Balanta Finds A Way: Daggers Win On Boxing Day
Following the postponement of the Bromley match that was due to take place on the 28th, this Dover game was to be the first of back-to-back fixtures against the Whites.
Many fans of the Daggers, including myself – demanded six points. Well, we’re now halfway there!
Not a vintage display, but nonetheless, the men in red and blue – though those colours were disproportionate – secured the three points. The Daggers played in red top and shorts, as oppose to blue shorts, for reasons unbeknown to me. The only thing I could think up on Boxing Day is that they ‘clashed’ in some way with Dover’s shorts?
Anyway, McMahon’s team came out victorious following yet another goal in front of the BT Sport cameras after a great set-piece move off the training ground. The Colombian’s bullet header going in off the bar!
So, yes, BT Sport were in attendance as the spotlight was on the city of Dover yet again this week – though less on lorries and the port – but more on Crabble. We wished to have been in the away section after making the uphill trek did us Daggers, but, in this year of 2020 – it just wasn’t possible!
Also, something that looked impossible at times for the home side was playing a match again this year, the Boxing Day clash was the first for Andy Hessenthaler’s men in five weeks in the league – of which they sit rock bottom. COVID-19 causing the postponement of numerous fixtures, though despite the pitch not being in use, it wasn’t in a great state.
Those conditions could be a reason for the visitors’ inability to kill off the game, as we’ll get onto later, though there were other contributing factors than the weather and playing conditions alone. Such conditions that won’t be an issue come January 2nd as the reverse fixture is held on the hallowed turf of Victoria Road!
Lights, Camera and now to the Action…
So to the game itself, following that build-up, and the first ‘event’ as it were was a collision in which ‘keeper Justham was injured – a blow to the head. This was the main cause of the 6 additional minutes that were to be added on in the first half. Rightly, nobody was in any rush to see the game resumed as Gowens assessed the Daggers No.1.
Deemed fit to carry on, the game did eventually get back underway, the theme for much of it was dodgy defending – the Daggers though, preventing shots on goal. Their method however, ‘professional fouls’, saw them accumulate a fair few yellow cards. The likes of Rose and Azeez with the pace going forward for Dover looked dangerous but weren’t on their feet for long – therefore unable to utilise their pace properly and turn their strength into goals.
The Dagenham approach to hurting the home side’s back line was more considered and easy on the eye – knocking the ball around waiting for an opening – committing men forward; simultaneously leaving themselves vulnerable to a counter attack. The main weapon was the width, utilised more and more as the half went on, initially Eleftheriou was the one looking to find McCallum – whipping crosses in from the right flank.
However, Luke Croll – who was heavily involved in the latter stages of the half, getting on the ball and finding a pass – and Liam Gordon grew into the game posing a substantial threat. What did it lead to? A few near misses from Paul McCallum with his head and feet; goalmouth scrambles and desperate clearances from Dover defenders but not a goal!
Surprisingly not a goal, as the one-man advantage the Daggers gained midway through the half many thought would tip the balance – the away side more able to assert their dominance and commit men forward. The red card that some thought would tip the balance was given to Passley, an ex-Dagger, who left the referee with little choice – a two footed, reckless tackle on Darren McQueen.
This came instantly after I tweeted “I’ll be surprised if we finish the game with 11 men” – the Daggers having more names in the book, but all in the yellow column – Passley the sole player in the red column following his dismissal.
That red, harking back to the Croll-Gordon link-up play, saw a late surge from the Daggers – the former of the two left-sided players was dubbed ‘Maldini’ on Twitter. This coming after his excellent play on the ball, in keeping with recent performances, he was certainly taking advantage of the extra man his side had.
Crosses now coming in from the left and right as the teams entered the 6 minutes additional time. Darren McQueen coming close and too Angelo Balanta, the latter having his hit blocked – Dover, besieged, looked to hold on until the break. And… that they just about managed!
Momentum swinging behind Daryl’s men, I was confident we’d find a goal in the second half and was satisfied with the performance but only if we kept 11 men on the pitch. McMahon with a similar outlook, replaced the influential right-back Eleftheriou with my favourite player so far this season – Myles Weston! Also, introducing Charlee Adams, replacing another player on a yellow, Dean Rance – his 5th of the season.
The first of those substitutes, Myles Weston, was to bully Sam Wood all half and Charlee Adams, likewise, took control of the midfield. Therefore, leading to Daggers supporters singing McMahon’s praises. But, I doubt that would have been the case at the final whistle if it wasn’t for the breakthrough courtesy of Angelo Balanta.
A fantastic, bullet header off the bar and into the back of the net – a well-worked set-piece as Dover defenders seemed to just have a lapse in concentration – and, Balanta made no mistake in finding the net. A relief, the goal had finally been scored after fifty minutes of looking on top, I backed the away side to score a few more.
Though, that isn’t something we’ve been able to do so far this season, what’s more – it’s just not the Daggers way. That previous sentence is something of a small-club mentality the club have and what the manager himself has touched upon – this lack of a ruthless nature – something he’s looking to change.
Not just ruthlessness in both boxes (the mentality of the team) but – the mentality of the club. This is something that the commentators recognised would take time as any rational fan would be aware of. Though when it is your side, and you are wanting success – that fact of the project taking time gets lost in emotion all too often. Equally, on the flip side, this is a results business: Daryl McMahon, as every football manager, is all too wary of that.
So, back to the game, and following the goal the Daggers looked dangerous in the immediate aftermath – in pursuit of the second that never came – though they came close. But, after five minutes or so, Dover began to push for an equaliser and got at the Dagenham defence.
One particular incidence saw the home side awarded a penalty after Liam Gordon brought down the attacker – needless – and I must admit I thought they’d convert it and it would be the same self-sabotaging Daggers performance of old. But, the saviour on Boxing Day was Elliot Justham who denied Hessenthaler’s side an equaliser from the spot!
That was with half an hour left on the clock, the Daggers still in control, though a second moment I’d like to touch upon in a far from ruthless second half performance was a Callum Reynolds error – following which, he received the wrath of McMahon.
His poor pass led to a mix-up at the back as Azeez looked through on goal, Elliot Justham coming to the rescue yet again though! These nervous moments, though not as drastic, kept coming until the final whistle and then it was just relief.
We’d got over the line: three more points. And, finally. The Daggers are closing in on the play-offs.
Elliot Justham – 8
Andrew Eleftheriou – 7
Kenny Clark – 6
Callum Reynolds – 5
Luke Croll – 8
Liam Gordon – 7
Dean Rance – 6
Abu Ogogo – 6
Angelo Balanta – 9
Darren McQueen 7
Paul McCallum – 6
Myles Weston – 8
Charlee Adams - 8
The performance, supporters put aside, and so too did McMahon to an extent – the 3 points all that mattered. Making it 4 wins in 5! I really do think now we’re turning a corner, look out for more articles from me on the season so far and also a look at McMahon’s tenure as he approaches a year in charge of the Daggers. What a year it has been!
For now, stay safe and Come On You Daggers!