We’d only got to the stadium with around two or three minutes to spare – at one point it looked as if we weren’t going to make it as coach-goers frantically looked for road-signs towards Dagenham. There are none. It would be too easy to have a go at Dagenham town itself, but coming from an equally scruffy place it would only be hypocracy. Let’s just say that it’s not the place you would book your summer holidays.
With so little time before the match, the team and subs was unknown to a few Dale fans, but it seemed we’d stuck with Higgy and Howe up front, and the M62 trio of Stanton, McArdle and Muirhead came in for Holness, D’Laryea and Thompson respectively.
As soon as the match began, a torrent of hail came down over London for a good ten minutes, and this completely dictated how the match would pan out. The surprisingly good conditioned pitch became slippy and sodden, and the ball could either skid off or hold up. It wasn’t a day for the quick-footed individuals, and unfortunately we had a fair few more than the Daggers did.
The first half we were outplayed by a Dagenham side which battled hard, adapted to the weather better and weren’t afraid to put in a challenge (in fact they positively revelled in it). We couldn’t get out of our own half, the weakness of Howe’s aerial challenges and our inability to win the second balls being a major factor. The fact that our front two were stood offside for the majority of the first thirty minutes didn’t help.
Dale’s first meaningful attack resulted in a goal, when Higginbotham latched onto a long ball, flicked it over the head of the Dagenham defender and smashed it high into the net past Roberts. If you get a chance to see the goal either on Sky Sports, or the Virgin Media site you can appreciate how well taken the goal was. So, one-nil, from our first attack, against the side twenty-second in League Two. From this point on I thought the Daggers might roll over like Notts County and Grimsby before them. But, credit to them, they never did, and they continued to put our defence under pressure.
The equaliser came on 33 minutes, a mix-up in the Dale midfield allowed the Daggers to play in Ben Strevens, how finished clinically into the net in front of the travelling supporters. It was the least they’d deserved. The front two of Nurse and A. N. Other (Benson?) were more experienced than Howe and Higgy, and did a much better job of getting hold of the long-balls and making them stick. Our usual attacking ploy of getting it down the wings was ineffective on the slippy pitch and neither Muirhead or Rundle could control the ball and run with it at speed. Howe was having particularly woeful day, betraying his description of “target man” which many people called him when he first joined us on loan. He isn’t good in the air at all is Rene, and the fact that he ducks his head just as the ball comes doesn’t help.
Dagenham had a couple of efforts over the bar, and Muirhead fired into Roberts’ arms from a wide position, but there were not many chances of note before half time. When that came, I’d tried to get a programme (as we didn’t have chance before the match), but for some reason they were only available at the Tea Bar and the queue was massive. If Dagenham are trying to get rid of the “non-league” tag, then this wasn’t the way to go about it.
By the second half, the sun had come out and only ten Dale players had come out, Rundle, dizzied by a clash of heads, was replaced by le Fondre ten minutes later. The match continued in much the same vain, Dagenham exertin much of the attacking pressure and Dale trying to set Muirhead and Higginbotham down the wings (Higgy has moved to the left to allow le Fondre to go up front). Higgy actually looked our most decent threat, at one point skinning two or three defenders before messing up and firing over the bar; a good chance actually and one which places Higgy squarely as winger rather than striker.
Chris Dagnall came on in the 63rd minute along with Basham for Howe and Muirhead (both disappointing), and our best chance of the match was soon created, Dagnall put through by Perkins hit it low to the bottom left, and Tony Roberts made a fantastic save – most people thought Dagnall had missed, but it was the slightest of touches by everyone’s favourite keeper which made the ball go out for a corner. Nothing came of the resultant kick.
Not long later, Dagnall got through again, dribbling past two defenders in the slightest of spaces, but Roberts was there to Dagnall’s feet to parry, and the rebound could only bounce off le Fondre into Roberts’s arms.
Dagenham were also making chances, a ball dribbling agonisingly across the goal mouth after a quick break, and Tommy Lee had to deal with a few corners from the Londoners (excellently dealt with I may add). It was one of those matches which could have gone either way, but neither side had the guile to finish off their chances.
And so, full-time came, a long journey home awaiting us. As we walked out of the stadium, to where the coach dropped us off, a sudden feeling of dread kicked in. Where was our coach? We looked up and down the road, all in the car park, and no sign of our method of transport. We started to picture us stuck in Essex with no money and no way home. How much is a taxi back to Rochdale?
Thankfully, we somehow managed to meet a load of other equally lost coach passengers and gathered that the coach was parked 5 minutes away in a factory car park. Apparently they’d been telling us over the tannoy (well I say tannoy, it was more like a mic attached to a megaphone). And so we trudged to the coach, wet and miffed.
Wet and miffed; kind of sums up the day really. Not too disheartened though, Chesterfield only drew, so we’re now 5 points ahead with four games to play and a game in hand. The playoff hunt has definitely not been compromised.