Pools At The Double As Daggers Sink To Narrow Defeat
A close encounter eventually saw the Daggers defeated by Hartlepool, a narrow defeat, but one that could have big implications in terms of Dagenham's play-off prospects - seemingly now dashed?
In spite of the defeat, there were positives to take: Matt Robinson reaching a milestone while being on hand for a goal; Mauro Vilhete on form and an overall good display. BUT, there were reasons why we lost and I’ll look at them below.
The State of Play
A weekend that looked to be a defining one in Dagenham’s season, the play-offs within reach and yet slipping way; a confidence boost of defeating Torquay – would it kickstart yet another run?
There was intrigue going into this very tough clash at Victoria Park with Hartlepool still going strong in the upper reaches of the Vanarama National League – sitting 2nd before a ball was kicked on Good Friday.
Dave Challinor’s side hoped to make it a great Friday and despite the gap in terms of league position – Daggers supporters remained poised for victory or at least a point. The early kick-off of 1pm took some by surprise as the team news was released at noon.
Matt Robinson starting saw him make his 150th appearance for the club and there was too a return to the side for Mauro Vilhete to the starting XI. Plus, a first start in a while for Joey Jones who slotted in at centre back, returning from yet another injury – the highly-rated defender.
To the game, and it was just 24 hours prior to kick-off that we learned of the very sad news of the passing of Lee Collins, Yeovil Town captain. Leaving the whole footballing community shocked and saddened; a minutes’ silence was held as a tribute to Lee across the National League grounds before Kick-off.
The home side got the game underway and
started very much the brighter of the two sides in the preliminary stages –
forcing Dagenham onto the back foot. However, after an early set-piece for the Pools,
the game settled down and so did McMahon’s men.
Just shy of ten minutes, the yellows had their first shot at goal, Joey Jones reclaiming possession and working it up front to Balanta - the Colombian though, only able to shoot wide on that occasion.
With notice the away side too posed a threat, the hosts looked to assert some dominance and so they did just that with a ten minutes packed full of chances. The first coming from Rhys Oates, making his way down the left hand side; his effort could only be stopped by a sliding Myles Weston block. A good, last-ditch piece of defending.
A few further threats to the deadlock followed, the home side probing as they played their way around the box – a penalty shout or two waved away by the referee as the Blues advanced into the box.
After twenty-one minutes and a full ten of sustained pressure, the Daggers defence was finally broken, Elliot Justham on this occasion unable to take matters into his own hands.
That man Oates was to be a handful for the Dagenham back line; as he weaved through them and put the ball beyond the Visitors’ number 1 - with the help of a deflection.
My demands after that goal went in were a quick reaction, it was frustrating as I knew we were capable of better – as we’d shown in the first ten minutes – but we just couldn’t sustain a spell of possession.
Pleasantly surprised, my demands were met with an instant reaction from the Daggers, Myles Weston spearheading the immediate response as he drove forward – his cross though saw Balanta head just wide of the mark.
Positively, the away side persisted, much like their opponents had done, looking for in-roads to a breakthrough – they had an opportunity on twenty-eight minutes as Vilhete won a free-kick in what appeared a dangerous area.
However, Will Wright was unable to work his magic this time out and he hit a wall, a Hartlepool wall - which stood strong to protect the hosts’ lead. But they soon faltered, that lead extinguished as no other than Matt Robinson steered home a Weston cross from the right flank.
The midfielder craned his neck to put the ball beyond Killip and put his side on level terms, the question now was, could they see it out until half-time? I thought they would and had confidence they could go on and win it at this point with the way they responded to going a goal down – momentum now swinging behind them.
However, the pendulum was soon to swing in the other direction, Challinor’s side eager to restore their lead – in particular their goal-scorer Rhys Oates – itching for a second. He clearly had the better of Will Wright for pace, the defenders’ tactics to deal with it unnerving some supporters.
Wright opted to take Oates on in a foot race, as oppose to opt for a more disciplined approach and give himself a few yards – but it worked to be fair to him – Oates successfully kept at bay until half-time.
The last action of the half, was up the other end, Joey Jones stinging the hands of Killip who refused to be beaten for a second time in ten minutes – the scores level at the break. Here were my thoughts at half-time:
However, in need of continuing their resurgence before the break – the Daggers only managed that continuation for a mere four minutes. The solitary Dagenham chance saw Angelo Balanta advance into the box, but he was unable to get a clear shot off after being pulled back.
Go down! Go down – he should’ve gone down! That was the unifying cry from supporters as Balanta was pulled back in the box and frustrations of a missed opportunity to net from 12 yards. The Colombian accused of being too honest.
That was to be, as I say, a rare opportunity in this second ’45 as for the next fifteen minutes or so saw the home side create chance after chance – endangering the Visitors’ prospects of taking a point or more back down south.
First, an inviting ball into the Dagenham box was crying to be poked in by a Pools attacker; luckily for the East London side – the ball went out for a throw. Then, again, taking control of the midfield, Armstrong ripped through the opposition – Matt Robinson was on his tail though and crucially tracked back to prevent the attack advancing any further.
But, it wasn’t long before the Pools were able to load the box, a set-piece swung in 30 yards out – Holohan powering a header home without challenge. The blues were back in front and how many times had we seen this situation occur from a set-piece this season?
The answer, too many. So we were again behind, could we respond the way we had in the first half? The response was good, but lacked substance with all good intent but little in the way of end product; an acrobatic Gordon effort going amiss.
Then just a few minutes later, after an excellent footballing move, from a midfield who have impressed in their creativity in recent weeks, resulted in a Vilhete shot. An effort fired hard and low but nothing Ben Killip couldn’t handle in the Hartlepool goal.
With the aforementioned form that midfield, particularly Vilhete on the attacking side, was in; bemusement came when the number 22 made way for George Saunders. Arguably our main weapon was Vilhete; the likes of Paul McCallum – again rather ineffective – remained on the pitch.
Albeit, the striker was soon hooked three minutes later with fifteen left to play; the point being Mauro Vilhete should’ve played beyond the seventy-three minutes he did.
Regardless, the introductions of George Saunders and Darren McQueen had little effect on the game itself – not the tactical masterclass and game-changing subs Daryl McMahon had planned.
Four additional minutes were to be played and there was still hope of an equaliser – a scrappy goal, whatever, it just had to hit the back of the net. The man who came closest was the unlikeliest of sources as Elliot Justham threw himself into the mix from a corner – the goalkeeper made use of his height advantage and made contact with the ball.
Though, the number 1 headed saw his effort deflect just behind; with the Daggers unable to make use of the second corner - the referee signalled full-time. A whistle which could well have signalled the end of the club’s play-off hopes for another season, though things can still change – it’s now a very, very tough ask.
Following the result and the gap between us and the play-offs growing, there was frustration surrounding the game – of course, but that was another good display on the whole. I think the team is still in a good place looking ahead to next season; our start to the campaign having cost us dearly.
I know fans will say; it’s another season of finishing 17th – we need change. But, is something being built? Yes. Do I expect play-offs next season? Yes. So if those expectations aren’t met within the first few months of the campaign – I will ask questions and I’m sure others at the club will too.
But, so long as we find a prolific goalscorer hitting some form – McCallum or elsewise – we need that striker otherwise the Football League will always be just out of reach.
Now to the Player Ratings, and this week I introduced a new feature of fans voting for their Man Of The Match and rating players out of ten – it worked well and so it’ll be available now for all games including tomorrow’s at home to Aldershot. So, make sure you have your say after Monday’s game, the results for Friday’s encounter can be found here.
Onto my ratings now to see how they compare with yours, the supporters’:
*FR= Fan Rating
Elliot Justham – 6 (FR-6.8)
Will Wright – 6 (FR -6.1)
Kenny Clark – 6 ( FR-6)
Joey Jones – 6 (FR-6)
Liam Gordon – 6 (FR-6.4)
Myles Weston – 7 (FR-6.5)
Dean Rance – 7 (FR-6.4)
Matt Robinson -8 (FR-7.1)
Mauro Vilhete – 8 (FR-7.3)
Angelo Balanta – 7 (FR-6.4)
Paul McCallum – 5 (FR-5)
George Saunders – 5 (FR-5.4)
Darren McQueen – 5 (FR-5)
Thanks for Reading (Don’t forget to get involved in the votes and ratings tomorrow!),