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    Football Manager storyteller from Romford, Essex

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    Dagenham & Redbridge / Norway (FM13)

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  1. MAY 2034 May saw a quartet of Dagenham & Redbridge return from their three-month secondments. Tristan Egueh, Rocco Mazzola and Carl Quinn had all helped Leighton Town to reach the play-offs in League Two. Sadly, Zola Casey couldn't quite achieve that with Bolton Wanderers, who fell short on the final day of the League One campaign. While they were away, we'd managed to recover from a shaky start to the New Year and reach the Championship Play-Offs. A six-match unbeaten run saw us finish 5th and book a two-legged Semi Final showdown with Sunderland, who - funnily enough - were the last team to inflict defeat on us. We would be at home for Leg 1, and that suited me just fine. Although poor results at Victoria Road had been our downfall in recent seasons, we'd turned that around in this campaign. Our record of 14 wins, 4 draws, and 5 defeats at home was surpassed by only three teams in our division - champions Derby County, 3rd-placed Aston Villa, and Sunderland. One area where the Black Cats clearly had the upper hand on us was up front. Only Derby had scored more goals than them, while Welsh striker Andrew McCarthy had finished the regular campaign with 32 on his own. We would need to be very strong defensively to prevent McCarthy and co from running riot... and we'd have to do so without the cornerstone of our backline. Centre-back George Darvill had almost never been injured in his career, so I really was cursing my luck when he twisted his ankle in training, thus ruling him out of both Semi Final matches. George was now aiming to be back to full fitness in time for the Final - provided we got there, of course. Sunderland also had a couple of injury concerns before they journeyed to Victoria Road. Dave Alcock - our nemesis from our previous meeting with the Mackems - broke his toe in their last regular-season match and wouldn't play again until the next campaign. Captain Douglas Festa was also out of the first leg with a sprained ankle, but manager Jay Spearing hoped to have the Venezuelan defensive midfielder back for the return fixture. 6 May 2034: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Sunderland Worryingly, Brazilian winger Souza twice went close to firing Sunderland in the lead during the opening two minutes. William Barnes had our first scoring opportunity in the third minute, firing a free-kick just over the bar just after his colleague Souleymane Nomaou had been tripped by Black Cats midfielder Tomas Strnad. Will would be our most active player going forward in the first quarter-hour or so. Shortly after pulling a shot wide in the 14th minute, Barnes fired in another effort that ricochet off Sunderland left-back Alun Saunders and headed goalwards. The visitors' stand-in captain Enrique Meza did well to catch the deflected shot and keep the deadlock intact. Our goalkeeper Kieran Whalley made his first save in the 16th minute, catching Wes Franks' header from a Souza cross. Our defence would come under more pressure after young centre-back Adrian Bailey was booked for barging into Sunderland striker Jimmy Morton in the 23rd minute. Franks narrowly cleared the crossbar with a vicious effort about a minute after that foul. Barnes then went through on goal for the Daggers, only to be denied by another fine save from Paraguay international Meza. Captain Will was rather less impressive when he upended Strnad a few moments later, resulting in him picking up our second booking. Our third was issued to left-back Daniel O'Reilly after he barged into Franks on 41 minutes. Although we were struggling to control our discipline, the Mackems hadn't yet managed to exploit that. Bailey and Barnes were replaced with John Moser and Dave Hutchinson for the second half as I tried to lower the risk of us having a player sent off. Sunderland's new manager Jay Spearing also made a major change during the interval. Leading scorer Andrew McCarthy came off the bench and replaced Morton as strike partner to Dave Blake, who had a header tipped behind by Whalley just moments after the restart. Kieran's opposite number was forced into action a minute later, as he held onto Nomaou's strike from just outside the penalty area. Sol would soon get another chance, but not before Hutch was booked after 53 minutes for felling Franks just outside our box. Whalley caught Souza's subsequent free-kick, and we played the ball out of defence before Tom Virgo hoisted it forward to Nomaou. The Nigerien got away from Sunderland's defenders to latch onto Virgo's long ball, and he then tried to turn past Meza before scuffing his drive the wrong side of the post. Fraser then floated a free-kick wide in the 59th minute. In the 67th minute, Mackems midfielder Jakub Pacak received his team's first - and only - yellow card after shoving Hutchinson in the back. Sunderland were starting to look edgy, and Meza had to save them again on 69 minutes, when he clawed away a fierce strike from Nomaou. In the final 20 minutes, though, it was the Black Cats who suffered the greater misfortune. Their rotten luck began when Blake's 73rd-minute header rattled our crossbar. Three minutes later, another header - from Strnad - was heroically volleyed off the line by Moser! Pacak then scooped another shot over the bar on 78 minutes, and Sunderland would have to wait until the last minute of regular time for their next chance. Blake snuck behind our defence and beat Whalley to a deep Saunders cross... but he once again flicked a header against the woodwork! Shortly after that, the visitors' Slovakian right-back Emil Lukac curled in a cross that McCarthy nodded past Kieran... but not before the offside flag was raised against him. Ex-Wales striker McCarthy had one final attempt to break our hearts deep into injury time, when he latched onto Blake's excellent lob and somehow skied it over! Despite looking very nervy late on, we had somehow managed to hold on for a first-leg draw. Dagenham & Redbridge - 0 Sunderland - 0 Championship Play-Off Semi Final Leg 1, Attendance 12,000 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Banton, Radosavljevic, A Bailey (Moser), O'Reilly, Virgo, Barnes (Hutchinson), Fraser, Brkic, Polomat, Nomaou (Honeyball). BOOKED: A Bailey, Barnes, O'Reilly, Hutchinson. I'll tell you what, we really did ride our luck out there... We weren't able to take a lead to the Stadium of Light, then, but that certainly wasn't a disaster. While no team had beaten Sunderland at home in the league since October, our record away from home wasn't exactly terrible. I still had faith in my team. Three days later, we arrived in the north-east for the second leg of our Semi Final. I'd persisted with a 4-4-2 diamond throughout our seven-game unbeaten run, but I put that record on the line by suddenly switching to 5-3-2. Sunderland were likely to be banging at our door throughout this match, so I would be looking for us to catch them by surprise on the break. 9 May 2034: Sunderland vs Dagenham & Redbridge Sunderland piled on some early pressure in the fourth minute. Alun Saunders tried to curl a left-wing cross to young Mackems striker Calum Gordon at the near post, but Daggers defender John Moser hacked the ball behind just in time. After that, the Black Cats rather disrupted their own rhythm by conceding a considerable number of fouls. One foul from Bulgarian centre-back Yordan Kalchkov in the 25th minute would prove especially costly. Kalchkov stopped a Dagenham counter-attack by cynically tripping Joel Honeyball when our striker was virtually through on goal. The away fans cried for a red card... and the referee agreed, as he sent Kalchkov packing! Sunderland were furious at that decision, but when the dust settled a minute later, they were relieved to see the crossbar deflect William Barnes' free-kick away from goal. Following a mini-scramble in the penalty area, Black Cats midfielder Branko Petravic put the ball into touch. Daggers right-back Ross Pearson's throw was nodded towards goal by centre-half Paul Habu, and then Robbie MacKenzie, before Daniel O'Reilly tucked in the finish! Our gameplan changed after that, as we sought to control the match with a 1-0 lead and an extra man. Sunderland unsurprisingly pushed further forward, and tested our goalkeeper Kieran Whalley with a couple of shots in the 34th and 35th minutes. Winger Souza and substitute striker Andrew McCarthy each had efforts saved by Kieran, who was otherwise rather quiet in the first period. Whalley could've been given something else to do when Darren Rand charged towards goal on 39 minutes, but the Mackems middleman was unable to keep his shot on target. The first half ended with an unsuccessful penalty claim from the hosts, who'd tried to argue that a strong tackle from Barnes on Souza in the Daggers area was a foul. It wasn't, though, and we remained 1-0 up as we headed into the dressing room. We re-emerged for the second half looking rather shaky. McCarthy raced past substitute midfielder Dave Hutchinson in the 50th minute, only to blaze a potential Sunderland equaliser over the bar. Five minutes later, a surprise second Dagenham goal - from an even more surprising scorer - was looking likely. Barnes' cross from the right flank deflected off the Black Cats' substitute centre-back Karel Brunclik and fell to Pearson, who could've got his first senior goal with a more composed strike. After that potential chance to increase our lead went down the pan, we went back on the defensive. Wes Franks fizzed a shot just wide for Sunderland in the 62nd minute, while Jimmy Morton's header in the 71st forced Whalley into a save. Whalley's goalkeeping was as solid as it usually was, and his decision-making looked particularly sharp here. Six minutes from full-time, he bravely punched away a Tomas Strnad cross that looked like being headed home by Emil Lukac. To be fair to Kieran, he was helped by some excellent defending, particularly from 19-year-old Habu. As the game was about to enter the 85th minute, Paul showed great composure to head away a long ball from Saunders. That started off a Dagenham counter-attack, during which Pearson and Stipo Brkic each had efforts parried by Mackems goalie Enrique Meza. Ross retook the ball and centred it towards the six-yard box. Robbie MacKenzie diverted the ball into the path of Honeyball, who powered in the goal that would almost certainly take us to Wembley! Even at 2-0 up, though, we could not yet relax. Strnad put the Black Cat amongst the pigeons in the 88th minute, as he retaliated with a close-range strike from a Lukac cross. Sunderland had cut our lead in half and now had the momentum. Lukac would cause us more problems in the 90th minute, when he audaciously attempted to lob Whalley from out wide. The Slovakian succeeded, and the Stadium of Light erupted. However, the ref rushed over to the touchline to consult with his assistant... and he disallowed the goal! It seemed that Morton had impeded on Kieran - a former youth team-mate of his at Manchester City - to prevent him from reaching Lukac's lob. Sunderland's chance to take the game to extra-time had been snatched from them. About three minutes later, the ref blew his final whistle, thus confirming that we were into the Championship Play-Off Final!! Sunderland - 1 (Strnad 88) Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (O'Reilly 27, Honeyball 85) [Dagenham & Redbridge win 2-1 on aggregate] Championship Play-Off Semi Final Leg 2, Attendance 48,707 DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Habu, Moser (Hutchinson), Radosavljevic, Pearson, O'Reilly, Barnes, Fraser, Polomat (Brkic), MacKenzie, Honeyball. WE'RE GOING TO WEMBLEY, BABY!!! Little old Dagenham & Redbridge - a Conference Premier club barely a decade earlier - were now 90 minutes away from the biggest league in the land. Our date with destiny was set for 20 May 2034, but our opponents were still to be decided... 24 hours later, we awaited the outcome of the second-leg match between Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers. The first leg at Ewood Park had ended 1-1, and it was very much advantage Villa when Dougie Gould gave them the lead 24 minutes into the rematch. However, Mick Beresford equalised for Rovers a couple of minutes later, and he struck again in the second half to give the Lancastrians a 2-1 victory. And so Dagenham & Redbridge would meet Blackburn Rovers in the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley. The winners would be promoted to the Premier League, while the losers would be left to stew over what could've been. It was almost time to dig out my best suit.
  2. I signed Danny Drinkwater on a season-long loan from Man Utd for my Millwall team in FM11. He was as adept at scoring long-range screamers as he was at losing his head and getting sent off.
  3. I've been looking back at my Premier League predictions from the start of the season. Long story short: I'm better off sticking to writing about fictional football. City champions? Chelsea a solid 4th? Tottenham only 5th? West Ham in the top six? And Middlesbrough in 12th place? WHAT WAS I THINKING?! Still, at least I didn't say anything like this...
  4. After finishing runners-up in back-to-back seasons, I take home the José Mourinho-sponsored 6th Place Trophy this time. I'll be back next year, with a new Arsenal-based team name, and renewed determination to narrowly fall short of the championship once again.
  5. APRIL 2034 (continued) The Championship season was reaching its crescendo, and a play-off place was within our reach. If we could take four points from our final two matches, which were both at home, then we could safely plan for a Play-Off Semi Final. Because of our excellent goal difference, though, three points would realistically be enough to qualify. Another thing in our favour was that our penultimate game, at home to 3rd-placed Aston Villa, was a late kick-off on Saturday evening. With most of our rivals having played their matches at the usual 3pm kick-off time, we knew exactly what our situation was when the time came to suit up. Sunderland, who were narrowly ahead of us on goal difference, had won their match comfortably. Reading had lost theirs, and thus remained on 73 points with us. Blackburn Rovers also moved up to 73 with a victory, but Notts County suffered a 5-3 defeat to outsiders Plymouth Argyle and remained three points adrift. Those results confirmed that we would effectively secure a play-off spot if we could beat Villa, who were hoping to pip Rochdale to that second automatic promotion spot behind Derby County. If we drew, we'd have a single-point lead on Blackburn and Reading going into the final weekend. If we lost, we would stay on the same number of points as those two sides, AND we'd have to compete with Plymouth and possibly our final opponents Crewe Alexandra for a play-off spot as well. 15 April 2034: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Aston Villa Souleymane Nomaou had an opportunity to fire us into the lead after just two minutes. Unfortunately, his fierce drive was tipped aside by Aston Villa goalkeeper Jonathan Hudson. We were given another chance three minutes later, when Villa right-back Petr Jelinek's shaky clearance was intercepted by William Barnes. The skipper volleyed the ball forward to Stipo Brkic, whose shot just missed the post. In the 12th minute, Jacques Polomat ran through a large gap in the Villans defence to latch onto an incisive pass from Matthew Fraser. Polomat whacked the ball horrendously wide, but he would get a shot at redemption on 21 minutes. Sol was dispossessed on the edge of Villa's six-yard box by left-back Sean Ellis, and Jacques tucked the loose ball into the corner! 1-0 to the Daggers! Villa had their first attempt to draw level two minutes later, but midfielder Jim Dearden skied it well over. We pushed for a second goal shortly afterwards, and Nomaou almost got one when he broke through the defence again. Hudson charged off his line to push away Sol's strike, and despite a couple of attempts later on, our lead remained at a single goal. Then, in the 36th minute, shortly after Marco Galvao swung in a corner for Aston Villa, his team-mate Ted Turner went down under an apparent push from Barnes. The referee pointed to the spot, booked Barnes, and then gave Turner the go-ahead to take the penalty. Turner fired it to the goalkeeper's left... but Kieran Whalley went the same way to save yet another spot kick! The Villans tried to continue their attack, but the move ended when Dearden tripped Barnes and conceded a free-kick. Although we were still ahead at half-time, Will looked like a disaster waiting to happen, so I didn't risk keeping him on for the second period. With substitute Tom Virgo now protecting our backline, we continued to fend off Aston Villa's attacks as best we could. The visitors' first attack of the second period was a poor one, as Vasil Popov drove the ball straight at Whalley without much venom. There was plenty of venom in a strike from Nomaou after he chased down Brkic's through-ball in the 60th minute, but that shot lacked the accuracy to bolster our fragile position. On 68 minutes, a Fraser corner caused the Villans plenty of problems. Villa centre-back Andrew Hardy could only clear it to one of our own defenders, and George Darvill's header at goal ended up in the side netting. Following that corner, I sent on Joel Honeyball for Nomaou, in the hope that our vice-captain could kill the game off. When Hudson scuffed a goal kick straight to him in the 79th minute, Joel sensed his moment. Honeyball raced past Hardy to leave himself with just the goalie to beat... but he went for style over substance, and his shot flew over the bar! Barely a minute later, Turner floated wide a chance to draw Villa level. Substitute midfielder Rob Wannell also had a great opportunity for the away side on 82 minutes. His free-kick was parried by Whalley and eventually cleared by our defenders, who kept their resolve and squeaked out another narrow win. We were almost there now! Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Polomat 21) Aston Villa - 0 Championship, Attendance 12,000 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 5th, Aston Villa 3rd DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Banton, Darvill, Radosavljevic, O'Reilly, Barnes (Virgo), Fraser, Hutchinson (Atta), Brkic, Polomat, Nomaou (Honeyball). BOOKED: Barnes. Barring an absolute disaster on the following weekend, we had qualified for the play-offs... and I had a very good idea about who we would be playing in the Semi Finals. The teams in 4th and 5th place would face each other in the Play-Off Semi Finals. We were almost certain to finish either 4th or 5th, as were Sunderland. It just remained to be seen who would claim the higher position, and home advantage in the second leg of the play-off. I wasn't too fussed about overtaking the Black Cats - indeed, I felt that we would perhaps be better suited to playing at home in the first leg. I therefore used our final regular-season game against Crewe Alexandra as an opportunity to rest our star players and blood some of the younger lads in our side. Second-choice goalkeeper Mitch Beckett and vice-captain Joel Honeyball were the elder statesmen in a starting XI that included three full league debutants - Joe Charles, Paul Habu and Christophe Smith. Four of the players on our bench were in line for their first ever senior appearances. Crewe Alexandra arrived in Essex having just seen their hopes of amending last year's Play-Off Final defeat crushed by a 2-0 midweek loss at Rochdale. Incidentally, Dale's historic promotion to the Premier League was confirmed with that result. Victoria Road would therefore be the Railwaymen's final destination as far as this season was concerned. 22 April 2034: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Crewe Alexandra Crewe's starting line-up contained a handful of teenagers, although most of their best players were still present. Their biggest name would find the back of our net after just three minutes. Daggers goalie Mitch Beckett scuffed a clearance that Crewe winger Daniel Sykes nodded towards striker Gary Harper, but the offside flag was raised just as Harper drove the ball home. A minute later, Alex goalkeeper Warren Rodwell caught a free-kick from our holding midfielder Tom Virgo. Dagenham skipper Joel Honeyball fired a long-range shot wide in the 14th minute, but he would fare much better with his next effort in the 16th. Nigel Atta sliced through the Crewe defence to find Honeyball, who turned past centre-back Darren Greenhouse and drilled in what was - by my reckoning - his 50th competitive goal for the Daggers! Harper had also scored a fair few goals in his time at Crewe, and he would get another for them after 25 minutes. He rode a slide tackle from our rookie centre-half Adrian Bailey to beat Beckett at his near post and draw the Railwaymen level. One might've expected Crewe's more experienced team to take control from there. The game would see its third goal in the 35th minute... but it wasn't scored at our end. Daggers right-back Ross Pearson passed to Atta in the visitors' penalty area and then watched Nigel fire a shot against the far post. Fortunately, Joel half-volleyed in the rebound and gave us a 2-1 half-time lead! I made one change before the second half, taking off the booked Dave Hutchinson and giving Ollie Reynolds a run-out in midfield. We could easily have bolstered our lead in the first two minutes after the restart. Ante Djuzel unluckily hit the post from a difficult angle before attacking midfielder Joe Charles struck the side netting. Christophe Smith was also denied his moment of glory in the 60th minute, when Rodwell tipped the Scottish forward's fierce shot behind. That chance came between a couple of near-misses from Crewe at the other end. Sykes drifted a free-kick just wide on 53 minutes, while Jesse Baker flicked a close-range header over shortly after Smith's shot was saved. Christophe wouldn't get any more scoring opportunities before Congolese prospect Peguy Kasongo took his place for the last 20 minutes. Peguy made his competitive debut, as did defender Jameel Bailey after he replaced Ante later on. After 88 minutes, Jameel's namesake Adrian accidentally collided with Ollie in our penalty area. Adrian was knocked out and couldn't play on, and so we finished the match with 10 men. That didn't really matter, as Crewe provided very little attacking threat during the final half-hour. Our regular league season ended on a winning note, and a 5th-place finish officially confirmed that we were in the play-offs. Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Honeyball 16,35) Crewe Alexandra - 1 (Harper 25) Championship, Attendance 11,706 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 5th, Crewe 11th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Beckett, Pearson, A Bailey, Habu, Djuzel (J Bailey), Virgo, Atta, Hutchinson (Reynolds), Charles, Smith (Kasongo), Honeyball. BOOKED: Hutchinson. We could now formally put dates in our diary for our Championship Play-Off Semi Final against Sunderland, who stayed just ahead of us after beating Reading 1-0. The first leg would be held at Victoria Road on 6 May, with the Stadium of Light hosting the second leg on 9 May. Meanwhile, Aston Villa in 3rd would take on Blackburn Rovers in 6th. Before then, though, we had another Final to look forward to - our reserves' Essex Senior Cup Final at home to Maldon & Tiptree. With a fortnight between our last regular season match and our first play-off game, I didn't want my best players getting rusty, so I allowed some of them to play in the ESC Final. That additional star power would make all the difference, as Jacques Polomat scored twice to give the Daggers a 2-0 win. We had won our county cup for the second time in three years! Indeed, it had been an excellent season for all of our teams. As well as the Essex Senior Cup, Dagenham's reserve team secured their league championship, while the Under-18s won theirs at a canter. Now it was up to my senior team to cap off this 'annus mirabilis' with an even bigger prize - promotion to the Premier League.
  6. On the setup screen when you were creating your new save game, was the box for "Prevent teams which already have managers from being controlled" ticked? If it was, create a new game and untick that box.
  7. 19 consecutive years in the Champions League. We had a good run. We've become far too complacent of late, so in a way, I'm quite relieved that we've finally been shown up. We need fresh management and possibly the support of a more co-operative owner (which is why I'd favour Alisher Usmanov's takeover bid over Stan Kroenke staying at the club), otherwise we're just going to keep falling off the pace. We'd then go into another phase of selling our best assets year-on-year (it looks like Sánchez this year, then Ozil, then I guess Bellerín will be next), in which case we can forget about challenging for honours any time soon. If I was the man in charge, I'd be doing everything I could to bring Massimiliano Allegri and Paulo Dybala over from Juventus. Realistically, though, I'd like to see Luis Enrique come in. Thanks to our failures this season, I've pretty much decided what my first save on FM18 will be (provided I buy that game, of course ). If Arsene Wenger is still Arsenal manager by next season, I'll be booting him out and managing Arsenal (hopefully for more than the single season I managed on FM16). If Wenger has departed by then, I'll probably do an Aberdeen save instead and try to topple Celtic's Invincibles.
  8. Sports Interactive will always appreciate constructive criticism. Explain in the feedback thread why you think FM17 is a disappointment, and tell SI what you think they should change or introduce to make FM18 better. Simply ranting or claiming "nothing has improved" between versions, like you have here, isn't going to get you anywhere. Neither will your blatant and frankly unfair criticism of professional video game journalists, whose considered opinions arguably carry more weight than those thousands of Steam users who gave FM a bad review simply because it didn't have a Mandarin language option.
  9. APRIL 2034 We'd been in and around the top six virtually all season long, but as the Championship campaign entered its final month, there was a real chance that we could end up as April fools. With a whole bunch of teams snapping at our heels, we knew that any further defeats were likely to prove very costly. Here was our run-in: 1 April: vs Crystal Palace (H) - Crystal Palace were 19th, and had won just twice away from home this season 8 April: vs Leeds United (A) - Leeds were 11th, and looking to reach the play-offs for the third season running 11 April: vs Peterborough United (A) - Peterborough were 24th, and had already been relegated 15 April: vs Aston Villa (H) - Aston Villa were 3rd, and had won 13 of their last 18 league matches 22 April: vs Crewe Alexandra (H) - Crewe were 8th, and had the league's second-best defensive record Five games - that was all that stood between us and a return to the Championship play-offs. We began this final phase of our season with a home match against Crystal Palace, who had done well to stay reasonably clear of relegation despite sacking manager Rio Ferdinand on Boxing Day. Their form under new boss Jamal Fyfield - ex of Sheffield Wednesday - had been okay if not outstanding. 1 April 2034: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Crystal Palace Daniel O'Reilly forced Crystal Palace goalkeeper Ivelin Kanev into action in the first minute with a header that the young Bulgarian caught comfortably. Our next couple of shots, from Joel Honeyball and Stipo Brkic, did not get anywhere near Kanev nor his goal. Palace's attack looked similarly inefficient, with Toby Cook powering their first effort wide on 19 minutes. Eagles winger Jimmy Kyere did cause us a problem a minute later, when his cross from the left was met by a weak headed clearance from Daggers left-back O'Reilly. The hosts' right-winger Felipe launched a volley towards goal... but the ball sailed well wide. Daniel would be booked five minutes after that for tripping up Felipe, but things did improve for us in the 27th minute. Pressing Palace's defence paid off when a pass from Kyere to centre-half Adem Demir in their own penalty area was cut out by a strong tackle from Daggers right-back John Moser. The ball deflected kindly to Honeyball, who calmly slotted us into the lead. Sadly, we would only remain in front for about seven minutes before Crystal Palace put together an excellent attacking move. Striker Duncan Roberts found Felipe unmarked out wide in our area, and the Brazilian's cross ricocheted off O'Reilly before midfielder Sam Gunn pulled the trigger. Two minutes after Gunn's equaliser, Felipe drifted a free-kick within inches of giving Palace a 2-1 lead. The Eagles were taking flight, so the half-time break came at a rather opportune time for us. Crystal Palace picked up where they left off four minutes into the second period. Kyere's left-wing cross was volleyed into the middle of our penalty area by Felipe, and Roberts let rip with a half-volley. Had Kieran Whalley not turned the shot against his post or Velimir Radosavljevic not knocked the rebound away from Roberts, we would almost certainly have fallen behind. On 51 minutes, Gunn set up a great opportunity for Cook, who scuffed it into Whalley's hands. Kieran needed to make yet another save in the 53rd minute, with Kyere the latest Eagle to be kept off the scoresheet. Honeyball then had a couple of chances to restore our advantage before the hour, heading one of them into Kanev's grasp. We would hardly get near the Crystal Palace goal again. Robbie MacKenzie headed over an absolute sitter for the Daggers on 79 minutes, but that moment aside, we would spend virtually the whole of the final 30 minutes defending against the Eagles. Our defenders - in particular George Darvill and Radosavljevic - had to make several interceptions to thwart our visitors, who became even more threatening as full-time neared. Joe Maher clipped the outside of Kieran's left-hand post with a blistering effort after 82 minutes. Maher fired another shot over the bar two minutes later, shortly before teenage substitute Julio César Andrade had his attempt stopped by Whalley. The Eagles' last major chance came in the 89th minute, but we were relieved to see captain Bob Cairns head Felipe's corner over the bar. Having faced an array of shots from Crystal Palace in that second period, we had somehow managed to survive with a point. Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Honeyball 27) Crystal Palace - 1 (Gunn 34) Championship, Attendance 12,000 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 6th, Crystal Palace 19th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Moser, Darvill, Radosavljevic, O'Reilly (Djuzel), Virgo (Pearson), Barnes, Fraser, Brkic (Polomat), MacKenzie, Honeyball. BOOKED: O'Reilly. I'd demanded a win from that match, and in the end, we were very fortunate not to LOSE. We were also lucky that Blackburn Rovers - the team directly below us in the league - had drawn their match at Reading, despite taking the lead twice. We remained perilously close to losing 6th spot as we took on Leeds United at Elland Road the following weekend. Leeds were eight points adrift of us and realistically needed a win to keep alive their hopes of reaching the play-offs yet again. 8 April 2034: Leeds United vs Dagenham & Redbridge It takes a brave away team to push up the pitch from the off at Elland Road, and we were very brave in that sense. Daniel O'Reilly had the audacity to shoot from 30 yards in the second minute, but Leeds goalkeeper Pat Sheridan never looked like being beaten by his Irish compatriot. Another Dagger who tried to score from outside the United area early on was Jacques Polomat, whose 9th-minute piledriver flew well off course. Three minutes after that, Robbie MacKenzie had a go from even further back than O'Reilly. Although Sheridan had to readjust his position to save the shot, I was not particularly encouraged by what I was seeing. After instructing my team to work the ball into the penalty area, I started to see some more promising attacks. In the 15th minute, right-back Ross Pearson delivered a cross to MacKenzie, whose header was tipped over by Sheridan. Sheridan also saved Robbie's next effort in the 24th minute, shortly after Steve Heaton had scuffed wide Leeds' first real opportunity to hit us on the break. The Whites had a purple patch at the half-hour point, winning a handful of corners in succession as well as registering their first shot on target. Centre-back Tommy Fisk went for goal in the 30th minute, but Kieran Whalley flicked the ball away, and so the 0-0 scoreline remained unchanged. Our defence had a minor lapse in the 55th minute, but the heat was off us when Heaton's edge-of-the-area shot drifted miles off target. There was another awful shot at the other end a minute later, as Dagenham captain William Barnes met MacKenzie's square ball with a poor connection. Barnes fared slightly better on 60 minutes, with his angled effort winning a corner off Sheridan. Leeds then successfully broke down our attack from the resulting corner. Stipo Brkic came on to replace Polomat shortly after that, but this would be one of the Dane's less productive days at the office. This was also an afternoon to forget, from a shooting perspective, for MacKenzie. Robbie tried to beat Sheridan with a dipping shot in the 80th minute but couldn't strike it with enough power nor accuracy. Four minutes after that, Leeds' substitute midfielder Grant Stone sensed a chance to strike a fateful blow against the run of play. Stone shook off the presence of several Dagenham defenders and went for goal, but Whalley showed great composure to catch his attempt. Other than that, our solid backline was largely untested during the second period. With a bit more fortune on the attacking front, we might've come away from Elland Road with a better result than a goalless draw, but I was still reasonably satisfied with our first clean sheet in close to three months. Leeds United - 0 Dagenham & Redbridge - 0 Championship, Attendance 17,795 - POSITIONS: Leeds 11th, Dag & Red 6th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Pearson, Darvill, Radosavljevic, O'Reilly, Virgo, Fraser (Hutchinson), Barnes, Polomat (Brkic), MacKenzie, Nomaou (Honeyball). Blackburn Rovers once again failed to capitalise on our slip-up, managing only a draw against Doncaster Rovers. Notts County were also just below us on goal difference, but they too failed to take all three points at Charlton Athletic. We'd managed to get away with a couple of draws, but there was no way that I would tolerate anything other than a win at Peterborough United three days later. For one thing, Peterborough were stone dead last with 32 defeats and a -41 goal difference to their name. For another, it was my 49th birthday. 11 April 2034: Peterborough United vs Dagenham & Redbridge The pressure was well and truly off Peterborough, who threatened to take a shock lead after seven minutes. Irish teenager Brendan Corcoran's half-volley led to an awkward save from Daggers goalie Kieran Whalley. Leon Curran had our first shot of the game in the 16th minute, but he powered it wide from a difficult angle. Posh keeper Johnny Madsen was forced into action on 24 minutes, when he caught a swerving effort from fellow Dane Stipo Brkic. Curran couldn't hit the target with his next attempt five minutes later, which had been gifted to him by a mistake from Peterborough's experienced South African midfielder Cyril Nzunga. A couple of minutes after that, Corcoran made Whalley sweat again in the Dagenham goal. Kieran had to palm away the young winger's cross before it could reach Posh striker Oscar Brown. The hosts then won a corner, and Paul Millen's delivery was hacked off the line by our left-back Ante Djuzel. We survived yet another scare on 33 minutes, with Whalley parrying away a bullet from substitute Lee Jones, who'd surprisingly replaced Corcoran after about half an hour. Millen and Jones then missed further chances for United before the half-time whistle blew with the teams still deadlocked. Neither of our strikers looked particularly hot, not even after the interval. Within the first 10 minutes of the restart, Souleymane Nomaou had one shot saved by Madsen and struck the woodwork with another. Curran then scuffed wide a shot in the 55th minute, at the end of an excellent passing move from the Daggers. A couple of minutes after that, midfielder Tom Virgo fired a free-kick against Peterborough's crossbar. After Whalley denied Russ Grierson a goal for United with a fantastic save in the 63rd minute, I made my first substitution, with Jacques Polomat replacing Leon. The switch would take just a couple of minutes to pay off. After Nzunga and Posh defender Aaron Wynne each failed to clear a Djuzel cross out of their area, Polomat popped up to place the loose ball into the net and finally end the standoff! That first goal of the game looked unlikely to be the last when Peterborough countered in the 67th minute. Jones crossed from the edge of our penalty area, and Velin Dimitrov met it with a diving header that forced Whalley into a diving save. The home side would attack us again, but not before Polomat found the net again on 80 minutes. Jacques converted an excellent pass from sub Matthew Fraser after a poor clearance from Posh right-back and captain John Dudley, but the Frenchman's second goal was ruled out for offside. Seven minutes after that, Peterborough's left-back Jak Black played an excellent long ball over our defence and towards Millen. The London Road faithful held their collective breaths as Millen went one-on-one with Whalley... and miscued a shot that trundled hopelessly behind. There would be no late party-poopers on my birthday as I left Cambridgeshire with the perfect present - three precious points for my Daggers! Peterborough United - 0 Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Polomat 65) Championship, Attendance 7,586 - POSITIONS: Peterborough 24th, Dag & Red 5th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Banton, Darvill, Radosavljevic, Djuzel, Virgo, Hutchinson, Barnes (Fraser), Brkic, Curran (Polomat), Nomaou (Powell). BOOKED: Nomaou. While we had done what was required of us, play-off rivals Notts County hadn't, suffering a humiliating 5-0 defeat at mid-table Ipswich Town! They were now three points adrift of us with two games left to play, but what about Blackburn Rovers? I prayed that newly-crowned champions Derby County would do us a massive favour 24 hours later, when they travelled to Blackburn. John Sullivan's Rams did precisely that, winning 2-1 to leave us in a very good position: P W D L F A GD PTS 4. Sunderland 44 19 16 9 75 48 +27 73 5. Dag & Red 44 20 13 11 73 49 +24 73 6. Reading 44 21 10 13 59 50 +9 73 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 7. Blackburn 44 20 10 14 67 54 +13 70 8. Notts County 44 20 10 14 57 58 -1 70 9. Crewe 44 17 17 10 53 38 +15 68 10. Plymouth 44 20 8 16 70 62 +8 68 Things were about to get really, really interesting...
  10. There's a sub-forum dedicated to suggestions for future Football Manager features. All ideas and proposals should go in there, for SI's benefit. That will probably never be included in Football Manager, which is meant to be a sports management simulator, not a life simulator.
  11. Championship Table (End of March 2034) P W D L F A GD PTS 1. Pl Derby 41 28 6 7 73 30 +43 90 2. Rochdale 41 24 9 8 64 41 +23 81 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 3. Aston Villa 41 23 6 12 68 47 +21 75 4. Reading 41 21 9 11 56 42 +14 72 5. Sunderland 41 18 16 7 71 43 +28 70 6. Dag & Red 41 19 11 11 71 48 +23 68 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 7. Blackburn 41 20 8 13 63 49 +14 68 8. Crewe 41 17 15 9 51 35 +16 66 9. Notts County 41 19 9 13 52 49 +3 66 10. Plymouth 41 19 7 15 65 59 +6 64 11. Leeds 41 18 7 16 52 44 +8 61 12. Ipswich 41 15 11 15 59 50 +9 56 13. Doncaster 41 15 9 17 42 53 -11 54 14. Northampton 41 16 4 21 35 51 -16 52 15. Coventry 41 13 11 17 41 46 -5 50 16. Luton 41 13 11 17 41 55 -14 50 17. Sheff Utd 41 13 9 19 56 58 -2 48 18. Charlton 41 12 12 17 49 65 -16 48 19. Crystal Palace 41 11 11 19 40 55 -15 44 20. Wrexham 41 11 8 22 47 74 -27 41 21. Bradford 41 9 13 19 49 66 -17 40 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 22. Cardiff 41 8 11 22 45 72 -27 35 23. Wigan 41 9 11 21 48 64 -16 28 * 24. R Peterborough 41 8 2 31 37 79 -42 16 * * Peterborough and Wigan deducted 10 points for entering administration
  12. MARCH 2034 (continued) A host of schoolboy players joined our Under-18s team in mid-March, with seven of them signing youth contracts after impressing me in a trial match. Right-back Jazzi Howley, anchorman Lee Allen, and right-winger Thomas Lye looked particularly promising, but there was one player who really stood out. The lad in question was an Irish-born England schoolboy international midfielder who already had excellent passing ability and technique for a 15-year-old. His name is Daryl Ryan... but no, he's not related to THAT Daryl Ryan! Considering that the original Daryl made over 200 league appearances as a goalkeeper for Dagenham and was a popular figure at Victoria Road, I might have to give this new one a different moniker. I'll probably call him 'Daryl the Second', or 'Daryl II', or maybe even #Daz2, as today's kids might say. About a week after that, on 22 March, we faced a potentially vital away game against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. We would be really out of luck were the Black Cats to win, as such a result would see them replace us in the top six. If there was one thing massively in our favour, it was that Sunderland were a club in turmoil. Just three days earlier, they had been thrashed 5-0 in Round 6 of the FA Cup by Norwich City. That result prompted the Black Cats to sack their manager Eddie Howe (rather harshly, I felt). While the search for a permanent manager was ongoing, assistant boss Scott Arfield was placed in temporary charge of the Mackems. 22 March 2034: Sunderland vs Dagenham & Redbridge With captain William Barnes suspended, Joel Honeyball returned to our starting XI to skipper the side. After 10 minutes, Honeyball's excellent tackle on Sunderland defender Karel Brunclik led to a scoring opportunity for strike partner Robbie MacKenzie. Black Cats goalie Enrique Meza managed to parry MacKenzie's shot away, and the hosts launched a counter-attack shortly afterwards. Striker Dave Alcock chipped an excellent ball to midfielder Tomas Strnad, whose header was safely caught by Kieran Whalley. This looked like being a very even game... until our disciplinary problems from our previous match resurfaced. Firstly, in the 16th minute, midfielder Dave Hutchinson showed a lack of maturity when he tripped Yordan Kalchkov, leading to his receiving a yellow card. 18-year-old Dave could've been excused that, but Arran Banton really should've known better when he recklessly lunged in two-footed on Alcock after 21 minutes. Arran was instantly red-carded, and for the second game in a row, we were a man down. Hutchinson came off in order for Ante Djuzel to fill our full-back vacancy, but Banton's loss would be very keenly felt. On 29 minutes, Sunderland winger Branko Petravic defied a leg injury to tee up Alcock, who curled an impressive shot into the top corner. That opening goal for the Mackems could've been cancelled out quickly, as Robbie had a couple of attempts to draw level in the next four minutes. Unfortunately, MacKenzie looped a fabulous volley over the bar before his header from a Matthew Fraser free-kick rattled the woodwork. Things then got worse in the 38th minute, as Alcock took advantage of a shaky Daggers defence to finish Wes Franks' centre from point-blank range. It was 2-0 to the Black Cats, and I felt like breaking a mirror. The pressure was now firmly on us to retain our play-off spot, and the pressure told early in the second half. MacKenzie found Tyrone Sedgley making a run through the Sunderland defence in the 50th minute, but Tyrone could only drive Robbie's through-ball past the post. We had yet more misfortune in the 53rd minute, as Honeyball sprinted past Brunclik before firing a fierce effort against the upright! Although we won a corner from that attack after Sunderland left-back Alun Saunders knocked the loose ball behind, our chance to strike while the iron was hot had disappeared. The Black Cats attacked again in the 61st minute, with their captain Douglas Festa volleying wide after Petravic's cross had been poorly cleared by Velimir Radosavljevic. A minute later, Franks tried to play a crossfield ball to Petravic on the left flank. Daniel O'Reilly attempted an interception... but he got his header all wrong, and the ball bounced in our area before Alcock thundered it home to secure his hat-trick! In just one match, Alcock had doubled his goal tally for the entire league season! We never stood a chance of fighting back after that third Sunderland goal, not even after Festa and Franks each picked up knocks for the Mackems. The aim now was simply to keep the scoreline down. We looked like failing to do even that when Brunclik leapt above Velimir to nod a Saunders cross goalwards on 77 minutes, but Whalley's catch prevented the 20-year-old Czech Republic international from making it 4-0. Brunclik's compatriot Strnad was also denied a goal by Kieran in the penultimate minute of a rather one-sided encounter. Sunderland - 3 (Alcock 29,38,62) Dagenham & Redbridge - 0 Championship, Attendance 25,071 - POSITIONS: Sunderland 6th, Dag & Red 7th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Banton, Moser (Darvill), Radosavljevic, O'Reilly (Powell), Sedgley, Fraser, Hutchinson (Djuzel), Brkic, MacKenzie, Honeyball. BOOKED: Hutchinson. SENT OFF: Banton. Having been overtaken by Sunderland, we found ourselves two points adrift of the play-off places - with only six games left to play. Arran Banton's stupid lunge on the Black Cats' eventual hat-trick hero Dave Alcock would ultimately result in him being banned for three matches. Banton accepted his suspension and vowed to curb his temper in the future after also being fined a week's wages. Arran would have to sit the next few games out, but our other suspended star - captain William Barnes - was back in the Daggers side for our home game against Wigan Athletic. Although the Latics' financial crisis had eased in recent months, they were still in the drop zone and quickly running out of time to save themselves. 25 March 2034: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Wigan Athletic Wigan's desperation showed in the second minute, when wingers Shaun Wilkinson and Abdelkrim Hamrouni each fired long-distance shots wide. Our first few attempts at goal were also severely lacking in accuracy. Souleymane Nomaou had perhaps the best of them after seven minutes, when he made a fine solo run towards goal and then fired the ball just over the crossbar. Ten minutes later, our 17-year-old right-back Ross Pearson curled a promising cross into the Wigan area. Latics anchor Andreas Ilia tackled the cross away from Stipo Brkic, but William Barnes reached the loose ball and had a first-time shot parried by goalkeeper Dimitris Kalyvas. We were a little unlucky there, but there was nothing unfortunate about us falling behind in the 22nd minute. Wigan midfielder Iain Turner advanced into our area virtually unchallenged before beating Kieran Whalley. While I lambasted my team for their unwillingness to press Turner, Wigan's new manager Josh Simpson celebrated a potentially vital goal in his team's fight against the drop. It could have been rendered irrelevant a couple of minutes later, when Matthew Fraser's long-range free-kick came within inches of drawing us level. In the 31st minute, though, we were very close to conceding the game's second goal. Ilia's corner kick was nodded just over the bar by Latics centre-back Danny Kelly - an England Under-21s international on loan from Norwich City. Turner wasted a further chance to bolster Wigan's position on 35 minutes, but his earlier goal remained the separator at half-time. I didn't hold back in my criticism of the Dagenham players at half-time. "Right now, I'm not sure whether you lot are serious professional footballers or complete AMATEURS! Wigan have been awful all season, but you're making them look like the team that's battling to get into the play-offs! If you don't go out there and show what you're really capable of in the second half, then I won't be afraid to drop the lot of you and play the kids against Crystal Palace next week!" If our first shot after the restart suggested everything, it was that the second period would be as frustrating as the first. Nomaou fluffed his lines again in the 53rd minute, blasting the ball off target after Ante Djuzel had intercepted a Wigan throw-in. Djuzel then won us a corner about a couple of minutes later after his cross was deflected behind the byline off Ilia. Barnes' original corner quickly led to another after Ilia knocked it behind... but his second delivery was much more incisive. Velimir Radosavljevic got above Latics right-back Nathan Barton to nod in Will's corner and draw us level! The home fans were hailing Velimir as our saviour... but by the 64th minute, he had turned into the villain of the piece. Radosavljevic's attempt to hack Hamrouni's centre away from Wigan captain Thomas Potter in our six-yard box succeeded only in sliding the ball into his own net. Cue another volley of abuse from Yours Truly in the Daggers dugout. More angry words were uttered in the 68th minute, when a tackle from the already-booked Ilia led to our holding midfielder Tyrone Sedgley spraining his ankle. Ilia avoided a second yellow card, but Sedgley couldn't play on with an injury that put the remainder of his season in jeopardy. Dave Hutchinson replaced the stricken Tyrone, and Robbie MacKenzie came on for Stipo, as I desperately switched to an all-or-nothing 4-3-3 formation. Unfortunately, Jacques Polomat got nothing from a header that rattled the Latics crossbar on 77 minutes. Barnes also came away empty-handed when he curled a free-kick narrowly off target a minute later. I now had my third substitute on, and it was he who would finally turn things around for us on 81 minutes. Forward Shaun Powell took advantage of some miscommunication between Wigan defenders Kelly and Barton to nick the ball and square a pass to MacKenzie, who drilled it into the far corner of the net! That goal clawed back one point... but another Scottish Dagger was after the other two. With about six minutes left to play, Fraser stretched a leg out to divert Djuzel's centre across the goal line before the Latics could clear it. It may not have been the prettiest goal of the 10 that Matthew had now scored this season, our fans still celebrated as if it was a screamer from the halfway line! A spirited second-half fightback had seen us beat Wigan 3-2 and retake our play-off place, bumping Blackburn Rovers out on goal difference! Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Radosavljevic 56, MacKenzie 81, Fraser 84) Wigan Athletic - 2 (Turner 22, Radosavljevic og64) Championship, Attendance 11,714 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 6th, Wigan 23rd DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Pearson, Darvill, Radosavljevic, Djuzel, Sedgley (Hutchinson), Barnes, Fraser, Brkic (MacKenzie), Polomat, Nomaou (Powell). We're making hard work of our play-off challenge, but the ball is back in our court. If we can keep our cool - and I'm looking at you, Will and Arron - over the next five games, maybe our season could run for a little longer!
  13. Congratulations to @Moto Club on a second league title, and potentially a double to boot.
  14. MARCH 2034 My Norway debut may have ended in a dull-as-ditchwater goalless draw against Iceland, but I was now determined to make sure that Dagenham & Redbridge's season wouldn't culminate in a similar anti-climax. With nine games to go, we were in 5th place and firmly in contention for a play-off spot. Our next opponents, Sheffield United, were not. Ahead of our visit to Bramall Lane, the Blades found themselves well off the pace in 15th. We lost a couple of backup players to injury just before this game, as goalkeeper Mitch Beckett picked up a hernia and forward Leon Curran strained his back. Neither was expected to return until April. 4 March 2034: Sheffield United vs Dagenham & Redbridge Our typical free-flowing passing game really came to life in the opening stages of this game. Captain William Barnes fizzed a shot just past the post in the third minute, but our next attack would end more successfully. In the sixth minute, Stipo Brkic chipped a superb pass to Souleymane Nomaou, who turned past Sheffield United defender Rene van der Laan and drove in the opener for Dagenham! Brkic could have followed up that assist with a goal on 9 minutes, but Blades keeper Ross Archer pushed the Dane's shot behind. We launched another promising attack after 16 minutes through Robbie MacKenzie, who ran onto Barnes' lobbed through-ball and went one-on-one with Archer. Sadly, it was Archer who prevailed, parrying Robbie's shot away before Sol fouled Blades midfielder Sjors Laros in his attempt to score from the rebound. The Sheffield United defence was already under severe pressure, and when right-back Colin Bridges sustained a dead leg in the 22nd minute, we looked set to dominate. After 27 minutes, though, United's Algerian midfielder Hamid Senoussi struck a long-range shot that forced Kieran Whalley into his first save of the afternoon. A little over a minute later, Blades substitute David Davies drilled a centre into our area. Daggers left-back Daniel O'Reilly hooked his clearance to Blades counterpart Jon Tolley, who moved the ball down the line for Elliott Bentley to whip in a cross. On the other end was Garry Steadman, who volleyed in Sheffield United's equaliser. After we missed a host of chances to restore our lead, the hosts would find the net again in the 42nd minute. Bentley's left-wing cross flew over Whalley and ended up in the net, but Kieran was clearly being impeded by United striker Aaron Byrne, so the goal was disallowed. A couple of minutes later, Byrne went down in the Dagenham area under an apparent push from Velimir Radosavljevic. The ref pointed to the spot, from which Byrne had the opportunity to make it 2-1 Sheffield United. However, Whalley produced an excellent penalty save for the second game in a row, and we remained level at the interval! We had played so poorly in the latter part of that first period, and I could tell that most of my players were looking anxious. I tried to get their spirits up during the break with some reassuring words. That seemed to do the trick, as we were back to our old selves by the second half. Robbie had our first shot of the second half after 52 minutes, but he could only chip Sol's through-ball into Archer's hands. Barnes and George Darvill also missed opportunities for Dagenham before we managed to break through again in the 62nd minute. Brkic knocked a delicious pass towards Nomaou, who outpaced van der Laan and drilled us back into the lead! A third Daggers goal could have followed on 64 minutes had Matthew Fraser got some luck from a direct free-kick. That was Matthew's last contribution before being replaced with Dave Hutchinson, who was involved in our next assault a couple of minutes later. Hutch played the ball short to Sol, who cut open the Blades' backline with a fantastic lofted ball that Robbie half-volleyed into the net! At 3-1 to Dagenham, the contest already looked over, especially with Sheffield United's 25-goal striker Byrne enduring one of the very worst games of his career. In contrast, Nomaou was having one of his very, very best. Six minutes before full-time, the Niger striker made it 4-1 with a blistering shot that completed his hat-trick, as well as a trio of assists from the equally brilliant Brkic! Stipo should've added his name to the scoresheet in the 86th minute, but his woeful shot was just about the only thing the attacking midfielder did wrong in the second period. The delightful Daggers were back in business! Sheffield United - 1 (Steadman 29) Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (Nomaou 6,62,84, MacKenzie 66) Championship, Attendance 18,444 - POSITIONS: Sheff Utd 17th, Dag & Red 4th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Banton, Radosavljevic, Darvill, O'Reilly, Virgo, Barnes (Atta), Fraser (Hutchinson), Brkic, MacKenzie (Polomat), Nomaou. BOOKED: Fraser. With that win, we moved up to 4th place - four points clear of Sunderland in 7th. Could we now start to pull away and consolidate our play-off place? The following weekend saw us receive a visit from Reading, who were only above us on goal difference. The Royals' recent form had not been particularly regal, as they arrived at Victoria Road on the back of four consecutive draws. 11 March 2034: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Reading We tried to hit Reading on the break in the third minute, but didn't have much success. Souleymane Nomaou had a shot blocked by Royals centre-back Boris Bolongo before Nigel Atta smashed the rebound into the stands. Four minutes later, it was the visitors who got their noses in front. Danny Ceciliano's right-wing cross to the near post was flicked on by Peter Edwards towards Bobby Preece, who stuck a leg out and diverted the ball across the goal line. Daggers defender Velimir Radosavljevic went down under Preece's slide, but the goal was allowed to stand. Reading chased a second goal in the 11th minute, when Edwards drove forward a tame shot that didn't seriously trouble Kieran Whalley. Kieran was also left unflustered by a 17th-minute free-kick that Royals midfielder Ricky Hales curled over his crossbar. At the other end, Reading's goalkeeping captain Davor Gligic was given very little work by our misfiring strikers. Souleymane Nomaou looked nothing like the hat-trick hero from Bramall Lane as he fired three long-rangers off target. In fact, we wouldn't even muster a single shot from inside the Reading area before half-time. I was far from happy with our first-half performance, so I delivered a half-time team-talk designed to fire up all of my players... well, almost all of them. Stipo Brkic looked to be away with the fairies, even after my dressing-down, so Jacques Polomat replaced him in attacking midfield for the second period. About five minutes after the restart, Nomaou was hacked down just outside Reading's area by Hales, who conceded a free-kick and a yellow card. Daggers captain William Barnes, who had himself been booked just before the break, swung the free-kick towards the top corner... and Gligic had to really stretch his arm out to divert it behind! Atta then blazed the ball over from the resulting corner. Reading were on the attack again by the 54th minute, when Preece went within inches of heading in their second goal. A minute later, though, Arran Banton swung a cross into the Royals box and found Polomat. Gligic got down to try and stop Jacques in his track, but the French sub prodded the ball underneath him just in time! Having drawn level, we fancied ourselves to move ahead... until some ill-discipline resulted in a couple of Dagenham bookings within the next three minutes. The first was given to Banton, for a late challenge on Hales. The second was also given out after another foul on Hales... from captain Barnes. Referee Alan Ellams immediately brought out the yellow card again, and followed it with the red! We were down to 10 men! Young defender Adrian Bailey replaced the disappointing Nomaou as we tried to play things a bit safer following Will's red card. Robbie MacKenzie was now playing as our lone striker. The giant Scotsman went for goal from distance after 64 minutes, but his piledriver was easily caught by 37-year-old Royals stalwart Gligic. The Bosnian made another save in the 75th minute, pushing behind George Darvill's header from a Matthew Fraser corner. Those Daggers attacks were the exception rather than the rule in a second half that the Royals controlled. If we wanted to take away a result, we had to avoid making any mistakes... but MacKenzie made a complete howler of one in the 79th minute. His backwards pass towards Banton was cut out by Edwards, who surged up the left flank before beating Whalley with an incredible 30-yard shot from out wide! I was fuming with Robbie, though not for very long! Less than two minutes after gifting Reading a 2-1 lead, MacKenzie took it away with a clever pass that Daniel O'Reilly slotted past Gligic from close range! We were back on course for a draw... but the Royals still had enough time to deliver a knockout blow. In the last few seconds of regular time, Reading left-back Connor Smith crossed deep to Preece, who got the better of Whalley with a soul-crushing diving header. The visitors had moved in front for the third and final time in this match, and we suffered our 10th league defeat this term. Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Polomat 55, O'Reilly 81) Reading - 3 (Preece 7,90, Edwards 79) Championship, Attendance 11,591 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 5th, Reading 4th DAG & RED LINE-UP: Whalley, Banton, Radosavljevic, Darvill, O'Reilly, Barnes, Atta (Hutchinson), Fraser, Brkic (Polomat), MacKenzie, Nomaou (A Bailey). BOOKED: Barnes, Banton. SENT OFF: Barnes. "WE WERE ACTUALLY DOING ALRIGHT UNTIL YOU GOT YOURSELF SENT OFF!" I yelled at William Barnes in the dressing room at full-time. "You're a wonderful player, Barnesy, but sometimes you can get far too carried away, and when that happens, the whole team is up s**t creek! You can expect to be docked a week's wages to go with your one-match ban. NOW GET OUT OF MY F***ING SIGHT!" I had never really lost my temper with my captain before, but Will had badly let the whole team down. We were now only a single point ahead of Sunderland... and guess who we would be playing next?
  15. It's a huge result, considering the resources they have. I still can't see Rochdale or Derby slipping out of the top two any time soon, but we're definitely in the mix for a play-off place.