us a 2-1 advantage!

 

Sadly, our lead lasted just 10 minutes before 'Chas' Hodges struck again (I presume Dave was delighted). There weren't no pleasing our fans in the final half-hour, as several wasted attacks ended with us taking another draw from another match we should arguably have won.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Hamilton 33, Devine 48)

Bristol Rovers - 2 (Hodges 14,58)

Division 2, Attendance 5,975 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Bristol Rovers 20th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh (McQuade), Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Weekes (Lacey), Hamilton, McLean; Winter (Griffiths); Alsop, Devine.

 

Having wasted so many chances to kill off Bristol Rovers, I felt we needed another experienced centre-forward to fill in for the injured Mwaruwari and McDougald. When I heard that an old foe had come up on the loan market, I knew exactly what to do.

 

If you recognise David Graham's name, it's probably because he scored twice for Torquay when we went to Plainmoor a couple of seasons ago. The free-scoring Scotsman subsequently earned a big move to Bradford, but despite scoring a few Premiership goals for them, he never really settled in Yorkshire. With his pace, power and creativity, the 27-year-old should be a great temporary addition to our squad over the next four months.

 

Graham was named on the bench for our rematch against Reading, who came to Victoria Road for the second time in barely a week. Would this Division 2 match had a different outcome to our Football League Trophy tie? I really hoped so.

 

25 JANUARY 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Reading

The opening half-hour was very frustrating for us. Defenders Kerry Mayo and Shaun Maher each had efforts saved by Reading keeper Erwin Lemmens before striker Sean Devine rattled the top of the crossbar.

 

But as the old saying goes, when life gives you Lemmens, make Lemmenade... or something like that. Another opportunity came our way in the 33rd minute, when captain Lee Matthews booted a long ball up for attacking midfielder Craig Winter, who dribbled at the Royal defences and then unleashed an unstoppable rocket from 20 yards!

 

After that, Reading looked in total disarray, not least because Paolo Di Canio hated being in midfield so much that he often drifted to the right wing (and not for the first time in his life). Craig Johnston ultimately subbed the former West Ham cult icon after 65 minutes, but Reading still couldn't muster even a single shot on target, with or without him.

 

Meanwhile, David Graham came on to make his Daggers debut, but it was another substitute who would be our player of the week. Midfielder Nick Weekes secured the win with two fabulous assists - the first completed Winter's brace in the 76th minute, before his 84th-minute corner was headed in by Maher. Reading's bad day at the office was further compounded when defender Eddie Forrest limped off injured in stoppage time.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Winter 33,76, Maher 84)

Reading - 0

Division 2, Attendance 5,961 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Reading 11th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Matthews, Sharps; McQuade, Winter, Hamilton (Weekes), Mayo (Hawkins); Alsop, Devine (D Graham).

 

All in all, a reasonable start to the new year - and it leaves us just three points off the automatic promotion places! Dare we start dreaming again?

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of January 2006)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Port Vale                       28   9    3    3    32   16   6    3    4    14   13   51   
2nd     Norwich                         28   8    3    2    25   13   7    3    5    24   23   51   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Wrexham                         28   8    1    4    28   21   7    4    4    31   22   50   
4th     Dag & Red                       29   7    5    2    32   19   5    7    3    24   21   48   
5th     Swindon                         29   7    3    5    22   20   6    5    3    33   26   47   
6th     Cardiff                         29   5    6    3    27   18   7    3    5    30   28   45   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Rochdale                        29   9    5    0    30   16   4    1    10   15   29   45   
8th     Shrewsbury                      28   9    2    4    29   16   4    2    7    21   24   43   
9th     Carlisle                        28   6    3    4    24   21   5    7    3    29   25   43   
10th    Peterborough                    29   6    6    3    23   18   4    6    4    24   25   42   
11th    Reading                         29   7    5    3    24   16   4    4    6    20   29   42   
12th    Northampton                     29   8    3    3    26   18   4    3    8    24   34   42   
13th    Cambridge Utd                   28   8    3    2    27   14   3    4    8    17   25   40   
14th    Oxford                          29   8    2    5    31   23   4    2    8    24   29   40   
15th    Huddersfield                    28   6    6    3    33   28   4    3    6    20   25   39   
16th    Portsmouth                      29   7    4    3    29   20   3    4    8    22   32   38   
17th    Watford                         29   7    5    3    23   17   1    4    9    15   27   33   
18th    Bristol City                    28   5    3    7    27   31   4    3    6    26   31   33   
19th    Hull                            29   4    4    6    26   34   3    7    5    24   28   32   
20th    Bournemouth                     29   6    5    4    19   16   0    7    7    5    17   30   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Bristol Rovers                  29   3    8    3    28   28   3    4    8    22   34   30   
22nd    Tranmere                        29   5    6    3    18   19   2    2    11   10   26   29   
23rd    Barnsley                        29   5    3    7    25   28   1    4    9    7    23   25   
24th    Wigan                           29   4    0    11   18   25   2    2    10   14   30   20   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • As Roma consolidate their place at the top of Serie A, one story dominates the Italian news - Clarence Seedorf's stunning £10million move across the San Siro divide from Inter to Milan! While the Dutch midfielder lends his supports to Milan owner (and Italian PM) Silvio Berlusconi's re-election campaign, the Nerazzurri spend a large chunk of the transfer fee on San Lorenzo's 25-year-old Argentine winger Walter Erviti.
  • After months of speculation, Alan Cork is finally sacked as Tottenham manager after a shock FA Cup defeat to Reading and replaced with Cardiff boss Paul Bracewell. Cork soon finds a new job at Blackburn, who dismiss Graeme Souness a week after he fields an innovative 7-1-2 formation against Charlton.
  • West Brom boss Gary Megson is threatened with a touchline ban by the FA after repeatedly blaming his team's abysmal Premiership form on bad refereeing decisions. The final straw comes after Michael Owen scores a dubious opener for Liverpool in a 2-0 home win over the Baggies. Referee Andy D'Urso swiftly rebuts Megson's allegations of bias... while collecting a tenner from Jamie Carragher in the Anfield tunnel.
  • Former England forward Paul Merson takes his first managerial job in English football. The 37-year-old takes over at Conference side Morecambe after spending two years in the Welsh Premier League with Rhayader, most of which he spent trying to pronounce the name Rhayader.
  • Barcelona are knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Real Madrid, but then beat their arch-rivals 2-0 at the Nou Camp to close in on a fourth successive La Liga title. Swedish attacking midfielder Mattias Jonson scores both goals to gently remind everyone that - yes - Mattias Jonson is still playing for Barcelona.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • Israel’s 77-year-old Prime Minister Ariel Sharon slips into a coma after suffering a haemorrhagic stroke - his second stroke in less than a month. Ehud Olmert takes over as Acting PM while Sharon remains incapacitated.
  • Los Angeles Lakers megastar Kobe Bryant scores 81 points in a 122-104 win over the Toronto Raptors. It is the second-highest individual points total in NBA history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
  • The fourth series of "Celebrity Big Brother" is won by someone who... er, isn't a celebrity. 22-year-old Essex girl Chantelle Houghton wins the public's affection after pretending to be a singer, and falling in love with the frontman of indie rock band The Ordinary Boys. I bet that relationship's gonna lead to some great music...
  • A northern bottlenose whale becomes stranded in the River Thames in central London. Tragically, she dies from dehydration and kidney failure as rescuers try to take her back into the sea.
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FEBRUARY 2006

2006 was already looking like a big year to be a Scotsman in Dagenham. Craig Winter was our second-top scorer (with 14 goals and 6 assists), while his fellow midfielder Alan McLean had established himself in the first-team at just 20 years of age. Meanwhile, big things were being expected of new loan signing David Graham, who'd just arrived from Bradford for the rest of the season.

 

In our reserve team, Dave's namesake Paul Graham looked like being the next youngster to make a senior breakthrough at Victoria Road. The brave and selfless defensive midfielder was racking up plenty of goals and assists in reserve games, and a couple of my coaches were already saying that the 19-year-old deserved some chances in the league. It surely wouldn't be long before I had to listen to those calls.

 

I'm also looking forward to following another young Scot who is the newest addition to our reserve squad. 17-year-old Paul Ferry was a big centre-forward with plenty of energy and a tidy finish, though he had some rather clumsy technique on the ball. Once he sharpens that up, his future looks bright.

 

Anyway, let's get back to the story... and to the next five matches of our Division 2 campaign.

 

We kicked off the month at Sixfields against mid-table entertainers Northampton, who had scored in every match they'd played so far this season! That said, the Cobblers had also not kept any clean sheets since mid-August! So, what odds on this match finishing 0-0, then?

 

4 FEBRUARY 2006: Northampton Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Northampton winger Ben Muirhead hurt his leg in the fourth minute, and although he tried to run it off, the pain eventually became too much. When Muirhead went down hurt and signalled to the bench in the 14th minute, our right-back Michael Walsh put the ball out of play so he could be substituted.

 

As soon as the sub was made, the Cobblers caught us on the hop with a very quick throw from left-back Bryan Small to left-winger Ty Gooden. Before we knew it, Gooden had crossed into our box, and striker Sam Parkin had fired it home to break the deadlock.

 

Those same three players combined again in the 16th minute, as Small's long ball was crossed by Gooden for Parkin to double the Northampton lead. Then, three minutes later, the Cobblers produced a breathtaking passing move that ended with the ball being volleyed home by ex-Chelsea youngster Rhys Evans - the man who had just come on for the injured Muirhead. (Hold on, isn't Rhys Evans a goalkeeper?)

 

We were all over the place, and it was frankly a miracle that we were 'only' 3-0 behind at half-time. With the match as good as done, I made sweeping changes and resorted to damage limitation for the second half. Though our defence tightened up a little more after the break, they still couldn't deal with Parkin or Gooden, who completed their respective goal and assist hat-tricks in the 74th minute.

 

Northampton Town - 4 (Parkin 14,16,74, Evans 19)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Division 2, Attendance 4,960 - POSITIONS: Northampton 10th, Dag & Red 5th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Matthews, Sharps (Prior); McQuade (Weekes), Winter, McLean, Mayo; Devine (Alsop), D Graham. BOOKED: Matthews.

 

It probably won't surprise you that I was absolutely furious at full-time. Goalkeeper Robert Green, left-back Ian Sharps and striker Sean Devine that I fined each of them a week's wages. Green to his credit apologised, but Sharps and Devine both complained of being singled out. Don't expect to see them again any time soon.

 

With Sharps out of favour, and Kerry Mayo struggling to find consistency, a new left-back was now a priority. After chatting with Hull's new manager Steve Bruce, I persuade him to sell Robbie Ryan to us for £120,000. Formerly of Huddersfield and Millwall, the 29-year-old Irishman is an aggressive man-marker who can also deliver a sweet cross.

 

I rang the changes for our next home game against Cardiff, who were just three points behind us in 8th. Ryan made his debut from the start, with Paul Graham also set to get his first taste of competitive action from the bench.

 

11 FEBRUARY 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Cardiff City

After such a disastrous outing at Northampton, we needed to make a quick start to this match - and that was exactly what happened. Set-piece specialist Nick Weekes swung in a couple of dangerous corners, the second of which was driven home by Des Hamilton to give us the lead after only four minutes!

 

Our new left-back Robbie Ryan almost headed us 2-0 up a couple of minutes later, but his effort was awkwardly pushed off the line by Cardiff keeper Tony Williams. After that scare, the Bluebirds countered in the 14th minute, with left-winger Paul Powell restoring parity from a square ball by forward Keigan Parker.

 

We pushed to regain the lead for nearly half an hour before another Weekes corner in the 42nd minute did just that. Nick's delivery was blasted in by Irish centre-half Shaun Maher... but he was not the only Dagenham defender to score on the stroke of half-time. Right-back Michael Walsh popped his Daggers cherry from a Ryan assist to send us into the break leading 3-1!

 

Things got even better in the second half. After 65 minutes, the magnificent Craig Winter bent in his 15th goal of the season, drawing him level with our injured top scorer Benjani Mwaruwari. Our Grahams put the icing on the cake in the 68th minute, with debutant sub Paul playing the ball through for David to bang in his first Daggers strike. Five goals at a packed Victoria Road - it doesn't get much better than that!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 5 (Hamilton 4, Maher 42, Walsh 45, Winter 65, D Graham 68)

Cardiff City - 1 (Powell 14)

Division 2, Attendance 5,978 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Cardiff 10th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Matthews, Maher (Prior), Ryan; Weekes, Hamilton, McLean (P Graham); Winter; Alsop, D Graham (Griffiths).

 

What a difference a week makes! From our heaviest defeat of the season to our biggest victory!

 

Next up was a trip to Carrow Road to play Norwich - one of only two teams who had beaten us in a league game at Victoria Road this season. The Canaries had bounced back from a slow start and flown to the top of the Division 2 tree, with new manager John Toshack keeping up David Jeffrey's good work after his defection to Brentford. This was likely to be a real struggle...

 

18 FEBRUARY 2006: Norwich City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

...and I wasn't wrong, as Norwich powered into the lead after just 14 minutes. Robbie Ryan's slide tackle on Canaries right-back Matt Carragher couldn't quite divert the ball away from danger, and a thunderous strike from veteran midfielder Neil Murray set the tone for a one-sided contest.

 

Norwich could and perhaps should have gone further ahead early in the second half. John Sutton wasted a couple of good chances, and ex-City keeper Robert Green needed to bail us out a few times. Green's best save came just before the hour mark, when he somehow tipped behind a Kevin Betsy free-kick that looked almost certain to be finding the top corner.

 

Though midfielders Craig Winter and Alan McLean managed a shot on target apiece, we rarely looked like countering the Norwich threat before they put us out of our misery. Eight minutes from full-time, Murray rounded off a midfield masterclass with an impressive assist for the young former Oldham striker James Davis. The hosts were 2-0 winners, and comfortably so.

 

Norwich City - 2 (Murray 14, Davis 82)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Division 2, Attendance 15,004 - POSITIONS: Norwich 1st, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Matthews, Maher, Ryan (Hawkins); Carter (P Graham), Hamilton, McLean; Winter; Alsop (Griffiths), D Graham. BOOKED: Hamilton, P Graham.

 

Our last match of the month was at mid-table Cambridge, where I decided to try out a 3-5-2 again. I also gave another chance in defence to 21-year-old Richard Rose, who had been in good form for the reserve team. Richard had been on the fringes of the first-team for a few years, so it really was now or never for him.

 

25 FEBRUARY 2006: Cambridge United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

This match saw us reunited with our former goalkeeper Ian Bennett and captain John Anderson - but we had no intention of helping out old friends. Not even three minutes had elapsed before Nick Weekes headed the ball into Bennett's net, taking advantage of a superb delivery from Des Hamilton.

 

In the 29th minute, it was Anderson's turn to suffer. Daggers left-back Kerry Mayo lofted the ball up to striker David Graham, who flew past his fellow Scotsman and then rounded Bennett before tapping into an empty net! 2-0 to the Daggers!

 

Worryingly, Cambridge almost hit back at the start of the second half. Left-winger Scott Bannerman found the net, only for play to be called back because of a handball from Demba Traore in the build-up. Apart from that, we had looked solid at the back and we saw the victory out with some ease. I was also quite impressed with how composed young Richard Rose in his first appearance of the season...

 

...but come stoppage time, I wasn't so sure. Rose lost track of Cambridge frontman Dave Kitson, who had a late shot saved by Robert Green. Kitson then got to the loose ball and fed it to his Swedish strike partner Traore, whose goal ruined our hopes of a clean sheet. It wasn't enough to deny us maximum points, but it did leave a sour taste.

 

Cambridge United - 1 (Traore 90)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Weekes 3, D Graham 29)

Division 2, Attendance 3,755 - POSITIONS: Cambridge Utd 17th, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Maher, Rose, Matthews; Walsh (McQuade), Mayo (Ryan); Weekes, Hamilton, McLean (Winter); Alsop, D Graham. BOOKED: Hamilton.

 

Two wins, two defeats. Not a bad month, but we conceded more goals than we scored, which is a bit concerning.

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of February 2006)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Norwich                         33   12   3    2    35   15   7    4    5    26   25   64   
2nd     Port Vale                       34   10   4    3    37   19   8    3    6    20   19   61   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Wrexham                         34   9    2    5    33   27   7    5    6    36   30   55   
4th     Dag & Red                       33   8    5    2    37   20   6    7    5    26   28   54   
5th     Cardiff                         34   8    6    3    33   21   7    3    7    32   36   54   
6th     Swindon                         34   8    4    6    26   24   6    6    4    36   30   52   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Northampton                     33   11   3    3    37   22   4    3    9    25   36   51   
8th     Shrewsbury                      34   9    3    5    31   20   6    2    9    26   28   50   
9th     Carlisle                        34   7    3    6    29   25   6    7    5    33   32   49   
10th    Peterborough                    33   7    6    3    25   19   5    7    5    32   34   49   
11th    Rochdale                        33   10   5    0    32   17   4    1    13   19   38   48   
12th    Bristol City                    34   7    3    7    33   34   6    4    7    35   40   46   
13th    Reading                         32   8    5    4    27   20   4    4    7    21   33   45   
14th    Oxford                          33   9    2    6    34   25   4    3    9    26   32   44   
15th    Huddersfield                    34   7    7    4    41   34   4    4    8    23   31   44   
16th    Watford                         34   9    6    3    29   21   2    4    10   20   31   43   
17th    Cambridge Utd                   33   8    4    4    30   19   3    5    9    19   28   42   
18th    Portsmouth                      32   7    5    3    31   22   3    4    10   25   37   39   
19th    Hull                            32   5    5    6    31   36   4    7    5    27   30   39   
20th    Bristol Rovers                  34   6    8    3    36   33   3    4    10   23   39   39   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Bournemouth                     33   8    5    5    26   20   0    7    8    6    19   36   
22nd    Barnsley                        33   6    3    7    27   29   2    6    9    11   26   33   
23rd    Tranmere                        34   6    7    3    21   21   2    2    14   13   34   33   
24th    Wigan                           33   6    0    12   26   31   2    2    11   14   31   26   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • Manchester United win all their games in February and extend their Premiership lead to 16 points after a 1-0 win over 2nd-placed Leeds. Right-back Gary Neville celebrates scoring his 77th-minute winner by running the full length of the Old Trafford pitch and celebrating in front of the visiting Leeds fans. Whites defender Rio Ferdinand shakes his head in disgust.
  • Bayern München's Bundesliga title hopes appear to be over after they squander a lead in four straight matches, including a 2-1 defeat to Dortmund and a 2-2 draw against Hertha BSC. Bayern's new first-choice keeper Vitaliy Reva has not been the best replacement for Oliver Kahn, who joined Nürnberg in August.
  • There are bizarre scenes at the Parc des Princes, where Ligue 1 leaders Lille record a 5-0 win over strugglers Paris Saint-Germain, whose use FOUR goalkeepers! Captain Alexandr Filimonov is sent off for a professional foul, and things get worse when replacement Marcelo Boeck also sees red for violent conduct. Brazilian forward Lucas then goes in goal for a while, but gives up and hands the gloves to Steve Marlet for the final 20 minutes!
  • 18-year-old Lionel Messi scores 11 goals in 7 games - including a hat-trick at Olympiacos - as Barcelona set their sights on a La Liga and Champions League double. Despite being 23 points behind the leaders, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez insists that coach Vicente Del Bosque doesn't need to worry about his job.
  • Despite losing 3-0 at Rangers, Celtic build an eight-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League. All is well at Celtic Park... until John Hartson kicks Enrico Chiesa in the face and is given the strongest punishment possible: being sold to Aberdeen.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • The Winter Olympics take place in Turin, with Great Britain claiming one silver medal. The legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti delivers his final performance of "Nessun Dorma" at the opening ceremony.
  • Also in Italy, a 76-year-old atheist tries to sue a Catholic priest for saying that Jesus Christ existed. To the surprise of nobody, Luigi Cascioli’s case is laughed out of court. A few days later, Italy’s shy and retiring Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi compares himself to Jesus.
  • American vice-president Dick Cheney accidentally shoots an attorney while out quail-hunting in Texas. To quote David Letterman, "Good news, ladies and gentlemen, we have finally located weapons of mass destruction..."
  • There is a new chat show host on the BBC, following in the footsteps of Terry Wogan, David Frost and Michael Parkinson... and it’s Davina McCall. What could possibly go wrong?
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MARCH 2006

With 13 matches to go, Dagenham & Redbridge's dream of consecutive promotions from Division 3 to Division 1 was still alive. As things stood, we were three points inside the Division 2 play-off places, and seven off the automatic promotion spots.

 

Our first match in March was at home to an Oxford team who looked rather less likely to make the play-offs. Neil Cooper's visitors were in 14th place - eight points off the top six - and their top scorer James Newell was ruled out with a sprained ankle.

 

4 MARCH 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Oxford United

Despite some early resistance from Oxford goalkeeper Alan Fettis, we managed to break through after 25 minutes. Nick Weekes chipped the ball into their penalty area, where Julian Alsop's flick-on was weighted perfect for Craig Winter to run onto it and score!

 

United's day got worse in the 33rd minute, when teenage left-back Michael Harford was forced to come off with a shin injury. Ten minutes later, the weakened U's defence was cut open again. Alsop once again turned provider for Winter, who blasted his second goal of the afternoon right into the top corner.

 

Oxford did up their game after the break, and by the 59th minute, when the experienced Tommy Curtis unleashed an unstoppable volley from just inside the area. The visitors' respite was short-lived, though, as Alsop and Winter combined for a third Daggers goal. This time, it was Jules who finished off Craig's through-ball to restore our two-goal cushion!

 

When another injury befell Oxford's other starting full-back Richard Edghill midway through the second half, the contest looked to be over. But Neil Cooper's side were a resilient bunch, and they once again narrowed the gap in the 70th minute. Robert Green's save from a Lee Trundle free-kick only went as far as rookie striker Sam Williams, whose 10th goal of the season made it only 3-2 to the Daggers.

 

However, that was where the United fightback would end. Their defenders were still not picking up Winter's runs from attacking midfield, even after his two goals in the first half. The Scotsman's predatory instinct was on display again in the 73rd minute, when he was first to the loose ball after compatriot David Graham's strike was parried by Fettis. A tidy finish completed Craig's hat-trick - and a 4-2 home win!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (Winter 25,43,73, Alsop 61)

Oxford United - 2 (Curtis 59, Williams 70)

Division 2, Attendance 5,985 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Oxford 15th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins, Maher, Matthews, Mayo (Ryan); Weekes, Hamilton, Carter (P Graham); Winter (Prior); Alsop, D Graham.

 

I don't think we've ever had a player quite like Craig Winter. That's 18 goals in 36 matches - from attacking midfield!

 

One man who hadn't been such a big hit with the Daggers was left-back Ian Sharps. After 28 games in barely a year at Victoria Road, I agreed to let the 25-year-old sign for Rotherham in a free transfer. Sharps was happy to drop back down to Division 3 to move closer to his family on Merseyside.

 

We also made our way to the north-west for our next game - in wet and windy Cumbria against fellow play-off challengers Carlisle. Right-back Michael Walsh returned from a brief injury lay-off, but striker Benjani Mwaruwari had only just resumed light training and wasn't ready to play again.

 

11 MARCH 2006: Carlisle United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

In a repeat of the previous week's game, a Scottish Dagger broke the deadlock after 25 minutes. David Graham delighted those Daggers fans who'd travelled all the way up to Brunton Park when he controlled Kerry Mayo's long ball, and then thundered it home from outside the area.

 

Carlisle quickly pushed for an equaliser, with Richie Foran forcing a tricky save out of Robert Green in the 28th minute. One-time England midfielder Gavin McCann then missed a great chance just before half-time.

 

Graham almost doubled our lead on the hour mark, but his strike cannoned off the crossbar. The Cumbrians then brought on the prolific Jimmy Davis, whose fierce effort was well saved by Green before Daggers captain Lee Matthews cleared the danger.

 

Davis could have been Carlisle's hero, but it was he who cost them their last chance of salvation in the 85th minute. A clumsy foul on Graham earned us a free-kick, which our left-back Kerry Mayo curled around the wall and into the top corner for a 2-0 win. The long trek up north had been worth it for our fans!

 

Carlisle United - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (D Graham 25, Mayo 85)

Division 2, Attendance 12,993 - POSITIONS: Carlisle 7th, Dag & Red 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Green; Maher, Rose, Matthews; Walsh (McQuade), Mayo; Winter, Hamilton, Carter (McLean); Alsop, D Graham (Griffiths).

 

A rare clean-sheet win on the road moved us just four points behind 2nd-placed Port Vale, on whom we had two games in hand. Surely we couldn't pull it off?

 

By pure coincidence, our next match just three days later was at home to Port... smouth.

 

14 MARCH 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Portsmouth

Both sides wasted chances in the early stages of what would be a very even contest. Portsmouth had the first shot on target after 19 minutes, when midfielder Darryl Powell's fierce shot was stopped by goalkeeper Robert Green. Four minutes later, though, Craig Winter fared even better for the Daggers, driving a low effort beyond goalkeeper Lee Baxter to open the scoring!

 

Pompey might have been just two points above the relegation spots in 19th place, but Lawrie Sanchez's boys were well up for a fight. They gradually cranked up the pressure late in the first half, and when Daggers defender Shaun Maher made a weak clearance just before the break, they sensed blood. Attacking midfielder David Nielsen took control of the loose ball, ran through unmarked, and then drove home the equaliser.

 

Portsmouth's great Dane turned us into bacon again in the 63rd minute. As Gary O'Neil swung a corner delivery into our box, nobody picked Nielsen up, leaving him free to head in the goal that turned the game on its head. 2-1 to the visitors.

 

Nielsen wasn't Pompey's only Nordic star to shine at Victoria Road. Daggers midfielder Paul Graham showed his lack of experience with a mistimed tackle on Danny Morgan in the 75th minute, conceding a free-kick 25 yards from our penalty area. That was a prime position for Finland forward Antti Sumiala, who drove it in off the crossbar for a 3-1 away lead.

 

Just before Sumiala's goal, I'd taken the gamble of bringing Benjani Mwaruwari back into action, nearly two months after he'd been sidelined with a groin muscle injury. Though it was now too late for Benjani to turn the match around, he did score a last-minute consolation penalty after Winter was upended in the Pompey area by defender Shaun Barker.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Winter 23, Mwaruwari pen90)

Portsmouth - 3 (Nielsen 45,63, Sumiala 75)

Division 2, Attendance 5,954 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Portsmouth 16th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh (McQuade), Maher, Matthews, Ryan; McLean (P Graham), Hamilton, Weekes; Winter; Alsop (Mwaruwari), Graham.

 

With our third league defeat at Victoria Road this season, the gap to Port Vale was now seven points again. But let's face it... if you're conceding three goals at home to a team just above the relegation zone, you really shouldn't be hoping for automatic promotion.

 

Another concern came when one of our hottest prospects - midfielder Paul Graham - turned up late for training one day and looked worse for wear. I fined Paul a week's wages and demoted him to the reserves until he sorted out his attitude.

 

Next up, we hosted another team that sat just above the drop zone. While we were looking at consecutive promotions, Steve Bruce's Hull were battling to avoid the ignominy of suffering back-to-back relegations.

 

22 MARCH 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Hull City

Our wing-backs made a flying start after just two minutes. Peter Hawkins' hard and low delivery from the right flank was finished by his left-sided colleague Kerry Mayo, as we immediately took the lead.

 

As if that wasn't bad enough for Hull, their star striker Marc Libbra broke his toe in the 11th minute, bringing his match to a halt. Ten minutes, a savage strike from midfielder Alan McLean had put us in firm control at 2-0 up.

 

By the 36th minute, though, the Tigers roared back through a similarly vicious effort by Tuomas Haapala - the second Finn to score against us in nine days. I was now hoping that our next opponents Wrexham hadn't signed Jari Litmanen.

 

All the momentum was with Hull as the second half kicked off. Substitute Peter MacDonald was off target in the 51st minute, and veteran Andy Booth had an effort saved by Robert Green in the 55th. Attacking midfielder Paul McKnight had two attempts back-to-back in the 59th, scoring the second of them after Green's initial parry. 2-2.

 

As I despaired at us letting another two-goal lead slip, Benjani Mwaruwari tried his best to redeem the situation in the final half-hour. The Zimbabwe striker had a couple of great efforts, but one was saved by Ashley Bayes and the other just clipped the woodwork. David Graham also gave Bayes a scare after coming off the bench, but our efforts weren't enough. As far as I was concerned, was two points lost rather than one gained.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Mayo 2, McLean 21)

Hull City - 2 (Haapala 36, McKnight 59)

Division 2, Attendance 5,974 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Hull 18th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Green; Maher, Rose (Walsh), Matthews; Hawkins, Mayo; McLean, Hamilton, Carter (Winter); Alsop (D Graham), Mwaruwari. BOOKED: McLean.

 

One point from two home games against weaker teams was a pitiful return. Somehow we remained in 3rd place - but Wrexham would barge ahead of us if they won our next match at the Racecourse Ground.

 

29 MARCH 2006: Wrexham vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Wrexham's boss Gary Speed liked a 5-3-2 wide counter-attacking formation. That left a gaping hole in the midfield, which I hoped our narrow 4-3-1-2 would exploit... or at least that was my plan on paper. After just two minutes, former Crewe and Burnley forward Kevin Street picked the paper up, ripped it up, and headed in Scott Huckerby's cross to give the hosts a very early lead.

 

Despite his impressive finish, Street was actually the foil to one of the most-feared strikers in lower-league football. David Collins doubled Wrexham's lead from a 20th-minute Huckerby free-kick after Street was shoved by Alan McLean. Collins then made it 3-0 to the Red Dragons nine minutes from half-time, outjumping Shaun Maher to head in a cross from right-back Lee Roche.

 

While Wrexham's front two were tormenting our defence, our strike force did produce an impressive move to give just hope just before the break. Julian Alsop nodded McLean's lob on to David Graham, who dribbled through that huge midfield gap and struck from the edge of the area.

 

To try and nullify the Street-Collins tandem, I switched to a more defensive 3-5-2 formation at half-time and made two substitutions. I might as well have brought on Janet Street-Porter too, because Wrexham's terrible twosome managed to mug our defence again two minutes after the restart! Collins slipped the ball ahead of Street, who skipped past substitute defender Michael Walsh and then matched his team-mate's brace!

 

A furious Graham responded - albeit a good half-hour later - by scoring a second goal of his own, pulling us back to 4-2. However, it was Street who had the last laugh for Wrexham in the 85th minute. The 28-year-old skipped past our young midfielder Ryan Carter and then beat a hopeless Robert Green for the THIRD time!

 

Wrexham - 5 (Street 2,47,85, Collins 20,36)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (D Graham 44,79)

Division 2, Attendance 7,623 - POSITIONS: Wrexham 3rd, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins (McQuade), Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Weekes (Walsh), Hamilton, McLean; Winter (Carter); Alsop, Graham. BOOKED: Matthews.

 

While Street took home the match ball, we went back home with our tails between our legs. We hadn't just been soundly beaten by a much stronger team; we had conceded FIVE goals in a match for the first time since I took over as manager!

 

And just like that, any hopes of automatic promotion are dead in the water. We've just been too careless and clumsy at the back, and our defence has just been ripped to ribbons. We need to tighten up, else there's a strong chance we won't even make the play-offs.

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of March 2006)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st     Norwich                         38   13   3    2    38   16   10   4    6    34   29   76   
2nd     Port Vale                       39   11   6    3    45   25   9    4    6    23   20   70   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Wrexham                         38   11   3    5    43   33   7    6    6    36   30   63   
4th     Dag & Red                       38   9    6    3    45   27   7    7    6    30   33   61   
5th     Shrewsbury                      39   12   3    5    37   23   6    3    10   28   32   60   
6th     Swindon                         39   10   4    6    30   25   6    7    6    42   38   59   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Cardiff                         39   8    8    3    39   27   8    3    9    39   44   59   
8th     Peterborough                    39   9    7    4    34   28   5    8    6    32   37   57   
9th     Carlisle                        39   8    3    8    35   32   7    7    6    38   37   55   
10th    Northampton                     38   12   3    3    39   22   4    3    13   29   48   54   
11th    Huddersfield                    39   8    7    5    43   37   6    4    9    31   37   53   
12th    Rochdale                        38   11   6    2    42   29   4    2    13   22   41   53   
13th    Reading                         39   9    6    5    31   23   5    5    9    27   41   53   
14th    Bristol City                    38   9    3    8    41   39   6    4    8    36   43   52   
15th    Portsmouth                      39   9    5    5    38   28   5    4    11   32   42   51   
16th    Cambridge Utd                   39   9    5    5    35   23   4    6    10   24   33   50   
17th    Bristol Rovers                  39   8    8    3    43   33   4    4    12   26   45   48   
18th    Oxford                          39   9    2    9    40   34   5    3    11   31   40   47   
19th    Watford                         39   9    8    3    30   22   2    6    11   24   36   47   
20th    Hull                            39   6    6    7    33   39   4    9    7    33   39   45   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Bournemouth                     39   8    6    6    28   25   2    8    9    13   24   44   
22nd    Tranmere                        39   9    7    3    27   24   2    4    14   16   37   44   
23rd    Barnsley                        39   8    3    9    34   36   2    6    11   12   32   39   
24th    Wigan                           39   7    1    12   30   34   4    2    13   26   42   36   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • After five months out with torn ankle ligaments, Lazio captain Alessandro Nesta makes his long-awaited return in a Champions League group game at Benfica. He lasts just seven minutes before tearing his knee ligaments again, ending his season. Biancocelesti coach Alberto Zaccheroni tears out what little hair he has left.
  • Panathinaikos almost join their Greek rivals Olympiakos in the Champions League Quarter Finals... but are cruelly denied when Sporting's Ricardo Quaresma scores a last-minute equaliser in their final group game in Athens. Holders Valencia and last year's runners-up Real Madrid both fall in the second group phase, though Barcelona saunter through without conceding a single goal in their pool.
  • After serving a six-month ban for violent conduct last year, Leeds midfielder Lee Bowyer redeems himself by scoring twice in a UEFA Cup Quarter Final win over VfB Stuttgart. David O'Leary's Whites also reach the Semi Finals of the FA Cup, thrashing Arsenal 5-1 after a first-half hat-trick from Irish goal machine... er, Ian Harte.
  • Despite an impressive 3-0 win over Bayern München, Schalke 04 suffer a couple of away defeats that see them concede top spot in the Bundesliga to 1.FC Köln. The impressive strike partnership of Alexandr Kerzhakov and Ilan looks set to deliver the Billy-Goats their first German league championship since 1978.
  • With Inter mounting a serious Serie A scudetto challenge for the first time in years, fans claim that Ariel Ortega has finally put his attitude problems behind him. On the eve of the Nerazzurri's title showdown at Roma, Ortega announces that he will join Bayern in the summer after just one season at the San Siro. Roma win 3-2.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • Slobodan Milošević - the former President of Serbia - suffers a fatal heart attack while on trial in The Hague. The 64-year-old had been accused of several crimes against humanity during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, including the genocide of over 8,000 Bosniaks in Srebrenica.
  • Tony Blair’s premiership is under scrutiny once again, amid widespread allegations that the Labour Party gave out peerages to businessmen in exchange for loans. The Metropolitan Police say they will launch an ‘investigation’, which presumably means they will sweep it under the carpet and pretend nothing happened.
  • New York University student Jack Dorsey posts the first message on his new social networking website Twitter. Soon, people from around the world will be able to discuss what they had for breakfast.
  • “No Tomorrow” by American pop-rock band Orson hits Number 1 in the UK Singles Chart, despite selling 17,694 copies - a record low for a chart-topper. Which iconic song did it replace at Number 1? “It’s Chico Time”.
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APRIL 2006

Despite surpassing expectations once again, the mood at Victoria Road had turned sour as we headed into the final few weeks of the season. Having picked up just one point from our last three games - including a 5-2 pantsing at Wrexham - we were now barely clinging onto a Division 2 play-off place.

 

The Wrexham defeat had left me particularly furious. Goalkeeper Robert Green, left-back Kerry Mayo, and midfielders Des Hamilton and Nick Weekes were all fined and dropped for our next fixture. This meant a recall for former captain Damien Lacey, who hadn't featured since January and was perhaps fearing that he'd played his final match for the Daggers.

 

Our run-in started at home to relegation-threatened Barnsley. The Tykes were down in 23rd and were soundly beaten when we visited Oakwell in December, but would Roy Keane's side get their revenge - and turn us into April fools?

 

1 APRIL 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Barnsley

We certainly looked like fools in front of a capacity Victoria Road crowd after 18 minutes. Barnsley player-manager Roy Keane had a header saved by Mike Pollitt, but just moments later, his young Dutch winger Edwin van den Heuvel drove in his first senior goal.

 

Though Barnsley striker Isaiah Rankin came off with a leg injury two minutes after the opener, the Tykes grew from strength to strength in the first half. Goalkeeper Phil Imray retained their lead by saving from Craig Winter in the 22nd minute, and midfielder Roberto Bisconti extended it in the 37th after a mistake from Spencer Prior. It was Bisconti's first goal of the season, because of course it bloody was.

 

David Graham pulled a goal back for us just before half-time, thanks to a fine assist from Winter. Despite that, I was still furious that we were trailing 2-1 at home to a team who looked like they were dropping into Division 3. During the break, I replaced the disappointing Alan McLean with another young midfielder coming through the Daggers ranks - Mark Jones.

 

Pollitt just about stopped substitute Rory Fallon from putting Barnsley 3-1 up in the 57th minute. Mike's save was particularly important eight minutes later, when we hit the visitors on the counter. Jones outjumped ex-West Ham defender Scott Minto and knocked Ryan Carter's long ball down to Winter, who drove in the equaliser - his 20th goal of the season!

 

A hectic climax saw both teams waste opportunities to take a 3-2 lead. Graham scooped over what looked like our best chance in the 83rd minute... but one more came our way just three minutes later. Damien Lacey's cross was flicked on by Winter and then Jones, before Julian Alsop raised the roof with a powerful strike! We had recovered from 2-0 down to take a priceless victory!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (D Graham 41, Winter 65, Alsop 86)

Barnsley - 2 (van den Heuvel 18, Bisconti 37)

Division 2, Attendance 6,000 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Barnsley 23rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Pollitt; Hawkins, Prior, Matthews (Maher), Ryan; McLean (M Jones), Lacey, Carter; Winter; Mwaruwari (Alsop), D Graham.

 

Had that comeback given us the momentum we needed to push on and secure a play-off place? We would go seven points clear of 7th-placed Peterborough if we could win our midweek clash with mid-table Rochdale.

 

5 APRIL 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Rochdale

The first half of this match was almost completely dominated by the Daggers... so it won't surprise you that it finished goalless. Nick Weekes and David Graham each spurned decent openings, while Julian Alsop was being kept quiet by excellent man-marking from Rochdale's captain Miika Koppinen. At the other end, Dale had one shot on target - Claus Bech Jørgensen's 11th-minute corner, which was tipped over by Mike Pollitt.

 

Nine minutes into the second half, though, our fortunes changed. Graham might have been denied by a firm slide tackle from Tom Heath, but Craig Winter - who else? - thundered in the rebound to break the deadlock.

 

Winter didn't just settle for one goal, as he doubled his money almost immediately. Alsop finally escaped Koppinen's clutches and provided the cross for Craig to fire home!

 

Though Winter blazed over a potential hat-trick goal in the 75th minute, we did score a third goal in the closing stages to clinch victory. Weekes came alive with a clever chip to substitute Benjani Mwaruwari, whose volley completed one of our finest halves of the season!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Winter 54,55, Mwaruwari 90)

Rochdale - 0

Division 2, Attendance 5,982 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Rochdale 11th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Pollitt; Hawkins (McQuade), Prior, Matthews, Ryan; Weekes, Lacey, Carter; Winter; Alsop (M Jones), D Graham (Mwaruwari).

 

Three goals in consecutive games took us up to 81 goals for the season - the joint-highest total in Division 2 this season. We were level at the top with 4th-placed Wrexham... and 12th-placed Bristol City, whom we faced at Ashton Gate.

 

To try and quell City's attacking threat, I decided to try out a 4-1-3-2 formation for the first time, with Lacey sitting in the hole between defence and midfield.

 

8 APRIL 2006: Bristol City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

My tactical plans were undermined after just seven minutes, when Ryan Carter pulled back on Bristol City midfielder Dominique van Dijk and conceded a penalty. Up stepped City captain Paulo Roberto Rink, who beat Mike Pollitt for his 25th goal of the season. Thanks to a string of misses from Daggers strikers Julian Alsop and Benjani Mwaruwari, the German veteran's goal would make the difference at half-time.

 

Our wastefulness continued until well into the second half. It took us until the 80th minute to even get a shot on target, and even then, Mwaruwari's volley didn't exactly trouble John Karelse in the Robins goal. Fortunately, Benjani got another chance four minutes later - and when he headed substitute Alan McLean's cross into the net, it appeared we'd stolen a draw from Ashton Gate!

 

Alas, Bristol City hit back straight from the kick-off. Young winger Alan Gray swivelled skilfully on the ball and then crossed to the Robins' long-serving midfielder Tommy Doherty, who beat Pollitt to head it home. The hosts celebrated wildly, and then cruised through the remaining few minutes to complete their win.

 

Bristol City - 2 (Rink pen7, Doherty 85)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Mwaruwari 84)

Division 2, Attendance 8,123 - POSITIONS: Bristol City 10th, Dag & Red 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-1-3-2): Pollitt; Walsh, Maher, Matthews, Ryan (Hawkins); Lacey (McLean); Weekes, Winter, Carter; Alsop (D Graham), Mwaruwari. BOOKED: Carter.

 

Two shots on target, two goals conceded. With that, Mike Pollitt's latest - and possibly last - run in the Daggers goal was over.

 

The gap between us and 7th and been whittled back down to four points. The pressure was back on us ahead of a home meeting with third-from-bottom Tranmere.

 

15 APRIL 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Tranmere Rovers

Tranmere had the game's first shot on goal after two minutes, but Leslie Hughes' wayward half-volley would also be their last. The rest of the match was all about our attacks. A couple of midfield strikes from Alan McLean were saved by Rovers goalkeeper David Preece, who also kept out an effort from Julian Alsop.

 

We had our best spell of the match just before the hour mark. Benjani Mwaruwari drew another fine save from Preece and won a corner, which Tranmere struggled to clear out of harm's way. When Craig Winter's cross was finished by Alsop, it looked like we'd finally broken the deadlock... until the referee's linesman raised his flag for offside.

 

Our fortunes didn't change in the final 30 minutes. Benjani still couldn't find a way past Preece, who had joined Rovers from Dundee United in January. Frustrations boiled over in the closing stages, as both David Graham and Damien Lacey joined Spencer Prior in the ref's book for clumsy injury-time fouls. On that note, Victoria Road witnessed its first 0-0 draw in nearly two-and-a-half years.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Tranmere Rovers - 0

Division 2, Attendance 5,978 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Tranmere 22nd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Hawkins, Prior, Matthews, Mayo; Carter (M Jones), Lacey, McLean; Winter; Alsop (D Graham), Mwaruwari. BOOKED: Prior, D Graham, Lacey.

 

Though it looked like we'd dropped two crucial point, we actually went a further point ahead of Peterborough in 7th place after they were beaten 3-1 at Hull. With four games to go, that all-important gap was now five points.

 

Shrewsbury were just inside the play-off spot, with a marginally better goal difference than Peterborough. The Shrews looked to consolidate their place in the top six when they entertained us on Easter Monday at Gay Meadow, where I gave a first start to Mark Jones. The 18-year-old midfielder had been pretty solid during most of his five substitute appearances so far this season.

 

17 APRIL 2006: Shrewsbury Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Shrewsbury had beaten us at Victoria Road earlier in the season, and after 15 minutes, they came very close to taking the lead in this game as well. Marc Edworthy's cross from right-back found left-back Scott Stamps, whose strike cannoned off the underside of the crossbar before Damien Lacey cleared.

 

The rest of the first half was more of a street fight than a football match. Dagenham left-back Peter Hawkins slid through Graham Kavanagh with both feet in the 22nd minute - and just four minutes later, Shrewsbury forward Nick Evans put his fingers into Spencer Prior's eyeballs! Incredibly, the referee decided to only give yellow cards to Hawkins and Evans. What would you have to do to get a red card from him - decapitate the goalkeeper?!

 

After another booking for Edworthy in the 60th minute, tensions finally simmered, and we got on with the job at hand. Nine minutes later, Lacey chipped the ball into the Shrews' penalty area, where Benjani Mwaruwari's fierce shot broke the deadlock. Could we now hold on?

 

With nine minutes to go, Shrewsbury launched one last attack. Northern Irish forward Steven Thompson tried to score from distance, only to be thwarted by Robert Green, who was determined to keep his second consecutive clean sheet. With Green in such fine form, and Lacey dictating the midfield, the rest of the match was surprisingly comfortable.

 

Shrewsbury Town - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Mwaruwari 69)

Division 2, Attendance 7,135 - POSITIONS: Shrewsbury 7th, Dag & Red 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Green; Maher, Prior, Matthews; Hawkins (Walsh), Mayo; M Jones (Winter), Lacey, Weekes (McLean); Alsop, Mwaruwari. BOOKED: Hawkins.

 

While Shrewsbury had lost their play-off spot, we were now on the brink of securing ours. Two more points from our final three matches would do the job.

 

Our first opportunity to extend our season was back at Victoria Road, against a Peterborough side who'd just leapfrogged the Shrews into the top six. Could we deliver when it mattered most?

 

22 APRIL 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Peterborough United

We instantly streamed forward and took the game to Barry Fry's Posh boys. Julian Alsop couldn't control his header in the 2nd minute, but he was more assured in assisting Craig Winter a minute later. Our attacking midfield goal machine comfortably beat Daniel Connor in the visiting goal, and we were 1-0 up.

 

Winter eyed up a brace midway through the first period. After Craig skilfully skinned Peterborough captain Graham Bowater to go clean through, Connor had to come off the goal line to parry his shot. However, Winter made light work of the rebound, doubling our lead and moving on to 24 goals this season!

 

And 2-0 was how it finished. Peterborough had their opportunities to get back in the game, but an inspired Robert Green shut them out superbly. Meanwhile, substitute David Graham had three excellent chances to extend our winning margin - two were saved, and the third unfortunately hit the bar. Not that any of that mattered, because Winter's first-half brilliance had done just what we needed!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Winter 3,22)

Peterborough United - 0

Division 2, Attendance 5,968 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Peterborough 6th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Maher, Matthews, Mayo; Weekes, Lacey, McLean (Carter); Winter (Prior); Alsop, Mwaruwari (D Graham).

 

Good work, lads. We were now confirmed in the Division 2 play-offs, which meant we could relax for our last two games of the regular season.

 

Our penultimate match was at the Madejski Stadium against Reading, who were still firmly in a fight against relegation. I decided to give Craig Winter a well-earned rest and play a youthful midfield of Ryan Carter, Alan McLean and the returning Paul Graham. Mark Jones was on the bench alongside his fellow Welsh teenager Chris Griffiths.

 

29 APRIL 2006: Reading vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Benjani Mwaruwari was kept off the scoresheet after just six minutes by a fingertip save from Reading keeper Erwin Lemmens. Keen not to be overshadowed by his Belgian counterpart, Robert Green produced a couple of blinding saves of his own later on, stopping winger Chris Holland and midfielder Alex Nyarko from putting the Royals ahead.

 

After a goalless first period, Reading started the second half strongly. Holland's low cross in the 53rd minute presented an opportunity to midfield substitute Joe Gamble, whose dangerous effort clipped the post. After that, I decided to freshen up our midfield, replacing a disappointing Alan McLean with the more energetic Mark Jones.

 

Tensions rose as the game wore on, with Green doing everything in his power to keep Reading off the scoresheet and extend his clean-sheet run to four games. Holland was frustrated once again, as were left-back Chris Makin and striker Simon Buckley.

 

Then, in the 82nd minute, we produced a counter-attack from out of almost nowhere. Julian Alsop took the ball from Michael Walsh on the right-wing and then drilled it to the near post, where it was tapped in by... Mark Jones! The 18-year-old's first competitive goal had won us the game, and secured us a 3rd-place finish - at worst!

 

Reading - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (M Jones 82)

Division 2, Attendance 15,387 - POSITIONS: Reading 20th, Dag & Red 2nd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Maher (Rose), Prior, Matthews; Walsh, Mayo; Carter, McLean (M Jones), P Graham; Mwaruwari (Griffiths), Alsop.

 

I had to double-check the table on Ceefax at full-time, just to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I honestly had no idea that we were even still in the race for automatic promotion, let alone that we had overtaken Port Vale into 2nd on goal difference!

 

But there it was in black and white... well, in black and white and cyan, to be more precise. As things stand, Dagenham & Redbridge are 90 minutes away from playing in Division 1.

 

And who do we play in our final game of the season? Port Vale - at Victoria Road.

 

One match to decide automatic promotion! You couldn't write it!

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of April 2006)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  C  Norwich                         45   16   4    2    45   18   11   4    8    38   35   89   
2nd  Pl Dag & Red                       45   12   7    3    53   29   9    7    7    33   35   77   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd  Pl Port Vale                       45   13   6    4    53   30   9    5    8    25   28   77   
4th     Wrexham                         44   12   4    5    48   36   8    6    9    43   40   70   
5th     Swindon                         45   11   5    7    37   31   8    8    6    47   41   70   
6th     Peterborough                    45   12   7    4    40   29   6    8    8    36   43   69   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Shrewsbury                      45   14   3    6    44   25   6    3    13   30   37   66   
8th     Cardiff                         44   8    10   4    41   31   9    3    10   42   47   64   
9th     Northampton                     45   15   3    4    46   26   4    3    16   32   59   63   
10th    Cambridge Utd                   45   12   5    5    40   25   5    6    12   26   37   62   
11th    Bristol Rovers                  45   11   8    3    52   34   5    6    12   30   47   62   
12th    Bristol City                    45   11   3    9    46   42   7    4    11   41   51   61   
13th    Portsmouth                      45   11   5    6    46   35   6    4    13   39   50   60   
14th    Carlisle                        45   9    4    9    43   40   7    8    8    43   48   60   
15th    Rochdale                        45   13   6    3    47   33   4    3    16   24   48   60   
16th    Watford                         45   12   8    3    38   24   3    6    13   28   44   59   
17th    Oxford                          44   10   3    10   45   38   7    3    11   36   41   57   
18th    Hull                            45   9    6    7    46   43   4    11   8    40   48   56   
19th    Huddersfield                    45   9    7    7    49   42   6    4    12   34   50   56   
20th    Reading                         44   9    7    6    34   27   5    5    12   27   45   54   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st    Bournemouth                     45   9    7    7    32   29   3    9    10   15   27   52   
22nd R  Barnsley                        45   10   4    9    40   39   3    7    12   17   37   50   
23rd R  Tranmere                        45   10   7    5    29   29   2    6    15   19   42   49   
24th R  Wigan                           45   7    2    14   33   39   5    2    15   29   47   40   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • Even without Sir Alex Ferguson, there's no stopping Manchester United. The Red Devils secure a record fourth successive Premiership title with three games to spare, thanks to Dwight Yorke's brace in a 4-2 win over Newcastle. Meanwhile, Gary Megson blames the referees for West Brom's relegation to Division 1, with Charlton also going down - and Crewe almost certain to follow.
  • Manchester United also reach the Semi Finals of the Champions League, coming from behind to thrash Liverpool 6-2 on aggregate in the Quarter Finals. Awaiting them in the last four are Barcelona, who celebrate winning yet another La Liga title by annihilating Bayern München. The other Semi Final is - surprise, surprise - another eternal derby between Roma and Lazio.
  • Jean Tigana lifts his first trophy as Chelsea manager, with Craig Bellamy banging in a hat-trick in a 4-0 League Cup Final win over Division 1 leaders Manchester City. Russian businessman Roman Abramovich seems very impressed with what he sees... Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, not so much.
  • The Bundesliga title race takes another huge twist. 1.FC Köln wear themselves out from constant gegenpressing and are soundly beaten 4-0 at home by Schalke 04, who retake top spot with four games to play. Dortmund's fleeting championship hopes fade away after head coach Matthias Sammer is poached by Espanyol.
  • Ajax's unbeaten Eredivisie record crumbles in their 29th game, conceding an 89th-minute winner at Fortuna. Despite that, the Amsterdam giants look set to end PSV's six-year reign as Dutch champions, and also reach the UEFA Cup Final. Andriy Shevchenko has scored 44 goals in 45 matches this season.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • Iran announces that it has successfully enriched uranium, while American officials brand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime as “one of the world's most active sponsors of terrorism”. Er... good news?
  • After a five-year term as Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi loses the general election to a centre-left coalition led by Romano Prodi. Berlusconi refuses to concede defeat, complaining about electoral fraud – and while he’s at it, the AC Milan president also accuses Lazio and Roma of match-fixing.
  • US pop singer Gene Pitney - who had several hit records in the 1960s - dies in his sleep aged 65, just hours after performing at a concert in Cardiff. Apparently, something had gotten hold of his heart.
  • One of the great rivalries in British soap history comes to an end. 12.6million viewers tune in to “Coronation Street” as Mike Baldwin succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease and dies in the arms of his former foe Ken Barlow.
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MAY 2006

Dagenham & Redbridge had returned to form in April. Following a run of one point from three games, we had taken 16 points from our next dozen. This impressive run saw me win the Division 2 Manager of the Month award, which was actually the first time I'd won one of those since we were in the Conference!

 

Having been barely clinging onto a play-off spot at the start of April, we ended that month by not just securing our position in the top six, but also leaping above Port Vale into 2nd place! We were ahead of the Valiants by just two goals as we headed into the final day of the season - and the biggest match in the club's history.

 

On the afternoon of Sunday 7 May 2006, Dagenham & Redbridge hosted Port Vale at Victoria Road, with automatic promotion on the line. We only required a draw to join champions Norwich on the trip to Division 1, whereas David Kemp's Valiants needed to win away from home. Whichever team failed would have to battle through the play-offs.

 

We were odds-on favourites to secure a third promotion in four seasons. Excluding Junior McDougald's long-term injury, our entire senior squad was available to choose from. Craig Winter and Benjani Mwaruwari had scored 43 goals between them this season, and goalkeeper Robert Green had kept clean sheets in each of his last four games.

 

By contrast, Port Vale were missing one of their key men - Scottish striker Stephen McPhee, who had provided 32 goals and 10 assists in 50 matches before being given a three-match ban for violent conduct. While Valiants captain Ian Armstrong was a prolific goalgetter himself, he wasn't quite on the same level as McPhee.

 

But yet, I wasn't entirely confident we could see the job through. In my five years as Daggers boss, we'd made a habit of choking on big occasions - or at least falling over the finish line. This match would test our resolve and composure like nothing else before.

 

7 MAY 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Port Vale

After such a big build-up, it would have been a pity if... say... Port Vale had taken the lead after two minutes. You know exactly how this match was going to start, didn't you? The Valiants burst out of the traps, and when Ian Armstrong's through-ball was finished by backup striker Steve Brooker, we already found ourselves trailing.

 

Our first shot on goal was not as clinical as Port Vale, with Benjani Mwaruwari blazing it well off target in the 11th minute. At that point, Julian Alsop took it upon himself - as one of our senior squad members - to calm Benjani down and try to reduce some tension in the team.

 

Alsop's pep talk rubbed off almost immediately. Vale keeper Jon Ashwood's goal kick was intercepted by attacking midfielder Craig Winter, who calmly nodded it down towards Jules. The big target man took the ball on, and then drove it past Ashwood to draw us back level. More importantly, we were back in pole position to go up automatically!

 

The rest of the first half didn't quite live up to that epic start. Daggers midfielder Damien Lacey fired a free-kick into the Vale wall, but that was as close as either team would take to making it 2-1 before the break.

 

Winter almost gave us the lead just after the restart, when a vicious shot hit the crossbar before being cleared by Pierre Issa. The experienced South African defender was marshalling the Port Vale defence superbly and helped them keep the scoreline at 1-1. Issa would make another vital intervention in the 70th minute, tackling Benjani just before our Zimbabwean could get a shot in.

 

While the Valiants struggled to string any attacks together, we continued looking for a second goal that would surely seal promotion. Mwaruwari's volley from Alan McLean's long ball in the 80th minute went well over the bar, but he would get another chance just three minutes later. Issa stuck out a hand to block a cross from ex-Vale right-back Michael Walsh, and the referee had no choice but to point to the spot - and award Dagenham & Redbridge a penalty.

 

Benjani composed himself before taking the most important kick of our season. He had scored three of his previous four penalties for the Daggers and was looking to score his 20th goal of the campaign. He opted for a powerful but controlled to the right of Ashwood, who dove to his left - and was helpless to keep it out!

 

Benjani's team-mates mobbed him in celebration, though we still needed to finish the job. Winter appeared to have done that with a ferocious strike in the 86th minute, only to be flagged offside. It didn't matter, however, as Port Vale had nothing left to give. They sank to their knees at the ref's final whistle, when pretty much the entire Victoria Road crowd swarmed the pitch!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge had been PROMOTED to Division 1 - on the final day!!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Alsop 11, Mwaruwari pen83)

Port Vale - 1 (Brooker 2)

Division 2, Attendance 5,979 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 2nd, Port Vale 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Maher (Prior), Matthews, Mayo; Weekes, Lacey, Carter (McLean); Winter; Alsop (D Graham), Mwaruwari.

 

Our first season in Division 2 had been chaotic. We went through three different captains, three goalkeepers, lost our record scorer for half the season - and several Daggers went from key players to unwanted reserves (or vice versa) within a matter of weeks!

 

And yet, when all was said and done, we had pulled off something that even the most optimistic Dagenhamite could not have seen coming. In successive seasons, Dagenham & Redbridge had been promoted from the Football League's bottom rung - and into the second tier!

 

Charlton, Coventry, Fulham, Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, West Brom - those are just half a dozen of the big teams we'll playing against in Division 1 in the 2006/2007 season. That is scarcely believable, especially as it's only been about three years since we were struggling to beat Halesowen and Slough in the Conference!

 

Honestly, I did feel some sympathy for Port Vale, especially as they had automatic promotion within their reach, only to see it slip from their fingers. Fortunately, the Valiants did make amends in the play-offs, battling past Wrexham in the Semi Finals before an extra-time Wembley win over Peterborough secured their place back in Division 1.

 

After such an epic campaign, there was a strong case for either David Kemp or me to be named Division 2's Manager of the Year. But I only finished in 2nd place, and Kemp wasn't even on the ballot. Instead, the award went to...

 

...Craig Johnston, who had led Reading up from a 14th-place finish last season and to the giddy heights of... er, 19th?

 

SERIOUSLY?! Reading were only four points clear of relegation! I can only think that Johnston gave everybody on the awards committee a pair of brand-new Adidas Predators, because there's NO WAY he should be Manager of the Year!!

 

[Sigh] Okay. Calm down now. It's just a silly award.

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DIVISION 2 TABLE (End of 2005/2006 season)

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  C  Norwich                         46   16   4    3    46   20   11   4    8    38   35   89   
2nd  P  Dag & Red                       46   13   7    3    55   30   9    7    7    33   35   80   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd  P  Port Vale                       46   13   6    4    53   30   9    5    9    26   30   77   
4th     Swindon                         46   11   5    7    37   31   9    8    6    49   42   73   
5th     Peterborough                    46   12   7    4    40   29   7    8    8    39   44   72   
6th     Wrexham                         46   12   5    6    49   39   8    6    9    43   40   71   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Shrewsbury                      46   14   3    6    44   25   6    4    13   32   39   67   
8th     Cardiff                         46   9    10   4    42   31   9    3    11   43   49   67   
9th     Northampton                     46   16   3    4    48   26   4    3    16   32   59   66   
10th    Bristol Rovers                  46   12   8    3    54   34   5    6    12   30   47   65   
11th    Bristol City                    46   11   3    9    46   42   8    4    11   43   52   64   
12th    Cambridge Utd                   46   12   6    5    40   25   5    6    12   26   37   63   
13th    Portsmouth                      46   12   5    6    49   35   6    4    13   39   50   63   
14th    Rochdale                        46   13   7    3    49   35   4    3    16   24   48   61   
15th    Oxford                          46   10   3    10   45   38   8    3    12   38   43   60   
16th    Carlisle                        46   9    4    10   44   43   7    8    8    43   48   60   
17th    Hull                            46   10   6    7    49   43   4    11   8    40   48   59   
18th    Watford                         46   12   8    3    38   24   3    6    14   28   47   59   
19th    Reading                         46   10   7    6    36   28   5    5    13   27   48   57   
20th    Huddersfield                    46   9    7    7    49   42   6    4    13   34   51   56   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st R  Bournemouth                     46   9    7    7    32   29   3    10   10   15   27   53   
22nd R  Barnsley                        46   10   4    9    40   39   3    8    12   18   38   51   
23rd R  Tranmere                        46   10   7    6    30   31   2    6    15   19   42   49   
24th R  Wigan                           46   7    2    14   33   39   5    2    16   29   49   40   

 

ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • Manchester United reach their first Champions League Final since 1999, and take Serie A champions Roma to penalties after Ryan Giggs cancels out Marco Delvecchio's opener in Brussels. Unfortunately, Giggs turns from hero to villain when his spot-kick is saved by Francesco Antonioli. Veteran defender Sebastiano Siviglia then converts his penalty to give the Giallorossi a 6-5 win - and their second European Cup in three seasons!
  • There is English success in the UEFA Cup Final in Glasgow, where Mark Viduka strikes five minutes from time to give Leeds a 2-1 win over Dutch champions Ajax. After the match, Ajax's Egyptian forward Mido kicks up a fuss - and says that a team with Andriy Shevchenko, Wesley Sneijder and Victor Valdés needs to sign better players.
  • The UEFA Cup is the second part of a cup double for Leeds. Pablo Aimar's 79th-minute strike at Wembley secures a 3-2 victory over Everton in the FA Cup Final - and reduces 20-year-old England star Wayne Rooney to tears. Meanwhile, Valladolid secure a historic Copa del Rey victory after seeing off Real Madrid on penalties.
  • After leading Ligue 1 for almost the entire season, Lille do their best to throw the title away to Monaco on the final day of the season. Les Dogues fall to an early Armand Oné-nil deficit against Le Havre, but an equaliser from Peruvian wonderkid Jefferson Farfán is enough to give them the championship on goal difference.
  • The Bundesliga title is also decided on goal difference. Ebbe Sand scores the decisive goal in Dortmund, which sees Schalke 04 hold off 1.FC Köln - and end their 48-year championship drought! After winning the last seven titles, Bayern München finish 4th behind Hertha BSC and fail to even qualify for the Champions League!

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • After being dominated by cheesy pop for decades, fans of the Eurovision Song Contest are in for a shock when... the United Kingdom picks rapper Daz Sampson to represent them in Athens. He finishes in 19th place, as Finnish heavy-metal band Lordi steal the show with "Hard Rock Hallelujah".
  • Journalist Guy Kewney is interviewed by BBC News 24 about the court case between Steve Jobs' tech company Apple and The Beatles' record label Apple. Only, there is a mix-up in reception and the BBC get the wrong Guy - a Congolese graduate called Guy Goma, who turns up for an IT job interview and finds himself on national TV!
  • The BBC are rather more alarmed when campaigners from Fathers 4 Justice invade the National Lottery studio and take the “Jet Set” programme off air for several minutes. Maybe they just don’t like Eamonn Holmes...
  • Sony unveils its new PlayStation 3 console at the E3 video game expo in Los Angeles. The two-hour announcement goes off without a single hitch or any remotely embarrassing moments.
Edited by CFuller
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DAG & RED PLAYER STATISTICS (2005/2006)

Goalkeepers                    Apps     Con    Asts   Yel    Red    MoM    Av R
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1   Green, Robert              29       37     0      0      0      1      7.14   
13  Pollitt, Mike              10 (2)   16     0      0      0      0      6.92   
*   Thompson, Glynn            14       22     0      0      0      0      6.86   

Outfield Players               Apps     Gls    Asts   Yel    Red    MoM    Av R
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
10  Alsop, Julian              33 (7)   8      12     0      1      2      7.20   
*   Anderson, John             4 (2)    0      1      0      0      0      6.00   
21  Bayliss, Dave              6        0      0      0      0      0      7.00   
14  Carter, Ryan               32 (4)   2      4      4      0      1      6.83   
16  Devine, Sean               13 (7)   7      0      1      0      1      7.00   
*   Gledhill, Lee              2 (13)   0      0      1      0      0      6.47   
12  Graham, David              10 (6)   6      0      1      0      0      7.44   
34  Graham, Paul               1 (4)    0      1      1      0      0      6.80   
23  Griffiths, Chris           0 (12)   2      0      0      0      0      6.92   
22  Hamilton, Des              28 (6)   5      5      2      0      2      6.74   
3   Hawkins, Peter             31 (6)   1      1      2      0      0      6.57   
7   Janney, Mark               4        0      1      0      0      0      6.75   
36  Jones, Mark                1 (6)    1      2      0      0      0      6.86   
4   Lacey, Damien              27 (5)   2      3      4      0      2      7.00   
15  Maher, Shaun               35 (3)   3      0      1      0      1      7.03   
5   Matthews, Lee              45       1      2      4      0      1      7.42   
11  Mayo, Kerry                41 (2)   3      7      2      1      4      6.95   
9   McDougald, Junior          8 (3)    5      3      0      0      0      7.18   
35  McQuade, William           11 (11)  0      5      0      0      1      6.68   
31  McLean, Alan               25 (13)  3      4      3      0      0      6.84   
*   Melton, Stephen            1 (2)    1      0      0      0      0      6.33   
8   Mwaruwari, Benjani         36 (5)   20     5      1      0      5      7.56   
26  Prior, Spencer             21 (6)   1      0      3      0      1      6.85   
19  Rose, Richard              3 (1)    0      0      0      0      0      6.75   
17  Ryan, Robbie               6 (2)    0      1      0      0      0      6.75   
*   Sharps, Ian                14 (6)   0      1      3      0      0      6.40   
2   Walsh, Michael             23 (4)   1      0      0      0      0      6.70   
*   Walsh, Robbie              5 (1)    2      3      0      0      0      7.83   
38  Warren, Simon              0 (1)    0      0      0      0      0      6.00   
20  Weekes, Nick               29 (6)   5      9      0      0      2      6.77   
18  Winter, Craig              35 (12)  24     9      1      0      6      7.47   

* [Player not currently at club]

 

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Just now, oche balboa said:

Well done on getting Promotion 

Thanks. I still don't quite know how we pulled it off. :lol:

It's also the first time I've ever had back-to-back promotions, either on CM or FM.

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JUNE 2006

I'll be honest with you. A few months ago, I seriously thought that I was coming towards the end of my reign as Dagenham & Redbridge manager.

 

Despite flying high in Division 2, I was starting to believe that I had taken this team as far as I could, and that it would soon be time to move on to a new challenge. Well... you know what happened next.

 

An unbelievable late surge in form not only booked us a play-off place at worst - it also got us a second automatic promotion in a row! The Daggers were riding the crest of a wave into Division 1!

 

And so, at the post-season board meeting where I had been planning to tender my resignation, I instead signed a new two-year deal to extend my stay at Victoria Road. I would be staying on for the latest chapter of the Daggers' evolution from Conference part-timers to Football League challengers.

 

Chairman Dave Andrews couldn't hide his pleasure as I put my pen to my new contract. The 63-year-old shared my ambitions for not just consolidating this club's status in the second tier, but also putting the building blocks in place for Dagenham & Redbridge to eventually secure one more promotion - into the Premiership.

 

That dream perhaps wasn't as ridiculous as it sounded. After all, both Crewe and Gillingham were small clubs who recently made it into the top flight - though Crewe were recently relegated back to the second tier, while the Gills had actually plummeted into the third. We could also take inspiration from Kidderminster, who - much like us - enjoyed three quick promotions from the Conference to Division 1 between 2000 and 2005.

 

To that end, Dave agreed to further upgrade our training facilities, which had already undergone some significant renovations over the past 12 months. He also announced that Victoria Road's capacity would be expanded by 25% over the summer - from 6,000 to 8,000. The ground would soon have a seated capacity of 3,012, though the board were reluctant to convert it into an all-seater just yet.

 

The bill for all that ground maintenance was well over £5million. Fortunately, that was offset by our prize money for finishing 2nd in Division 2, a significant increase in TV revenue - and a lucrative deal with one of those new-fangled gambling websites that have been cropping up lately.

 

Even so, I was staggered when managing director Steve Thompson announced that I was being given a transfer budget of... wait for it... £4million. To put that into perspective, all my previous Daggers signings had cost us 'only' £1.5million.

 

Before I could go on a spending spree, though, it was time to shift some dead wood. The first two players to leave were centre-back Dave Bayliss and midfielder Damien Lacey, who each spent four years with the Daggers. Bayliss returned to his native north-west after signing for Blackpool, while former captain Lacey also dropped into Division 3 and joined Rushden.

 

Five youngsters - Nathan Betts, Jamie Cartwright, Peter McCann, Richard Rose and Kevin Sheridan - were released at the end of their contracts. Central defender Rose made 17 appearances for the Daggers since his debut in 2003, but none of the others came even close to a first-team breakthrough.

 

In terms of signings, I began with a couple of free transfers. 24-year-old Paul Mitchell was a determined right-back who had previously made 87 appearances for Wigan. I also brought in 29-year-old Luke Beckett - a strong and intelligent centre-forward who was discarded by Blackburn in January.

 

I then focussed on strengthening the centre of our defence, which looked to me like our weakest area. Lee Matthews and Spencer Prior were both in their mid-30s and likely to struggle with the intensity of second-tier football, while I had some question marks about Shaun Maher's consistency.

 

After holding talks with Watford chairman Elton John and manager Danny Wilson (that's the former Northern Ireland midfielder, not the Scottish pop band), they agreed to sell 21-year-old Simon Bell to us for £60,000. That might be a huge coup for us, as Simon has fantastic heading ability and has the positional awareness of a much older defender.

 

One of Bell's rivals for a starting place will be a rather more exotic signing - from Lleida, in the Spanish third division. We spent £150,000 on 26-year-old stopper David Navarro, whose aggression and aerial ability could strike fear into opponents. I may sign another Spaniard to help David settle in; there aren't many bullrings or paella restaurants in Dagenham.

 

I also decided to improve my backroom staff and assemble a coaching team that was worthy of Division 1. I sent assistant manager Terry Harris and coach David Nish my best wishes at the end of their contracts, and reluctantly sent them on their way.

 

My new assistant will be Johnson Hippolyte (42) - a smart tactician who comes in from non-league Chesham United. Former Exeter striker Eamonn Dolan (38) will be our new attacking coach, while Welshman Gary Evans (36) arrives from Flexys Cefn Druids as a fitness coach.

 

I also made room for a new scout, taking our recruitment team up to five. David Ludzic isn't Scottish, so he doesn't quite complete our full set of Home Nations, but the 30-year-old Irishman is an exceptional youth scout who comes to us from Derry City. I'm sure he'll find us a gem or two on his travels.

 

So much is changing at Victoria Road over the summer - both off the pitch and on it. There will inevitably be some growing pains as we adapt to life in another new division.

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ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • Ken Bates retires as Chelsea chairman and sells the club to an extremely wealthy and extremely ambitious 41-year-old businessman... John Warner. The Blues' first signing of their new era is 22-year-old Spanish wing wizard José Antonio Reyes, on a Bosman from Sevilla. Their star midfielder Frank Lampard heads in the opposite direction, joining Real Madrid after five years at Stamford Bridge.
  • Sven-Göran Eriksson's controversial decision to leave Real defender Sol Campbell out of England's World Cup squad is vindicated. The Three Lions breeze through their group before Lampard swiftly endears himself to Madridistas by knocking out Spain in Round 2. Next up for England in the Quarter Finals... Argentina.
  • Mark Hughes' Wales hold Spain to a draw in their opening group game, before beating Tunisia and Colombia to finish top. Despite conceding a 90th-minute equaliser against Mexico in their last-16 clash, the Red Dragons eventually prevail on penalties, with Crewe defender Scott Young becoming a national hero by scoring the decisive spot-kick.
  • Wales' opponents in the Quarter Finals are surprise packages Egypt, who sensationally thrash Brazil 5-1 - and put Seleção coach Guilherme Rocha's job in serious jeopardy! Host nation Germany also suffer a shock Round 2 exit against arch-rivals Holland.
  • Holders Italy reach the last eight after coming from behind to defeat Portugal, whose 34-year-old captain Rui Costa retires after the tournament. Seleção wonderkid Cristiano Ronaldo is in tears at the final whistle, despite scoring the opener.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • Roger Federer reaches the Final of the French Open, where he attempts to become the first man in 37 years to hold every grand slam tennis singles title at the same time. However, the Swiss superstar is thwarted by 20-year-old defending champion Rafael Nadal, who wins in four sets.
  • “They Think It’s All Over”... it is now! The sports comedy panel show, which was hosted by Nick Hancock for most of its run, is cancelled by the BBC after 11 years on the air.
  • Pixar release their new animated film “Cars”, which is a loving tribute to the 70s electronic musician Gary Numan. No, actually, it’s a film about talking cars, starring Owen Wilson and the great Paul Newman.
  • "Tim McGraw" - named after a popular country musician who surprisingly recorded a duet with rapper Nelly two years ago - is the debut single by a 16-year-old singer-songwriter from Pennsylvania. Remember the name: Taylor Swift.
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SEASON REVIEW 2005/2006

ENGLAND

NOTE: All goals and assist records relate to league matches only.

 

PREMIERSHIP

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  C  Man Utd                         38   18   1    0    49   8    10   4    5    26   14   89   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2nd     Chelsea                         38   14   4    1    37   18   8    7    4    35   28   77   
3rd     Leeds                           38   12   2    5    34   14   9    6    4    25   15   71   
4th     Newcastle                       38   11   4    4    44   27   10   1    8    28   22   68   
5th     Liverpool                       38   11   5    3    30   14   9    3    7    23   21   68   
6th     Arsenal                         38   9    2    8    22   16   11   2    6    29   20   64   
7th     Bolton                          38   13   2    4    40   19   7    2    10   22   36   64   
8th     Middlesbrough                   38   9    5    5    39   27   7    5    7    28   31   58   
9th     Ipswich                         38   8    6    5    34   21   7    2    10   26   37   53   
10th    Stoke                           38   10   3    6    25   20   4    5    10   19   33   50   
11th    Aston Villa                     38   9    6    4    30   18   3    7    9    21   27   49   
12th    Crystal Palace                  38   10   2    7    38   26   4    5    10   23   35   49   
13th    West Ham                        38   8    5    6    36   28   6    2    11   19   36   49   
14th    Blackburn                       38   9    5    5    37   27   2    8    9    13   29   46   
15th    Tottenham                       38   11   1    7    39   23   2    5    12   23   44   45   
16th    Southampton                     38   6    4    9    30   39   7    2    10   26   39   45   
17th    Everton                         38   9    5    5    26   16   1    3    15   16   43   38   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
18th R  Crewe                           38   7    4    8    24   25   1    3    15   12   42   31   
19th R  Charlton                        38   5    5    9    20   33   2    3    14   23   51   29   
20th R  W.B.A.                          38   4    5    10   16   30   1    1    17   12   47   21   

 

Top Goalscorer - Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Newcastle): 24.

Most Assists - Ludovic Giuly (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea): 11.

Highest Average Rating - Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man Utd): 8.29.

 

PFA Player of the Year - Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man Utd).

PFA Young Player of the Year - not awarded.

 

DIVISION 1

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  C  Man City                        46   18   3    2    47   19   11   4    8    37   32   94   
2nd  P  Sheff Wed                       46   17   2    4    43   18   11   4    8    40   35   90   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Sunderland                      46   16   5    2    55   23   11   2    10   45   39   88   
4th  P  Wolves                          46   16   3    4    53   24   10   4    9    35   29   85   
5th     Fulham                          46   13   5    5    36   21   10   6    7    33   31   80   
6th     Burnley                         46   14   4    5    48   28   8    8    7    29   27   78   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Birmingham                      46   14   3    6    43   22   9    5    9    44   40   77   
8th     Bradford                        46   15   6    2    44   23   6    7    10   32   37   76   
9th     Coventry                        46   15   3    5    45   28   7    5    11   35   44   74   
10th    Derby                           46   14   3    6    38   23   6    9    8    24   28   72   
11th    Grimsby                         46   13   4    6    41   29   9    2    12   37   42   72   
12th    Chesterfield                    46   15   1    7    49   29   6    6    11   29   39   70   
13th    Kidderminster                   46   12   7    4    44   29   8    1    14   28   47   68   
14th    Preston                         46   12   5    6    45   26   4    11   8    31   40   64   
15th    Millwall                        46   10   8    5    38   25   4    3    16   18   44   53   
16th    Sheff Utd                       46   9    7    7    36   32   6    1    16   20   41   53   
17th    Brentford                       46   11   3    9    37   32   3    7    13   31   54   52   
18th    Notts Co                        46   10   6    7    35   35   4    4    15   31   53   52   
19th    Walsall                         46   8    5    10   44   49   6    4    13   37   59   51   
20th    Nottm Forest                    46   6    7    10   35   38   5    4    14   27   40   44   
21st    Luton                           46   9    6    8    36   29   1    6    16   9    39   42   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
22nd R  Gillingham                      46   8    5    10   32   33   2    3    18   11   42   38   
23rd R  Leicester                       46   5    5    13   34   60   5    2    16   30   59   37   
24th R  Q.P.R.                          46   6    5    12   35   42   3    3    17   24   52   35   

 

DIVISION 2

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  C  Norwich                         46   16   4    3    46   20   11   4    8    38   35   89   
2nd  P  Dag & Red                       46   13   7    3    55   30   9    7    7    33   35   80   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd  P  Port Vale                       46   13   6    4    53   30   9    5    9    26   30   77   
4th     Swindon                         46   11   5    7    37   31   9    8    6    49   42   73   
5th     Peterborough                    46   12   7    4    40   29   7    8    8    39   44   72   
6th     Wrexham                         46   12   5    6    49   39   8    6    9    43   40   71   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7th     Shrewsbury                      46   14   3    6    44   25   6    4    13   32   39   67   
8th     Cardiff                         46   9    10   4    42   31   9    3    11   43   49   67   
9th     Northampton                     46   16   3    4    48   26   4    3    16   32   59   66   
10th    Bristol Rovers                  46   12   8    3    54   34   5    6    12   30   47   65   
11th    Bristol City                    46   11   3    9    46   42   8    4    11   43   52   64   
12th    Cambridge Utd                   46   12   6    5    40   25   5    6    12   26   37   63   
13th    Portsmouth                      46   12   5    6    49   35   6    4    13   39   50   63   
14th    Rochdale                        46   13   7    3    49   35   4    3    16   24   48   61   
15th    Oxford                          46   10   3    10   45   38   8    3    12   38   43   60   
16th    Carlisle                        46   9    4    10   44   43   7    8    8    43   48   60   
17th    Hull                            46   10   6    7    49   43   4    11   8    40   48   59   
18th    Watford                         46   12   8    3    38   24   3    6    14   28   47   59   
19th    Reading                         46   10   7    6    36   28   5    5    13   27   48   57   
20th    Huddersfield                    46   9    7    7    49   42   6    4    13   34   51   56   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21st R  Bournemouth                     46   9    7    7    32   29   3    10   10   15   27   53   
22nd R  Barnsley                        46   10   4    9    40   39   3    8    12   18   38   51   
23rd R  Tranmere                        46   10   7    6    30   31   2    6    15   19   42   49   
24th R  Wigan                           46   7    2    14   33   39   5    2    16   29   49   40   

 

DIVISION 3

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  C  Torquay                         46   14   5    4    52   29   11   5    7    44   39   85   
2nd  P  Wycombe                         46   13   7    3    39   27   10   4    9    40   40   80   
3rd  P  Lincoln                         46   16   5    2    51   19   7    4    12   30   32   78   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
4th  P  Doncaster                       46   10   6    7    49   40   12   6    5    47   39   78   
5th     Mansfield                       46   11   7    5    45   31   10   6    7    43   37   76   
6th     Darlington                      46   12   5    6    42   25   10   5    8    35   33   76   
7th     Hartlepool                      46   12   5    6    50   31   10   5    8    30   34   76   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
8th     Brighton                        46   11   4    8    38   30   11   5    7    40   37   75   
9th     Rotherham                       46   13   3    7    44   37   10   3    10   38   40   75   
10th    Exeter                          46   13   4    6    50   29   7    8    8    29   33   72   
11th    Oldham                          46   13   6    4    37   21   7    6    10   25   35   72   
12th    Bury                            46   13   3    7    40   29   9    2    12   33   39   71   
13th    Colchester                      46   12   7    4    33   21   7    4    12   30   34   68   
14th    Wimbledon                       46   12   5    6    49   39   6    4    13   38   50   63   
15th    Macclesfield                    46   12   6    5    47   35   5    6    12   29   46   63   
16th    Leyton Orient                   46   12   3    8    44   30   5    7    11   41   51   61   
17th    Scarborough                     46   9    4    10   39   31   6    9    8    21   25   58   
18th    Rushden                         46   11   2    10   36   35   5    6    12   27   45   56   
19th    Blackpool                       46   9    4    10   39   41   6    4    13   42   56   53   
20th    Scunthorpe                      46   8    8    7    40   39   4    3    16   20   54   47   
21st    Stockport                       46   9    6    8    39   42   4    1    18   23   46   46   
22nd    Cheltenham                      46   7    5    11   40   43   5    4    14   32   51   45   
23rd    Plymouth                        46   5    8    10   27   32   3    6    14   26   51   38   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
24th R  Halifax                         46   5    2    16   20   39   0    7    16   12   43   24   

 

CONFERENCE

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  C  Nuneaton Borough                42   15   4    2    51   28   12   2    7    45   30   87   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2nd     Farnborough                     42   14   3    4    49   30   9    5    7    39   37   77   
3rd     Southend                        42   14   2    5    55   29   9    4    8    45   40   75   
4th     Northwich Vics                  42   12   4    5    48   29   9    6    6    36   34   73   
5th     Stevenage                       42   10   7    4    49   39   11   2    8    46   41   72   
6th     Slough                          42   13   2    6    39   27   8    5    8    29   35   70   
7th     Hereford                        42   11   4    6    42   34   9    2    10   35   47   66   
8th     Boston Utd                      42   11   5    5    40   27   7    5    9    27   31   64   
9th     Barnet                          42   11   5    5    47   38   7    4    10   44   48   63   
10th    Swansea                         42   10   3    8    50   43   8    5    8    42   40   62   
11th    Margate                         42   11   4    6    39   32   7    4    10   35   42   62   
12th    Yeovil                          42   9    4    8    35   30   8    4    9    43   44   59   
13th    Grays Athletic                  42   11   3    7    49   46   6    5    10   27   35   59   
14th    Telford                         42   9    4    8    22   17   7    6    8    27   31   58   
15th    Stalybridge                     42   8    6    7    39   41   7    4    10   31   38   55   
16th    Morecambe                       42   9    5    7    35   29   5    3    13   24   39   50   
17th    Stafford R                      42   9    6    6    44   36   4    3    14   24   45   48   
18th    Frickley                        42   6    5    10   26   34   7    3    11   32   37   47   
19th    Bath City                       42   8    3    10   29   27   3    5    13   24   41   41   
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
20th R  King's Lynn                     42   5    6    10   21   32   4    6    11   21   39   39   
21st R  Chester                         42   7    5    9    34   37   2    4    15   20   46   36   
22nd R  Dover                           42   6    2    13   28   34   2    5    14   23   51   31   

 

Promoted to Conference: Hucknall, Salisbury, Sutton Utd.

 

FA Cup: Leeds 3-2 Everton.

League Cup: Chelsea 4-0 Man City.

Community Shield: Man Utd 2-1 Blackburn.

Football League Trophy: Rochdale 4-3 Northampton (aet).

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OTHER LEAGUES

 

FRANCE

Ligue 1

Top Three: Lille (1st), Monaco (2nd), Bordeaux (3rd).

Relegated: Metz (18th), Le Mans (19th), Strasbourg (20th).

Promoted from Ligue 2: Nice (1st), Nîmes (2nd), Lorient (3rd).

 

Top Goalscorer - Dado Prso (Lille): 23.

Most Assists - Florent Malouda (St-Etienne): 15.

Highest Average Rating - Dado Prso (Lille): 8.14.

 

Coupe de France: Lille 3-1 Troyes.

Coupe de la Ligue: Monaco 3-3 Nantes (3-2 penalties).

 

GERMANY

1. Bundesliga

Top Three: Schalke 04 (1st), 1.FC Köln (2nd), Hertha BSC (3rd).

Relegated: Karlsruhe (16th), Mainz (17th), Ahlen (18th).

Promoted from 2. Bundesliga: St Pauli (1st), Rostock (2nd), Duisburg (3rd).

 

Top Goalscorer - Ilan (1.FC Köln), Ebbe Sand (Schalke 04): 21.

Most Assists - Sebastian Deisler (Hertha BSC): 14.

Highest Average Rating - Robert Kovac (FC Bayern): 8.07.

 

DFB-Pokal: Dortmund 4-3 Werder Bremen.

DFB-Liga Pokal: FC Bayern 1-1 Dortmund (5-4 penalties).

 

HOLLAND

Eredivisie

Top Three: Ajax (1st), PSV (2nd), Feyenoord (3rd).

Relegated: Roda (16th, lost play-off), NAC (17th, lost play-off), Heerenveen (18th).

Promoted from Eerste Divisie: ADO (1st), Excelsior (2nd, won play-off), Volendam (4th, won play-off).

 

Top Goalscorer - Andriy Shevchenko (Ajax): 34.

Most Assists - Wesley Sneijder (Ajax): 15.

Highest Average Rating - Andriy Shevchenko (Ajax): 8.60.

 

KNVB Beker: Ajax 4-0 Heerenveen.

 

ITALY

Serie A

Top Three: Roma (1st), Lazio (2nd), Inter (3rd).

Relegated: Napoli (15th), Reggina (16th), Salernitana (17th), Empoli (18th).

Promoted from Serie B: Sampdoria (1st), Perugia (2nd), Modena (3rd), Chievo (4th).

 

Top Goalscorer - Hernán Jorge Crespo (Lazio): 20.

Most Assists - Cafú (Roma), Fabio Liverani (Lazio), Andrea Pirlo (Milan): 12.

Highest Average Rating - Fabio Cannavaro (Roma): 8.08.

 

Coppa Italia: Atalanta 5-1 Venezia (aggregate).

 

PORTUGAL

Primeira Liga

Top Three: Sporting (1st), Porto (2nd), Maia (3rd).

Relegated: Vitória Guimarães (16th), Belenenses (17th), Alverca (18th).

Promoted from Segunda Liga: Salgueiros (1st), Leixões (2nd), Campomaiorense (3rd).

 

Top Goalscorer - Cristiano Ronaldo (Sporting): 33.

Most Assists - Bruno (Varzim): 19.

Highest Average Rating - Cristiano Ronaldo (Sporting): 8.88.

 

Taça de Portugal: Sporting 3-2 Benfica (aet).

 

SCOTLAND

Premier League

Top Three: Celtic (1st), Rangers (2nd), Motherwell (3rd).

Relegated: Arbroath (12th).

Promoted from Division 1: Stranraer (1st).

 

Top Goalscorer - Tore Andre Flo (Rangers): 20.

Most Assists - Barry Ferguson (Rangers): 12.

Highest Average Rating - Barry Ferguson (Rangers): 8.31.

 

Scottish Cup: Motherwell 2-1 Celtic.

League Cup: Rangers 1-0 Celtic.

 

SPAIN

La Liga

Top Three: Barcelona (1st), Valencia (2nd), Real Madrid (3rd).

Relegated: Valladolid (18th), Sporting Gijón (19th), Real Sociedad (20th).

Promoted from Segunda División: Levante (1st), Badajoz (2nd), Extremadura (3rd).

 

Top Goalscorer - Gastón Casas (Betis): 22.

Most Assists - Pavel Nedved (Barcelona): 13.

Highest Average Rating - Pavel Nedved (Barcelona): 8.21.

 

Copa del Rey: Valladolid 1-1 Real Madrid (4-3 penalties).

 

CONTINENTAL & INTERNATIONAL

 

CLUB

Champions League: Roma 1-1 Man Utd (6-5 penalties) - in Brussels.

UEFA Cup: Lazio 2-1 Ajax - in Glasgow.

Super Cup: Valencia 1-0 Inter.

 

Intercontinental Cup: Valencia 2-2 Vasco (3-0 penalties).

Club World Championship: Milan 2-1 Chicago.

 

FIFA World Player of the Year - Hernán Jorge Crespo (Lazio & Argentina).

World Footballer of the Year - Hernán Jorge Crespo (Lazio & Argentina).

African Player of the Year - Julius Aghahowa (Schalke 04 & Nigeria).

European Player of the Year - Ruud van Nistelrooy (Man Utd & Holland).

South American Player of the Year - Juninho (Vasco & Brazil).

Oceania Player of the Year - Mark Viduka (Leeds & Australia).

 

LEADING TRANSFERS (Premiership)

DATE       NAME                        POSITIONS     FROM                TO                  FEE
08/07/05   Torsten Frings              D/DM RC       Deportivo           Arsenal             £17.5M
11/07/05   Iván Helguera               D/DM C        Valencia            Man Utd             £13.25M
16/11/05   Jesper Grønkjær             AM RL         Man City            Aston Villa         £11.5M
30/07/05   França                      F C           São Paulo           Man Utd             £10M
17/09/05   Ludovic Giuly               AM RC         Monaco              Liverpool           £10M
10/07/05   Juan Pablo Sorín            D/M L         Cruzeiro            Arsenal             £9.75M
09/10/05   Phil Jagielka               D/DM C        Sheff Utd           Newcastle           £7.75M
16/08/05   Stephen Hughes              M LC          Bolton              Chelsea             £7.25M
14/08/05   Wayne Bridge                D/M L         Sunderland          West Ham            £7M
16/08/05   Seth Johnson                DM LC         Southampton         Middlesbrough       £5.75M

 

LEADING TRANSFERS (not including Premiership)

DATE       NAME                        POSITIONS     FROM                TO                  FEE
01/07/05   Zé Roberto                  D/DM L        Leverkusen          Inter               £14.75M
11/07/05   Alessandro Del Piero        F LC          Juventus            FC Bayern           £12.5M
08/07/05   Ilan                        S C           Paranaense          1.FC Köln           £12.5M
15/12/05   Andre Ooijer                D RC          Liverpool           Valencia            £10.75M
15/12/05   Zé Roberto                  D/DM L        Inter               Valencia            £10.75M
16/10/05   Fabio Liverani              DM LC         Celtic              Lazio               £10M
12/01/06   Clarence Seedorf            AM RLC        Inter               Milan               £10M
14/09/05   Reinaldo                    F C           Flamengo            Nürnberg            £9.75M
21/09/05   Thomas Reidl                DM RC         Kaiserslautern      VfB Stuttgart       £9.25M
03/10/05   Sebastián Battaglia         DM C          Boca                Inter               £9M

 

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WORLD CUP REVIEW: GERMANY 2006

GROUP A

7 June [Berlin]

Italy - 2 (Stefano Fiore 53,90)

Sweden - 0

 

7 June [Hannover]

Nigeria - 1 (Peter Odemwingie 73)

South Korea - 1 (Young-Min Hyun 56)

 

13 June [Hamburg]

Sweden - 0

Nigeria - 2 (Victor Ikpeba 9, Garba Lawal 24)

 

13 June [Dortmund]

South Korea - 0

Italy - 1 (Giacomo Cipriani 28)

 

20 June [Frankfurt]

Italy - 1 (Gennaro Ivan Gattuso 19)

Nigeria - 1 (Taribo West 74)

 

20 June [Stuttgart]

Sweden - 0

South Korea - 0

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  Italy                           3    2    1    0    4    1    7
2nd  Q  Nigeria                         3    1    2    0    4    2    5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     South Korea                     3    0    2    1    1    2    2
4th     Sweden                          3    0    1    2    0    4    1

 

GROUP B

8 June [Hamburg]

Uruguay - 2 (Diego Forlán 17, Diego Fernando Pérez 80)

Guinea - 2 (Titi Camara 31, Souleymane Youla 48)

 

8 June [Düsseldorf]

Portugal - 0 [Tiago s/off70)

France - 3 (Patrick Vieira 56, Tony Vairelles m/pen71, Frédéric Piquionne 86, Patrice Evra 90)

 

14 June [Stuttgart]

France - 1 (David Trezeguet 20)

Uruguay - 0

 

14 June [Hannover]

Guinea - 1 (Mohamed Cissé 45)

Portugal - 3 (Luís Boa Morte 17, Rui Costa 20, Pauleta 61)

 

20 June [Berlin]

Guinea - 0

France - 5 (Djibril Cissé 6,68, Mickaël Silvestre 31, Robert Pires 45, Laurent Robert 84)

 

20 June [Dortmund]

Uruguay - 0

Portugal - 2 (Rui Costa 9, Jorge Andrade 71)

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  France                          3    3    0    0    9    0    9
2nd  Q  Portugal                        3    2    0    1    5    4    6
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Uruguay                         3    0    1    2    2    5    1
4th     Guinea                          3    0    1    2    3    10   1

 

GROUP C

9 June [Nürnberg]

Ghana - 2 (Derek Boateng 6, Augustine Ahinful 69)

Saudi Arabia - 2 (Naji Majrashi 17, Abdulrahman Al-Bishi 45)

 

9 June [Frankfurt]

Germany - 2 (Frank Baumann 13, Christoph Metzelder 62)

Finland - 0

 

15 June [Berlin]

Saudi Arabia - 0

Germany - 3 (Michael Ballack 12, Bastian Schweinsteiger 45, Miroslav Klose 84)

 

15 June [Düsseldorf]

Finland - 1 (Teemu Tainio 10)

Ghana - 2 (Stephen Appiah 19,36)

 

21 June [Hamburg]

Finland - 3 (Mikael Forssell 7,31,53)

Saudi Arabia - 2 (Mohammad Al-Shahoub 50, Nawaf Al-Temyat 65)

 

21 June [Gelsenkirchen]

Germany - 4 (Miroslav Klose 25,76, Bastian Schweinsteiger 57, Aílton 90)

Ghana - 2 (Michael Essien 34, Stephen Appiah 89)

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  Germany                         3    3    0    0    9    2    9
2nd  Q  Ghana                           3    1    1    1    6    7    4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Finland                         3    1    0    2    4    6    3
4th     Saudi Arabia                    3    0    1    2    4    8    1

 

GROUP D

9 June [Hannover]

Republic of Ireland - 0

United States - 1 (Landon Donovan 85)

 

10 June [Dortmund]

Greece - 1 (Zissis Vryzas 8)

Holland - 1 (Denny Landzaat 35, Wilfred Bouma s/off43)

 

17 June [Stuttgart]

United States - 2 (Brian Ching 47, Alecko Eskandarian 89)

Greece - 4 (Tassos Venitis 15, Dimitris Nalitzis 45, Stelios Giannakopoulos 56, Zissis Vryzas 61)

 

17 June [München]

Holland - 0

Republic of Ireland - 0

 

21 June [Düsseldorf]

Republic of Ireland - 0

Greece - 3 (Nikos Liberopoulos 22, Zissis Vryzas 38, Sotiris Konstantinidis 85)

 

21 June [Nürnberg]

United States - 0

Holland - 2 (Ruud van Nistelrooy 19,44)

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  Greece                          3    2    1    0    8    3    7
2nd  Q  Holland                         3    1    2    0    3    1    5
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     United States                   3    1    0    2    3    6    3
4th     Republic of Ireland             3    0    1    2    0    4    1

 

GROUP E

10 June [Gelsenkirchen]

Mexico - 2 (Juan Pablo Rodríguez 57, Carlos Ochoa 69)

Bahrain - 0 (Talal Yousef Mohamed s/off58)

 

10 June [Berlin]

England - 4 (Tommy Smith 35,43,90, David Beckham 45)

Switzerland - 1 (Johann Vogel 19)

 

17 June [Hamburg]

Switzerland - 0

Mexico - 0

 

17 June [Frankfurt]

Bahrain - 0

England - 5 (Steven Gerrard 19, Michael Owen 28,47,pen50, Tommy Smith 59)

 

22 June [München]

England - 2 (Michael Owen 49,57)

Mexico - 0

 

22 June [Stuttgart]

Switzerland - 3 (Blaise Nkufo 9, Léonard Thurre 15, Fabio Celestini 18)

Bahrain - 1 (Husain Pele 62)

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  England                         3    3    0    0    11   1    9
2nd  Q  Mexico                          3    1    1    1    2    2    4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Switzerland                     3    1    1    1    4    5    4
4th     Bahrain                         3    0    0    3    1    10   0

 

GROUP F

11 June [Stuttgart]

Colombia - 0

Tunisia - 1 (Nabil Taïder pen53)

 

12 June [München]

Wales - 1 (John Hartson 55)

Spain - 1 (Javi Moreno s/off10, Joaquín 28)

 

18 June [Nürnberg]

Tunisia - 1 (Nabil Taïder 66)

Wales - 4 (Robert Earnshaw 27,55, Ryan Giggs 30, John Hartson 75)

 

18 June [Gelsenkirchen]

Spain - 1 (Iker Casillas s/off63)

Colombia - 1 (David Arturo Ferreira pen64)

 

22 June [Hannover]

Colombia - 0

Wales - 2 (John Hartson 28,42)

 

22 June [Dortmund]

Tunisia - 0

Spain - 1 (Capi 59)

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  Wales                           3    2    1    0    7    2    7
2nd  Q  Spain                           3    1    1    1    2    2    4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Tunisia                         3    1    0    2    2    5    3
4th     Colombia                        3    1    0    2    1    3    3

 

GROUP G

12 June [Frankfurt]

Brazil - 1 (Amoroso 18)

Serbia & Montenegro - 2 (Dejan Stankovic 78, Mateja Kezman 89)

 

12 June [Gelsenkirchen]

Costa Rica - 3 (Winston Parks 32,58, Gilberto Martínez 68)

Peru - 0

 

19 June [Hannover]

Serbia & Montenegro - 1 (Mateja Kezman 32)

Costa Rica - 1 (Gerald Drummond 19)

 

19 June [Düsseldorf]

Peru - 0

Brazil - 3 (Adriano 55, Roberto Carlos 76, Guilherme 86)

 

23 June [Berlin]

Brazil - 2 (Adriano pen13, Júlio Baptista 83)

Costa Rica - 0

 

23 June [Nürnberg]

Serbia & Montenegro - 1 (Mateja Kezman pen51)

Peru - 3 (Gianfranco Labarthe 21,39, George Forsyth s/off50, Juan Carlos Aponte pen59)

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  Brazil                          3    2    0    1    6    2    6
2nd  Q  Costa Rica                      3    1    1    1    4    3    4
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Serbia & Montenegro             3    1    1    1    4    5    4
4th     Peru                            3    1    0    2    3    7    3

 

GROUP H

11 June [Düsseldorf]

Iraq - 0

Egypt - 4 (Tarek El-Saïd 3, Mido 12,13, Hady Khashaba 22)

 

11 June [Nürnberg]

Czech Republic - 1 (Vratislav Lokvenc 74)

Argentina - 2 (Ariel Ortega 5, Hernán Jorge Crespo 77)

 

17 June [Dortmund]

Egypt - 2 (Ahmed Hassan 45, Hady Khashaba 62)

Czech Republic - 1 (Ivo Ulich 51)

 

18 June [München]

Argentina - 6 (Ariel Ortega 1, Marcelo Gallardo 22, Juan Sebastián Verón 32, Hernán Jorge Crespo 40,66,71)

Iraq - 0

 

23 June [Gelsenkirchen]

Egypt - 0

Argentina - 2 (Ariel Ortega 45, Fernando Pandolfi 90)

 

23 June [Hamburg]

Iraq - 1 (Ahmed Salah 23)

Czech Republic - 4 (Pavel Nedved 22, Ivo Ulich 26, Jan Koller 28,44)

 

Pos     Team                            Pld  Won  Drn  Lst  For  Ag   Pts
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
1st  Q  Argentina                       3    3    0    0    10   1    9
2nd  Q  Egypt                           3    2    0    1    6    3    6
--------------------------------------------------------------------------
3rd     Czech Republic                  3    1    0    2    6    5    3
4th     Iraq                            3    0    0    3    1    14   0

 

ROUND 2

24 June [Frankfurt]

Italy - 3 (Filippo Inzaghi 28, Davide Possanzini 41,78)

Portugal - 1 (Cristiano Ronaldo 23)

 

24 June [Dortmund]

Greece - 2 (Nikos Machlas 12, Michalis Kapsis 27)

Ghana - 1 (Isaac Boakye 5)

 

25 June [Berlin]

Argentina - 2 (Ariel Ortega 5, Juan Sebastián Verón 44)

Costa Rica - 1 (Walter Centeno 19)

 

25 June [Gelsenkirchen]

England - 3 (Michael Bridges 19,47, Frank Lampard 60)

Spain - 0

 

26 June [Hamburg]

Germany - 0

Holland - 3 (Wilfred Bouma 2,27, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink 64)

 

26 June [Köln]

France - 2 (Anthony Reveillère 36, Ifeanyi Udeze og58)

Nigeria - 1 (Yakubu Aiyegbeni 50)

 

27 June [Stuttgart]

Brazil - 1 (Adriano 20)

Egypt - 5 (Mohamed Abou-Trika 11,79, Mido 21,35, Ahmed Hassan 55)

 

27 June [Düsseldorf]

Wales - 2 (Daniel Gabbidon 2, Arron Davies 66)

Mexico - 2 (Antonio de Nigris 61,90)

[after extra-time, Wales win 6-5 on penalties]

 

QUARTER FINALS

30 June [Nürnberg]

England - 0

Argentina - 1 (Hernán Jorge Crespo 90)

 

30 June [Berlin]

Italy - 1 (Simone Inzaghi 16)

Greece - 2 (Stelios Giannakopoulos pen7, Nikos Machlas pen68)

 

1 July [München]

Wales - 3 (Arron Davies 40, Simon Davies 53, Jason Koumas 103)

Egypt - 2 (Mido 28,37)

[after extra-time]

 

1 July [Frankfurt]

France - 2 (David Trezeguet 18, Djibril Cissé 90)

Holland - 1 (Ruud van Nistelrooy 54)

 

SEMI FINALS

4 July [Frankfurt]

Greece - 1 (Giorgos Karagounis 72)

Argentina - 5 (Ariel Ortega 17,57, Lucho González 55,75, Fernando Pandolfi 84)

 

5 July [Berlin]

France - 3 (David Trezeguet 17,47, Djibril Cissé 76)

Wales - 0

 

3RD-PLACE PLAY-OFF

8 July [Dortmund]

Wales - 0

Greece - 2 (Zissis Vryzas 27, Nikos Liberopoulos 64)

 

FINAL

9 July [Berlin]

France - 0

Argentina - 1 (Patrice Evra og5, Martín Demichelis s/off46)

FRANCE (4-4-2): Sebastien Frey; Anthony Reveillère; Lilian Thuram (Sidney Govou), William Gallas, Patrice Evra; Ludovic Giuly (Tony Vairelles), Patrick Vieira [C], Olivier Dacourt, Laurent Robert; Djibril Cissé (Jean-Alain Boumsong), David Trezeguet.

ARGENTINA (3-5-2 Sweeper): Franco Costanzo; Roberto Fabián Ayala [C], Martín Demichelis, Facundo Quiroga; Javier Zanetti, Juan Pablo Sorín; Lucho González (Fernando Pandolfi), Marcelo Gallardo (Kily González); Juan Sebastián Verón; Ariel Ortega, Hernán Jorge Crespo (Claudio López). BOOKED: Demichelis. SENT OFF: Demichelis.

 

Top Goalscorer - Mido (Egypt), Ariel Ortega (Argentina): 6.

Most Assists - Hernán Jorge Crespo (Argentina), Ronaldinho (Brazil): 4.

Highest Average Rating (at least 4 matches) - Ariel Ortega (Argentina): 8.71.

Edited by CFuller
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  • 3 weeks later...

JULY 2006

When the Dagenham & Redbridge players reconvened for pre-season training in July, I could sense that many of them had an extra spring in their steps. Barely three years after we were playing in the Conference, there was clearly much excitement about our forthcoming Division 1 debut.

 

Naturally, the odds were stacked against us staying up after securing consecutive promotions to Division 3 - but we had already spent half a decade shattering all expectations. There was no reason to believe we couldn't do that again, especially after making some quality signings early in the summer.

 

Three of our four signings so far had been in defence, with ex-Watford youngster Simon Bell and Spanish star David Navarro beefing up our centre-back options, and Paul Mitchell adding some right-back depth. We'd also recruited the experienced Luke Beckett to give us some additional firepower.

 

I was still looking for a tough-tackling midfielder to help protect the Daggers defence. Our shakiness could have cost us promotion from Division 2 last season if Craig Winter and Benjani Mwaruwari hadn't been in such hot scoring form.

 

Speaking of Benjani, it sadly looked like our success last season wasn't enough to persuade him to stay at Victoria Road for the long-term. The Zimbabwean striker wasn't willing to withdraw the transfer request he'd submitted last year, which was a worry seeing as his contract only had 12 months left to run. That left me with a huge dilemma - should I sell Benjani now, or risk losing him on a free next year?

 

One Dagger who remained committed to the cause was 20-year-old midfielder Ryan Carter. Ryan had been a first-team regular for nearly four seasons now, and though his form last term hadn't been spectacular (2 goals, 4 assists, 6.83 average rating), I still believed his best years were still to come. I offered Carter a new three-year contract, which he gladly signed.

 

The future didn't look so bright for left-back Peter Hawkins or midfielder Des Hamilton. Despite playing big roles in our promotion from Division 3 a couple of seasons back, they both struggled in Division 2, so I sure as hell wasn't going to trust them. They were both made available for transfer, and I was also open to selling centre-half Shaun Maher after the arrivals of Bell and Navarro.

 

Anyway... let's get into some action, shall we? Our annual pre-season training camp took us back to Ireland, for the first time since the heavy-drinking debacle that was Galway 2003. Keen to avoid a repeat, we instead visited a city with absolutely no links to alcohol whatsoever - Cork.

 

Our first match was against a local semi-professional club called Casement Celtic, who were founded in 1970 by a bloke called (and I'm not making this up) Paddy Power. Not that one, obviously. At least I hope not. Our players really don't need another addiction.

 

18 JULY 2006: Casement Celtic vs Dagenham & Redbridge

This match was almost enough to make a staunch teetotaler like me turn to drink. David Folan gave Casement a shock lead 39 minutes into a scrappy contest, scoring from a retaken free-kick after Robert Green had saved his first effort. Benjani Mwaruwari levelled just before half-time, but our relief was short-lived. Midway through the second half, striker Matthias O'Malley restored Celtic's lead, which they held onto after some staunch defending late on. For God's sake...

 

Casement Celtic - 2 (Folan 39, O'Malley 66)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Mwaruwari 45)

Friendly, Attendance 1,937

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green (Pollitt); Mitchell (Hawkins), Bell, Prior (Navarro), Ryan (Mayo); Carter (Weekes), Hamilton (Graham), M Jones (McLean); Beckett (Winter); Alsop, Mwaruwari (Griffiths). BOOKED: Prior.

 

What is it about part-time teams that always brings out the worst in us? If this is the form we take into the Division 1 season, then God help us!

 

Spencer Prior had let me down so badly there that I put him on the transfer list and sent him on the next plane straight back to England. Benjani Mwaruwari and Alan McLean also went home early, after their pre-seasons were cut very short by groin and calf injuries respectively. Fan-bloody-tastic.

 

Our next match was against Cobh Ramblers. If their name sounds familiar, it's because Roy Keane started his senior career there in 1989, before going on to win the Treble with Manchester United a decade later. More recently, he was the manager who took Barnsley down to Division 3 last season. I've got a funny story about Barnsley, actually...

 

22 JULY 2006: Cobh Ramblers vs Dagenham & Redbridge

We made a much brighter start to this match than the last one, with midfielder Nick Weekes scoring from a Kerry Mayo free-kick after just seven minutes. That opener would actually be the only goal of a one-sided game. Chris Griffiths and Luke Beckett each had a couple of shots saved by Cobh's impressive goalkeeper Jimmy Fyffe, whose team-mates hardly threatened us at the other end. It wasn't pretty, but at least we'd got the win.

 

Cobh Ramblers - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Weekes 7)

Friendly, Attendance 1,106

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Green (Pollitt); Navarro, Matthews, Bell (Maher); Mitchell (Walsh), Mayo (Ryan); Graham, Hamilton (Warren (Carter)), Weekes (Winter); Alsop (Beckett), Griffiths (Devine). BOOKED: Walsh.

 

...now, what was that funny story about Barnsley? Oh yeah, that's right. We've been drawn against them in Round 1 of the League Cup! I'm sure Roy Keane will have a few crackers to tell when we meet up again next month.

 

For the last leg of our Irish tour, we were supposed to be playing Cork City - but they pulled out a week before the game, citing some silly excuse about having to play some Estonian club in the Champions League. Seriously, what kind of name is Flora Tallinn - is that some kind of Eastern European margarine spread?

 

Thankfully, Cork's league rivals Waterford stepped forward at the last minute and offered us a game instead. This match would see 24-year-old midfielder James Williams make his Daggers debut, having arrived on a four-month loan from Southampton. We also welcomed back our record scorer Junior McDougald, nearly seven months after he broke his leg.

 

26 JULY 2006: Waterford United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Though Junior McDougald didn't score from his comeback, we weren't short of goals. 18-year-old midfielder Mark Jones opened the deadlock with a sublime solo goal after 13 minutes, and we went from strength to strength in the second period. James Williams got a debut assist when his 59th-minute corner was headed home by fellow newcomer Simon Bell, and Nick Weekes' late brace completed a resounding 4-0 victory.

 

Waterford United - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (M Jones 13, Bell 59, Weekes 70,77)

Friendly, Attendance 2,387

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Pollitt (Green); Navarro, Maher (Matthews), Bell; Hawkins (Walsh), Mayo (Ryan); M Jones (Weekes), Williams (Winter), Hamilton (Graham); Beckett (Alsop), McDougald (Ferry).

 

With our Irish journey ending on a high note, we then made a triumphant homecoming at a newly-expanded Victoria Road. Our opponents were Joe Royle's Crystal Palace, who had finished 12th on their first season back in the Premiership last term.

 

29 JULY 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Crystal Palace

Our usually reliable goalkeeper Robert Green had a nightmare in the 11th minute. Green spilt a shot from Palace defender David Partridge into the path of midfielder Jamie McClen, who thundered it home. Though Luke Beckett restored parity within four minutes, the Eagles' tricky winger Julian Gray would put them back ahead before the interval.

 

We pushed forward in the second half to try and get back level, but despite our best efforts, Crystal Palace's greater quality would prove telling. A counter-attack in the 62nd minute ended with Mark Smith's cross providing an assist for another young winger in Michael Marsh. The Joe Royle family came away with the spoils, and I wanted to kick my defenders up the ar-[REDACTED].

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Beckett 15)

Crystal Palace - 3 (McClen 11, Gray 36, Marsh 63)

Friendly, Attendance 1,542

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Green (Pollitt); Navarro, Maher (Bell), Matthews; Mitchell (Walsh), Mayo (Ryan); Warren (Weekes), William (Graham), Hamilton (Winter); Beckett (Alsop), McDougald (Griffiths).

 

Another typical Daggers defensive disaster. Yeah, I’m sure our first ever season in Division 1 will go brilliantly...

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ELSEWHERE IN FOOTBALL...

  • As England fly home from the World Cup after a 90th-minute Quarter Final defeat to Argentina, neighbours Wales defeat Egypt in extra-time to reach their first ever Semi Final. Unfortunately, they are overwhelmed by France in the Semi Final and then miss out on 3rd place to Greece, who previously knocked out holders Italy. Nonetheless, the Red Dragons receive a heroes' welcome upon their return to Cardiff.
  • The Final sees France face Argentina in Berlin's Olympiastadion. A 5th-minute own goal from Arsenal left-back Patrice Evra gives Argentina a narrow lead, which they hold onto after surviving a wave of French attacks and a second-half red card for defender Martín Demichelis. The Albiceleste lift their third World Cup despite not having a single shot on target in the Final - a true managerial masterclass from Marcelo Bielsa!
  • A couple of Argentina's World Cup winners swiftly move on to new clubs. Golden Ball winner Ariel Ortega completes a £6.5million move to Bayern München after just one year at Inter, who sign his midfield compatriot Marcelo Gallardo from Porto for £8.5million. England defender Sol Campbell also shacks up at the San Siro, joining Milan in an £11.25million deal from Real Madrid.
  • Rudi Völler is sacked as Germany manager after a humiliating tournament on home soil, where Holland chewed them up and spat them out in Round 2. Lille boss Christoph Daum takes over the Mannschaft reins after leaving the Ligue 1 champions, who replace him with another German coach named... er, Rudi Völler.
  • After six difficult years at Paris Saint-Germain, France's enfant terrible Nicolas Anelka returns to the Premiership and joins Leeds for £4.8million. Monaco left-back Eric Abidal is a £9.25million signing for 'noveau riche' Chelsea, who also appoint 35-year-old Alan Shearer as a player-coach after his exit from Aston Villa.

 

IN OTHER NEWS...

  • At the G8 summit in St Petersburg, US President George W Bush greets the British Prime Minister, "Yo, Blair!" Sadly, there is no recorded footage of Bush's salutations to other world leaders, such as "Wassup, Merkel," or "Howdy, Putin," or "Smell ya later, Chirac".
  • After 42 years, the BBC airs the last regular edition of "Top of the Pops". Colombian pop señorita Shakira sings about her honest hips on ToTP's final chart-topper... but viewers are too busy wondering if one of the show's presenters has been lying about his past.
  • Cinema buffs flock to watch "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" - the second film in the swashbuckling franchise, starring Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. It will gross over $1billion worldwide in just 63 days, setting a new record. Better luck next time, James Cameron.
  • After seven years of domination by an American cyclist who insists he has never doped, the Tour de France's yellow jersey is won by... another American cyclist who insists he has never doped. Spaniard Óscar Pereiro finishes less than a minute behind Floyd Landis in one of the closest finishes in the tour’s history.
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Dagenham & Redbridge squad - Start of 2006/2007 season

 

GOALKEEPERS

1. Robert Green - GK, age 26, English

Determined shotstopper Green played a big role for us initially arriving on loan from Millwall. Now a full-time Dagger, his agility and catching skills will be even more crucial.

 

13. Mike Pollitt - GK, age 34, English

Pollitt's experience isn't used much on the pitch these days, but he's still a decent backup. He remains a sprightly presence in the sticks despite his advancing years.

 

24. Andy Woodman - GK, age 34, English

Woodman is our third-choice goalkeeper, in the third and final year of his contract. If you ever see him playing for us again, something terrible has happened.

 

DEFENDERS

2. Michael Walsh - D RC, age 28, English

Walsh joined us from Port Vale last December and has been a pretty solid right-back for us. He's an aggressive tackler with good positional awareness, though he can be erratic.

 

3. Peter Hawkins - D RL, age 27, English

Full-back Hawkins has now been part of two promotion-winning teams. Sadly, I'm not sure he has the consistency or technical ability to hack it in Division 1.

 

5. Lee Matthews - D C, age 33, English

If I could trust any player with my life, it would be captain Matthews. The powerful centre-half made a glorious return to Victoria Road last year and was better than ever.

 

6. David Navarro - D C, age 26, Spanish

Former Valencia reserve Navarro is a fearless defensive stopper who also has a surprising talent for set-pieces. He should be an excellent signing once he settles down.

 

11. Kerry Mayo - D/DM L, age 28, English

Mayo is our longest-serving wing-back, having signed from Cheltenham in 2003. While not a fantastic defensive player, his crossing ability makes him a useful weapon at set-pieces.

 

12. Paul Mitchell - D/DM R, age 24, English

Formerly of Wigan, Mitchell is one of the newest additions to the team. A selfless and determined right-back, I am certain he will have a long and successful career at Victoria Road.

 

15. Shaun Maher - SW/D C, age 28, Irish

Adept with both feet and almost unbeatable in the air, Maher is a quality lower-league defender. I wouldn't put it past him to be a success in Division 1 either.

 

17. Robbie Ryan - D L, age 29, Irish

Ryan is a brave left-back who's confident on the ball and quick out of the blocks. He already knows all about Division 1 from his previous spells at Millwall and Hull.

 

19. Simon Bell - D C, age 21, English

I'm looking forward to watching Bell's development over the coming season. The former Watford youngster is great at heading and shows tactical knowledge beyond his years.

 

26. Spencer Prior - D C, age 35, English

Ex-Premiership stalwart Prior was a semi-regular last season but is no longer needed after our promotion. Though he's still got good technique, his lack of pace is a serious concern.

 

MIDFIELDERS

4. James Williams - SW/DM RC, age 24, English

Southampton loanee Williams will be with us until mid-November. The tireless box-to-box midfielder has great defensive capabilities, and his passing ability is pinpoint.

 

7. Mark Janney - M R, age 28, English

This is Janney's 10th season at Dagenham, and it will be his last. The popular pacey right-winger played just four times last season and is now merely a mentor for our younger players.

 

14. Ryan Carter - M C, age 20, English

Carter has now shown his playmaking abilities in over 100 league games for the Daggers. The talented youngster will continue to work hard to justify his new and improved contract.

 

18. Craig Winter - AM/F C, age 30, Scottish

Winter was our undisputed player of the season in 2005/2006. The experienced attacking midfielder was in very prolific form, grabbing 24 goals and 9 assists.

 

20. Nick Weekes - M C, age 24, English

I doubt Weekes has any regrets about turning his back on cricket now. The pass master got nine assists last term, though his creativity has slowed a little of late.

 

22. Des Hamilton - M C, age 29, English

Hamilton's days as a Dagger might be numbered. The high-scoring, tough-tackling midfielder was sensational in his first Victoria Road season but mediocre in his second.

 

31. Alan McLean - DM C, age 20, Scottish

Last season saw McLean make his breakthrough as a first-teamer. He has shown great passing vision at times, but still needs to work on his more defensive abilities.

 

34. Paul Graham - SW/DM C, age 20, Scottish

Brave holding midfielder Graham has shown glimpses of his potential but needs regular first-team action. If I can find a club who'll take him on loan, that would be great.

 

FORWARDS

8. Benjani Mwaruwari - S C, age 28, Zimbabwean [33 caps, 8 goals]

Mwaruwari scored 20 goals last term to fire us to another promotion. However, the pacey international striker still has his hearts set on a transfer and may move on very soon.

 

9. Junior McDougald - S C, age 31, American

Record scorer McDougald was blighted by injuries last season, but still scored 5 goals in 11 games. The Texan poacher is now happy to settle for a bit-part role at Victoria Road.

 

10. Julian Alsop - S C, age 33, English

Alsop actually got more assists than goals last season as his firepower diminished in Division 2. I fear that Division 1 might be a step too far for the burly target man.

 

16. Sean Devine - S C, age 33, Irish [capped at B level]

I'm amazed nobody has taken Devine off us. While his services are no longer needed here, I thought there would be more demand for a clinical lower-league striker.

 

23. Chris Griffiths - S C, age 20, Welsh

Griffiths is a talented forward with pace and power, but consistency has always been an issue. He might need another loan spell to take his game to the next level.

 

25. Luke Beckett - S C, age 29, English

I've got high hopes that ex-Blackburn star Beckett will quickly become our new main man up front. He's strong, smart, energetic and - most importantly - a classy finisher.

 

RESERVES

DEFENDER: Declan Brady (18)

MIDFIELDERS: Alan Jones (18), Mark Jones (18), John Powell (19), Simon Warren (16), Alex Wood (20)

FORWARDS: Paul Ferry (17), Bob Fowler (19), John McGlynn (19)

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AUGUST 2006

You may remember that in our last friendly, we lost to a team from Selhurst Park. As it so happened, our next one was at Selhurst Park - against Crystal Palace's tenants. Wimbledon had fallen on hard times since dropping out of the Premiership in 2000 and now found themselves struggling in Division 3.

 

1 AUGUST 2006: Wimbledon vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Wimbledon might have had Nigel Reo-Coker, but we danced the conga through their midfield before Craig Winter put his black laces into a lethal shot in the third minute. Had either Junior McDougald or Julian Alsop been more clinical with their chances later on, we might have left South London with more than that. Thankfully, the dismal Dons didn't have it in them to punish our profligacy, and we notched up a narrow 1-0 win.

 

Wimbledon - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Winter 3)

Friendly, Attendance 2,067

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Pollitt; Hawkins, Navarro (Maher), Matthews, Ryan (Mayo); Weekes (Hamilton), Williams (Warren), Graham (M Jones); Winter; Alsop (Beckett), McDougald (Devine). BOOKED: Warren.

 

A few years ago, avoiding defeat against Wimbledon would have been a huge result. Now, only beating the Dons by a single goal was a cause for concern. We had got away with wasting so many scoring opportunities - but against tougher opponents, we would surely not be so fortunate. Take the Crystal Palace defeat, for example.

 

Perhaps we would have better luck against another low-end Premiership side? Southampton finished 16th in last season's top-flight, and they paid us a visit a week before the new league campaign got underway.

 

5 AUGUST 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Southampton

I'm afraid that some sinful Daggers defending sent the Saints into first-half heaven. Firstly, we were unable to clear Philip Mulryne's 12th-minute cross out of danger before Latvian hotshot Marian Pahars fired it home. We were then tormented by Norwegian attacking midfielder Trond Fredrik Ludvigsen, whose double left us staring at a 3-0 deficit.

 

Nick Weekes did salvage some pride just before the break, pouncing on Des Hamilton's corner to score his FOURTH goal of pre-season (the rest of our squad had scored FIVE between them). We then went through a major half-time reshuffle, which at least prevented another Southampton blowout in the second half. We also finished with more possession than Lennie Lawrence's visitors... as if that mattered after such a weak performance.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Weekes 45)

Southampton - 3 (Pahars 12, Ludvigsen 29,33)

Friendly, Attendance 1,429

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green (Pollitt); Walsh (Mitchell), Bell (Navarro), Matthews, Ryan (Mayo); Weekes (Carter), Hamilton (McLean), Graham (Williams); Winter; Beckett (Alsop), McDougald (Griffiths).

 

Christ, that's not a good sign at all. After such an erratic pre-season campaign, it already looked like we would be in for a world of pain in Division 1. If we were to have any chance of staying up, we needed to bring in reinforcements - quickly.

 

First in was a new striker with plenty of second-tier experience. The man I went for was 28-year-old Isaiah Rankin, who signed from Barnsley for £140,000. Rankin was very quick, determined, hard-working, and a clinical finisher on his day. In other words... Izzy's whizzy, let's get busy!

 

Joining him at Victoria Road - in a £250,000 deal from Chesterfield - was Simon Rusk. The former Scotland Under-18s international, now 24, was a defensive-minded box-to-box midfielder with marvellous technique and a bit of a hot streak.

 

To complete our signing spree, we also recruited Irish youngster Michael Foley-Sheridan on a free transfer after his release by Liverpool. Michael was a well-rounded creative playmaker who had been on my radar for a few years now. Though primarily an attacking midfielder, the 23-year-old can also play on the left wing.

 

Rankin and Rusk went straight into the starting line-up - and Foley-Sheridan was named on the bench - when we made our Division 1 debut on 12 August 2006. I expected a baptism of fire at Victoria Road against our opening-day opponents Notts County, who surely wanted to prove a point after we comfortably beat them in the League Cup last season.

 

12 AUGUST 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Notts County

Unfortunately, pressures of playing at a higher level got to two of our players early on. Shortly after Robbie Ryan was booked for tripping Notts County captain Alan Navarro close to our penalty area, attacking midfielder Craig Winter hacked down their midfield general Andy Johnson in the box. Winter was shown the red card, and Johnson's penalty sent the Magpies 1-0 up after just 11 minutes.

 

Just six minutes later, though, one of our new strikers repaired the damage. Luke Beckett was thwarted by a firm tackle from County midfielder Steve Lomas, but Isaiah Rankin was first to the loose ball, which he thundered right into the top corner. Rankin's rocket had drawn us level...

 

...until the 29th minute, when County dealt us another blow. Daggers goalkeeper Robert Green was beaten by a powerful 20-yard strike from Aussie-Italian middleman Anthony Magnacca. Despite some brave second-half defending from captain Lee Matthews, we couldn't conjure up a second equaliser after the break, and so our Division 1 bow ended in defeat.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Rankin 17)

Notts County - 2 (Johnson pen11, Magnacca 29)

Division 1, Attendance 7,967 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 19th, Notts County 5th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Mitchell, Matthews, Maher, Ryan (Mayo); Weekes (Foley-Sheridan), Rusk, Williams; Winter; Beckett (McDougald), Rankin. BOOKED: Ryan. SENT OFF: Winter.

 

Yeah... looks like we're in for a struggle.

 

Craig Winter was given a three-match ban for his early moment of madness. Of course, suspensions don't start until two weeks after the fact, but I still dropped him for our trip to Millwall the following weekend. Spanish defender David Navarro made his league debut as part of a back three with Lee Matthews and Shaun Maher.

 

19 AUGUST 2006: Millwall vs Dagenham & Redbridge

We faced a swarm of Millwall attacks in the first half-hour, and somehow managed to survive intact. We got a huge let-off in the 10th minute, when Steven Reid's headed finish was chalked off for an offside against his Lions team-mate Phil Stamp. However, we tightened up after that, and goalkeeper Robert Green looked in great form against his previous club...

 

...or at least he did to begin with. Peruvian wing-back Martín Hidalgo finally got the better of him in the 35th minute, after which Millwall took complete control. Stamp made it 2-0 just five minutes later after heading in a cross from Sweden international Christoffer Andersson, who provided the assists for both goals.

 

With that double salvo, our spirit was broken. It really was a day to forget for our attacking players - particularly Isaiah Rankin, whose shooting was lacklustre to say the least. In midfield, Simon Rusk missed a string of tackles that allowed Millwall to dominate and see the match out comfortably.

 

Millwall - 2 (Hidalgo 35, Stamp 40)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Division 1, Attendance 15,660 - POSITIONS: Millwall 7th, Dag & Red 20th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (3-5-2): Green; Navarro, Matthews, Maher; Mitchell (Walsh), Mayo; McLean (Carter), Rusk, Williams; Beckett (Alsop), Rankin. BOOKED: Rusk.

 

After the match, I sent young striker Chris Griffiths on loan to Connah's Quay for the season. It is Chris' third loan spell in the Welsh Premier League, and I really hope it's the one that turns him into a consistent finisher.

 

We then played host to Division 3 side Barnsley in a midweek League Cup Round 1 tie. I just wanted us to get a win on the board no matter what it could, so I fielded a strong team which included the fit-again Benjani Mwaruwari.

 

22 AUGUST 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Barnsley

Luke Beckett started his career as a youth player at Barnsley, so it seemed apt that he should break the deadlock after just six minutes. Having been played through superbly by Ryan Carter, the experienced striker glided through the Tykes midfield before slipping a cool shot past keeper Alan Miller.

 

Carter got himself another assist in the 24th minute, when Simon Rusk - another of our summer signings - volleyed the young playmaker's flick-on into the net. 13 minutes later, Michael Foley-Sheridan made it a hat-trick of first-time Daggers scorers, finishing off a flowing passing move to give us a commanding 3-0 lead.

 

There were no more goals in the second half, when our focus turned to killing the tie off and booking our place in the next round. Barnsley did get a couple of shots on target, but neither of them gave Robert Green too much to worry about. Come full-time, Tykes boss Roy Keane could only hold his hands up and wish us the best of luck in Round 2.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Beckett 6, Rusk 24, Foley-Sheridan 37)

Barnsley - 0

League Cup Round 1, Attendance 2,523

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Mitchell (Walsh), Navarro, Matthews, Ryan; Williams, Rusk, Carter; Foley-Sheridan (Winter); Beckett, Mwaruwari (McDougald).

 

The Round 2 draw gave us another home tie against lower-tier opposition. This time around, we would play a high-scoring Swindon side who had made a decent start to their Division 2 campaign.

 

James Williams would not play in that match - or any of our future matches. After just three outings for the Daggers, the on-loan Southampton midfielder was signed permanently by Stoke for £975,000. While we had the funds to buy Williams, I wasn't prepared to spend so much money on a player whose early performances hadn't exactly caught fire, so I reluctantly let him go.

 

So we now had a midfield vacancy - and I decided to fill it with another loanee. 24-year-old John-Joseph Melligan was a flamboyant Irish right-winger who joined us on loan from Wolves until Christmas.

 

Our new arrival made his debut from the start when we hosted Alan Curbishley's Charlton, who were relegated from the Premiership last season. I went back to the good ol' 4-4-2 formation for this match, with JJ on the right wing and his compatriot Foley-Sheridan on the left.

 

26 AUGUST 2006: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Charlton Athletic

The first 20 minutes or so of this match were an absolute car crash. The carnage began after four minutes, when Robert Green carelessly brought down Charlton's teenage attacking midfielder Andy Brown in the penalty area. Green escaped with just a yellow card, but he couldn't keep out Darren Huckerby's spot-kick, which immediately put us on the back foot.

 

A couple more Addicks midfielders then wreaked further havoc on us. Alan Pouton put his head on Neil Barrett's 12th-minute cross to double the visitors' advantage, which Scotland star Allan Johnston built on five minutes later. Having already watched my team fall 3-0 behind, drastic action needed to be taken.

 

The 4-4-2 experiment was a complete failure, with Charlton having free rein of the midfield. I moved our two Irish wingers inside and dropped Simon Rusk into an anchoring role, turning the tactic into a 4-3-1-2, while also bringing on right-back Michael Walsh to replace the hapless Paul Mitchell. Left-back Kerry Mayo was having a much better time of things, with his assist for Luke Beckett five minutes later giving us a goal back.

 

Another major change midway through the second half also paid dividends. Benjani Mwaruwari was replaced up front with Isaiah Rankin, who was on the pitch for only a few second before he headed in David Navarro's free-kick. That pulled us back to 3-2, and though Beckett tried to complete the comeback in stoppage time, a magnificent save by Athletic keeper Kostas Chalkias sadly denied us a point.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Beckett 22, Rankin 73)

Charlton Athletic - 3 (Huckerby pen4, Pouton 12, Johnston 17)

Division 1, Attendance 7,966 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 24th, Charlton 2nd

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-4-2): Green; Mitchell (Walsh), Navarro, Matthews, Mayo; Melligan, Carter, Rusk, Foley-Sheridan (McLean); Beckett, Mwaruwari (Rankin). BOOKED: Green, Rusk, Mwaruwari, Matthews.

 

Another defeat saw us plummet to the bottom of Division 1... but our response to falling 3-0 behind gave me hope.

 

Next up was a Bank Holiday Monday match at fellow promotees Port Vale. It had only been three-and-a-half months since we last faced the Valiants in a Division 2 automatic promotion decider. We came from behind to win, though of course, Vale still went up via the play-offs.

 

28 AUGUST 2006: Port Vale vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Port Vale had themselves taken time to adjust to Division 1 football before beating Nottingham Forest in their third match. Their heightened confidence was clear from the start, as they had three shots on target in the first eight minutes. Captain Ian Armstrong and wing-back Wayne Corden were each denied by Robert Green before teenage midfielder Tom Laws made the breakthrough with his first senior goal.

 

Six minutes later, Vale were 2-0 to the good, as veteran winger Jimmy Crawford struck from an Emmerson Boyce cross. That marked the end of a disastrous cameo for the Daggers' holding midfielder Simon Rusk, as I brought him off to give Des Hamilton his first outing of the season. Des helped calm our nerves before David Navarro pulled one goal back in the 33rd minute, heading in a corner from Michael Foley-Sheridan.

 

We almost got back level in the first minute of the second half, but Foley-Sheridan drove a hopeful shot just over the bar. MFS' miss would come back to haunt us just moments later, as Matthew Spring sliced our defence open to set up a third Vale goal, with Armstrong restoring their two-goal cushion.

 

Just before the hour mark, our front two combined to give us fresh hopes. Isaiah Rankin's cross was volleyed by Luke Beckett, who saw his intial shot saved by Chris Stringer before scoring the follow-up. Sadly, our attack fizzled out in the final 30 minutes, and so we again found ourselves on the wrong end of a 3-2 scoreline.

 

Port Vale - 3 (Laws 8, Crawford 14, Armstrong 47)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Navarro 33, Beckett 59)

Division 1, Attendance 11,486 - POSITIONS: Port Vale 10th, Dag & Red 24th

DAG & RED LINE-UP (4-3-1-2): Green; Walsh, Navarro, Matthews, Mayo (Ryan); Carter, Rusk (Hamilton), McLean; Foley-Sheridan; Beckett, Rankin. BOOKED: Rusk.

 

Four games, four defeats. Rock bottom of Division 1. That's what I call a baptism of fire.

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