Daggers need time to readapt
After a whirlwind three years Dagenham could do with a season of consolidation as they bid to cement their Football League status…
Accrington ｜ Aldershot ｜ Barnet ｜ Bradford
Bristol Rovers ｜ Burton ｜ Cheltenham ｜ Chesterfield
Dagenham ｜ Exeter ｜ Fleetwood ｜ Gillingham
Morecambe ｜ Northampton ｜ Oxford ｜ Plymouth
Port Vale ｜ Rochdale ｜ Rotherham ｜ Southend
Torquay ｜ Wimbledon ｜ Wycombe ｜ York
Such was the speed of the Daggers’ on-pitch ascent from non-league to League One it was always going to be impossible for the club to develop their infrastructure in kind. And while they made an admirable fist of third-tier survival in 2009/10 they had reached a glass ceiling. Slaves to momentum, last season’s decline was not wholly unprecedented though its severity was perhaps surprising. Battling for survival for the majority of the campaign, only a late run of one defeat in ten matches saved them from a second consecutive relegation.
A lengthy injury list was a mitigating factor for a club with a small squad and a limited budget but after the swinging pendulum that has been their last three seasons, John Still’s men must dig their heels in this term to ensure those years of hard work are not eroded.
Still lost a layer of his sheen last season. While he will forever be a Daggers hero, his decision-making and post-match comments during the autumn slump tested the supporters’ patience. However, many of the calls were for the manager to change his ways rather than for the club to change the manager.
After more than eight years in the job, the 62-year-old is the longest-serving boss in the Football League and at an outfit of Dagenham’s size he has developed an in-depth knowledge of every nook and cranny. That know-how counts for an awful lot and it won’t be dispensed with lightly, even if his side start slowly in 2012/13.
After the pinch-yourself boom years at Victoria Road, Daggers fans were left wondering whether their time in the sun was over during last season. The club remains a Football League minnow; their average attendance last term crept just over 2,000 and lying deep in West Ham territory they will always face a battle to reel in floating supporters. And in that knowledge, expectations are suitably reserved.
This is a young squad full of players still warming to the demands of this level and with key men, including Josh Scott and Kevin Maher, missing for large chunks of last term, that inexperience was clearly evident. A year short of bottom-of-the-table drama would be regarded as something of a success but if they slip into another rut there may be trouble.
In recent years Victoria Road has been home to a string of promising young or untried players who have gone on to make a mark higher up the ladder. The likes of Craig Mackail-Smith, Paul Benson, Sam Saunders and Danny Green have all earned moves after impressing under Still’s guidance. And as long as the club continues to prosper they will have the vultures circling, with 23-year-old goalkeeper Chris Lewington among those in the current crop linked with an exit.
The year ahead is a time for consolidation, for the younger heads to adapt to the Football League and for the club to continue to develop off the pitch. They will not benefit from yo-yoing – this is a rare occasion when inertia can be considered a positive.
Gavin Hoyte (Arsenal).
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