Where have the Daggers gone?
by Hardy on 06/11/2003
With the Daggers season turning sour rapidly Hardy looks at where it has all gone wrong in just six months since the play-off final at Stoke.
Where have the Daggers gone?
we sit this weekend watching the FA Cup First Round, not involved for the first
time in four seasons, with the added ignominy of our conquerors Thurrock being
the first game on TV on Friday against Luton Town, it seems a good time to look at the season so
far and where on earth it has all gone wrong after coming so close to promotion
in Stoke against Doncaster Rovers just 6 months ago.
The Daggers season is not over yet, but is in serious danger of descending
into a battle against relegation given current form, and the run of four defeats
we have just experienced matches the worst ever for the club.
So what has happened, where have the Daggers of the last four seasons gone?
Close season 2003
The Daggers made wholesale changes to the squad in the last close season.
Several of the changes have patently not worked to date. Movements this summer
Out: Mark Rooney (released, signed by Barnet), Steve Heffer
(released, signed by Thurrock), Paul Gothard (released, signed by Thurrock),
Steve Potts (released, retired), Steve West (reported fee of £10k to Hornchurch),
Junior McDougald (refused new contract, signed by Canvey Island)
In: Jimmy Jackson (free from Gravesend & Northfleet), Mark Bentley
(free from Gravesend & Northfleet), Leon Braithwaite (free from Margate),
Alex Meechan (undisclosed fee from Forest Green Rovers), Lenny Piper (free from
Farnborough Town). Chris Piper (free from Farnborough Town), Keith Scott (free
from Leigh RMI)
the release of several players being completely understandable for me, the one
player released that made little sense was long time stalwart Steve Heffer. Heff
was an ever reliable holding midfield player willing to give blood for the
Daggers cause and was just 30. The official reason offered for the release was
Steve's desire for first team football and a difficulty to commit to the time
needed for a team in a National competition like the Conference. Steve just
becoming a father was also a factor.
Given the subsequent sale of Paul Terry to Yeovil Town in September, a move
that the Daggers did not want to make but were forced into in order to cash in
on an asset who could walk away on a free at the end of the season, the heart of
the midfield which had carried the team to the Ryman league title, and to third,
second and the play off final was ripped out.
Replacing Heff came several midfield signings, Mark Bentley and Jimmy Jackson
from Gravesend and the Pipers from Farnborough, none of which are similar types
of players. The departure of Paul Terry means that the club's only real option
as a combative midfielder is Danny Shipp, a centre forward.
loss was the underrated Mark Rooney. At the Fans Forum in February 2003 Garry
Hill described Mark as a perfect squad player, happy to fill in wherever needed,
yet in the summer Mark was released and immediately signed by Barnet where he
has made 14 appearances for the club lying 4th in the table.
The Keith Scott saga remains a complete mystery to date. Scotty was no
spring chicken at 36 and had more clubs than Tiger Woods, but was a "target
man" replacement for Steve West who took the 30 pieces of† Bryco
silver to move down to Hornchurch. Having done pretty well in pre-season Scotty
was shipped off on loan to Tamworth without ever playing a game and then signed
by Windsor & Eton.
And more changes since
the summer Paul Terry has moved on to Yeovil to warm the bench in Division
Three, realistically a move that the Daggers would not have wanted to make, but
had little realistic alternative to in this "Bosman" day and age.
Then came the infamous Fitzroy Simpson race row following the game against
Telford United on the 5th of September. While that is still under investigation,
the fall out for the club was the loss of two key players, Mark Smith and Mark
Stein and a definite dent on morale around Victoria Road.
Players in since are Tony Scully, Alan Kimble and Steve Watts. While Wattsy is a proven
player for the club after his loan period last season, Scully is yet to convince
so far. Alan Kimble, while hugely experienced, is 37 and has been severely
embarrassed for pace of a couple of occasions.†
Last week two of the summer signings, Lenny Piper and Alex Meechan, were
transfer listed having failed to make much of an impact or secure a regular
first team spot. Some of this was no doubt down to the trimming of budgets
following the shock FA Cup exit, but neither can argue that they have made a
difference as yet this season.
So are we better?
would argue that the only player that has joined the club in the summer
and since that has proved their worth so far is Mark Bentley. Even he has very
anonymous days, and Garry Hill doesn't seem to know whether to play him on the
right or centrally.
Of the other signings Jackson has been injured for most of the season so far,
Lenny Piper and Meechan are now transfer listed. Chris Piper has played a lot
but looks a little lightweight. Tony Scully can beat a man but rarely delivers a
Braithwaite struggled for a long time to get his first goal, has only two to
date and has been injured. Leon is blessed with blinding pace but suffers from
the old Junior McDougald problem of not being direct enough.
Let's remember that these players have almost all been brought in from clubs
that finished bottom half in the Conference last season. Right now, it looks
like that is where they will be finishing this season too.
I have to say that I believed we would be trying to play the sort of game that
took Yeovil so convincingly to the title last season. Fast movement, passing,
fluid. On the rare occasions we do this, like in the second half against Orient
in the LDV it seems to work. Despite this, all too often, like last season, when
the going gets tough, the long balls start.
Whereas last season we had Steve West picking up the pieces and Mark Stein
sniffing off the knock downs, this season we have Alex Meechan and Leon
Braithwaite, having sent Keith Scott packing. Long ball is not working, we don't
have the right sort of players to use it as an option so why
resort to it?
We have tried all sorts of combinations through central midfield, none of
which seem to have worked consistently. So many players have been played out of
position week in week out.†
Ashley Vickers seems still to be the first choice
left back despite proving when he was forced back into central defence that this
his best position. Danny Shipp, a centre forward has yo-yoed between front and
midfield. Chris Piper has played all over the place, Scully has gone left and
right, Paul Bruce has played left back, left midfield and centre midfield.
Full Time or Part Time?
The club made the decision to go partly full time in the summer. A number of
players are on full time contracts and train daytimes as well as with the
part time players on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Has this impacted the cohesion of the squad? Quite possibly it seems.
Matthews missed much of pre-season having got married in the summer and has
not looked anything like the player he can be this season so far. Mark
Janney looks unfit watching from the terraces.†
the full time elements of the squad don't seem noticeably more fit, with the
possible shining exception of Tarkan Mustafa who has to be the Daggers
player of the season so far.
The Daggers now have half the squad full time as well as a full time
manager and coach and yet have a record this season to date of played 19,
won 5, drawn 4, lost 10.
Of the wins, four of the five have seen the Daggers score four or more
goals so when it works it works well. Three of the four draws have been
achieved against clubs in the top five of the Conference, two of them away
at Edgar Street and St James' Park. Then again we have lost to Leigh RMI,
Tamworth, Accrington Stanley and Burton Albion and have won only once away
So where are we?
Quite frankly, right now the Daggers look to be in a mess.
In the last four games Burton Albion came to Victoria Road with a pretty
simple game plan to contain and break and executed it to perfection, albeit
assisted by a fabulous performance on the day by keeper Matt Duke. Thurrock put
us out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle with ex-Daggers playing major parts in
running our midfield ragged, including Steve Heffer.
At Halifax the first half display was nothing short of shocking, possibly the
worst by a Daggers team since Kidderminster away in 1996 when the Daggers were
5-0 down at half time. At QPR the lads were a little unlucky to lose but once again
the Daggers lack of firepower meant another defeat.
With this weekend blank, a gap reserved for the FA Cup, the next game is at home next
Tuesday against Farnborough Town, currently bottom of
the Conference. With the Daggers just three points out of the
relegation places and a third of the season now gone anything but a win in that
game would be a catastrophe.
Lose that one and Garry Hill has to seriously look at his position before it
is too late.