WHAT. A. SEASON! - Part Three
Despite finishing the year with a 1-0 defeat to Barnet, who had ultimately done the double over Dagenham this season, The Daggers were in good spirits. The first game of the new year came against Orient as Peter Taylor’s side looked to repeat their Boxing Day heroics, but it wasn’t meant to be as The Daggers lost 1-0 in what was a cagey affair at Brisbane Road. After back to back defeats it looked like the new year had brought bad luck to Dagenham after a fabulous end to 2018, now looking to rediscover their form the Essex side faced Boreham Wood. The reverse fixture of the opening day of the season saw The Wood go three up without reply in the first 35 minutes of the encounter and Dagenham looked set for their third straight defeat. However this young side had rediscovered the spirit they had shown in the FA Cup against Boreham Wood and had fought back to go in level at the break with goals from; Wilkinson, Gordon and Angelo Balanta. It was the Colombian’s goal on the stroke of half time that silenced the away support not least because he was formerly their star man. Into the second half, no-one dared to predict the score line after the first 45 which had somehow ended 3-3, but this 45 didn’t quite mirror the first though late goals saw it finish 4-4 in an unforgettable encounter at Victoria Road.
Despite that winless run closing the gap between them and the drop by two points it wasn’t all doom and gloom for The Daggers as the Americans were in town! The co-owners Peter Freund, Craig Unger and for the first time Tim Howard spoke at the Fans’ forum before they made the trip to Salford to watch Dagenham in the FA Trophy. Great news came in abundance with the announcements that included:
- They were hoping to extend Onariase’s loan, a man who had been a key part of The Daggers’ back line
- There would be a new scoreboard (well it was coming) as this scoreboard was promised a while before
- They were hoping to land a permanent deal to keep star player Wilkinson at Dagenham
Also, if they hadn’t already, the consortium had won over the fans with ‘God bless America’ ringing around the room however there were negatives on the pitch as Dagenham’s winless run continued. Peter Taylor’s men had been knocked out of the FA Trophy by The Ammies in front of Tim Howard and the co-owners so there would be no trip to Wembley for Dagenham this term. Looking to prevent a nervous end to the season The Daggers had to start picking up some points, or they would again be dragged into the relegation battle, and they did just that at The Gallagher Stadium. The men in red and blue took all three points against The Stones with a comfortable 3-0 win however their creative spark Angelo Balanta left with a nasty injury.
The first month of the year didn’t end in defeat for The Daggers but neither did it end in victory as they were held 1-1 by Aldershot. This left Dagenham 13th but though the distance in terms of places was far from the drop they were just nine points away. Peter Taylor‘s men began the new month with a loss as the relegation zone neared, Beavon’s goal was the difference as they were now just six points above the drop. In their 2nd of three games of the month,it was the same story, this time losing to Gateshead by a two goal margin however they managed to bounce back defeating Sutton. That victory, where Wilkinson’s goal proved the difference, ensured they got something out of February - sitting 14th seven points clear of 21st placed Havant. Now into the penultimate month of the season The Daggers looked to deal a blow to play-off hopefuls Harrogate, although they couldn’t come away with all three points it felt like a win on the day as Wilkinson’s last minute goal earned Peter Taylor’s men a point.
The second game of the month ended in the same fashion as the first but Dagenham’s luck turned bad on the night as they were denied all three points in the last kick of the game. Looking to put things right at Victoria Road The Daggers faces Kent side Bromley and they put in a great performance to add to an even better victory as Wilkinson, who had now scored three in four games, helped his side to a 3-0 win. After that great victory on home turf The Daggers were tasked with defeating Havant - the very side they had been looking to distance themselves from for so long. But yet again they missed the opportunity on the road and were now in a situation no Dagenham fan or player wanted to be in - that 3-0 defeat yet again dragged them into a relegation battle and a run of a few bad results could have put them in real danger. This recent form on the road had raised questions about Taylor’s capabilities and frustrated travelling fans - it was as if he didn’t care what happened away from home as long as they were gaining points at Victoria Road. Things just got worse for Peter Taylor and his side as the ended the month with two straight defeats leaving The Daggers eight points and only two places above the dotted line.
Into the last month of the campaign Dagenham went toe to toe with Fylde who were eyeing-up the play-offs therefore a 1-1 draw where Balanta netted was a decent result to start April. After a bore draw against Barrow attention turned to the Kufflink stadium where The Daggers faced Ebbsfleet and despite their safety being all but confirmed there were still points to be won. Peter Taylor’s men proved they were aware of that fact winning on the road at long last thanks to Tomi Adeloye who had a personal point to prove if he were to be kept beyond the season’s end.
There was a pleasant surprise for Dagenham fans on the day of their penultimate home game as Peter Freund made a statement, key points included:
- The Badge will be changed back to the original version
- Kits will be made by Nike
- The Daggers will challenge for the title next season
These announcements excited fans more than anything giving them hope the club will return to the football league and build a great infrastructure with the proposed new shop and building. This as previously stated came before Dagenham’s encounter with Eastleigh who were fighting for the final play-off spot but those hopes were dealt a huge blow as Harfield and Kandi secured a 2-0 victory. Knowing that his side were now safe Taylor decided to experiment with his squad as he was drafting his retained list but things didn’t go to plan as they fell to a 2-0 loss at the hands of Braintree. Despite the knowledge that Taylor was going to experiment with his side this left many angry as there were hundreds of supporters who made the short trip only to be disappointed with a poor performance and defeat.
It was now to the last game of the season as The Daggers faced Solihull and Taylor went back to his strongest side for today’s game for the finale of what had been a rollercoaster season to say the least. With Solihull’s top three position confirmed they looked to use this game as a warm up for their play-off semi and that is exactly what it looked like. Both sides looked tired after what had been a long season with the game finishing 1-1 with Wilkinson’s goal being cancelled out by Hylton - the Irishman’s dyed hair was the main topic of conversation at Victoria Road.
As Solihull unsurprisingly failed to top the table on the day it was time for Dagenham’s POTY awards following the game, where Daggers No.1 Elliot Justham took the top prize. In second place was Conor Wilkinson who you could say was the most important player in Dagenham’s resurgence and without him they would be competing in the NLS next season, he led the Daggers’ goal scoring charts with 12 goals.
After all this all I can say is WHAT A SEASON! And thank you to Peter Taylor and the owners who steered this ship clear of the iceberg also how excited I am for next season!