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House of Flying Daggers

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"Birds flying high, you know how I feel,

Sun in the sky, you know how I feel,

Reeds driftin' on by, you know how I feel,

 

It's a new dawn, it's a new day,

It's a new life, for me,

And I'm feeling good..."

 

Those are the unmistakable lyrics from one of the great musical standards - "Feeling Good", written by two Englishmen in 1964 and popularised by the legendary Nina Simone a year later. It has been covered numerous times, perhaps most notably by modern rock gods Muse. It was their version of this track that blared out at the Victoria Road football stadium in Dagenham, on the final day of September 2022. For me, there couldn't have been a more apt choice of song to play on this clear Friday afternoon.

 

I was sitting in the North Stand at what was officially - and superfluously, in my view - known as the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham Stadium for sponsorship reasons. Almost in awe of my surroundings, I surveyed the pitch as the groundsman got to work. He must have been one of the best in the land, because the surface looked absolutely pristine.

 

The stadium was in pretty good shape, too, considering that it had been built 105 years earlier. Victoria Road wasn't exactly the Emirates Stadium, but it was still a world away from my old stomping ground at Ship Lane.

 

Ship Lane was like a second home for me - after all, I worked there for nearly ten years as manager of Romford FC. However, Victoria Road was much closer to me physically. It was situated only five miles - a 15-minute drive - away from the house that I grew up in.

 

I had only been inside the ground for an hour or so, and I already felt settled. This was where I wanted to be.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge Football Club were formed in 1992 - the same year that Romford FC relaunched - following the merger of Dagenham FC and Redbridge Forest. The new club spent nearly all of its first 15 years in the Football Conference until, in 2007, they were promoted to the Football League.

 

The Daggers would play in the Football League for 14 of the next 15 seasons (the exception being 2013/2014, when they briefly returned to the Conference). Their best ever finish was in 2017/2018, as they finished 17th in League One under the guidance of Greg Abbott.

 

Dagenham were relegated back from League One to League Two the following season. Abbott lost his job, and he was succeeded by four different managers who all failed to last more than a year. Mick Cooke, Lee Bowyer, Seamus Conneely and Johnnie Jackson all came and went without failing to halt the slide, which culminated in the Daggers' descent to the Conference this summer.

 

Jackson was dismissed only a few weeks into the 2022/2023 Conference Premier season. That was where I came in.

 

I had applied for the Daggers job while still in charge of Spanish third-division side Elgoibar. My short time with them ended very soon after, so I returned to Essex in search of fresh employment.

 

I feared somewhat that my catastrophic failure with Elgoibar would cost me an opportunity with Dagenham & Redbridge, but I need not have worried. The club's chairman, Antonello Scolaro, phoned me on Wednesday 28 September to ask if I could attend an interview that Friday. I jumped at the chance.

 

I was interviewed by Mr Scolaro and managing director Angelo Bosco. These two Italian gentlemen had bought Dagenham & Redbridge from long-time owner Dave Bennett at the start of this year. Before then, they had made their fortune through a successful chain of coffee houses in north-east London and Essex.

 

The interview itself went as smoothly as could be expected. After touring the stadium, I returned home, hoping that I'd done enough to get the job. Later that evening, while watching television, I was startled by a phone call. It was from Mr Bosco.

 

The MD said that I was the last candidate he and Mr Scolaro interviewed - and that I was also the best. I was asked to come back the following morning to discuss a contract. After a short round of negotiations, I agreed a two-year contract for £1,000 per week.

 

A delighted Mr Bosco then invited me to join him on his private helicopter, which would fly us to the Daggers' league match at Chelmsford City later that afternoon. Once the game was over, I - Christopher Fuller - would be formally announced as the new manager of Dagenham & Redbridge.

Edited by CFuller

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This is the fourth story based on my FM13 career save. The previous three chapters are listed here:

After a brief stay in Spain, my manager is back in Essex, and managing one of the biggest clubs in the region - Dagenham & Redbridge.

This is now the longest save I have ever played on Football Manager. I started it nearly two-and-a-half years ago, but even to this day, I still get great enjoyment from playing it as well as writing about it. I hope that shows in what I believe to be the most exciting chapter of this series so far.

Christopher Fuller (CFuller)

23 November 2015

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Sounds like a plan! Will look forward to more from you as always.
Looking forward to this Chris, best of luck back in Essex.
Excellent, looking forward to it :)

Thank you, gentlemen. It's great to receive your support, especially before this particular story has really got started.

The next post's going to be quite a big one, as I go into greater detail about where the club stands, and then I'll show you the squad that I've inherited. Please bear with me.

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OCTOBER 2022

I arrived at the Chelmsford Sport & Athletics Centre to watch my new team - Dagenham & Redbridge - take on Chelmsford City. I was looking forward to an exciting game, and I would not be disappointed.

 

The first half saw plenty of goalmouth action at both ends. Dagenham twice took the lead through loanees Craig Hardwick and Glen Dunwell, only for Chelmsford to equalise on each occasion. There would be no more goals in the second half, so the match finished level at 2-2. An away draw against relegation strugglers was not a fantastic result, but it didn't dampen my enthusiasm for my new job.

 

This was how Dagenham & Redbridge fared in their first 15 league games of the season:

 

DATE                   OPPOSITION        VENUE  RESULT
6 August 2022          Accrington        H      4-0
9 August 2022          Harrogate         A      0-2
13 August 2022         Stevenage         H      1-2
16 August 2022         Ebbsfleet         A      3-0
27 August 2022         York              H      3-1
30 August 2022         Boreham Wood      H      1-1
3 September 2022       Cambridge         H      0-3
6 September 2022       Lincoln           A      3-0
10 September 2022      Newport County    A      1-2
14 September 2022      Alfreton          A      2-0
17 September 2022      Eastleigh         H      0-3
24 September 2022      Cheltenham        A      2-0
27 September 2022      Macclesfield      H      2-1
1 October 2022         Chelmsford        A      2-2

 

The draw with Chelmsford meant that, after 15 games, we were inside the play-off places by two points. We were also only four points behind league leaders Crawley Town.

 

Conference Premier Table (At 2 October 2022)

                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Crawley                15    9     3     3     24    13    +11   30
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2.          Stevenage              14    9     1     4     19    9     +10   28
3.          Cambridge              15    8     4     3     26    17    +9    28
4.          Harrogate              15    8     3     4     19    15    +4    27
5.          Dag & Red              15    8     2     5     25    17    +8    26
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Farnborough            15    6     6     3     23    15    +8    24
7.          AFC Wimbledon          15    6     5     4     18    15    +3    23
8.          Newport County         15    6     4     5     19    17    +2    22
9.          York                   15    5     6     4     21    15    +6    21
10.         Bury                   15    5     6     4     17    16    +1    21
11.         Lincoln                15    5     6     4     17    20    -3    21
12.         Boreham Wood           15    5     5     5     19    19    0     20
13.         Alfreton               15    5     5     5     16    17    -1    20
14.         Ebbsfleet              15    5     5     5     18    20    -2    20
15.         Accrington             14    4     6     4     18    18    0     18
16.         MK Dons                15    5     3     7     11    15    -4    18
17.         Southend               15    4     5     6     9     16    -7    17
18.         Eastleigh              15    3     7     5     13    15    -2    16
19.         Chelmsford             15    4     4     7     17    22    -5    16
20.         Cheltenham             15    5     1     9     12    23    -11   16
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21.         Darlington             15    3     6     6     16    21    -5    15
22.         Kingstonian            15    4     3     8     16    23    -7    15
23.         Salisbury              15    3     4     8     12    18    -6    13
24.         Macclesfield           15    2     4     9     12    21    -9    10

 

I went home that evening feeling optimistic about what lay ahead. The following morning, I got up nice and early in preparation for my first press conference as Dagenham & Redbridge boss.

 

While there were only two journalists at my Elgoibar unveiling, there was much greater press interest in my appointment at Dagenham. I counted at least half a dozen journalists from national as well as regional outlets. It was one of the local hacks who asked the first question:

 

"Firstly, Christopher, welcome to Dagenham & Redbridge. What are your initial thoughts upon taking this job?"

"I'm excited, and also really proud to be sitting here today as the new manager of Dagenham & Redbridge. This is a club that is fairly close to my heart, and once this job became available, I was determined to take it."

 

"How do you rate your chances of guiding Dagenham back into League Two at the first time of asking?"

"We are capable of winning promotion this season, there's no doubt about that, but I don't think it's a certainty. The infrastructure's already in place, so it's just a matter of building a team that is ready to go back up. I'd like to ask the fans to be patient over this, as it may take more than one season to bounce back."

 

"You've highlighted your concerns that your team might not be ready for promotion. With such a tight transfer budget, how do you intend to strengthen the squad?"

"I don't think having a limited budget will really restrict us in terms of the quality of player we can sign. There are some very good free agents that can be found if you look in the right places. Also, if you can find a bargain or two in the loan market, that can really help you out."

 

"Do you have an idea of which players will stay and which players won't?"

"To be honest, I haven't met any of them yet, but I'll be going straight to the training ground once this is finished to see them for the first time. I have looked at who's in the squad, though, to get an inkling of what they might be like. I reckon there are at least one or two who are definitely not good enough for this level of football."

 

"Dagenham & Redbridge are currently the leading scorers in the Conference Premier, but their defensive record is a cause for concern. What tactical changes will you bring to the club, if any?"

"It'll take me some time to work out exactly what our strengths and weaknesses are, but I've obviously gathered that we need to shore up the defence a bit, so that'll be my first priority. Once that's sorted out, I'll look to get everyone playing how they should be playing. I'm not a manager who always goes gung-ho or always sits back - when it comes to attacking or defending, I'm equally at home with either strategy."

 

"How involved do you intend to be in how the club is run on a day-to-day basis?"

"Obviously, you know from my time at Romford that I'm a manager who likes to shape a club. I'd like to do the same here at Dagenham, and be involved as much as time allows. This club is running smoothly off the pitch - we're not in any serious financial difficulties, as far as I know - but I can make it run even more efficiently."

 

"Let's talk a bit about your last job in Spain with Elgoibar. What happened over there that made you want to come back home so quickly?"

"To be honest, it just wasn't working out for me. I was completely out of my depth at a club that was completely out of its depth. I've no regrets about leaving them so soon, and now I've got this fantastic opportunity to work at one of my local clubs, where I know I'll be happy."

 

"One final question, Christopher. Your first match will be at home to Bury next weekend. Are you feeling any nerves ahead of that match?"

"Of course I am! This is my first time managing in the Conference Premier, so I'm bound to be a bit nervous. Once the first few matches are over with and I've got my first win on the board now, I'll be feeling much better."

 

Once the press conference was over, I headed straight for the training ground, where I met my playing and coaching staff for the first time.

 

I was greeted first by Wayne Burnett - the club's assistant manager. He'd been coaching at Dagenham for 13 years, and I was his seventh different manager during that period. Wayne quickly introduced me to another long-time Daggers coach. It was the familiar face of former journeyman midfielder Darren Currie - perhaps the only footballer who has more tattoos than David Beckham.

 

The first player to say hello to me was goalkeeper and captain Robbie Ryder. The north Londoner hadn't been captain for very long - in fact, he was one of an incredible 21 players who had joined Dagenham & Redbridge after their relegation from League Two was confirmed five months ago! The squad had undergone such a transformation that their longest-serving player - defender Josh Meekings - had only been here since 2018.

 

After greetings were exchanged, my first training session at Dagenham & Redbridge got underway. It wasn't long before I noticed that the squad was seriously lacking depth in two departments.

 

Firstly, there was an obvious lack of goalkeepers. One of our two senior keepers, Nguyen Van Phung, was out until the New Year with a broken leg. Captain Ryder also missed the fixture against Chelmsford City due to a head injury, so a teenage amateur had to go in goal for that game.

 

I was also shocked to discover that we didn't have a single natural left-back in the side. We had instead been relying on right-backs to provide cover in that position, and none of them had fared particularly well.

 

Another cause for concern was that we had eight players in on loan, and a few of them were simply not up to Conference Premier standard. I wanted to send them back to their parent clubs, but I quickly learned that I couldn't do that because recall clauses hadn't been written into their loan contracts. I was stuck with them for the next four months.

 

My main reason for wanting to ditch those duds was that I had to drastically cut the wage bill. I'd been given a wage budget of £15,000 per week... and as things stood, we were paying over £17,500 per week to our players. You don't need a GCSE in Mathematics to work out that we had big problems.

 

I now realised the true scale of my new challenge. Winning promotion, either automatically or via the play-offs, would not be a simple task with our existing squad.

Edited by CFuller

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Dagenham & Redbridge squad - As of 1 October 2022

GOALKEEPERS

1. Robbie Ryder (age 24, English)

Captain Robbie possesses great aerial ability and cat-like reflexes, and is currently our undisputed number 1.

35. Nguyen Van Phung (age 21, Vietnamese)

Vietnam international Phung will not feature until the New Year after breaking his leg in pre-season training.

DEFENDERS

4. Cheyenne Dunkley (age 30, English)

Cheyenne is a very strong and athletic centre-back, although his early-season form has been disappointing.

5. Josh Meekings (age 30, English)

Josh is in his fifth season at Dagenham, but he is currently out for a month with a broken arm.

12. Kyle McFadzean (age 35, English)

Yorkshireman Kyle is incredibly experienced and a dependable presence in the centre of defence.

13. Tim Beech (age 20, English)

Promising right-back Tim hasn't seen much action this season, so I'm prepared to give him chances.

18. Charlie Wassmer (age 31, English)

Charlie's not played a senior game for the club yet, and quite frankly, he's not good enough to deserve one.

24. Hamsa Day (age 21, English)

I've heard that on-loan Ipswich Town man Hamsa is an aggressive character with great promise.

26. Jason McCarthy (age 26, English)

Jason is so mentally inept that I have no idea why we signed him on loan from Mansfield Town.

28. Jake Simpson (age 28, English)

Tall centre-half Jake looks like another pointless loan signing - this time from Wycombe Wanderers.

MIDFIELDERS

6. Yasser Ibrahim (age 24, Egyptian)

Left-sided wideman Yasser has frightening pace and is in his second spell with the Daggers.

7. Andy Yiadom (age 30, English)

Andy is an experienced Conference right-winger whose best days might be behind him now.

8. Adam Barton (age 31, Irish)

Ex-Coventry City man Adam is a creative midfielder who can be a deadly shooter from long range.

14. Lucas Dawson (age 28, English)

Intelligent midfielder Lucas has struggled to make his mark in the Daggers team so far.

15. Bradley Dack (age 28, English)

Vice-captain Bradley is a fine team player whose aggressive streak can sometimes bring him down.

16. Mitchell Clark (age 20, English)

Mitchell can play efficiently either as a ball-winning midfielder or as a covering centre-back.

19. Fraser Keast (age 29, Scottish)

The next few weeks will determine whether winger Fraser has a future at Victoria Road.

20. Andy Haworth (age 33, English)

Wide midfielder Andy has plenty of flair, but his form thus far has been wildly inconsistent.

25. Glen Dunwell (age 23, English)

While on loan from Blackpool, attacking midfielder Glen has impressed in spurts with his athleticism.

26. Shane Byrne (age 29, Irish)

Hard-working midfielder Shane is here on a temporary basis from Luton Town.

29. James Clay (age 18, English)

James is midway through a month-long loan from Millwall, for whom he's already played a league game.

FORWARDS

9. Lee Finnie (age 24, Scottish)

Lee has been a great signing so far this season, scoring four goals and assisting for three more.

10. Ryan Noble (age 30, English)

Penalty specialist Ryan broke his foot on the opening day and won't return for at least two more months.

11. Craig Hardwick (age 21, English)

Left-footed poacher Craig has used his pace to devastating effect since arriving on loan from Derby County.

17. Jamie Bell (age 21, English)

Jamie does not have the athletic grace of Billy Elliot, but he is a strong target man from the East Midlands.

23. James Craigen (age 30, English)

Brave frontman James is struggling to find the target, with just one goal to his name so far.

32. Ronnie Banton (age 25, English)

Ronnie has been little more than a backup striker since Hereford United sent him on loan to us.

 

RESERVE & YOUTH PLAYERS

Defenders: Billy Almond, Freddie Timms, Séamus Watts, Jay Weaver, Jeff Whincup

Midfielders: Niall Bonnar (on loan at Dorchester Town), Eddie Emberson (on loan at Dulwich Hamlet), Roy Jones, Tony Stonebridge, Matthew Taylor

Forwards: Jamie Kerins, Shaun Simpson, Cameron Smith (on loan at Bromley), Ken Turner, Darragh Wilson

 

BACKROOM STAFF

Manager: Christopher Fuller

Assistant Manager: Wayne Burnett

Coaches: Darren Currie, Mike Jones

Fitness Coach: Dave Richardson

Physio: John Gowens

Scouts: Alan Carrington, Mick Loughton, Tony Simpson

Edited by CFuller

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Dunkley is an interesting player for me at Oxford. He's maddening in terms of consistency. Hope he works out better for you.

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I was waiting for this - anticipation levels high! Was expecting Dag & Red to be in the football league but they don't look too far off it at the moment. Keep it going, CFuller. :)

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Wow, I go away for a week and you've started, finished and started another story! You wrote the Spanish debacle very well, so I'm looking forward to another CFuller tale - great start, count me in!

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Dunkley is an interesting player for me at Oxford. He's maddening in terms of consistency. Hope he works out better for you.

I'm afraid to admit that I've not been paying as much attention to your Kyle Cain story as your tale about Bobby Malone at Bolton. I really should.

I'd like to say that Dunkley will do a good job for me. Looking at his form and attributes, though, does not fill me with much confidence.

I was waiting for this - anticipation levels high! Was expecting Dag & Red to be in the football league but they don't look too far off it at the moment. Keep it going, CFuller. :)

As I said earlier, Dagenham & Redbridge had just dropped out of the FL for the second time in this save. It's not ideal to start in the Conference, but there is something quite nostalgic about it. It reminds me of old CM games, when Dagenham began in the Conference and were the only team local to me that I could manage from the start.

Wow, I go away for a week and you've started, finished and started another story! You wrote the Spanish debacle very well, so I'm looking forward to another CFuller tale - great start, count me in!

It was a case of blink and you'd miss me at Elgoibar! Managing my old team was like trying to herd 11 cats, but as you'll soon see from our first few results, Dagenham are nowhere near as incompetent.

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OCTOBER 2022 (continued)

My first full week at Dagenham & Redbridge was mainly about me getting to know my players, and vice versa. Much of our training time was spent working on tactics. The Daggers were already used to the typical 4-4-2, but I also got them to work on a couple of alternative formations that served me well at Romford - 4-2-3-1, and 3-5-2.

 

I also got round to bolstering our squad with a couple of cheap loan signings, namely a goalkeeper and a left-back.

 

I didn't want to take any liberties by having just one fit goalkeeper, so I brought in 23-year-old Gordy McGinlay on a three-month loan from Wycombe Wanderers. The ambitious Scotsman had already played four matches for Wycombe in League Two this season.

 

I then acquired another Scot to solve our left-back conundrum. 21-year-old Paul Jeffrey arrived from Brentford, also for the next three months.

 

McGinlay and Jeffrey both went straight into the starting line-up on 8 October 2022, when I started my Daggers reign at home to Bury. The 10th-placed Shakers were being managed by an old foe of mine.

 

Steven Schumacher broke my heart two seasons ago, when his Macclesfield Town team knocked my Romford side out of the FA Trophy at the Semi Final stage. Would he ruin my big day again?

 

8 October 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Bury

Yasser Ibrahim could've given me the perfect start as Dagenham & Redbridge manager in the first minute. The winger's cross was heading straight towards goal until Bury goalkeeper Michael Vaughan turned it behind. Three minutes later, Bury's holding midfielder David Sinclair was hurt after colliding with Lee Finnie in the Shakers' penalty area. Sinclair didn't suffer any serious injury, though, and his team grew stronger in the 10th minute. Charles Banya's header was volleyed into our net by one-time Wales international striker Bradley Reid, and we were trailing 1-0. Daggers skipper Bradley Dack tried to put that right in the 16th minute with a piledriver that drifted miles wide. Shortly after that, a ridiculous off-the-ball tackle from Dagenham defender Kyle McFadzean on Reid gifted Bury a soft free-kick. Sinclair couldn't take full advantage, as his set-piece hit the bar before being caught by Gordy McGinlay. When Sinclair fired another free-kick towards McGinlay's goal in the 21st minute, he did get the better of his fellow Scot. 2-0 to the Shakers, and Victoria Road was all shook up. Daggers fans were bouncing for joy three minutes later, though, as Craig Hardwick pulled a goal back after Yasser had hit the post. It was now 2-1, but our defence still looked fragile, so I replaced underperforming right-back Tim Beech with Hamsa Day after 38 minutes. Bury's advantage also looked far from secure... and by the second minute of injury time, it was gone altogether! Hardwick scored a deflected second goal from close range, levelling the match at 2-2!

 

Neither team could get up to speed quickly in the second period, but Bury had woken up by the hour mark. Aussie midfielder Luc Jeggo hit a fierce shot from just outside the area, and McGinlay tipped it over the bar. That won the Shakers the first of three corners in quick succession. They didn't score from any of them, though another set-piece in the 64th minute led to them restoring their lead. Sinclair's free-kick was deflected by McFadzean into the path of Bury's teenage substitute Gavin Quinn, who scored his first senior goal. Much of the blame for us going 3-2 behind was placed on substitute Fraser Keast after he failed to clear the danger. In the 75th minute, Dack tried again to become our saviour, but his 30-yard stunner fizzled just over the crossbar. Our wastefulness in front of goal would be a key part of our downfall in this match. Another was our foul count - we'd conceded 16 of them by the final whistle. Bury should have scored again from another free-kick in the 86th minute, but Jim O'Hanlon headed Banya's delivery past a gaping target. To be fair, the Shakers would have deserved a fourth goal.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Hardwick 24,45)

Bury - 3 (Reid 10, Sinclair 21, Quinn 64)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,247 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 6th, Bury 9th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: McGinlay, Beech (Day), McFadzean, Dunkley, Jeffrey, Yiadom (Keast), Dack, Dunwell, Ibrahim, Finnie (Banton), Hardwick.

 

My debut defeat knocked us out of the top five... but we had a chance to get back up there just three days later. We were at home again, as we took on Conference South play-off winners Kingstonian, who were already embroiled in a relegation tussle.

 

11 October 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Kingstonian

Glen Dunwell picked up a knock in a tackle from Kingstonian midfielder Kenneth Pryce in the 7th minute, but that didn't hurt our attack early on. On 9 minutes, our other central midfielder, Bradley Dack, fired in a drive that was picked up by K's goalie George Tokarczyk. Three minutes later, Adam Barton weighted a perfect cross for Craig Hardwick, whose header went in the goal off the woodwork! 1-0 to Dagenham & Redbridge! The score could've become 2-0 in the 16th minute, but Kyle McFadzean's header from Lee Finnie's corner was just too high. Our next chance to double our advantage came after 23 minutes, when Hardwick missed from close range. Kingstonian then went close to equalising through midfielder Greg Tempest in the 31st minute. Hardwick wasted another fine chance for the Daggers four minutes later after Dunwell had sent him through. The visitors finished the half strongly, as Mark White and Dean Cummings each had opportunities to level within the final six minutes.

 

I brought Shane Byrne on for the second half, and the Irish midfielder was unlucky not to score with a stunning volley in the 48th minute. Eight minutes later, Finnie flicked a long header into the Kingstonian area. K's defender Callum McNaughton made a weak clearance, allowing Craig to fire in his and Dagenham's second goal! Our delight at having a comfortable lead did not last very long. Derek Abel's excellent corner on 61 minutes was finished by on-loan AFC Telford United striker Mark White. Eight minutes later, Abel was involved in another corner move that resulted in Kingstonian erasing their two-goal deficit. This time, the winger was on the receiving end of Tempest's delivery, which he hammered past Robbie Ryder. I shook my head furiously in the dugout as I jotted down a reminder to work harder on defending set-pieces in future. We also had to do better with our attacking set-plays, as Dack showed when he blasted a free-kick over in the 84th minute. Three minutes later, Daggers sub James Craigen struck a desperate long-ranger that never looked likely to find the net. Hardwick fared better in the 89th minute, when his header was caught by Tokarczyk, but our resurgence had come too late. Alan Dowson's Kingstonian had grabbed a point that they barely deserved, and I was still waiting for my first win with Dagenham & Redbridge.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Hardwick 12,56)

Kingstonian - 2 (White 61, Abel 69)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,791 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 5th, Kingstonian 21st

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Day (J Simpson), McFadzean, Dunkley, Jeffrey, Barton, Dack, Dunwell (Byrne), Ibrahim, Finnie (Craigen), Hardwick.

 

Although we were back up to 5th place, I was not a happy man. In fact, I was furious that we had blown a 2-0 lead at home to one of the league's so-called lesser lights. The result continued our disappointing recent record at Victoria Road - a record that we desperately had to improve on in our next game.

 

The FA Cup Qualifying Round 4 draw had given us a seemingly easy tie at home to Willand Rovers. The Devon side played three tiers below us in the Southern League Division 1 South & West, but they saw us as potential scalps.

 

We were without winger James Clay, who returned to Millwall following a brief loan spell. Not that we would miss him, mind, as James didn't play a single game for the Dagenham first-team.

 

15 October 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Willand Rovers

The match began with a third-minute shot from Daggers midfielder Bradley Dack that rocketed inches past the post. Nine minutes later, Dack picked up the ball just inside Willand's area after Lucas Dawson's corner had been headed out of the six-yard box by Mark Collins. Bradley squared it to Adam Barton, who hit an unstoppable strike past young Rovers goalie Jamie Wayman! That opening goal was Adam's fourth of the season. The Irish midfielder could have scored his fifth in the 22nd minute, but he headed just wide from Lee Finnie's long throw. Barton would be booked just before the half-hour mark following a clash with Willand midfielder Jonah Armstrong. Our dominance continued with Yasser Ibrahim blazing a shot over the visitors' crossbar on 32 minutes. We didn't look like getting a second goal, though, until two minutes from time. Dagenham winger Andy Yiadom went down under an apparent tug from Dominic Constable in the Rovers area, and despite Willand's strong protests, the referee awarded us a penalty kick. Finnie fired it powerfully down the middle, so we led 2-0 heading into the half-time interval!

 

We looked for another goal early in the second half, and both Lee and Bradley came close to getting it within the opening seven minutes. We monopolised possession so much that Willand hardly had any time to go on the attack themselves. In fact, Colin Hendy's dismal effort after 60 minutes would be their one and only scoring chance in the whole game! Three minutes later, a fine block from Wayman stopped James Craigen from giving us a 3-0 advantage. We would have to settle for a two-goal win after a mundane final half-hour, but it was still more than enough to put us into Round 1. The only low point was an injury to the impressive Barton, who twisted his knee after being fouled by Willand sub Jon Davis in the 65th minute. Adam would later be ruled out of action for around five weeks. His bad luck led to an opportunity for young midfielder Roy Jones, who made his senior Daggers debut at the age of just 16.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Barton 12, Finnie pen43)

Willand Rovers - 0

FA Cup Qualifying Round 4, Attendance 3,603

DAG & RED LINE-UP: McGinlay, McFadzean, Beech (Wassmer), Dunkley, Yiadom, Dack, Dawson, Barton (Jones), Ibrahim, Finnie (Bell), Craigen.

 

The Round 1 draw took place the following day, and it wasn't particularly kind to us, as we would have to travel to Accrington Stanley in the next round. That said, it also wasn't the worst draw we could've had. Dagenham & Redbridge trashed Accrington 4-0 on the opening day of the league season, so we would certainly have the psychological edge.

Edited by CFuller

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I have spent the last few weeks reading through all three stories. Excited to see the next chapter!

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I have spent the last few weeks reading through all three stories. Excited to see the next chapter!
Welcome back home. :) Now this is more like the good old days.... also, top notch writing as always!

Thanks. I doubted whether I could regain the passion for the story that I had at Romford, particularly after the Elgoibar fiasco, but moving to Dagenham has reignited the fire in me. I'm arguably looking forward to publishing the next installments of this story as much as you are to reading it.

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OCTOBER 2022 (continued)

Following my first win at Dagenham & Redbridge, I added a new face to my backroom staff. 38-year-old Scott Tynan - a former journeyman goalkeeper who played for the likes of Barnet and Rushden & Diamonds - was appointed as a specialist goalkeeping coach.

 

Next up was my first away game in charge, which also happened to be the longest trip of our league season. The chairman was reluctant to spend what little money we had on air travel, so it took a five-hour coach trip to get us from Essex to Heritage Park in Bishop Auckland, where we would play Darlington.

 

The original Darlington went bankrupt in 2012, thanks in no small part to their former owner George Reynolds. Darlo subsequently reformed, and the phoenix club shot up four divisions in seven years to return to the Conference Premier in 2019. The Quakers' status in this division was under threat, though, as they were only 19th when we came to visit.

 

18 October 2022: Darlington vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Craig Hardwick used his pace to open up the Darlington defence in the fifth minute, but then wasted a great chance by blazing it over. Four minutes later, Phil Garland worried us with a low drive that Daggers captain Robbie Ryder had to get down and turn behind. In the 13th minute, Robbie was beaten by a header from Taylor Tombides that fortunately passed the far post. Dagenham winger Fraser Keast was roughed up in a touchline tackle from Calum Fry on 22 minutes, but we began to attack the Quakers hard about four minutes later. Ronnie Banton's through-ball to Hardwick gave Craig a fantastic opportunity that he could only fire straight at Darlo keeper Jake Martin. Banton missed a long-range strike shortly after that, while Yasser Ibrahim was unlucky to see Martin tip his 34th-minute free-kick over the bar. Although Darlington twice went close through Danny Whitehall and John Doherty later on, we arguably had the slight edge following a goalless first half.

 

Darlo frontmen Whitehall and Doherty came out firing for the second period. Ex-Eastleigh striker Whitehall was twice denied by Ryder in the 48th and 52nd minutes. Robbie then got both hands to a strike from former Enfield Town star Doherty on 57 minutes. Three minutes after that save, we were awarded a free-kick in a great attacking position. Banton swung the ball left-footed into the box, and Martin spilled it before Kyle McFadzean applied a clinical finish! Martin's howler had gifted us a 1-0 lead away from home! Later on, I replaced the struggling Keast with Andy Yiadom, who headed wide in the 63rd minute. Our next opportunity to move further in front came two minutes later, when Quakers defender Gareth Barr lunged in on Glen Dunwell in the area. Dunwell, who was born not a million miles away from Darlington in Middlesbrough, took the resultant penalty and hammered it ruthlessly into the net! We were 2-0 in front after 65 minutes... but the drama was only just beginning.

 

Ibrahim was denied a third Daggers goal in the 67th minute, when his 25-yarder was comfortably caught by Martin. Yasser would come to rue that miss a minute later. Darlington had just brought on Jason McGarry and Shaquille Coulthirst as substitute strikers, and it was McGarry who gave them renewed hope with a fierce shot that went in off the post. Following that goal from the teenage Irishman, I urged my boys to tighten up. We would spend the next few minutes defending deep against a reinvigorated Quakers attack. When McGarry blasted the ball inches over the bar after 79 minutes, we were quaking in our boots. Five minutes from full-time, the fear of losing our lead got to us. Darlo midfielder Kevin Mullen's attempted long ball to Garland was intercepted by Hamsa Day, who headed it towards our goalkeeper Ryder. However, Hamsa got it catastrophically wrong and found Coulthirst, who beat Robbie from close range to level the scores! I was raging, and I thought about taking Day off straight away. Instead, I sacrificed Cheyenne Dunkley and brought on Jake Simpson to try and fix our defensive structure. However, the damage had already been done. Martin thwarted Yiadom's attempt to restore our advantage in the 88th minute, and Darlington completed the turnaround three minutes later. A mere ten seconds into added-on time, McGarry tapped a simple shot into the bottom corner, turning what was a 2-0 lead for us into a 3-2 loss. I couldn't believe it.

 

Darlington - 3 (McGarry 68,90, Coulthirst 85)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (McFadzean 60, Dunwell pen65)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,644 - POSITIONS: Darlington 16th, Dag & Red 6th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Day, McFadzean, Dunkley (J Simpson), Jeffrey, Keast (Yiadom), Dawson, Byrne (Dunwell), Ibrahim, Banton, Hardwick.

 

I followed my players into the dressing room in a state of utter fury. "Well, well, well! That was something special, wasn't it? Can any of you pansies explain how that was allowed to happen?" The room remained silent, as the players sat virtually motionless, most of them with their heads bowed in shame.

 

I then turned to Hamsa Day, the right-back whose dreadful header resulted in Darlington's equalising second goal. "My God, Hamsa, that was a terrible back-pass," I scalded him. "What on Earth were you thinking? Were you even thinking anything?"

 

Day rose from the bench and protested, "Don't blame me! It's the other defenders you want to have a go at! They weren't f***ing concentrating!" Most of his team-mates strongly disagreed, and Hamsa eventually admitted that the second goal was most certainly his fault. However, his apology had come too late as far as I was concerned.

 

"I've only watched you in a few matches, Hamsa, but you haven't pulled your weight in any of them," I told him. "You can rot in the reserves for the next three months, or until you've proven to me that you can be relied upon to do a job."

 

The next target of my criticism was winger Andy Yiadom, who was so ineffective after coming on as a substitute. He didn't take my disapproval very well, and a shouting match ensued before I snapped. "Right! You can make your own way back home, Andy! In fact, don't bother coming back at all! YOU'RE SACKED!"

 

Yiadom's contract was terminated the very next morning, after we had completed the long, miserable journey back to Dagenham.

 

A couple of days later, I brought in a new right-winger after signing 22-year-old Ryan Roberts on loan from Everton for three months. The Welshman had a brief stint at Newport County earlier this season.

 

Our next away game was likely to be less gruelling, and not just in terms of distance. Salisbury City's first season back in the Conference Premier had got off to a difficult start, and the Wiltshire side were floundering in 21st position.

 

22 October 2022: Salisbury City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Both teams misfired with their opening salvos, as Dale Gray's poor first-minute header for Salisbury was followed by a desperate half-volley from Dagenham midfielder Bradley Dack. The hosts' next attack, in the sixth minute, would be much more successful. Our mood turned fifty shades of grey after Gray outwitted us with a cunning pass that Curtis Woods hammered home from a tight angle. Salisbury comfortably retained their advantage for the next quarter-hour, and then looked to consolidate it. Gray almost produced a wonderful solo goal in the 22nd minute, only to see Gordy McGinlay tip his shot over. Eight minutes after that, City defender Will Aimson aimed a long ball perfectly for Gray, sending him clean through. Gordy came to our rescue one again, gathering the ball after Gray took a poor touch. After the first half-hour, we looked completely out of the game. That changed dramatically in the 35th minute, when Fraser Keast made a solo run into the Salisbury box and slipped a shot past goalkeeper Dan Hanford. Fraser's first goal for Dagenham drew us level, and another Scottish Dagger kept the score at 1-1 after McGinlay made another superb save from Gray in the 43rd minute.

 

You-know-who continued to test our defence in the opening exchanges of the second half. Within half a second of the kick-off, Gray pulled a shot beyond McGinlay's right-hand post. After 49 minutes, Dagenham striker Lee Finnie hit a vicious strike that was turned behind by Hanford. That would actually be our only shot of a thrill-less second half that effectively ground to a halt when Gray tired himself out. He did, though, summon enough energy to create one last attempt in the 81st minute. His header from Kyle Brown's free-kick found Robert Dickie in the six-yard box. The Salisbury defender couldn't tuck it away, as Tim Beech made a clearance that would ultimately save us a point.

 

Salisbury City - 1 (Woods 6)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Keast 35)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,674 - POSITIONS: Salisbury 22nd, Dag & Red 8th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: McGinlay, Beech, J Simpson, Dunkley (McFadzean), Jeffrey, Keast, Dack, Dunwell, Ibrahim (Haworth), Finnie (Bell), Hardwick.

 

That was another uninspiring performance, and I was still looking for my first league win with Dagenham & Redbridge. Would it come in our next home fixture?

Edited by CFuller

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You seem to be going the wrong way on the table mate, however I've got every confidence that you'll turn this mini slump around. The Conference Premier is a horrible league to try and get out of. Anyway enough of me rambling on.

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You seem to be going the wrong way on the table mate, however I've got every confidence that you'll turn this mini slump around. The Conference Premier is a horrible league to try and get out of. Anyway enough of me rambling on.

It's been a shaky start to life in Dagenham, but hopefully the next league game will be the one that gets us moving back up the table.

The Conference Premier can be a nightmare. It's a long 46-game slog, and by the end of it, only two teams go up. You can't afford too many slip-ups here.

Sacked a player.... blimey

Good story as always mate

Sacking Yiadom was partly me losing my patience in the heat of the moment, and partly me wanting to throw out the dead wood. Yiadom was one of those players who just didn't look good enough for the Conference.

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OCTOBER 2022 (continued)

I tried to gee up my crestfallen players with some words of encouragement before the Essex derby at home to Southend United, hoping that they would produce a much-needed victory in our play-off battle.

 

Southend were desperate to win this game for different reasons. They had won just one of their last ten league matches, and their new manager - former Burnley defender Ben Mee - was trying to stop them from slipping into the relegation zone.

 

26 October 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Southend United

Our defence suffered a major blow after only four minutes. Kyle McFadzean made a firm challenge on Southend striker Rhys Browne, but it was too firm, as the veteran defender hurt his knee in the process. Kyle had to be replaced with Jake Simpson, and our backline looked less secure without McFadzean's presence. Gareth Worby fired a shot wide for Southend in the 11th minute, just moments after James Craigen had missed for the Daggers. Browne gave Robbie Ryder a more thorough test with a 16th-minute header that Ryder turned round his post. That aside, the shooting at both ends was typical of two teams badly struggling for confidence. Ronnie Banton had a torrid time up front for us, putting three shots off target in the first half. That was at least better than Southend, who as a team only had two shots - the second being blasted wide by Worby in the 25th minute. The closest either team came to getting an opener before half-time was in the last minute of normal time. Daggers winger Andy Haworth weighted an excellent cross for fellow Lancastrian Craigen, whose effort was punched clear by Southend's Kyle Blair.

 

We finished the first half promisingly and started the second period in kind. We had a penalty claim when Shane Byrne was tackled by Remzi Ercan in Southend's box after 49 minutes, but the referee saw nothing wrong. Shane then had a 55th-minute shot caught by Blair, who had kept out another Craigen effort a minute earlier. After that bright start, though, we wouldn't threaten the Shrimpers again until the 85th minute. Haworth tried to float a cross towards the head of Craig Hardwick, and Blair punched it clear. Hardwick had come on ten minutes earlier as a replacement for Craigen, although I'd thought about taking Banton off beforehand. By the 87th minute, I was glad that I had kept faith in Ronnie. Glen Dunwell's corner evaded Worby and fell to Banton, who slotted in his first Dagenham goal from point-blank range! That strike gave us a late 1-0 win and moved us back into the top five!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Banton 87)

Southend United - 0

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,991 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Southend 21st

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Dunkley, Beech, McFadzean (J Simpson), Haworth, Byrne (Dack), Dawson, Dunwell, Ibrahim, Banton, Craigen (Hardwick).

 

Three big points were in the bag, but the Daggers' first league win under my management didn't come without cost. It turned out that Kyle McFadzean had strained his knee ligaments, and it was unlikely that he would return to action before the New Year.

 

Kyle's misfortune presented a rare opportunity to Charlie Wassmer. The 31-year-old had waited patiently for his first Dagenham & Redbridge start, and it would come in our FA Cup Round 1 trip to Accrington Stanley. Two other defenders - Mitchell Clark and Josh Meekings - returned to the bench after recovering from their injuries.

 

Up to this match, the Daggers' recent record in the FA Cup was... well, not great. They had lost at the first round proper in 10 of the previous 13 seasons. However, on each of the three occasions that they got into Round 2, they advanced even further - to Round 3.

 

29 October 2022: Accrington Stanley vs Dagenham & Redbridge

We had a nightmare start, with former Bayern Munich striker Kevin Friesenbichler giving Accrington the lead after only six minutes. The Austrian volleyed Nigel Johnson's header into the net following a missed interception from Daggers defender Cheyenne Dunkley. Five minutes later, our debutant winger Ryan Roberts went close to getting a quick equaliser with a half-volley. Shortly after that, Friesenbichler snatched at an opportunity to put Accrington two goals ahead. It was clear that we had to try and take Stanley's sole striker out of the equation. Bradley Dack could've done that with a rough challenge in the 18th minute. Friesenbichler required some treatment, but he came back and volleyed a shot over the bar after 38 minutes. That was his third effort on goal in the opening half, which was one more than the whole Dagenham team combined. It seemed that we would be whimpering out of the FA Cup.

 

I demanded a much more positive start to the second half, and that was what I got. After 48 minutes, Jamie Bell ran at the Stanley defence and hit a fabulous low shot into the corner of the net! We had equalised! Accrington sought an instant response to Jamie's strike, but Friesenbichler could not quite hit the target from Johnson's cross. On 58 minutes, Accrington midfielder Micah John blasted the ball towards goal, and Dagenham goalie Robbie Ryder pushed it brilliantly over the bar. Both keepers would come to the fore in the next few minutes. Accrington's number 1, Murray Kinnaird, caught one of Dack's typical long-rangers in the 61st minute. When Bradley had another pop just outside the area three minutes later, the Scot tipped it behind. In the 68th minute, Ryder caught a header from Friesenbichler, which would be the big Austrian's last scoring opportunity in this match. We had the momentum again by the 75th minute, when Dack chipped a free-kick into the box. Stanley centre-back Dave McArdle was unable to clear the subsequent flick-on from Bell, and full Daggers debutant Charlie Wassmer popped up to turn the ball across the line! The Crown Ground fell almost silent as we took a 2-1 lead! Our situation got even better two minutes after that, with Jamie scoring his second and our third goal! The ground started to empty as home fans gave up on their team's FA Cup dream. Stanley had one last glimmer of hope in the first few seconds of injury time, when Friesenbichler played the ball to Johnson near the penalty spot. The 20-year-old put as much power as he could into the shot... and fired it clean over the bar. After two extra minutes, the final whistle blew and our 3-1 victory was confirmed. For the first time in my managerial career, I had won a match in the FA Cup proper!

 

Accrington Stanley - 1 (Friesenbichler 6)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Bell 48,77, Wassmer 75)

FA Cup Round 1, Attendance 1,142

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech, Wassmer, Dunkley (Clark), Jeffrey, Dawson (Jones), Dack, Roberts, Craigen (Haworth), Finnie, Bell.

 

We were awarded £20,000 in prize money for that win, which put us into Round 2 - just one round away from a potential match against Premier League opposition. Before we could dream of visiting Old Trafford or the Emirates Stadium, though, we would have to negotiate a rather less glamorous tie at either Guiseley or Maldon & Tiptree.

 

We have about four weeks until our next FA Cup game. Before then, we will be concentrating on our Conference Premier play-off bid, which is about to face its toughest challenge yet.

Edited by CFuller

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That was a big couple of wins! Good work!

Sacking Yiadom was partly me losing my patience in the heat of the moment, and partly me wanting to throw out the dead wood. Yiadom was one of those players who just didn't look good enough for the Conference.

I'm glad I'm not the only one to overreact - I once released a player at halftime, in FM14 I think...

But getting rid of the dead wood is always a good idea, it seems like the more games "those guys" play in the more they can drag down the other players on the pitch with them.

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edtheguy said:
I'm glad I'm not the only one to overreact - I once released a player at halftime, in FM14 I think...

Tell me about it!

I will always remember having one particular case of the John Sittons on CM00/01 with Millwall. I signed Aidan Davison on loan from Bradford, and he conceded 3 goals in the first 20 minutes of his debut (against Wigan, I think), so I subbed him and sent him back to Bradford straight away! :lol:

Edited by CFuller

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Like I just mentioned in edtheguy's thread, I haven't been around as much lately, and I missed the beginning of your story, too. I'm glad to get in close to the start of this one; I thoroughly enjoyed "Welcome to Romford," even though it was already a legendary tale by the time I discovered it.

Great stuff, as always. I'll be following.

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Like I just mentioned in edtheguy's thread, I haven't been around as much lately, and I missed the beginning of your story, too. I'm glad to get in close to the start of this one; I thoroughly enjoyed "Welcome to Romford," even though it was already a legendary tale by the time I discovered it.

Great stuff, as always. I'll be following.

Nice to have you back, although I wouldn't call "Welcome to Romford" a legendary tale!

Well that certainly got to Dagenham & Redbridge playing well, sacking a player on the spot. Great work.

The lads now know that their places are on the line. I won't tolerate any more shirkers at this club.

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NOVEMBER 2022

November began for us with a massive game at the Broadfield Stadium, where we took on Conference Premier leaders Crawley Town. The Red Devils had started this season well, but they were on a three-match losing streak. Would our new-found confidence help us stretch that run to four?

 

If we could beat Crawley, we would move to within three points of them and have a real shot at automatic promotion. A defeat against them, though, would leave us with a mountain to climb.

 

5 November 2022: Crawley Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge

The first 15 minutes saw Bradley Dack and Jamie Bell each miss early opportunities for Dagenham. Between those misses, in the 9th minute, Daggers goalkeeper Robbie Ryder got his hands to a shot from Crawley striker Arron Baird. Neither side played well enough to create another opening until the 39th minute, when Gregg Brand fired wide a half-volley for the hosts. Two minutes later, Dack picked up a costly booking for a trip on Crawley winger Bertrand Traoré. It was Bradley's fifth of the season, so he would have to miss the next match through suspension. The Red Devils could not create anything from the resulting free-kick, and we were moving forward on the counter before long. Craig Hardwick floated in a lovely byline cross for Ryan Roberts, and the loanee winger hit the post with his header. Traoré then knocked the ball behind for a corner that Crawley narrowly survived. The first half would remain goalless after Ryder saved another Baird effort in the 44th minute.

 

Crawley had one of their best scoring chances yet after 56 minutes. Substitute Chris Lester centred the ball to Traoré, and the Burkina Faso international hit a shot that Ryder tipped over his bar. That was followed in the next 10 minutes by poor misses from Daggers midfielder Lucas Dawson, who'd come on for Dack at half-time, and Hardwick, whose mini-drought didn't look like ending. We weren't just struggling to get our shots on target - our passing was generally disappointing as well. The best we could hope for in the end was a 0-0 draw, which we scraped home with after surviving some late scares. The biggest fright we got was when an unmarked Lester found the side netting on 83 minutes. A goalless stalemate didn't help either team, as the Red Devils lost top spot to Stevenage and we fell out of the top five. That said, I felt slightly happier than my Crawley counterpart Mark Stewart at full-time.

 

Crawley Town - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,602 - POSITIONS: Crawley 2nd, Dag & Red 7th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings, Beech, Clark (J Simpson), Roberts, Dack (Dawson), Byrne, Dunwell, Ibrahim, Bell (Banton), Hardwick. BOOKED: Dack.

 

Farnborough were one of three teams who leapfrogged us in the table after Bonfire Night's damp squib. We had an opportunity to move back ahead of David Wetherall's charges just three days later, when they visited Victoria Road.

 

I made a significant change to my 3-5-2 formation before our meeting with the Boro. Instead of having two wingers, I decided to try out Paul Jeffrey and Tim Beech (who was named man of the match against Crawley) as wing-backs.

 

8 November 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Farnborough

Farnborough goalkeeper Niall McNamee was thoroughly tested in the opening 15 minutes. The young Northern Irishman got across his goal to tip Shane Byrne's low shot wide after five minutes. McNamee then turned a fierce strike from Jamie Bell over his crossbar in the 10th minute before catching Jamie's header in the 14th. A Daggers counter-attack after 15 minutes ended with Glen Dunwell narrowly missing the target. We were well on top, so guess what happened in the 26th minute? Yep... Farnborough took the lead with their first shot on target. Simon Madden's cross into the box took a deflection off Boro team-mate Cameron Lancaster's heel. Dagenham midfielder Mitchell Clark could only knock the loose ball back to Lancaster, who fired the away team into a 1-0 lead. That advantage could've been doubled through Ryan Brunt later on, but the Farnborough captain missed a couple of long-rangers in the 36th and 40th minute. Two minutes later, Dunwell played a long pass from our side of the halfway line to Lee Finnie, who was about 30 yards from Farnborough's goal. The Scot hit a hopeful strike... and it rocketed straight into McNamee's top-left corner! We were back in the game!

 

I urged my team to adopt a more direct, attacking approach to the second half. To my delight, it produced a second goal within 18 seconds of the restart! Bell hammered in a rebound from close-range after McNamee had parried his initial strike, and it was 2-1 to Dagenham & Redbridge! Farnborough had barely woken up, and by the 52nd minute, the alarms were blaring out for the Boro. Another Dunwell long-ball resulted in a goal, as Jamie chested it and thrashed it into the target! Three minutes after our third goal, we followed it up with yet another. Shane's weighted pass to Finnie was finished from an acute angle by lethal Lee. Within 10 minutes, a level game had turned into a 4-1 thrashing! There was almost no hope of Farnborough coming back from that, although in fairness, they never gave up trying. On 71 minutes, Madden's first-time cross was headed towards goal by Brunt, and tipped over by Robbie Ryder! Five minutes later, Robbie was on hand to catch a free-kick from George Honeyman. The resulting Daggers breakaway should've ended with Bell completing his hat-trick, but Jamie got his thunderous drive all wrong. In the 83rd minute, Glen tried to complete a dream performance by following his two earlier assists with one goal for himself. It wasn't to be, as McNamee made a simple save. A fifth goal would have been the perfect end to a resounding victory that saw us move back up to 5th place.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 4 (Finnie 42,55, Bell 46,52)

Farnborough - 1 (Lancaster 26)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,801 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 5th, Farnborough 7th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings (Dunkley), Wassmer, J Simpson, Beech, Jeffrey, Byrne (Dawson), Clark, Dunwell, Finnie, Bell (Hardwick).

 

That was a fabulous attacking performance, and it left me wondering why we couldn't play like that on a more regular basis.

Edited by CFuller

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NOVEMBER 2022 (continued)

24 hours after our league win over Farnborough, we discovered who we would be facing in Round 2 of the FA Cup. Our opponents would be Conference North team Guiseley, who won a Round 1 replay at Maldon & Tiptree.

 

Our next league game was at the horrendously-named stadium:mk against the team almost everyone loves to hate - 8th-placed Milton Keynes Dons. This match marked the halfway point of our Conference Premier season, and we were barely three months into it!

 

12 November 2022: Milton Keynes Dons vs Dagenham & Redbridge

There was scrappy start to proceedings in Milton Keynes, and I had to make my first substitution after only 11 minutes. Shane Byrne was forced off after hurting his groin in a firm challenge from Dons midfielder Antoni Sarcevic. He was replaced by Bradley Dack, who had served his one-match ban. It didn't take long for Bradley to have his first pop from distance, as he miscued an ambitious effort in the 19th minute. On 31 minutes, Lee Finnie picked out his Daggers strike partner Jamie Bell with a pinpoint pass into the penalty area, but Jamie shot inches past the post. MK almost scored about a minute later, when Sarcevic's fierce strike was blocked by Robbie Ryder. The deadlock would at last be broken after 34 minutes. Finnie played another sublime pass to Bell, and Jamie’s clinical finish past Cameron Belford gave us the opening goal! Dunwell tried to get us another in the 37th minute, and he was rather unlucky not to score. In the last minute of normal time, Glen chipped the ball over the MK Dons defence to send Bell through. Jamie shrugged off Dons defender Daryl Rowley to reach the pass and hit a shot that Belford saved from point-blank range. Would that stoppage just before the break be a crucial moment?

 

The second half began with two wild shots at either end from MK's Colin Gordon in the opening minute and from Bell four minutes later. Sarcevic also went for power in his attempt at goal after 53 minutes. Unfortunately for us, it was an excellent strike from the edge of the penalty box, and Ryder had no hope of keeping it out. We may not have been in the lead anymore, but we tried our hardest to retake the initiative. After 61 minutes, Dack bent a 25-yarder into the hands of Belford. Three minutes later, MK's experienced shotstopper parried another effort from Bell, who was chasing his third double in four matches. A rare mistake from Josh Meekings in the 67th minute could have left us chasing the game. The Daggers defender headed Conor Newton's long ball into the path of Dons striker Harry Bunn, who raced through and struck the bottom of the post. The hosts next threatened us six minutes from time, when on-loan Swansea City midfielder Christopher Lewis hit a thunderous drive that Robbie had to push away from goal. The last few minutes saw Mitchell Clark and Bell each miss opportunities to turn one Daggers point into three. Despite some great chances for either team, a thrilling match finished level at 1-1. I was a little disappointed that we didn't get the win, although I would have taken a draw before kick-off anyway.

 

Milton Keynes Dons - 1 (Sarcevic 53)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Bell 34)

Conference Premier, Attendance 4,288 - POSITIONS: MK Dons 10th, Dag & Red 5th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech, Meekings, J Simpson, Jeffrey, Clark, Byrne (Dack), Finnie, Dunwell, Ibrahim (Haworth (Banton)), Bell.

 

Shane Byrne was ruled out for the next three weeks with a groin strain, but that didn't dampen my mood. We were still in 5th place midway through the league season, and I was feeling optimistic after a run of six matches unbeaten.

 

We had some very mixed news on the midfield front before our first FA Trophy game. Adam Barton was fit again following an ankle injury, but Mitchell Clark would have to miss the upcoming fixture. Mitchell was suffering from food poisoning after eating some dodgy lasagne, which is rather ironic for an ex-Arsenal youth player!

 

There was nothing funny about the next Daggers player to be ruled out of the cup game. Backup goalkeeper Gordy McGinlay was diagnosed with a hernia and would therefore be out for around six weeks. I reluctantly cut Gordy's loan short and sent him back to Wycombe Wanderers to receive treatment.

 

That meant I had to find a new deputy for Robbie Ryder. Less than 24 hours later, 27-year-old Liam Roberts arrived on a three-month loan from Charlton Athletic.

 

After a difficult week, we headed to Wiltshire for our FA Trophy Round 1 clash against Salisbury City. Although we were in good form, the Whites were also on a roll, having won five consecutive matches without conceding since we held them to a 1-1 draw last month. Whose purple patch would come a cropper here?

 

19 November 2022: Salisbury City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

In-form Dagenham defender Jake Simpson made a crucial interception after 11 minutes to stop Salisbury from taking an early lead. Jake headed Karl Sheppard's cross out of the six-yard box before it could reach City striker Dale Gray. That clearance came in between two more wild long-rangers from our vice-captain Bradley Dack. Dack never looked like scoring, but Jamie Bell went much closer with a 14th-minute header that was caught by Dan Hanford. Four minutes later, Daggers centre-half Josh Meekings hurt himself whilst nicking the ball off Kieran Lord. Josh received some treatment and was back on the pitch by the 21st minute, when we came under pressure again. Paul Jeffrey's poor back-header from Gray's weighted ball allowed Sheppard to hit a half-volley that Robbie Ryder blocked superbly. On 32 minutes, Bell came within inches of giving us the opening goal with a fierce drive. Two minutes after that, Jamie's fellow striker Lee Finnie pushed Salisbury midfielder Jason Murphy, conceding a free-kick to the Whites. Murphy lofted the set-piece into the box, where Gray got a sweet connection and headed it into the net! Salisbury were 1-0 up, and they could've built on that before half-time. Captain Brian O'Boyle blasted a shot just wide in the 40th minute, and defender Will Aimson's 45th-minute header was caught by Ryder.

 

Two minutes into the second half, Bell hit a fine strike from just outside Salisbury's area. Unfortunately for Jamie, Hanford got down to palm it away. Our next real effort on goal didn't come the 67th minute, when Dack's direct free-kick was tipped over by Hanford. Four minutes later, another Daggers midfielder - Glen Dunwell - hit a vicious strike that went high and wide. In the build-up to that chance, Bradley made a rough but fair challenge on Murphy. The 19-year-old Welshman was badly hurt, and Salisbury had to replace him with namesake Peter Murphy. The former Accrington Stanley defender had a pop at goal after 73 minutes, and he sent it wide. We went all-out in the final 15 minutes to try and force a replay. City's defence was so tough to break down, though, that we were restricted to two efforts from substitutes Craig Hardwick and Fraser Keast in the 76th and 89th minutes. Both of them went close, but no cigar. Although man of the match Simpson did his utmost to restrict Salisbury to just the one goal, our disappointing efforts at the other end had cost us dear. After 90 minutes, our bid to win the FA Trophy was already in ruins.

 

Salisbury City - 1 (Gray 34)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

FA Trophy Round 1, Attendance 1,621

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech, Meekings, J Simpson, Jeffrey, Dawson, Dack, R Roberts (Keast), Dunwell (Barton), Finnie (Hardwick), Bell.

 

That was disappointing, because a good run in the FA Trophy would have generated some much-needed income. Chairman Antonello Scolaro softened the blow of our cup exit when he pledged to pump £100,000 into the coffers. That investment put our balance back in the black for the time being.

 

We now had a week to prepare for another big cup game - in Round 2 of the FA Cup. But just four days before our visit to Guiseley, disaster struck.

Edited by CFuller

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NOVEMBER 2022 (continued)

In the build-up to our crucial FA Cup game, our goalkeeper and captain Robbie Ryder broke down in training. Physio John Gowens quickly diagnosed him with a sports hernia. Robbie would have to spend the next six weeks on the sidelines.

 

With the loan market now closed, we would have to get by with Liam Roberts as our only fit keeper until the New Year.

 

Thankfully, Liam didn't have any accidents later in the week, so he was able to make his Daggers debut when we travelled up to the small West Yorkshire town of Guiseley. Our opponents were 9th in the Conference North, and their manager Jon Stead had been in charge for almost exactly a year.

 

26 November 2022: Guiseley vs Dagenham & Redbridge

With less than three minutes on the clock, our stand-in captain Bradley Dack decided to have a shot from around 20 yards out. You won't be surprised to learn that it posed about as much threat as Audley Harrison with a pink feather duster. More surprising was the source of our next chance - wing-back Tim Beech, who like Dack fired wide in the 9th minute. On 11 minutes, Guiseley midfielder Jason Bridle floated a cross into the box, and striker Richard Barnes headed it wide. Three minutes later, another right-wing cross from Theo Jones reached the Lions' other frontman. Aidan Hopper's effort was much better than his team-mate's, as his header bounced past Liam Roberts and rustled into the net! Most of the Nethermoor crowd rejoiced as Guiseley opened the scoring! Things didn't get any better for us in the 23rd minute, when Guiseley captain Theo Jones tripped up Adam Barton. Adam was quite badly hurt, so I took him off and sent Mitchell Clark on. Daggers forward Jamie Bell had a shot blocked five minutes later... by his strike partner Lee Finnie! We almost had another case of bad luck in the 37th minute. Hopper bent a cross in from a tight angle, and Liam could've easily palmed it into his own net, but he made an excellent save in the end. There was some superb last-ditch defending at Guiseley's end in added-on time. Lions defender George Gray's perfectly-timed tackle on a clean-through Finnie meant that we were still trailing 1-0 at the break.

 

Five minutes into the second half, Gray came close to scoring a goal at the same end where he had just prevented a near-certain one. His header from Jones' cross was well held by Roberts, who looked solid on his Dagenham debut. His Guiseley counterpart Wayne Powell also impressed, as the former Newcastle United goalie caught a 54th-minute strike from our substitute midfielder James Craigen. Eight minutes later, Craigen laid the ball off to Bell, who fired straight at Powell. Our leading scorer Bell had another chance to save us in the 79th minute, only to put it past the post. The last ten minutes were a disappointing anti-climax, as Guiseley comfortably held onto their lead, despite Barnes hobbling off late on. At full-time, the home fans cheered so loudly that they figuratively raised the Nethermoor roof! Guiseley had ended our FA Cup dream and made it to Round 3 for the first time ever!

 

Guiseley - 1 (Hopper 14)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

FA Cup Round 2, Attendance 895

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, Meekings (Craigen), Wassmer, Dunkley, Beech, Jeffrey, Dack, Dawson, Barton (Clark), Bell, Finnie. BOOKED: Jeffrey.

 

I was very angry that we lost so tamely against lower-league opposition. Guiseley progressed to Round 3, where they were given a plum draw at local giants Leeds United.

 

With our cup hopes diminished on back-to-back Saturdays, all of our focus was now on the league. By the time we travelled to Stevenage, we had dropped from 5th to 8th in the Conference Premier. All of our play-off rivals had played at least three times since our last league game, and some had really built up their points tallies.

 

We were now four points outside the play-off zone with games in hand, and a victory at Broadhall Way would really help our bid to get back in the top five. Stevenage wanted three points for another reason, as a win would see them wrestle top spot from Crawley Town's grasp.

 

30 November 2022: Stevenage vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Stevenage attacked us hard early on. In the second minute, their centre-back Brad Burke won a corner after his shot deflected behind off Mitchell Clark. The corner resulted in a chance for James Wilson, whose strike rebounded off team-mate Jon Routledge's head. Stevenage registered their first shot on target moments later, when Paddy Nolan's effort from the edge of our penalty area was parried by Liam Roberts. Stevenage's next opening came in the 8th minute, when Martin Freestone cut out Tim Beech's throw and passed to Nolan in the Dagenham area. Nolan's attempted shot deflected into the part of his Irish compatriot Daniel Kearns, who drilled the Boro into a 1-0 lead. We issued our response to that opening goal ten minutes later. A fine passing move ended with Glen Dunwell smacking the ball into the top corner of the hosts' net. Glen then tried to put us ahead in the 23rd minute, but his header from Clark's corner went just over. That was followed by an extended spell of pressure from Stevenage. Nolan had a trio of attempts between the 26th and 28th minutes - the first was saved by Roberts, the second was blocked by Jake Simpson, and the third found the net. It didn't count, though, because Nolan was well offside. Former Manchester United striker Wilson was also denied a goal after 33 minutes, as he'd fouled Charlie Wassmer whilst sliding Kirk Shortland's cross into the net. Yet another opportunity came Nolan's way in the 36th minute, and he curled it past the far post. Having been let off the hook countless times, we punished the Boro's wastefulness a minute later. Ryan Roberts provided the assist for Bell's 9th goal of the season, which gave us a 2-1 lead! Stevenage were unable to restore parity before half-time, with Wilson and Nolan each missing chances in the first half's closing stages.

 

The second half was barely two minutes old when Stevenage got the leveller I'd been half-expecting. Nolan hit a low pass towards the penalty spot, where Wilson slipped the ball underneath Liam's dive and made it 2-2. Stevenage then upped the ante, forcing us to defend even deeper. Nolan went over the top with yet another opportunity in the 50th minute, while Routledge's half-volley a minute later forced Liam into a desperate save. After 54 minutes, a cross from Routledge led to a mini-scramble in our box. Nolan was again unlucky not to score, as his shot deflected off Stevenage skipper Callum Howe and went out for a goal kick. We'd withstood a wave of Stevenage attacks, and we looked to hit back three minutes later. Inside-forward Yasser Ibrahim's shot from the left was parried by Mark Birighitti, and Boro full-back Arno Andersen got to the ricochet just ahead of Ryan Roberts. Birighitti made another key save in the 64th minute, when the Aussie pushed Bradley Dack's 35-yarder behind. We couldn't create any more chances in that opening spell, and Stevenage were attacking again by the 72nd minute. Nolan came within a few inches of finally adding his name to the scoresheet, but the unlucky Irish striker struck the crossbar. With time running out, it seemed that we were going to hold on for an improbable draw.

 

I took a major risk after 82 minutes, replacing lone striker Bell with Ronnie Banton. Before Ronnie could get his first chance to strike, Nolan finally found a four-leaf clover for Stevenage. With seven minutes to go, Matty Whichelow cracked a centre to Nolan, whose ELEVENTH shot of the game went in off Liam's right-hand post! That was a devastating blow, and Routledge knocked us to the canvas with another on 86 minutes. Stevenage saved their best goal for last, as 33-year-old midfielder Routledge fired a 25-yarder that clipped the bar and went in. Those two goals had turned what was looking like a 2-2 draw into a soul-crushing 4-2 defeat.

 

Stevenage - 4 (Kearns 8, Wilson 48, Nolan 83, Routledge 86)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Dunwell 18, Bell 37)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,633 - POSITIONS: Stevenage 1st, Dag & Red 10th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, Beech, Wassmer, J Simpson, Jeffrey (Whincup), Clark, Dack, R Roberts (Finnie), Dunwell, Ibrahim, Bell (Banton).

 

We were on a roll about a fortnight ago, but three straight away defeats have really hurt our confidence. With up to seven league games on our schedule for December, it's vital that we don't get into a losing habit. A bad run in the weeks before and after Christmas could ruin our whole season.

Edited by CFuller

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Conference Premier Table (End of November 2022)

                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Stevenage              25    14    5     6     35    19    +16   47
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2.          Crawley                26    13    7     6     41    26    +15   46
3.          AFC Wimbledon          26    12    7     7     37    28    +9    43
4.          Cambridge              26    12    5     9     38    34    +4    41
5.          Newport County         26    11    7     8     31    30    +1    40
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Bury                   26    10    8     8     36    29    +7    38
7.          Farnborough            25    10    8     7     42    36    +6    38
8.          Ebbsfleet              26    10    8     8     40    36    +4    38
9.          Chelmsford             25    10    6     9     41    33    +8    36
10.         Dag & Red              24    10    6     8     40    32    +8    36
11.         York                   26    9     8     9     39    30    +9    35
12.         Boreham Wood           25    8     11    6     37    33    +4    35
13.         Darlington             26    9     8     9     37    37    0     35
14.         Salisbury              25    9     7     9     29    23    +6    34
15.         Eastleigh              25    8     8     9     31    31    0     32
16.         Accrington             25    7     11    7     30    32    -2    32
17.         MK Dons                25    9     5     11    24    28    -4    32
18.         Harrogate              25    9     5     11    23    34    -11   32
19.         Lincoln                26    7     9     10    32    39    -7    30
20.         Cheltenham             25    8     4     13    23    37    -14   28
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21.         Kingstonian            24    7     6     11    34    36    -2    27
22.         Alfreton               25    6     7     12    26    52    -26   25
23.         Macclesfield           26    6     6     14    25    38    -13   24
24.         Southend               25    6     6     13    19    37    -18   24

Edited by CFuller

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DECEMBER 2022

My first two months at Dagenham & Redbridge had been stressful - and the performances of some of my players hadn't helped. Having had enough time to fully evaluate my squad, I decided to transfer-list a few lads who were either overpaid, underperforming, or just surplus to requirements.

 

One of our most expensive players, Yasser Ibrahim, wouldn't go quietly. When I told Yasser that I was thinking about selling him because his performances didn't justify his £1,400-per-week salary, he kicked up a right fuss.

 

The Egyptian tried to defend his recent performances, and he accused me of not making the most of his abilities. I was so furious that I transfer-listed Ibrahim straight away and banished him to the reserves.

 

Three other players were told that I intended to sell them when the transfer window opens in January. Fraser Keast and Charlie Wassmer both conceded that it was time for them to move on, while James Craigen reluctantly accepted his fate after unsuccessfully pleading to stay.

 

Our first league match of December was at home to 8th-placed Ebbsfleet United. I could never beat Ebbsfleet during my time at Romford, so I wished for some better luck against Garry Flitcroft's men this time around.

 

3 December 2022: Ebbsfleet United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

I was encouraged by the start we made, as we won two corners in the opening seven minutes... and came close to scoring from the second of them. Glen Dunwell crossed it into the six-yard box, and centre-back Jake Simpson headed just beyond the far post. Six minutes later, in the 13th minute, Ebbsfleet winger Mauro Vilhete pulled a low shot wide. Lee Finnie then wasted a fine chance for Dagenham after 14 minutes. Jamie Bell found Finnie in acres of space in the penalty area, but Lee still missed. The first save either goalkeeper had to make came three minutes later, when Daggers custodian Liam Roberts kept out a close-range volley from Lanre Oyebanjo. The action then died down somewhat until Ebbsfleet striker Andrew Hart was floored by a perfectly-timed tackle from Simpson in the 41st minute. The Fleet had to bring off the badly-injured Hart and replace him with Sean Lowe, whose header on 45 minutes was caught by Liam Roberts. Injury time saw Daggers midfielder Dunwell bend a banana shot into the hands of United goalkeeper Harry Jones, who kept the half-time scoreline at 0-0.

 

Like in the first half, we started the second period with an early corner. Dunwell's delivery was a poor one, though, and Oyebanjo headed it away to start an Ebbsfleet counter-attack. Lowe picked up the loose ball inside the Fleet's half and dribbled all the way to our area, where Tim Beech tripped him up. The referee pointed to the spot, from which Gavin Lee-Bulmer slotted Ebbsfleet into the lead after 48 minutes. I was so unhappy with stand-in captain Beech that I took him off and replaced him with Josh Meekings. Our deficit did not last long, as we provided a quick response within six minutes. Dunwell exchanged passes with Bell and coolly finished for the equaliser. We weren't looking good defensively, though, as Liam had to parry a couple of Oyebanjo efforts either side of Glen's goal. I took action after 62 minutes by subbing the woeful Cheyenne Dunkley and sending Charlie Wassmer on. We looked a bit more secure with Charlie at the back, although Oyebanjo still intercepted a headed clearance from Dunwell after 70 minutes. The Irish midfielder then hit a 20-yard drive that was blown well off target. Although Dunwell was having another fine game, he tired towards the end, so I rested him for the closing stages. It would not be a wise move. After 86 minutes, Meekings gave away a free-kick near our corner flag for tripping winger Mark Timlin, who crossed it to his right. Simpson made the interception, but Lowe outjumped Glen's replacement Adam Barton and headed it back towards Lee-Bulmer, who scored his second goal! I felt disgusted. For the second game in a row, we had thrown away a drawing position late on and come away pointless.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Dunwell 54)

Ebbsfleet United - 2 (Lee-Bulmer pen47,86)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,131 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 11th, Ebbsfleet 5th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, Beech (Meekings), Dunkley (Wassmer), J Simpson, Jeffrey, Dawson, Clark, R Roberts, Dunwell (Barton), Finnie, Bell.

 

Another Daggers player went on the transfer list in the wake of our fourth successive defeat. I had already warned Cheyenne Dunkley that I was thinking about selling him, and a lame display against Ebbsfleet United was the final straw for me. I will definitely be looking to ditch Dunkley next month.

 

The following Tuesday, I was at the M&B Sports and Social Club, where I watched our reserves in Essex Senior Cup Round 4 action against... none other than my former employers Romford! We had already overcome Waltham Abbey and Southend Manor in the earlier rounds, so could we progress further into the tournament?

 

No, we couldn't. Romford won 2-1 after extra-time, with summer signing Wes Fletcher getting both goals. I wasn't too surprised, because the Boro were in top form under Tony Burman, and leading the Conference South by three points! I'll also admit that I felt a bit envious watching my old side play so well.

 

Before I could think about whether I had left Romford at the wrong time, I switched my attention to Dagenham & Redbridge's next home game, which came 24 hours later. We were massive odds-on favourites to beat Harrogate Town, who were 18th, and winless in the league for almost exactly two months.

 

7 December 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Harrogate Town

Hamsa Day made his first Dagenham start in over a month as a replacement for the underperforming Tim Beech. Another out-of-favour defender got a chance to impress after just four minutes. Josh Meekings twisted his knee very early on, so Jason McCarthy made his first appearance for me as a substitute. A minute after that, Bradley Dack went close to putting us ahead with a free-kick that flew just over the crossbar. Jamie Bell had a shot caught by Harrogate goalkeeper Karimm Tucker in the 8th minute as we ratcheted up the early pressure. After Tucker saved another Bell effort in the 14th minute, Paul Jeffrey rushed towards the rebound, only to be tripped up by Town midfielder Michael Richens. We were awarded a penalty, which Glen Dunwell put away to the delight of the Victoria Road faithful! The floodgates threatened to open as we hammered Harrogate with shot after shot. Tucker had to parry yet another chance from Bell on 22 minutes, while McCarthy came close to getting a shock goal three minutes later. Our cause was helped by Harrogate's high foul count - the Yorkshiremen picked up three yellow cards within the first half-hour. Our first booking came in the 39th minute, when Dack was cautioned for holding back Desmond Byers. Moments later, Bradley executed a perfect tackle on Jonathan O'Donnell to start off a Daggers counter-attack. The end result was Day's assist for yet another Bell goal, and a 2-0 lead! Harrogate's situation threatened to get even worse in the last few minutes before half-time. Veteran striker Terry Gornell pulled his hamstring while committing a foul on Dack, and Mitchell Clark hit the bar with the resulting free-kick.

 

Harrogate's only shot of the first half was a Jacob Winter free-kick that Liam Roberts easily caught on 23 minutes. Liam wouldn't have much more to do after the break. In the 49th minute, he saw Ollie Jones dribble from Town's half to our penalty area before cracking a shot miles wide. That aside, Harrogate hardly looked like getting back into contention. Glen should have finished them off after 60 minutes, but his edge-of-the-area strike was too powerful and went into the stands. Dunwell's next effort in the 76th minute ricocheted off three players before Tucker picked it up. After Tucker saved a trio of attempts from Jamie, Hamsa and Jason in the last 10 minutes, we eased off and tried to preserve our two-goal lead. The closest that came to being halved was when Harrogate substitute Ryan Taylor hit a close-range half-volley in the first few seconds of injury time. Roberts pushed it away to secure his first Dagenham clean sheet, and our first win in six attempts. We dominated the shots count 21-4 and arguably should've beaten Town by a much greater margin than 2-0, but a win's a win.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Dunwell pen14, Bell 39)

Harrogate Town - 0

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,644 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 8th, Harrogate 19th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, Meekings (McCarthy), Wassmer, J Simpson, Day, Jeffrey, Dack (Byrne), Clark, Dunwell, Bell, Hardwick (Finnie). BOOKED: Dack, Wassmer.

 

The victory was tarnished a little by that early injury to defender Josh Meekings, whose twisted knee would keep him out for the next three weeks.

 

It was also confirmed later on that one of our reserve players would soon be joining our beaten opponents. Striker James Craigen had agreed an £8,000 transfer to Harrogate, which would go through in the New Year.

 

We had another meeting with opposition from North Yorkshire six days later, when we travelled to York City. The Minstermen were in 14th place and having a disappointing season by their standards.

Edited by CFuller

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New broom sweeping clean eh? Good win against Harrogate, I've no doubt you can get back up into the play-off spots. That said, part of me would very much like to see how you write having to face Romford in the league...

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New broom sweeping clean eh? Good win against Harrogate, I've no doubt you can get back up into the play-off spots. That said, part of me would very much like to see how you write having to face Romford in the league...

January's just around the corner, so that'll give me an opportunity to bring in fresh blood and take out the rubbish.

It'll be very interesting if I ever have to write about my Dagenham team playing against Romford in any match. Part of me hopes we won't be meeting in the league next season, as that could well mean we're in League Two (or, less positively, Romford haven't been promoted).

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DECEMBER 2022 (continued)

13 December 2022: York City vs Dagenham & Redbridge

York attacked right from the kick-off, with winger Joe McNeil putting a shot wide after just 12 seconds. Minstermen striker Hughie Orr gave us some more thorough tests in the 3rd and 7th minutes, as Daggers keeper Liam Roberts saved both of his efforts. As rain began to pour down on the York Community Stadium, the hosts' scoring chances dried up somewhat. McNeil fired a free-kick off target after 15 minutes, and Orr had a shot blocked by Jason McCarthy a minute later, but that was it for a good while. York found it more difficult to penetrate a deeper Daggers backline, while we were unable to launch any quick counter-attacks. Our only chance of the first half was an underwhelming one that Mitchell Clark couldn't strike cleanly in the 38th minute. Despite our struggles, I still felt confident that we could go into the break with the score still at 0-0. Alas, an injury-time mistake from the otherwise impressive McCarthy robbed us of that. Jason failed to clear Brian Maun's square ball away from Adam Buxton, and the midfielder's tap-in gave City the opening goal their play had deserved.

 

Three minutes into the second period, Buxton attempted to score another goal for York, but the execution was not there that time. There was similar profligacy from our half-time substitute Ryan Noble. In the 56th minute, he wasted a fantastic chance to mark his comeback from injury with an equaliser. An excellent lob from Clark created an opening for Noble, but Ryan's shot was turned behind by York goalie Shaun Howell. That was the key moment in the second half. The final 30 minutes were very disappointing, as we only had two long-range attempts to level. Clark's free-kick in the 81st minute missed by miles, as did Bradley Dack's customary hit-and-hoper in the dying moments. Our inability to threaten the Minstermen meant that we once again went back home with nothing.

 

York City - 1 (Buxton 45)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,669 - POSITIONS: York 11th, Dag & Red 8th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, McCarthy (Beech), Wassmer, J Simpson, Day, Jeffrey, Dack, Clark, Dunwell (Byrne), Bell, Hardwick (Noble).

 

Although the likes of Jake Simpson and Jason McCarthy could be commended for their brave efforts at the back, I had little positive to say about our offence. We had scored just three goals in our last six away games. For a team with aspirations of reaching the play-offs, that's nowhere near good enough.

 

By the time I got back home, I'd decided to write yet another player's name onto my transfer list - a list that was now longer than Oskar Schindler's. My coaches had already warned me that striker Ryan Noble might never fully recover from the broken foot he sustained in our opening league game, which kept him out for four months. After his hapless display against York, I was inclined to agree with them.

 

One striker that I have no intentions of selling any time soon is Jamie Bell. The quick and strong frontman had scored seven goals in 12 matches since I took charge of the Daggers, so I rewarded him with a new 18-month contract and a pay rise from £350 to £750 per week. I know that I was asked to cut the wage bill, but I couldn't risk losing Jamie for nothing in the summer.

 

Some more good news came with Kyle McFadzean’s return to full training following a knee injury. It didn't last, though, as Kyle strained his ankle ligaments a few days later. The defender's comeback was therefore postponed until February at the earliest.

 

We had one more game before Christmas, and it came at relegation-threatened Accrington Stanley. We'd beaten Accrington twice already this season by an aggregate score of 7-1, so we were aiming for an impressive treble.

 

21 December 2022: Accrington Stanley vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Lee Finnie started the match poorly by giving away a free-kick in the second minute. Accrington's 16-year-old winger Ishmale Thurstan lofted it into the Daggers box, where Tyrone Mings headed wide. Four minutes later, an awful throw-in from Stanley left-back Alex Smith was intercepted by Ryan Roberts. Ryan crossed to Lee, who forgot about his earlier foul and flicked us into a very early lead! Things did not get any better for Accrington goalkeeper Murray Kinnaird, who in the 10th minute broke his left hand while picking up a loose ball! Incredibly, the Scot played through the pain and continued! Lee could have beaten Kinnaird again four minutes later, but he pulled his shot off target after latching onto Glen Dunwell's through-ball. On 23 minutes, another great pass from Glen set up Jamie Bell, whose effort was pushed behind by Kinnaird's good hand. We were unable to increase our lead, and we had to hang onto it late in the first half. We did so quite comfortably, because Charlie Wallace had a frustrating half as Stanley's sole striker. The on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers forward missed the target with his first shot on 36 minutes, and his next effort two minutes later was headed straight into Liam Roberts' hands. Midfielder Micah John had to come off with a groin strain soon after, thus further damaging the home team's hopes.

 

Accrington boss James Chambers made a big change at half-time, as substitute Kevin Friesenbichler went up front instead of Wallace, who was dropped early in the second half. That didn't help Stanley much to begin with. Jake Simpson was unlucky not to give us a 2-0 advantage when his header went over in the 53rd minute. The centre-back had gone closer to scoring than Bell, who was substituted ten minutes later after having just a single shot on target. Jamie's replacement, Ronnie Banton, wouldn't register any in his half-hour cameo. Accrington started to go for an equaliser midway through the half. 20-year-old winger Richard McGlynn, on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, crashed a long drive wide in the 66th minute. There was even more drama at our end two minutes later. Dunwell could only divert Jak Dowdall's corner into the path of Kurtis March, whose shot was blocked on the line by Hamsa Day! The deflection went to Stanley's Australian defender Dave McArdle, who also hit Hamsa the human wall before Simpson cleared! My stress levels went down following that close save, but they shot up again after 78 minutes. Banton passed the ball through space to Finnie, who tried to centre it to Dunwell. March could only hoof his clearance as far as Mitchell Clark, and Mitchell played a one-two with Tim Beech before firing miles off target. Beech himself had a golden opportunity for 2-0 on 81 minutes, but he couldn't direct Glen's through-ball into the net. Accrington attacked again moments later, and when Friesenbichler was pushed by Simpson in the area, they had themselves a penalty. The fouled Austrian was clinical from 12 yards out, coolly drawing Stanley level with eight minutes to go. We were annoyed, but we kept going and pushed forward to try and retake the lead. In the final minute of normal time, Banton stroked the ball ahead of Beech. Tim then played a perfect pass to Dunwell in the area, and Glen stunned the Crown Ground with an incisive finish that ultimately earned us all three points!

 

Accrington Stanley - 1 (Friesenbichler pen82)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Finnie 6, Dunwell 90)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,064 - POSITIONS: Accrington 19th, Dag & Red 7th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, Day, McCarthy, J Simpson (Wassmer), Jeffrey, Byrne (Beech), Clark, R Roberts, Dunwell, Finnie, Bell (Banton).

 

Glen Dunwell's late winner could well be the most important goal of our season, because it put the play-offs back within our reach. With 28 matches played, we were only two points behind the top five.

Edited by CFuller

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DECEMBER 2022 (continued)

All of the players were given Christmas Day off, and I hoped the rest would do them good ahead of a gruelling run of fixtures. From Boxing Day onwards, we faced no fewer than four matches in the short space of eight days.

 

Our Boxing Day fixture was at Meadow Park against mid-table Boreham Wood. I could have been in the home dugout for that game, as I applied for the Boreham Wood manager's job when Ian Allinson stepped down in May. My application was unsuccessful and they gave the job to Steve McNulty instead, but this was a chance for me to tell them that they had perhaps picked the wrong man.

 

After just over a month out with a sports hernia, Robbie Ryder was fit enough to travel to Hertfordshire and take his place on the bench. Though the skipper wouldn't be ready to start for another week, we were glad to have him back.

 

26 December 2022: Boreham Wood vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Neither team impressed with their shooting early on. Boreham Wood striker Patrick Preston blasted an effort off target in the 5th minute, while our frontman Jamie Bell missed two in the 8th and 21st. Things started to get interesting on 23 minutes, when Wood winger Jacob Mumuni's cross was headed behind by Jason McCarthy. Louis Morgan swung in the corner, and Daggers midfielder Glen Dunwell could only divert the ball to Mumuni, who tucked it in at the near post. 1-0 to Boreham Wood. Glen's a good professional, so he shrugged off that disappointment and tried to pull us level quickly. Dunwell failed to hit the target a few moments after the restart, but in the 26th minute, his half-volley from Bell's header was pushed away by Darren Henry. By the 32nd minute, though, we were staring at the prospect of a 2-0 deficit. McCarthy stuck out a leg to floor Preston, giving away a penalty to the hosts. Left-back Shay Mullan stepped up to take it... but his powerful strike didn't beat Liam Roberts, who palmed it to the side! In the context of the match, that was a massive save. Boreham Wood did beat Liam for a second time after 41 minutes, but Louis Storey was offside when he nodded Morgan's cross home.

 

The home team tried again to pull clear when play restarted for the second half. On 48 minutes, on-loan Crystal Palace teenager Mumuni sidestepped Paul Jeffrey before pulling his shot wide of goal. The Ghana Under-20s international went much closer a minute later, when he fired a follow-up shot over after Preston's attempt had been blocked by McCarthy. Two minutes after that, Preston hit a 20-yarder that would've ricocheted in off his team-mate Martin Murphy had Roberts not got himself in the way! Liam's parry fell to Wood midfielder Jordan Sinnott, who came within inches of scoring. The likes of McCarthy and Jeffrey had beautifully weathered the Boreham Wood storm, and midway through the half, we started looking for an equaliser. Right-back Hamsa Day couldn't find one after 66 minutes, when he cracked the ball past the far post. Four minutes later, however, we struck gold. Liam booted the ball to Mitchell Clark in the opposition area, and Mitchell threaded it ahead of Dunwell. Glen ran onto it and powered it past Henry to give us the leveller! That goal was nearly cancelled out straight away, as Mumuni curled a fantastic cross to Wood substitute Gregor Kirk moments after play resumed. Kirk's volley was brilliantly kept out by Liam, who went on to make two more saves from Murphy in the 76th and 77th minutes. A frustrating second half for Boreham Wood was almost completed four minutes from full-time. Storey's missed interception from Dunwell's long ball let Finnie in, but Lee was unable to keep his shot on target. The Scotsman had wasted a fantastic opportunity to steal all three points, although I was happy to settle for one.

 

Boreham Wood - 1 (Mumuni 23)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Dunwell 70)

Conference Premier, Attendance 604 - POSITIONS: Boreham Wood 12th, Dag & Red 7th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, Day, McCarthy, Beech, Jeffrey, Byrne (Dack), Clark, R Roberts (Haworth), Dunwell, Finnie, Bell (Banton).

 

We only had a two-day turnaround between the Boreham Wood game and the first of three consecutive home matches. 4th-placed AFC Wimbledon arrived at Victoria Road feeling buoyant but exhausted, having beaten Alfreton Town 5-4 in a thrilling Boxing Day battle.

 

28 December 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs AFC Wimbledon

Regular left-back Paul Jeffrey was too tired to start, so I adopted a lopsided 3-5-2, with Tim Beech playing as a right wing-back and Andy Haworth as a left-winger. AFC Wimbledon had the first chance to strike after 13 minutes. A Liam Henderson corner was intercepted by a diving header from Daggers midfielder Lucas Dawson, who then flicked Hassan Fleming's rebound shot behind. Lucas also got his head to Henderson's second corner, and about a minute later, he took one of his own at the other end. Cheyenne Dunkley connected with Dawson's inswinger, and his effort went in the net off Dons midfielder Peter Wylie! Chey's first goal for Dagenham had given us first blood! Dunkley tried to draw second blood from another Dawson corner in the 17th minute, but his header went beyond the far post on that occasion. After 25 minutes, Wylie attempted a 30-yarder for Wimbledon that curled just over the crossbar. Dons goalkeeper Elvijs Putnins tipped over a strike from Ronnie Banton in the 29th minute, and then caught a header from Tim Beech a minute later. That was followed by a Wimbledon counter-attack, which ended with Michael Travis firing a vicious shot that dipped just too late. The next 15 minutes saw little in the way of attacking action, so our slender 1-0 lead remained.

 

Haworth and Banton were both underperforming, so I replaced them at half-time with Jeffrey and Jamie Bell. Paul needed just four minutes to make his mark on the game. The wing-back's through-ball was perfect for speedy striker Craig Hardwick to run onto and score his first goal in over two months! 2-0 to the Daggers! 3-0 looked likely in the 51st minute, when Adam Barton unfortunately hit the crossbar from 25 yards. Our direct passing was ripping the Dons apart, and we went close to getting another goal four minutes later. Craig knocked a lovely ball to Jamie, and Putnins just about got a hand to Bell's belter. Wimbledon were badly underperforming, and they didn't threaten what looked a comfortable home lead until the 65th minute. Liam Roberts pushed away a firm strike from Colin Smith, and then another from Georg Iliev a minute later. After 70 minutes, Iliev floated in a left-wing cross that was finished by Smith... when the Welsh striker had already been flagged offside. Ten minutes later, the Dons were done for. Bell chested an excellent lob from Bradley Dack and turned past Putnins before tucking in our third goal of the evening! Victory was assured, and we moved to within a single point of Wimbledon, who snatched a consolation goal in the 85th minute. Dack's headed clearance from an Ed Shearing corner only reached Dons substitute Perry Parker, who drove in a fantastic strike.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Dunkley 15, Hardwick 49, Bell 80)

AFC Wimbledon - 1 (Parker 85)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,009 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 6th, AFC Wimbledon 5th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, J Simpson, Wassmer, Dunkley, Beech (Day), Dack, Dawson, Barton, Haworth (Jeffrey), Banton (Bell), Hardwick.

 

Lucas Dawson was named man of the match after an excellent display of passing, but he wouldn't play any part in our next two games. Lucas suffered a bruised shin very late on and was subsequently ruled out for at least a week.

 

2022 had been the most turbulent year of my managerial life, and it ended much like it began - with a home game against Lincoln City.

 

Back in January, the Imps knocked my Romford team out of the FA Trophy. Matt Watson's team went on to win the Conference North title, and they were 17th in the Conference Premier before they came to Victoria Road on New Year's Eve.

 

31 December 2022: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Lincoln City

Both teams initially struggled in the terrible conditions, but we started to make attacking inroads in the 13th minute. Shane Byrne's excellent sliding tackle on Tony Bowen started a swift attack that resulted in Paul Jeffrey driving the ball towards goal. Imps keeper Ben Hutchinson caught it superbly, and the former Wolverhampton Wanderers trainee also got his fingers to a Lee Finnie shot six minutes later. On 24 minutes, Finnie dribbled from our half to just outside Lincoln's area, where he struck an unclean shot well wide. After our early failings, the visitors began to create their own attacks. Kane Richards lobbed the ball just over our bar in the 27th minute, and four minutes later, his free-kick was headed narrowly off target by Josh Yorwerth. By the 40th minute, all of the momentum was with Lincoln. Moments after seeing a cross bounce off Jeffrey, Richards played a much better aerial ball that striker Oliver Rose half-volleyed into the net! None of our defenders had covered themselves in glory, and I took off the struggling Jason McCarthy at the end of a disappointing first half.

 

The interval didn't seem to halt the Lincoln surge. They attacked right from the first minute of the second half, and Rose could've doubled their lead had he got a better headed connection to Rees Beattie's cross. Another worrying cross from Richards in the 54th minute found Ciaran McGahon, whose left-footed volley cleared the bar. After 62 minutes, Daggers midfielder Glen Dunwell horribly miscued a half-volley at the other end. That was the sum total of our attacking efforts in the second half. We failed to open up a stubborn Imps defence led brilliantly by teenage centre-back Sheridan Turner, who won a shedload of headers, and we succumbed to another poor home defeat.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Lincoln City - 1 (Rose 40)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,167 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 7th, Lincoln 14th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: L Roberts, J Simpson, Beech (R Roberts), McCarthy (Meekings), Day, Jeffrey, Clark, Byrne, Dunwell, Finnie, Hardwick (Bell).

 

After the elation that came with our big win over AFC Wimbledon, the loss to Lincoln was a massive comedown.

 

As we go into 2023, we are three points adrift of the top five. With our form wildly fluctuating between good and bad, we have a lot of work to do if we want to make the play-offs.

Edited by CFuller

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Conference Premier Table (End of December 2022)

                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Crawley                31    15    10    6     48    31    +17   55
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2.          Newport County         31    15    8     8     40    31    +9    53
3.          Stevenage              30    14    9     7     40    25    +15   51
4.          AFC Wimbledon          31    14    8     9     50    41    +9    50
5.          Chelmsford             30    14    7     9     52    35    +17   49
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6.          Ebbsfleet              31    13    8     10    49    44    +5    47
7.          Dag & Red              31    13    7     11    49    39    +10   46
8.          Cambridge              31    13    6     12    45    44    +1    45
9.          Salisbury              31    12    8     11    36    27    +9    44
10.         Boreham Wood           31    10    13    8     49    41    +8    43
11.         Bury                   30    11    9     10    40    34    +6    42
12.         Eastleigh              31    11    9     11    43    40    +3    42
13.         Farnborough            31    11    9     11    49    51    -2    42
14.         Lincoln                31    11    9     11    39    42    -3    42
15.         MK Dons                31    12    6     13    28    34    -6    42
16.         York                   30    11    8     11    43    37    +6    41
17.         Darlington             30    10    9     11    40    44    -4    39
18.         Kingstonian            31    9     10    12    46    46    0     37
19.         Accrington             30    8     12    10    38    39    -1    36
20.         Cheltenham             31    10    6     15    34    47    -13   36
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21.         Harrogate              31    10    5     16    29    47    -18   35
22.         Macclesfield           31    8     7     16    33    47    -14   31
23.         Southend               31    8     7     16    28    45    -17   31
24.         Alfreton               31    7     8     16    36    73    -37   29

 

Edited by CFuller

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JANUARY 2023

Our New Year celebrations were tempered somewhat when it emerged that we were more than £100,000 in debt. With the transfer window now open again, I had an opportunity to stem the haemorrhaging.

 

The first two players to be cut from our wage bill were striker James Craigen and winger Andy Haworth. James completed his £8,000 transfer to Harrogate Town, which had been agreed last month, and Andy's contract was terminated. I also started trying to move on some of our other transfer-listed players.

 

Meanwhile, captain Robbie Ryder was back in full training and ready to make his first start in over six weeks. Our other contracted keeper Nguyen Van Phung was also training again after a broken leg... but he was over 5,000 miles away in South Korea, with Vietnam's squad for the upcoming Asian Cup.

 

While Nguyen was enjoying the sights of Seoul, Ryder made his Daggers return at a rainy and windy Victoria Road against 2nd-placed Newport County. The Exiles were unbeaten in nine league games, and victory for them would give them a chance to take top spot from Crawley Town.

 

2 January 2023: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Newport County

Our year got off to THE perfect start, as we sensationally took the lead after just 14 seconds! Moments after kick-off, Tim Beech opened the Newport defence with a long ball to Jamie Bell, who ran onto it and hammered home! We threatened to get a second goal two minutes later, but Bradley Dack's long-range bender was caught by Exiles goalie Ross Laidlaw. We launched another attack in the 8th minute, as Craig Hardwick threaded the ball past Newport defender Martyn Brown to find Bell in the area. Jamie's first shot was parried by Laidlaw, and he scored with the second after County failed to clear the danger. Although 16-year-old Jeff Whincup - making his full Daggers debut at left-back - picked up a yellow card a minute later for tripping Jordan Chapell, we continued to utterly dominate proceedings. Indeed, we went 3-0 up after only 11 minutes! Yasser Ibrahim marked his return to first-team action with an outstanding assist for Hardwick, who controlled the Egyptian's chip and lobbed it over Laidlaw! Newport's Scottish goalkeeper was having a nightmare, and although Laidlaw saved another Hardwick effort in the 18th minute, his manager Mark Aizlewood had seen enough. After 26 minutes, Laidlaw was replaced by Shaun Spooner - a 21-year-old from William Shakespeare's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. Despite the change, County's comedy of errors continued three minutes later. Spooner could only push Craig's strike into the path of Yasser, who buried the rebound into the net! 4-0 to Dagenham & Redbridge! Hardwick later missed two opportunities for an incredible 5-0 lead before creating a 44th-minute chance for Ibrahim, who sadly hit a weak effort. We had been so dominant in the first half that Newport County only registered one shot on target. Jaye Hillman's strike in the 24th minute was kept out by a great save from the returning Robbie Ryder.

 

We continued where we left off in the 49th minute, as Hardwick's low strike was met by a fine catch from Spooner. Craig put another effort over the bar on 56 minutes, as did Ibrahim about a minute later. When Dack curled a 35-yarder into Spooner's hands after 58 minutes, we looked odds-on to make it 5-0. However, the Exiles gave us something to think about when substitute striker Robert O'Malley smashed in a volley just before the hour mark. That gave County a slim chance of fighting back, but this game was still going so well for us that even Dack was able to add his name onto the scoresheet! Bradley's sensational 30-yard piledriver gave us a 5-1 lead after 64 minutes! The situation had already got out of control for Newport, so they sat back to try and prevent us from scoring even more goals. Spooner did well to turn away yet another strike from Hardwick in the 68th minute, but he was almost powerless to prevent our sixth goal in the 79th minute. Yasser hit a thunderous drive between Spooner and his right-hand post to continue the total destruction of Aizlewood's title-chasers. Three minutes from full-time, Ibrahim's low cross was tucked away by Bell, who completed his hat-trick and a 7-1 thrashing! It could actually have finished 8-1, but substitute Glen Dunwell missed with what was our 27th shot of the match! The final whistle ended a perfect day for the Daggers, and a miserable one for the Exiles. I'd be amazed if some of their players are able to show their faces in South Wales again!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 7 (Bell 1,8,87, Hardwick 11, Ibrahim 29,79, Dack 64)

Newport County - 1 (O'Malley 60)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,805 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 6th, Newport County 2nd

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech, Meekings, McCarthy, Whincup (Jeffrey), R Roberts, Dack, Barton (Dunwell), Ibrahim, Bell, Hardwick (Finnie). BOOKED: Whincup, Beech.

 

Oh my. That was such an unbelievable performance, not even Chris Kamara could find words to describe it!

 

It was also the perfect swansong for Paul Jeffrey, whose three-month loan from Brentford came to an end the following day. The Scottish left-back played 18 games, provided three assists, and was very solid during his time with us.

 

I quickly loaned in another left-back by signing Jonathan Ward from Yeovil Town for the remainder of this campaign. The 21-year-old south Londoner was previously a product of Norwich City's youth academy.

 

As well as Jeffrey, two other players left Victoria Road before our next match. I was unable to find striker Ryan Noble a new club, so I offered to terminate his contract, which he eventually agreed to. Meanwhile, centre-back Jake Simpson's loan spell from Wycombe Wanderers was ended two weeks early after he strained his groin.

 

After nearly a fortnight's rest, we played our first away game of the New Year at Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium. Rio Ferdinand's United team would move level on points with us if they won.

 

14 January 2023: Cambridge United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

The first 20 minutes were incredibly dire, as both teams struggled to get going in the rainy conditions. Cambridge were gifted a scoring chance at the end of those 20 minutes after Bradley Dack inadvertently headed the ball back to U's striker Lewis Walters. Bradley's blushes were only spared when former Leeds United player Walters pulled his shot off target. We started to threaten Cambridge's defence on 23 minutes, as Dack's free-kick was caught by goalkeeper Jamie Wilson. Craig Hardwick fired over the bar a minute later, but we would soon make a breakthrough. Wilson conceded a corner in the 27th minute after pushing Jamie Bell's strike behind, and Dack's delivery was knocked across the line by Josh Meekings! Shortly after edging in front, we looked to move further clear. Neither Jamie nor Craig were in clinical form, though, as they each had tame efforts saved by Wilson within the next nine minutes. Cambridge went close to an equaliser through Lee Brennan's free-kick on 40 minutes, and Robbie Devine's header three minutes later was caught by Daggers goalie Robbie Ryder.

 

Cambridge's bright conclusion to the first half carried over into the start of the second. Yasser Ibrahim's push on Devine gifted the U's a free-kick in the 50th minute, which Dwight Campbell fired just a whisker over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Ibrahim fed a lovely through-ball to Bell, and we were all set to move 2-0 up. Sadly, Bell had a poor first touch and Wilson smothered the loose ball. That could have been costly, as United gradually upped their game and looked likely to equalise. That changed in the 63rd minute, when U's forward Jordan Ivey-Ward hurt himself while clearing Glen Dunwell's corner out of the Cambridge area. Ivey-Ward came off, and Cambridge's attack was not the same after his exit. By the 88th minute, we were cruising towards what I thought would be a narrow away win. That was until Yasser played a fine right-wing pass to Jamie, who scored our second goal from 20 yards! Cambridge then capitulated as substitute Lee Finnie added another Dagenham goal in injury time! We came away from the Abbey Stadium with three goals, and three points that moved us back into the play-off spots!

 

Cambridge United - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Meekings 27, Bell 88, Finnie 90)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,778 - POSITIONS: Cambridge 10th, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Day (Beech), Meekings, McCarthy, Ward, R Roberts (Finnie), Dack, Dunwell (Barton), Ibrahim, Bell, Hardwick. BOOKED: Dack.

 

We had started 2023 in a positive manner, but I wasn't completely satisfied. I was planning major changes to the squad - partly out of necessity, as we would be losing so many loanees at the end of the month.

Edited by CFuller

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JANUARY 2023 (continued)

A week after our win at Cambridge United, we said goodbye to on-loan winger Ryan Roberts. The Welshman's three-month stay in Essex was over, so he returned to Everton, only to discover that his contract at Goodison Park had been terminated. Ryan would have to look for another club.

 

His right-wing replacement at Dagenham & Redbridge was a very promising 19-year-old by the name of Jonathan Roche. Jonny is a Republic of Ireland Under-21s international who had just been released by his hometown club Cork City. From what I've seen of him so far, he's an incredibly fit young man with plenty of pace.

 

We also signed another Irish teenager on a free transfer. Daryl Ryan was first-choice goalkeeper for University College Dublin last season at the tender age of 17, and I'm sure he'll challenge for our number 1 jersey in the future.

 

Completing my January influx were three more players, all of whom agreed three-month loan deals. I signed left midfielder Peter Clark from Southampton, attacking midfielder Scott Roddie from Stoke City, and striker Charlie Wallace from Wolverhampton Wanderers as I prepared for the departures of six current loanees.

 

We also welcomed back midfielder Eddie Emberson and striker Cameron Smith from loan spells at Dulwich Hamlet and Bromley respectively. Another midfielder, Niall Bonnar, was about to return from a temporary stay at Dorchester Town. All three of them were told that they could leave Dagenham permanently.

 

Following my major reshuffle, we hoped to continue our winning start to 2023 at mid-table Eastleigh. Darius Vassell was less than three months into his second reign at the Silverlake Stadium, having previously managed the Spitfires between 2015 and 2020.

 

24 January 2023: Eastleigh vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Eastleigh were unlucky not to score in the third minute, when midfielder Anouar Yildirim hit the bar with a header from Chris Semple's corner. Moments after that, our skipper Robbie Ryder parried Brett McGrath's shot behind for another corner, which was nodded clear by Bradley Dack. Eastleigh then had a scare after seven minutes, when captain Corby Moore went down hurt following a tackle from Jonathan Ward. Moore was being treated on the sideline when Mitchell Clark fired a Dagenham free-kick towards goal, and Timmy Maher made a great catch for the Spitfires. In the 14th minute, Semple's free-kick at the other end fizzed just past the post. Eastleigh won themselves another free-kick four minutes later after Mitchell fouled Semple. A patched-up Moore chipped the ball into the six-yard box, where former West Ham United trainee Yildirim flicked it past Ryder. Eastleigh had dominated the early aerial battles, and their opener led me to take action. I ordered the Daggers to push further up the pitch and not give Eastleigh any more headed opportunities in our area. Two minutes later, we pushed into Eastleigh's box and stole a quickfire equaliser through Lee Finnie! From that point, we dominated possession and created plenty of chances to take the lead. Finishing them was proving to be a problem, though. Jamie Bell struggled in particular, as he blasted a close-ranger into the stand after 24 minutes and lost a one-on-one with Maher a minute later. After further opportunities passed us by, the Spitfires went back on the attack. Samir Bihmoutine hit the bar with a cross in the 34th minute. Four minutes after that, another delivery from the full-back found McGrath, who headed over. Then, in the 43rd minute, Semple curled a right-wing cross around our defence and towards Jayden Stockley. The on-loan Yeovil Town striker timed his run perfectly, with his header beating Ryder to give Eastleigh a 2-1 lead.

 

We were enjoying lots of possession but not making the most of it, so at half-time, I told my team to play through Eastleigh's defence a bit more. Glen Dunwell certainly did that with a 53rd-minute through-ball towards Finnie. Lee could only fire his shot directly at Maher, who pushed it away. That chance came in between bookings for two Spitfires players, and I could sense that the hosts were cracking up. On 62 minutes, Eastleigh centre-half Michael Selfridge's tackle slid the ball from Dack's feet, but it deflected off his team-mate Jack Byrne and fell to Bell! Jamie went for a first-timer from the edge of the area, and unfortunately struck the far post before putting the rebound into Maher's hands. Our top striker wasn't firing, so in the 65th minute, our right wing-back went for glory. Tim Beech's cool and collected finish from Bradley's pass drew us level at 2-2! Yildirim tried to put the Spitfires in front yet again five minutes later with another header, but the Moroccan only found the bar instead of the net. Eastleigh's confidence ebbed away after that miss. In the 73rd minute, Finnie created an opening for Craig Hardwick, who'd just replaced Bell up top for the Daggers. Craig went for power over precision, and his effort sailed wide. Another winning chance slipped away when Finnie's low attempt was tipped behind by Maher in the 85th minute. Two minutes later, Semple upended Ward to gift us one more crack at victory. Dack played his free-kick into the Eastleigh area, and Josh Meekings got ahead of Bihmoutine to make a connection. Josh's header looped into the net, sparking incredible scenes of delight in the Dagenham dugout! We had taken a 3-2 lead after trailing twice! The Spitfires were unable to respond, as Stockley came off injured soon afterwards, reducing them to ten men. We comfortably held on for our third victory in a row, which gave our play-off hopes a major boost.

 

Eastleigh - 2 (Yildirim 18, Stockley 43)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Finnie 20, Beech 65, Meekings 87)

Conference Premier, Attendance 988 - POSITIONS: Eastleigh 15th, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings, Day, McCarthy (Wassmer), Beech, Ward, Dack, M Clark (Dawson), Dunwell, Finnie, Bell (Hardwick). BOOKED: McCarthy, Dack.

 

I was ecstatic that we had come away from Hampshire with a victory, but I hoped that we would make things easier for ourselves in our next home match. We were comfortable favourites against Cheltenham Town, who were 19th and battling to stay in the Conference Premier.

 

28 January 2023: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Cheltenham Town

Niall Redmond powered over a header for Cheltenham as early as the second minute, and that set the tone for a tight first half. Yasser Ibrahim disappointed with our first shot in the fourth minute, while Scott Roddie's opening salvo for Dagenham also went wide a minute later. The first attempt on target came when Jim Carberry's 7th-minute strike for Cheltenham was parried by Robbie Ryder. Six minutes later, Robins goalkeeper Calvin Hare produced his first save - a simple catch from Lee Finnie's attempt. Both teams gradually got closer to taking the lead, although Cheltenham were looking a little more likely than us. Ryder had to make a couple more catches from Carberry in the 15th and 30th minutes to keep the young Irish striker at bay. We had our best chance yet on 35 minutes, when Lee fired narrowly past the post from Yasser's pass. Three minutes later, Bradley Dack hoped to pick out debutant striker Charlie Wallace in the visitors' area. Robins defender Simon Maris made a superb tackle to thwart Wallace, but he could only knock the ball towards another new Daggers loanee. Scott Roddie went for a first-time shot that whistled past Hare and gave us first blood! In such a close game, I knew that the opening goal could be crucial.

 

Our first-half goal gave us the confidence to pretty much dominate the second period. Hare had to be on hand for Cheltenham to keep out a close-range from Wallace in the 50th minute, and a spectacular 35-yarder from Dack a minute later. Although Dack and Finnie each missed further chances before the hour, everything was going smoothly for us... well, almost everything. Teenage winger Jonathan Roche was having a very nervous debut, so I took him out of the firing line and gave Jamie Bell a half-hour cameo. Jamie was doubly unlucky not to score after 68 minutes, when his vicious strike bounced off the crossbar and his headed follow-up was parried by Hare! He went close again on 73 minutes, only for Hare's fingertips to deny him. Bell may have been unable to score, but he almost made an assist for Wallace in the 78th minute. Charlie was on the verge of doubling our lead when Conor Shaughnessy blocked his shot and deflected it behind the byline. Two minutes later, Cheltenham's on-loan Millwall midfielder Jordi Blyth could've levelled with a shot that Ryder brilliantly turned away. Robbie was determined not to be beaten by the Robins, and his clean sheet helped us to yet another victory!

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Roddie 38)

Cheltenham Town - 0

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,192 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Cheltenham 20th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech, M Clark, McCarthy (Meekings), Ward, Roche (Bell), Dack, Roddie, Ibrahim, Finnie, Wallace (P Clark). BOOKED: Wallace.

 

January really had been the perfect month for us. We won four games on the trot, scored 14 goals, conceded only three, and shot up the table from 7th to 3rd!

 

At the end of the month, we bid farewell to six loanees who had mixed fortunes during their five months at Victoria Road. Ronnie Banton (Hereford United), Shane Byrne (Luton Town), Hamsa Day (Ipswich Town), Glen Dunwell (Blackpool), Craig Hardwick (Derby County), and Jason McCarthy (Mansfield Town) are now back at their parent clubs.

 

Right-winger Fraser Keast also exited the club after he was released from his contract. I had hoped to loan Fraser out for the rest of this season, but a proposed deal with Conference South side Barnet fell through.

 

Striker Cameron Smith went back to Bromley for another loan spell until the end of this season. Meanwhile, midfielders Niall Bonnar and Eddie Emberson signed pre-contract agreements with Hastings United and Clyde respectively. Those two will join their new clubs in July.

 

Finally, I made one more signing before the transfer window closed. 18-year-old left-back Warren Barrett, who was born in Guernsey, had been without a club since Newcastle United released him last summer.

 

I've now got a settled squad for the rest of this season. With 11 matches to go, can we continue our excellent form and consolidate a play-off place?

Edited by CFuller

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Conference Premier Table (End of January 2023)

                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.          Crawley                35    17    12    6     58    39    +19   63
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2.          Newport County         35    18    8     9     49    40    +9    62
3.          Dag & Red              35    17    7     11    63    42    +21   58
4.          Chelmsford             35    16    9     10    64    43    +21   57
5.          Stevenage              34    15    10    9     47    31    +16   55
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Ebbsfleet              35    15    9     11    54    48    +6    54
7.          Salisbury              35    14    9     12    42    31    +11   51
8.          Bury                   34    14    9     11    45    38    +7    51
9.          AFC Wimbledon          34    14    8     12    50    48    +2    50
10.         Cambridge              35    14    8     13    50    51    -1    50
11.         Eastleigh              35    13    9     13    50    47    +3    48
12.         Farnborough            35    13    9     13    53    56    -3    48
13.         Lincoln                35    13    9     13    45    48    -3    48
14.         MK Dons                35    13    9     13    33    38    -5    48
15.         Boreham Wood           34    11    14    9     54    45    +9    47
16.         York                   35    12    10    13    51    47    +4    46
17.         Darlington             33    12    10    11    46    47    -1    46
18.         Accrington             35    10    13    12    45    44    +1    43
19.         Kingstonian            35    10    11    14    49    51    -2    41
20.         Cheltenham             35    11    7     17    38    50    -12   40
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21.         Harrogate              35    10    6     19    32    57    -25   36
22.         Southend               35    9     8     18    33    50    -17   35
23.         Macclesfield           35    9     7     19    37    53    -16   34
24.         Alfreton               35    7     9     19    39    83    -44   30

Edited by CFuller

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Sitting pretty in the League mate, a few more decent results could see an automatic promotion place. It's good to see Alfreton sitting at the bottom

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Sitting pretty in the League mate, a few more decent results could see an automatic promotion place. It's good to see Alfreton sitting at the bottom

We're really kicking on now. Automatic promotion is not completely out of reach now, but we still need Crawley or Newport to slip up.

Our next game is actually at home to Alfreton, so I'm expecting a big win there!

With regards to some other Derbyshire teams, I've been keeping an eye on Matlock for you, Mark, and I'm afraid it's not looking good. They're bottom of the Conference North and have been for some time. You also won't be delighted to hear that Buxton are strongly challenging for promotion to the Conference North. :thdn: Sorry.

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FEBRUARY 2023

There was a double celebration at Victoria Road when the Football Conference gave out its monthly awards for January. For starters, our 100% record from the four games we played earned me the Conference Premier Manager of the Month award.

 

Jamie Bell also got an award, as his strike at Cambridge United was voted as the Conference Premier's Goal of the Month. Personally, I thought Bradley Dack's incredible piledriver against Newport County was much better, but that goal still came third in the vote. Bradley and Jamie also narrowly missed out on the Player of the Month accolade, which went to Darty Fieldwick of Chelmsford City.

 

Our form horses started February at home to the lame horses of rock-bottom Alfreton Town. Alfreton were in 6th place after 10 matches, but since then, the Derbyshire side had been freefalling faster than Tom Petty.

 

Alfreton's slide began when we beat them 2-0 at their North Street home in mid-September. That started a run of 25 league matches in which they won twice, drew seven times, and lost 17 times! The Reds also conceded 75 goals in that period, with their defensive nadir being an 8-1 home defeat to Chelmsford in October. Needless to say, they were now near-certainties to be relegated.

 

Although we were the reddest of red-hot favourites, I was determined to iron out any cockiness in the Dagenham squad before Alfreton came to visit. I knew that Blair Sturrock's men could click back into gear at any time.

 

4 February 2023: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Alfreton Town

Jake Jervis went close to getting Alfreton a shock opener after just two minutes, when he headed Ian Challoner's free-kick over the crossbar. Three minutes later, though, the match was going very much to form. Yasser Ibrahim laid a through-ball perfectly to Jamie Bell, who poached his 16th goal of the season. We should've gone 2-0 up in the 15th minute, but Bradley Dack's free-kick flew just too high. Our dominance of the first half continued with Josh Meekings nodding narrowly over from Lee Finnie's corner on 19 minutes. A minute later, Dack's long-ranger was pushed aside by Town keeper Steven Fitzgerald, and right-back Robbie Healey tackled the rebound away from Ibrahim. After Jamie hit the post with a clear-cut chance in the 26th minute, we got rather frustrated and failed to create any more opportunities before half-time. Aside from a free-kick that Challoner curled wide on 33 minutes, Alfreton seldom looked like equalising, and our 1-0 lead at the break seemed comfortable.

 

Alfreton were much more motivated after the break, and when a Jervis header was caught by Robbie Ryder in the 48th minute, I began to worry. My heart was in my mouth three minutes later, when Ally Love's pass was thumped against Ryder's right-hand post by Shelton Gooden. I hoped that Bell could settle our nerves with a second goal in the 56th minute, but his header was tipped over by Fitzgerald. The Victoria Road faithful got more nervous after the hour mark, as our passing became slacker and our shooting more wayward. On 69 minutes, Dagenham winger Jonathan Roche's tackle on Challoner knocked the ball on to Jervis in our penalty area. The former Exeter City striker had a crack, and Ryder saved our advantage with a point-blank stop. Jervis worried us again in the 77th minute, shortly after a penalty claim from his strike partner Gooden was waved away. Dominic Rimmer curled a corner towards Jervis, and Ryder just about turned the striker's header behind for another set-piece. Rimmer once again found Jervis, but this time, his effort rebounded off the bar before Daggers defender Charlie Wassmer shinned it away. Dack and Kyle McFadzean both missed chances for Dagenham in the next two minutes, while Ibrahim's attempted lob over Fitzgerald in the 86th minute went awry. As the game entered two minutes of injury time, I was happy for us to keep possession and settle for a 1-0 win. But in the last few seconds, Finnie lost the ball to Alfreton defender Christoper Jordan! The visitors launched one last counter-attack, which ended with stalwart midfielder Daniel Bradley placing a cool shot into the net! Our winning run had been ended by the worst team in the division.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Bell 5)

Alfreton Town - 1 (Bradley 90)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,442 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Alfreton 24th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech (McFadzean), Meekings, Wassmer, Ward, Roche (P Clark), M Clark, Dack (Barton), Ibrahim, Finnie, Bell.

 

I was livid with the team at full-time, and with good reason. Had we kept our heads and seen out the win, we would have moved to within three points of leaders Crawley Town. At the same time, I was annoyed that we'd only scored one goal against the basement club, just weeks after putting seven past high-flying Newport County!

 

Our late heartbreak also meant that we conceded 3rd spot to Chelmsford City. Ten days later, on Valentine's Day, we had an opportunity to wrestle it back from Chelmsford at Victoria Road. City's dangerman was their striker Darty Fieldwick, who had scored 25 league goals this season, including 11 in his last six games! We would have to find a way to keep him schtum.

 

We went into this Essex derby without two midfield players, both of whom were injured in training two days beforehand. Mitchell Clark faced an absence of two to three weeks with a gashed leg, and Adam Barton would be out for around four after sustaining a chest injury.

 

14 February 2023: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Chelmsford City

Both sides began nervously, and the first scoring chance didn't come until after 13 minutes. Charlie Wallace missed an early opportunity to endear himself to the Victoria Road faithful as he pulled a shot wide. Two minutes later, Bradley Dack made a fine run at Chelmsford's goal before clearing the crossbar. Wallace missed the target again on 22 minutes, although he did force City goalkeeper Rob Peet into a save about a minute later. At the other end, Darty Fieldwick struggled to cope with our three-man defence. He had one poor drive in the 28th minute, and that was it. Our poor shooting carried on with Jamie Bell and Scott Roddie both firing off target in the 30th and 36th minutes respectively. Those misses would prove costly three minutes from half-time. Chelmsford winger Kealan Dillon hit a hopeless long ball beyond Fieldwick's reach, and Robbie Ryder rushed off his line to clear it to what he hoped was safety. Unfortunately, he only found City midfielder Lewis Lavender, whose 35-yard drive skidded across the wet pitch and crossed the goal line. Chelmsford had taken a 1-0 lead with their only shot on target in the first half.

 

We returned for the second half determined to put things right. The players were still trying to find their shooting range, though, as Tim Beech and Lucas Dawson proved with poor efforts in the first seven minutes. In the 55th minute, Lucas fell awkwardly while challenging Lavender in the air. The midfielder's game had come to an early end. Chelmsford tried to move further ahead four minutes later, but Ryder comfortably caught a piledriver from James Vincent. The next shot on target, in the 69th minute, would lead to the game's second goal. Bell played an incisive pass ahead of Wallace, and Charlie levelled the scores with his first Daggers goal! It was 1-1, and the score stayed that way at full-time after a lacklustre finish. I was very disappointed that just three of our 11 attempts were on target, although we at least remained unbeaten in 2023.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Wallace 69)

Chelmsford City - 1 (Lavender 42)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,205 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Chelmsford 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings, Wassmer, McFadzean, Beech, Ward (Barrett), Dack, Dawson (Jones), Roddie, Bell (Finnie), Wallace. BOOKED: Ward.

 

Lucas Dawson had a scan on his right wrist the following morning. Fortunately, it was only sprained rather than broken, but he would still have to miss our next game.

 

Our injury woes continued the day after that, when left midfielder Peter Clark pulled up with a groin injury in a reserve match. He was ruled out for at least three weeks, and we now had four midfielders on the sidelines.

 

Elsewhere, backup goalkeeper Liam Roberts' loan from Charlton Athletic came to an end after the Chelmsford game.

 

I hoped that Liam's place on the bench would go to Nguyen Van Phung, who was back from international duty with Vietnam and fully fit again. Well, at least he was until suffered a hernia. Nguyen would be out for another six weeks, and 17-year-old Daryl Ryan would have to fill in as Robbie Ryder's goalkeeping understudy.

 

Our final match of the month was at Moss Rose against Macclesfield Town. This was Macclesfield's eleventh straight season in the Conference Premier, but a five-game losing streak had left them in 23rd place - ten points adrift of safety.

 

25 February 2023: Macclesfield Town vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Both goalkeepers made big saves early on. Macclesfield's Ross Fitzsimons parried an effort from Daggers striker Charlie Wallace in the second minute. In the other goal seven minutes later, Robbie Ryder kept hold of a rebound shot from Macc midfielder Clayton Brown after Kyle O'Leary saw his earlier attempt blocked by Josh Meekings. Just after the 10-minute mark, a long ball from Dagenham full-back Jonathan Ward split open the Silkmen defence and sent Wallace clean through. Charlie could only hit the post from a tight angle, but our first goal would soon come. Macclesfield right-back Lloyd McGregor held back Yasser Ibrahim in the area and then watched Yasser convert the penalty to give us a 1-0 lead after 15 minutes! A little over two minutes later, we were two goals clear! Wallace used his pace to great effect, and once he slipped the ball past Fitzsimons, we were in control. A third goal looked a certainty when Yasser found Jamie Bell near the penalty spot in the 22nd minute, but Jamie somehow hit the post! Bradley Dack also went close two minutes later, as his header from Scott Roddie's corner looped just over. A few more narrow misses followed before Roddie played an incisive pass to Bell on 42 minutes. Jamie was unable to add his name to the scoresheet, though, as Fitzsimons rushed forward to block his shot and keep our half-time lead down to 2-0. Apart from a couple of speculative shots, the Silkmen had shown very few signs of life.

 

Two minutes into the second half, a fairly relaxing day at the office got a bit more stressful for me. Defender Kyle McFadzean could only head a Fitzsimons goal kick towards his own goal... and square into the path of Macclesfield striker Charlie Sutton! Sutton only needed a simple finish to halve Macc's deficit, but he fired a half-volley inches off target! Three minutes later, Macclesfield made a defensive slip of their own that didn't go unpunished. Wallace sprinted effortlessly past Silkmen centre-half Lee Weir after the latter had tried to close him down, and Charlie tucked away a simple finish. That was his second, and our third, goal of the afternoon. In the 55th minute, our 3-0 advantage almost turned to 4-0, but Dack's superb header was kept out by the crossbar. That was the third time we had hit the woodwork in this match! Those misses didn't really matter, as Macclesfield failed to make the most of their few scoring opportunities. O'Leary's header in the 66th minute was comfortable for Ryder, who saw Ben McKenna rifle a half-volley wide moments later. Four minutes later, Wallace missed out on his one and only chance to wrap up a hat-trick. Ryder caught another Macc header - this time from Brown - on 79 minutes, but Robbie's clean sheet would finally be dirtied in the penultimate minute of normal time. Silkmen sub James Humberstone's cross was finished by Irish teenager O'Leary, giving Macclesfield a small crumb of comfort as they were pushed closer to the Conference North. A 3-1 victory edged us closer to a Football League return.

 

Macclesfield Town - 1 (O'Leary 89)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 3 (Ibrahim pen15, Wallace 17,50)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,243 - POSITIONS: Macclesfield 23rd, Dag & Red 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings, Wassmer (Beech), McFadzean (Dunkley), Ward, Roche (Finnie), Dack, Roddie, Ibrahim, Bell, Wallace.

 

With just eight games remaining, we are five points clear of 6th-placed Ebbsfleet United. But while our fortunes on the pitch have really improved over the last two months, our finances have continued to deteriorate. Thankfully, the board have stepped in and ploughed another £140,000 into the club, thus easing some pressure on me as we head into a pivotal month.

Edited by CFuller

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MARCH 2023

The end of the regular Conference Premier season was in sight, and although we were unlikely to catch league leaders Crawley Town, a play-off place was certainly ours for the taking. We had four matches in March, followed by four more in April. If we could continue our unbeaten start to the year, there was every chance that we'd still be in the top five by the final, final whistle.

 

My coaches had some positive news to report about our injured midfielders. Mitchell Clark and Lucas Dawson were both raring to go again, while Adam Barton and Peter Clark would also be available for selection within a week or two.

 

I soon had another injury to worry about, though, as playmaker Scott Roddie suffered concussion on the eve of our trip to Bury. The Scotsman would miss that game and at least one more.

 

Meanwhile, our young left-back Warren Barrett started a two-month loan spell at Conference South strugglers Eastbourne Borough. Their manager Chic Crawford had been badgering me for weeks about sending Warren to East Sussex, and I eventually relented.

 

The first Saturday of March saw us entertain Bury at their grand old home on Gigg Lane. The mid-tablers had failed to win any of their last four matches, although they did beat Dagenham & Redbridge five months ago in my first game in charge.

 

4 March 2023: Bury vs Dagenham & Redbridge

My reign as Dagenham & Redbridge boss started with Bradley Reid scoring for Bury within the first ten minutes at Victoria Road. I almost felt a sense of déjà vu at Gigg Lane, as Reid hammered the post after just nine minutes! Five minutes later, the Welshman did find the net again. Shakers midfielder Luc Jeggo took the game to us with a brilliant solo run before playing in Reid, whose first-timer sailed into the net. We were shaken... but not stirred. We survived a 21st-minute shot from Charles Banya that flew narrowly over, and four minutes later, we stunned the hosts with an equaliser. Irish winger Jonathan Roche displayed his talents for the first time when he jinked into Bury's area before floating in a short cross that Jamie Bell nodded home. Roche made another run at the Bury defence on 28 minutes, but he horribly miscued his shot. Bury defender Simon Smith put a header off target in the 38th minute, and Banya missed again a minute later as the first half fizzled out.

 

The second half began with 17-year-old Bury midfielder Rob Connery picking up a knock in clash with Dagenham counterpart Bradley Dack after 48 minutes. Nine minutes after that, a header from Shakers winger Jim O'Hanlon was caught by our dependable skipper Robbie Ryder. Then came misses at either end from Banya and Bell, before the game's big talking point in the 69th minute. Banya lifted a corner into our penalty area, where Smith rose above Roche to flick Bury into a 2-1 lead... or so he thought. Controversially, the referee had ruled the Canadian's goal out because his team-mate Gavin Quinn was holding onto Charlie Wassmer's shirt in the six-yard box. I didn't see anything wrong and felt we were lucky to get away with some poor defending. Neither team could rouse themselves enough to score a decisive goal after that, as Bury were still peed off and we were content to take a point home.

 

Bury - 1 (Reid 14)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Bell 25)

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,231 - POSITIONS: Bury 13th, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings (Beech), Wassmer, McFadzean, Ward, Roche, Dack, M Clark (Dawson), Ibrahim, Bell, Wallace (Finnie).

 

Incredibly, we only conceded ONE foul in the whole of that match! I was reasonably pleased that we had kept our discipline in a tough match, even if it did conform to the northern stereotype that us southerners are softies.

 

When north-easterners Darlington made the long trip to Victoria Road three days later, I didn't want my boys to take any prisoners. You may remember that we chucked away a 2-0 lead and lost 3-2 when we visited Darlo earlier in the season. I was determined that we wouldn't have a repeat of that farce.

 

7 March 2023: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Darlington

The tackles certainly flew in during the opening half-hour, which saw little in the way of scoring opportunities. On 19 minutes, Dagenham midfielder Bradley Dack curled one wide after intercepting a clearance from Darlington skipper Callum Thomson. Our next chance to score came in the 34th minute. Charlie Wallace took a Mitchell Clark pass toward goal and then bulleted in a deadly low strike from the edge of the area. We'd nabbed the advantage, and the Quakers spent the rest of the first half trying to remove it. Darlo striker John Doherty, who'd earlier been booked for diving, fired a shot over the bar shortly after play restarted. Danny Whitehall fared slightly better after 38 minutes with a header that was well held by Daggers goalkeeper Robbie Ryder. Robbie's opposite number Leigh Bedwell caught a long-range banana shot from Dack in the 44th minute, keeping our half-time lead down to one goal.

 

Back in November, I tried to sign centre-back Joe Davis on loan from Blackpool, but he opted to join Darlington instead. After 56 minutes, Davis almost came back to haunt me with a fabulous long ball towards our area. Whitehall picked it up and played it forward to Doherty, who fired straight at Ryder. Our 1-0 lead still looked fragile, although Wallace tried to strengthen it on 69 minutes. Charlie received a fine through-ball from Bradley, but the loanee striker's effort was blocked by Bedwell's leg. A minute later, Clark lifted a free-kick into the Darlo area and found Josh Meekings, who surely would have scored were it not for Bedwell's parry and Doherty's clearance behind. That won us a corner, but we couldn't create anything from it, and Darlington launched a counter-attack that ended with Doherty blasting over the bar. I later replaced our unusually inefficient striker Jamie Bell with Lee Finnie, whose excellent strike after 75 minutes was somehow blocked by Bedwell. The Quakers keeper denied another Dagenham substitute, Adam Barton, in the 86th minute. Bedwell was the main reason why Darlington weren't losing by more than one goal, but Doherty's wastefulness in the other box explained why they were trailing at all. His close-range miss from Johnny Haworth's cross in the 89th minute was Darlo's last chance to steal a point. Unlike at Heritage Park in October, we came through injury time almost unscathed and avenged our earlier defeat to the Quakers.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Wallace 34)

Darlington - 0

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,101 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 3rd, Darlington 16th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings, Wassmer, McFadzean (Dunkley), Beech, Ward, Dack, M Clark, Dawson (Barton), Bell (Finnie), Wallace.

 

I said that we came through injury time almost unscathed, and that's because midfielder Mitchell Clark hurt himself again right in the dying moments. Mitchell's flying tackle on Taylor Tombides left himself with a bruised rib that sadly would keep him out of our next match.

 

We were now eight points clear of 6th place, and on a streak of nine games without defeat. Could we stretch that run to double figures when we travelled to Kingstonian?

Edited by CFuller

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Grinding out a couple of good results there. Glad to see you staying consistent!

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Grinding out a couple of good results there. Glad to see you staying consistent!

We're doing exactly what we need to do - grinding out results, and making sure we're still on course for the play-offs at least.

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MARCH 2023 (continued)

11 March 2023: Kingstonian vs Dagenham & Redbridge

After just three minutes, Kingstonian lost midfielder Dean Cummings to an injury inflicted on him by Jonathan Ward. That didn't hinder the K's too much, as another midfielder - Elliott Hodge - pulled a shot just wide of our goal three minutes later. We went close to scoring in the 10th minute, but Charlie Wallace's header from Tim Beech's cross was tipped over by Paul Parkinson. We were unable to make the most of our corner, and Kingstonian capitalised on a set-piece of their own six minutes later. Alistair O'Sullivan delicately chipped a free-kick into our six-yard box, where Callum McNaughton scuffed it into the net. That was a poor goal to concede, and we could've let in a second after 19 minutes, when Kirk Futcher's effort was palmed away by Robbie Ryder. On the attacking side of things, we had a bit of a mare. Charlie failed to trouble the keeper in the 23rd minute, and Jonathan cracked a golden opportunity straight into Parkinson's grasp in the 38th. K's winger Jak Mason then hit our goal frame with a header after 41 minutes. By half-time, we were perhaps lucky to only be trailing by a single goal.

 

16-year-old midfielder Roy Jones came on for Dagenham at half-time, but his volley after exactly 54 minutes never looked like heading into the goal. Three minutes later, Kingstonian substitute Derek Abel, who replaced Cummings very early on, almost created a second goal for his side. Abel's attempted cross to Ronnie Hall was tipped by Ryder towards Hodge, and Beech had to intervene to prevent a tap-in. The K's suffered another injury in the 61st minute, when Mason fractured his arm after being brought down by Ward. But in spite of losing two key midfielders, Alan Dowson's charges were still able to control possession effortlessly and grind out a 1-0 win. Having played so well for so long, we finally ran out of steam and experienced our first defeat of the year.

 

Kingstonian - 1 (McNaughton 16)

Dagenham & Redbridge - 0

Conference Premier, Attendance 1,449 - POSITIONS: Kingstonian 17th, Dag & Red 3rd

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings, Wassmer, McFadzean, Beech, Ward (P Clark), Dack, Dawson (Jones), Barton, Bell (Finnie), Wallace.

 

That defeat dealt a massive blow to our automatic promotion hopes, as Crawley Town were now ten points ahead. We were still inside the play-off places by a fairly comfortable seven points, and we had a fortnight to prepare for our next fixture.

 

During our lengthy break, I got a chance to evaluate some youth-team candidates. I then signed six players to youth contracts - goalkeeper Sam Bell, defenders Glenn Canham and Daniel Ward, right-winger Wayne Parmenter, and strikers Joel Honeyball and Pat Molyneux.

 

From that sextet, local lad Joel was perhaps the one worth keeping a particularly close watch on. He wouldn't be the first of them to get into the senior squad, though.

 

Daryl Ryan suffered a gashed leg while playing for the Republic of Ireland Under-19s, and that meant 15-year-old schoolboy Sam Bell had to go on the bench as our reserve goalkeeper against Salisbury City.

 

Salisbury were in reasonably good spirits ahead of their visit to Victoria Road. The Whites had only lost one of their last five matches and were making a late surge towards a play-off place.

 

25 March 2023: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Salisbury City

Salisbury captain Brian O'Boyle was in the thick of the early action. In the very first minute, O'Boyle and Dagenham defender Josh Meekings both lunged at a loose ball, and Josh was hurt in the ensuing collision. The referee let play continue, but when O'Boyle collided with Bradley Dack on the edge of City's penalty area in the 9th minute, he took action. He awarded us a penalty, despite Salisbury's players - and a few Daggers - insisting that it wasn't a foul, or at least not inside the area. The ref's decision was final, and Yasser Ibrahim hammered in the penalty to give us a rather fortuitous lead after ten minutes. Luck wasn't on our side in the 11th minute, when Charlie Wallace's header from a Mitchell Clark free-kick hit the post, denying us a two-goal advantage. Our next effort, after 20 minutes, was skied over the bar by full-back Jonathan Ward. Salisbury first threatened our position a minute after that, when Karl Sheppard headed narrowly wide from an excellent Shaun Ormsby cross. O'Boyle was wildly off target with a volley that sailed wide in the 35th minute, but he later played his part in the Whites' equaliser. The Irish midfielder spotted Curtis Woods in acres of space, and Woods then centred the ball for Dale Gray to volley home. With less than four minutes remaining in the first half, Salisbury were level. Their goalkeeper Dan Hanford maintained parity by blocking Jonathan Roche's shot from a tight angle shortly afterwards.

 

Hanford was busy again in the 47th minute, as the Welshman got his gloves to Charlie's fierce strike. We had a free-kick in a good position six minutes later, but Mitchell's curler around the wall couldn't find the target. A few minutes later, I made an alteration to my defence. Kyle McFadzean's poor positioning had contributed to Gray's equaliser, and Kyle had not quite bounced back from that mistake, so he was subbed in favour of Cheyenne Dunkley. That change could have paid off after 67 minutes. Unfortunately, Dunkley put a short-range shot into the side netting. In the 70th minute, his fellow Dagenham substitute Peter Clark almost thumped the ball out of Victoria Road. A couple of minutes later, those misses became more significant. Gray played a one-two with Kyle Brown and then surged past Josh Meekings' desperate challenge to leave himself with a clear goal. Robbie Ryder was powerless to keep the resulting shot out, and City were 2-1 up. It was very nearly 3-1 moments later, when Jason Murphy's long-ranger skimmed the bar. A bad day for our defence got worse still in the 77th minute. Ward had been booked nine minutes earlier for committing one foul on Sheppard, and another on the same player meant that it was bath time for Jonathan. Unsurprisingly, his dismissal killed off any realistic hopes we had of taking anything from this match. Salisbury claimed a 2-1 victory that moved them up to 6th place - just five points adrift of us.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 1 (Ibrahim pen10)

Salisbury City - 2 (Gray 42,72)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,443 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Salisbury 6th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech, Meekings, McFadzean (Dunkley), J Ward, M Clark, Dack, Roche (P Clark), Barton, Ibrahim, Wallace (J Bell). BOOKED: Roche, J Ward. SENT OFF: J Ward.

 

I was angry at my players, and also seriously concerned. Following back-to-back defeats in matches that we were widely expected to win, our place in the play-offs was now under threat.

 

Ageing centre-backs Cheyenne Dunkley and Kyle McFadzean both played like a couple of old codgers against Salisbury, as Dale Gray gave them the runaround. Cheyenne's poor display after replacing Kyle was the final nail in the coffin as far as his Dagenham & Redbridge career was concerned.

 

I told Chey that he'd played his final Daggers game and would be released in the summer... but I wasn't going to let him rot in the reserves. Instead, I sent him out on loan to one of our feeder clubs - Dulwich Hamlet of the Conference South - for the remainder of his contract.

 

Following Dunkley's exit, I brought in a couple of younger centre-halves on loan deadline day to try and shore up our defence. One of our new recruits was Everton's Les Sawyer - a 22-year-old Lancastrian who'd previously been loaned out to six Football League clubs.

 

The other was Plymouth Argyle's Swedish giant Johan Hammar, himself a former Toffees trainee. 29-year-old Johan spent the first six months of this season on loan at Newport County, although he did not play in our 7-1 thrashing of the Exiles.

 

As soon as we gained two loanees, we lost another. In-form Charlie Wallace turned awkwardly during a training session and strained his ankle ligaments, thus putting out for the rest of his loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers. With Wallace's season over, had our promotion charge gone to the dogs?

Edited by CFuller

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Conference Premier Table (End of March 2023)

                                   P     W     D     L     F     A     GD    PTS
1.    Pl    Crawley                42    21    14    7     72    46    +26   77
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2.          Newport County         42    21    9     12    58    49    +9    72
3.          Chelmsford             42    19    11    12    75    49    +26   68
4.          Dag & Red              42    19    10    13    71    49    +22   67
5.          Stevenage              42    18    13    11    60    41    +19   67
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.          Salisbury              42    17    11    14    50    35    +15   62
7.          York                   42    17    11    14    62    52    +10   62
8.          Eastleigh              42    17    11    14    64    59    +5    62
9.          Farnborough            42    17    9     16    63    64    -1    60
10.         Boreham Wood           42    14    17    11    65    54    +11   59
11.         Ebbsfleet              42    16    11    15    62    61    +1    59
12.         Cambridge              42    17    8     17    58    63    -5    59
13.         AFC Wimbledon          42    16    10    16    58    60    -2    58
14.         Kingstonian            42    15    12    15    61    56    +5    57
15.         Bury                   42    15    12    15    56    53    +3    57
16.         Darlington             42    15    11    16    61    65    -4    56
17.         Lincoln                42    15    10    17    50    60    -10   55
18.         Accrington             42    12    18    12    54    51    +3    54
19.         MK Dons                42    14    12    16    42    48    -6    54
20.         Cheltenham             42    14    9     19    51    58    -7    51
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
21.         Southend               42    12    9     21    42    59    -17   45
22.         Harrogate              42    11    8     23    37    68    -31   41
23.         Macclesfield           42    11    7     24    49    72    -23   40
24.   R     Alfreton               42    9     11    22    52    101   -49   38

Edited by CFuller

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Sad to see Dunkley go. I got rather attached to him in my Oxford save. But time marches on and you have a good hold on the playoffs!

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tenthreeleader said:
Sad to see Dunkley go. I got rather attached to him in my Oxford save.

Dunkley's not that old (he's still only 31), but he's past it, to be honest. I can't wait to get him off the wage bill in the summer.

tenthreeleader said:
But time marches on and you have a good hold on the playoffs!

You say that, but we're only five points clear with four games to go. It could still go very wrong...

Edited by CFuller

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APRIL 2023

American basketball fans always look forward to the 'Final Four' in April, when the country's four best college teams compete in the latter stages of the national championship. To us, the 'Final Four' meant something completely different. This last quartet of matches would determine whether Dagenham & Redbridge would make the post-season.

 

This was our run-in for the final 15 days of the regular campaign:

1 April: vs Southend United (A) - Southend were 21st, and six points adrift of safety

8 April: vs Crawley Town (H) - Crawley were 1st, and had just lost for the first time in 15 league games

10 April: vs Milton Keynes Dons (H) - MK Dons were 19th, and had won just twice in 2023

15 April: vs Farnborough (A) - Farnborough were 9th, and had won their last four home matches

 

First up was a local derby at Roots Hall against Southend United. The Shrimpers were low on confidence, and facing the prospect of playing in the Conference South next season unless they finished this campaign strongly.

 

1 April 2023: Southend United vs Dagenham & Redbridge

Midfielder Scott Roddie hit a vicious strike at goal in the 8th minute, and Southend keeper Kyle Blair had to frantically push it away. Three minutes later, another of our Scots did open the scoring. Lee Finnie was on the end of an exquisite cross from Jonathan Roche, which he chested past Shrimpers defender Frank Hughes and turned into the net. Southend were rattled, and they conceded three corners in the next two minutes as we looked to pull further clear. The closest we got to doing that was in the 14th minute, when Finnie's corner was headed just over by Johan Hammar. Six minutes later, Daggers goalkeeper Robbie Ryder made his first save of the night from Gareth Worby. Robbie turned behind a bullet from George Bowerman on 26 minutes, shortly after Blair had denied Lee his second goal. After 34 minutes, Roddie's through-ball presented a clear cut chance for Jamie Bell to increase our lead to 2-0, but Jamie pulled it into the side netting. Blair palmed away a stunning half-volley from Tim Beech in the 44th minute, and Ryder then kept us ahead at half-time with a fantastic injury-time save to deny Bowerman.

 

In the 53rd minute, Roche's searching ball to Yasser Ibrahim was cleared out of Southend's penalty area by Stephen O'Donnell. The right-back's clearance only went as far as Bradley Dack, who skied a half-volley high and wide. Eight minutes later, Finnie took the ball into the area shortly after his corner had been headed away by Jon Meades. As soon as Lee entered the 18-yard box, he went down under a seemingly innocuous tackle from Meades. Despite the hosts' protests, we were awarded a penalty, and Finnie rubbed salt into the Shrimpers' wounds with a powerful spot-kick. We led 2-0, and Southend never recovered. Ben Mee's side were truly awful - their passing was shocking, we completely dominated them in the air, and they already looked resigned to relegation. In fact, only a save from Blair in the 70th minute, to deny Finnie his hat-trick, spared United from an embarrassing 3-0 home defeat.

 

Southend United - 0

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (Finnie 11,pen61)

Conference Premier, Attendance 3,123 - POSITIONS: Southend 21st, Dag & Red 4th

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Beech, Hammar, Meekings, Sawyer, Roche, Dack, Roddie (M Clark), Ibrahim (P Clark), J Bell (Kerins), Finnie.

 

Despite the victory, we were still only five points ahead of 6th-placed Salisbury City, who continued their winning run against relegated Alfreton Town.

 

On the trip back home, coach Mike Jones gave me the news that he'd received his UEFA B Licence. I gave Mike my congratulations and pledged to offer him a new two-year contract, which he signed the very next day.

 

The following weekend saw a massive game between us and Crawley Town. We had to defeat the league leaders to keep alive our very slim hopes of automatic promotion. If we did win, there was also a chance that we could secure a play-off place before the final week.

 

8 April 2023: Dagenham & Redbridge vs Crawley Town

The match got off to a thrilling start, with Bell scoring after just 42 seconds! Sadly for us, it was Kris Bell who got Crawley off the mark with a lethal follow-up after Dale Park's initial strike had been blocked by Robbie Ryder. The Red Devils almost doubled their lead to 2-0 in the 6th minute, when 18-year-old Rikki Scarlett struck the post from James Dunne's throw-in. A minute later, we hit the visitors with a devastating counter-attack. Adam Barton spotted Jonathan Ward unmarked on the edge of the area, and Jonathan drilled Adam's through-ball into the far corner. Ward had equalised with his first Dagenham & Redbridge goal! Another loanee hoped to put us in front after 20 minutes, but Scott Roddie's free-kick was just off target. One minute later, Kris Bell volleyed Park's cross into the hoardings. Neither team could get going until the 37th minute, when Bell made it 2-1. This time, it was Jamie Bell who gave Dagenham the advantage by scoring from Roddie's lofted free-kick! A third Daggers goal looked on the cards in the 42nd minute. Crawley midfielder Lawrie Anderson tried to knock the ball back to his centre-half Aaron McEwan, but Lee Finnie dispossessed his Scottish compatriot and went clean through! Finnie was odds-on to score, but he could only shoot straight at visiting goalkeeper Gareth O'Connell. Lee's wasted chance was punished three minutes later. Our pressing strategy and 3-5-2 formation left us vulnerable on the flanks, and when Park found Crawley right-back Josh Simpson criminally unmarked, a Red Devils equaliser looked inevitable. Sure enough, Simpson's subsequent cross was headed home by Kris Bell for 2-2.

 

I considered switching to a four-man defence at the break before deciding against it. Five minutes after the restart, our three-man backline was cut open yet again by the phenomenal Park. His pass into the Daggers box was picked up by half-time substitute Dean O'Donnell, who broke free from Josh Meekings and slotted in his 16th league goal of the season. Crawley had come back from 2-1 down to lead 3-2. That was a bitter pill to swallow, although we kept going. Jamie Bell blasted the ball narrowly over the crossbar from 25 yards out after 54 minutes. A minute later, Jamie created an opportunity for Barton, who put it safely into O'Connell's hands. In the 63rd minute, we survived a free-kick from on-loan Walsall winger Scarlett, whose attempt was plucked out of the air by Robbie Ryder. That was a rare highlight in a disappointing afternoon for Ryder, who in the 71st minute was beaten for a fourth time. Scarlett played an exquisite corner to Dunne, and the experienced former Colchester United midfielder effectively sealed all three points for the Red Devils. A quick response from the Daggers would've kept the game alive, but Finnie's shot moments after the resumption was spilled by O'Connell and cleared by Kyle Callan-McFadden. When a Roddie free-kick sailed wide moments later, the Daggers fans began to leave Victoria Road early. There was no way back, and we lost successive home games for the first time since September.

 

Dagenham & Redbridge - 2 (J Ward 7, J Bell 37)

Crawley Town - 4 (Bell 1,45, O'Donnell 50, Dunne 71)

Conference Premier, Attendance 2,654 - POSITIONS: Dag & Red 4th, Crawley 1st

DAG & RED LINE-UP: Ryder, Meekings (Wassmer), Sawyer, Hammar, Beech, J Ward, Roddie, Dack (Dawson), Barton, J Bell, Finnie (Kerins).

 

That defeat really hurt me, and when I heard that Salisbury had won again, I buried my head in my hands. We were now just two points above the Whites, who had edged Stevenage out of the last play-off spot on goal difference.

 

Our next game came just 48 hours later on Easter Monday. In my mind, we quite simply had to beat Milton Keynes Dons at home, otherwise I'd have egg on my face.

Edited by CFuller

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