Daggers v Pompey: the nightmare at Victoria Road


Liam O’Brien – www.daggers.co.uk

Dagenham & Redbridge last met Portsmouth on the opening day of the season at Fratton Park. Although the Daggers had finished two places above their south coast hosts in the previous campaign, they had lost three stalwarts in the summer while Pompey had made a series of high-profile additions, changing expectations for both clubs.

Dagenham sat deep in hope of a point and did so successfully for 51 minutes, until Kyle Bennett took centre stage to guide his side to a 3-0 win. The East Londoners lost the following two games and became embroiled in a relegation battle that they have never looked like getting out of.

Their position is down to a lack of fighting spirit, which the likes of Abu Ogogo and Scott Doe provided last term. A supporter of a fourth tier side might accept the occasional lack of quality, but Dagenham have shown little heart and desire, which will hurt as much as relegation itself.

It says a lot that, in a team set to finish with one of the lowest points tallies in Football League history, fans consider goalkeeper Liam O’Brien to be one of the better players. O’Brien’s recent displays have helped the Daggers concede just 10 goals in their last eight games, a defensive improvement that could have been more significant two months earlier. The former Brentford stopper missed Tuesday’s clash with Morecambe due to injury, but Mark Cousins stepped in and the team picked up a 2-1 victory, albeit a futile one.

Christian Doidge performed well in that match and he could be a key man in the National League next season. He is one of the few players who have put their heart and soul into the team over the whole campaign, holding the ball up well and bringing others into play.

The man fulfilling that target man role for Portsmouth is Michael Smith. The Swindon loanee, who scored the winner against Carlisle on Saturday, is benefiting from more consistent game time after a disappointing season with his parent club and a poor spell at Barnsley. Smith had worked with Paul Cook and Leam Richardson at Accrington Stanley a few years ago and they are getting the best out of him.

The 6ft 4in striker gives Pompey the type of physical, back-to-goal qualities that they were missing with the likes of Matt Tubbs, Marc McNulty and Conor Chaplin up front. However good finishers those three are, they do not tend to perform so well when they are up top on their own.

Given the defensive manner in which teams set up against Portsmouth, they need a tall striker in order to get their forward players into the game. As Dagenham did on the opening day, albeit unsuccessfully, most opposing sides are happy to sacrifice attacking support in favour of defensive organization. They will choose not to commit men forward. That is partly why just ten teams have failed to score more often than Portsmouth, why they they have spent the second highest number of minutes level (2,039) and why only Carlisle have drawn as many games.

Shaking off the extra opposition organization that comes with being a big club in this division has been the main challenge. Still, they only need one more win to be sure of a play-off place which, in fairness, is more than what this blog predicted for them in the summer. Portsmouth have not had a bad season, but they have not quite hit the heights most expected of them, particularly in terms of their attacking play.

It says something about their goalscoring troubles that all the touted candidates for Player of the Season are defensive minded. Right-back Ben Davies has been praised for his attacking energy but is primarily a defender, midfielder Michael Doyle is known for his ball-winning ability rather than flair while Christian Burgess is a centre-back. All three players have played their part and are a reason why Pompey have the best defensive record in the division, but there are no strikers, wingers or creative midfielders listed.

Dagenham’s performances this season, however, suggest the visitors will not have to be at their best to win. Pompey can look ahead to the play-offs in May, while their hosts prepare for non-league life in August.