Exeter gain deserved win as Burnett faces Cureton conundrum

cureton

Jamie Cureton

Exeter City won 2-1 at Victoria Road on Tuesday night. The Grecians picked up their 3rd win of the season in all competitions whilst leaving their opponents, Dagenham & Redbridge, yet to avoid defeat this season.

Daggers striker Jamie Cureton was playing against his old club, although given the number of clubs he has played for in his 22 year career, that is almost a weekly occurrence! Cureton is widely regarded as one of the best goalscorers in League Two, and the technical ability he shows in and around the penalty area cannot be questioned. And yet, one wonders whether the undoubted quality he can offer, in those moments when he receives the ball in dangerous areas, makes up for his limited contribution when the ball is in the middle third of the pitch.

Because Cureton does not have the pace or strength to play up front on his own, manager Wayne Burnett is forced to play with 2 up front, in this case a 4-4-2, with Christian Doidge as the target man tasked with running the channels and winning the initial high balls. However, the problem with playing a 4-4-2 is that it does not allow for tactical flexibility. Because there are only 4 midfielders, they are forced to operate narrowly and from deep, to stop the opposition team getting in between the midfield and centre-backs. This, in itself, makes it harder for midfielders to break forward and support an attack. Essentially, therefore, Wayne Burnett has been willing to limit the creative freedom of other players, purely to get the best out of Jamie Cureton.

It is no surprise therefore, that in the opening stages of Dagenham’s home match with Exeter City, the hosts were outnumbered in midfield from the early stages. The central trio of Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Oyeleke, David Noble and Ryan Harley took an immediate grip of the game for Exeter, as the visiting side applied the pressure early on. All 3 players showed an excellent work ethic, and there was a sense that as soon as they received the ball, they had the freedom and confidence to move forward with it quickly, or play the early pass to a wide man, Alex Nicholls or Lee Holmes.

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Christian Doidge

Dagenham’s play, on the other hand, had a more static feel. Every time a player got the ball, they would take time to weigh up their options before either passing it sideways, or lifting the ball forward in the direction of Christian Doidge. This is partly down to the limited quality of player the club can attract, on one of the lowest budgets in the Football League. However, one wonders whether we might see more fluidity from Dagenham if they were to play with 5 in midfield, to allow the man in possession another option.

Despite having a goal disallowed, when Nyron Nosworthy’s header was ruled out after a foul, Dagenham struggled to find any intensity in their play in the first half. Against Exeter City, a team notorious for their tendency to play out from the back, it was important for the Daggers to press high up the pitch.

However, the responsibility to close down opposition centre-backs lies with the strikers, and it is simply unrealistic to expect Jamie Cureton, at 39 years of age, to offer any energy when out of possession. When Exeter’s defenders had the ball, Cureton always had a relaxed body posture, implying the attitude of: ‘it’s not my job to close them down’. While Doidge tried to harry defences at the beginning of the first half, the fact that he was so often on his own meant his work became fruitless.

The whole team dropped further and further back as the first half wore on, and their opponents eventually took a deserved lead. Tom Nicholls’ cross from the left-hand side was cleared away by Nosworthy, but only into the path of Ryan Harley, who curled the ball into the far corner. And, 15 minutes into the second half, Exeter doubled their advantage. Centre-back Troy Brown, a summer signing from Cheltenham Town, tapped the ball in at the back post from a corner, and ran over to the Grecians fans to celebrate.

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Troy Brown

Dagenham had their spells of pressure. They were able to swing a few crosses into the box at the beginning of the second half, and just after Exeter’s second goal, but they were fairly easy to defend against. Although youngster Jodie Jones had an impressive evening, he was one of the few players in Wayne Burnett’s side who offered much pace and energy in forward areas.

It took the Daggers until the last 10 minutes of the match to truly trouble Exeter’s rearguard, and unsurprisingly, it was Jones who got the goal. His strike was deflected over goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, and nestled into the far corner of the net. Having been fairly comfortable for so long, the final minutes were contrastingly chaotic for Exeter City.

Ashley Chambers, who had come on for an ineffective Matt Richards, came to life in the latter stages for Dagenham & Redbridge, as the home side swung cross after cross into the box. They could have levelled too, had Andre Boucaud, who put in an improved 2nd half performance, managed get more power behind his shot from range, or had Nyron Nosworthy’s late header been on target.

Ultimately, Dagenham could not find the equalizer, and were to be punished for their poor performance for 80 minutes of the match. The Daggers have now lost each of their 4 matches this season in all competitions, and face a daunting trip to Wycombe Wanderers, who have a 100% winning record in League Two, on Saturday.

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Ashley Chambers

At Wycombe, they must be very strong without the ball to have any chance of getting a result, and cannot afford to carry any passengers when out of possession. For that reason, manager Wayne Burnett may be best advised to make the brave decision to drop fans favourite Jamie Cureton, in favour of another winger, such as Ashley Hemmings or Ashley Chambers.

This was always going to be a difficult season for Dagenham & Redbridge, with stalwarts Abu Ogogo, Scott Doe and Billy Bingham leaving in the summer. However, one wonders whether dropping Cureton may be the key to them producing performances of a higher intensity.

Exeter City, on the other hand, can look ahead to the new season with optimism after 3 wins from 4 games. They showed on Tuesday night that they have a tactically in-tune midfield, as David Noble, in particular, put in an outstanding performance in the middle of the park. They have also been able to keep key players such as right-back Christian Ribeiro and striker Tom Nicholls this summer, which is a strong statement of the belief in the group.

Exeter will be competing for at least a play-off place this year, while Dagenham & Redbridge face a season of struggle ahead.

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