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Thursday, 7 November 2013

The Inside Line: Dagenham & Redbridge (09/11/2013)

Although performances may have been less eye-pleasing, the last two weeks have seen City break a number of hoodoos; the first clean sheet since April, the first home win since March, indeed, the first win of any sort since March and the first away win in almost a year under Sean O’Driscoll’s tutelage.

Earlier in the season we finally tasted some cup success after a number of barren years with victories over Bristol Rovers and Crystal Palace particularly noteworthy, so now it’s time for the last remaining true hoodoo I can think of, progress in the F.A.Cup.  Now it should be noted we’re entering at an earlier stage than at any point in the past seven years, but even so, we’ve still managed to find some way of losing out to mediocre opponents, especially at home, year after year.

Saturday sees League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge visit Ashton Gate for the first round of the F.A. Cup as the Daggers become the latest team to attempt to inflict cup misery on the BS3 faithful.
Mark from @9men is a Daggers fan who kindly agreed to answer Stuart Radnedge's questions.

Formed in 1992, the club has risen from the Isthmian League to the third tier of the Football League, before falling back recently.  What did it mean to the club to win promotion to League One in the 2009/10 season?  By winning in the play-offs at Wembley, did it feel like it might to taste an F.A. Cup final victory?
Winning the play-offs at Wembley was an incredible moment and certainly sweeter than any Cup win I have experienced in my years as a supporter. I'm sure I wasn't the only one with a lump in the throat on the final whistle and the celebrations will live long in the memory. For a club of our size to be promoted to compete alongside Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday isn't something that happens every day.

The following season the club dropped back into League Two and it would appear – following successive finishing positions in the bottom section of the table – that the wheels have fallen off? What has gone wrong?
Once we had been promoted, we sold our top scorer Paul Benson on transfer deadline day. He wasn't replaced, and with his striker partner Josh Scott proceeding to spend the next 2 years injured, we did well to take our fate to the final day and miss out on avoiding relegation by a single point.

Back in League Two we saw our other prize assets sold off and, with very little strength in depth, it meant that we relied on recruits from the lower leagues. Whilst this had worked for us in the past, there was little chance for this batch to bed in before they were thrown into action. We were desperately unlucky with injury which saw us use a huge number of loan players and could never keep a settled side.

It was probably fair to say though that our forward players weren't pulling up any trees and it is a problem we failed to rectify that summer, leading to last season's continued struggle.

How do you feel after finishing last season in 22nd position. Were you lucky to escape the drop or do you feel you deserved survival?
Last season had looked fairly promising until mid-December with us sitting safely in mid-table. However, towards the end of November our only real attacking spark, Dwight Gayle, was sold to Peterborough. We barely scored another goal and won only five more games for the rest of the season. Eventually our long-serving manager John Still saw the writing on the wall and joined Luton, with Wayne Burnett taking his place. His inexperience showed and we looked disorganised for the remainder of the season.

We eventually survived more by luck than judgement. Our last two games against relegation rivals Aldershot and York saw us surrender to limp 1-0 defeats only to be saved by the poor results of others.

This season has begun differently it seems with only two losses in the last 10. What's changed at the club? And what is your team's strength?
Now that Wayne Burnett has got over his difficult start and had a chance to bring in his own players, we look a totally different prospect. The likes of Zavon Hines, Rhys Murphy and Brian Saah represent real quality at our level and they have all made a big impact.

The manager initially tried to change our style too quickly which caused us more harm than good, but this season we look comfortable with his ideas. We play far more football than we used to and have a more fluid shape which allows our more technical players room to shine. We finally have a real goal poacher in Murphy after struggling in that department for 2 and a half of the last 3 years, and we have plenty of midfield players joining the attack with our 2 wide men pushed very high up the pitch. It can mean we are a little short defensively at times but it is certainly exciting.

Our main strength seems to be our ability to fashion a goal when on the back foot, and also we look much more positive when behind in games rather than resigning ourselves to defeat. Our biggest weakness seems to be defending set-pieces so don't be surprised if you guys score from a corner on Saturday!

City's results have improved as of late with a first home win in eight months on Tuesday night against Crawley.  With seven points from a possible nine, has this made Saturday's tie any more worrying for you?
I wouldn't say we are worried. The pressure is on yourselves as the home and higher-ranked side, but of course it would've been nicer had you continued your poor form leading into this game. Hopefully the Cup can prove to be a leveller as it has many times in the past and we'll see a nail-biter this weekend.

Focusing on the cup now, was there a dream tie you were hoping to get in the draw? 
There aren't any particularly tasty ties at this stage so I would imagine we are like most League sides in wanting the lowest-ranked side at home. After all, a couple of kind draws and you can suddenly find yourself visiting Old Trafford.

I guess a few fans would've liked Orient or Southend, but to be honest we're bored of beating Southend this season and Orient are a challenging prospect with the (ex-Dagger) mighty Romain Vincelot in their side!

Who could be the thorn in City's side on Saturday – are there any players we should be wary of?
Zavon Hines (ex West Ham and with two caps for England under 21s) is the obvious danger man and everybody knows it - he's been kicked from pillar to post in recent weeks!

And finally, could I have a score prediction please?
I think with your upturn in form you will edge it 2-1.

Let's hope so! What seems clear is that Sean O'Driscoll has been deterred by the Wycombe performance and subsequent exit from the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, and changes will be minimalised, especially with loan signings Gillett & Tuesday's man-of-the-match Osborne ineligible.

Regardless of the progress we'd all love, momentum will be the key word at Ashton Gate this week and if seven points from nine can be built upon with a cup win then it will instill yet more confidence in this ever-developing squad.


The Exiled Robin

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