Monday, 20 August 2012

Opening day success

As starts to the season go, this wasn't one from the Carlsberg stable, but more of a Ronseal job - it did what it says on the tin.
All you want from the first game is a win, a clean sheet and some decent performances from your new signings. That's what we got.
It wasn't spectacular. It didn't send a roaring message out to the rest of League Two. We just did what needed to be done.
After last season's over-achievement of finishing in sixth place, we now start with that as the minimum requirement in most supporters' minds.
The bar has been raised, and therefore most of the 2,655 who bothered to turn up (more on that later) did so not hoping for a Ruby victory, but expecting it, against a side beaten 7-1 on aggregate last season.
I suspect that had we ended up with a draw, there would have been a few teeth gnashed together in the town's pubs, but as it was we got the win.
The performance itself was patchy. That might have had something to do with the absence of two key men in Alan Bennett and Kaid Mohamed - losing your skipper and joint top league scorer on the opening day is not always easy to overcome.
If fact, it probably mounts to an injury crisis for us, as last season we hardly lost anyone to injury throughout the campaign - so let's hope this isn't a foreboding of what is in store this time around.
So Harry Hooman kept his place alongside Steve Elliott - a vote of confidence for him as he was preferred to Keith Lowe, the right decision in my book as HH is more natural at centre-half than Keith.
Mo's absence pushed Chris Zebroski out left as Mark Yates decided not to play a natural left-footer in Bagasan Graham or even Danny Andrew out wide.
I felt it did at times leave us a bit unbalanced as Zeb looked to drift inside and on occasions we were a bit short of width on the left unless Billy Jones was able to get forward and help out, or Sam Deering found himself moving out there.
The loss of two players also showed up the depth of the squad, as the 18 included youth teamer Joe Hanks and the (by the manager) unwanted Andrew, and beyond that there is no-one else. Reinforcements are still needed.
Benno and Mo are still out at Torquay tomorrow, so bets are off for the make-up of the squad...
As well as Zeb's move, Mo's injury meant Shaun Harrad came in for his debut, and the goal would have been the perfect start to his career with us.
We started well, and created a couple of openings, Jermaine McGlashan shooting wide and Deering hitting the post, but Daggers came back into it as the half went on.
Browny made a couple of decent saves and the Daggers won a few corners, and as the half was coming to an end, I was thinking that the win was not going to be as straightforward as maybe a few people thought pre-match.
But then, with practically the last kick of the half, we scored. Sido's ball up the line, Sam's low cross and Harrad got in front of Gavin Hoyte to score at the near post. Just the sort of half-chance we have been crying out for someone to convert.
The goal would have changed the two managers' team talks, and when Jermaine smashed in the second four minutes after half-time, it looked like the job was done.
Ultimately, it was, but we seemed content to sit back and defend our 18-yard line, letting them have the ball 30-40 yards out.
I am not a fan of this habit we seem to have fallen into when we get a lead. We have the players who can hurt the opposition with pace and movement - I would rather we had looked to get a third and tried to kill the game off, but instead at 50 minutes, it seemed we settled for 2-0.
The humid conditions may have played a part in that mindset, but credit to Dagenham as they carried on pressing and with a bit more composure and luck (I thought Steve Elliott's clash with Dwight Gayle was a penalty, not a yellow for diving) they could have made things a bit more hairy for us.
I may have to revise my pre-season predicitions on this basis - Dagenham were better than I thought they would be.
After Jermaine's goal, I can't remember us creating another clear-cut chance as we looked to close the game out, but we kept our shape and managed to close the game out.
Of the newcomers, Harrad and Deering were the most impressive, Harrad with his finish and good hold-up play and Deering with his ability to find space and time on the ball in a cluttered midfield.
His arrival pushed Russ Penn deeper, and I thought he was our best player - he was everywhere and amazingly told me afterwards that this was the first time in his pro career that he has tasted victory on the opening day of the season.
Zebroski showed promise, while Billy Jones looked a steady performer but worried me positionally on a couple of occasions when crosses from his side nearly caused problems.
But it was a win. No frills, not spectacular, just a win, and we haven't had many of those on the opening day down the years, so we'll take it, and move on to two tricky awaydays at Torquay and Aldershot.
Before we head for Devon, a final word on the attendance figure of 2,655, of which 200+ came from East London.
To put it mildly, 2,400 home fans on the back of what we achieved last season is a pathetic figure.
Twice that number went to Spurs. Five times as many went to Wembley. Whether the excuse is holidays, being sat in the garden having a barbecue because the weather is nice, post-Olympics hysteria or whatever, it's crap.
We all know that if the season pans out as we hope, and in 8 months time we are heading upwards, they'll be back, queueing for tickets.
It's a recurring theme and not a new problem. I just wish we had a solution to it.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Two good first half saves and one dodgy back pass to worry about but otherwise protected well by his back four.
Sido Jombati - Some galloping forward runs and solid enough defensively, but got a silly booking at the end.
Billy Jones - Better going forward than defensively. Was caught out positionally a couple of times which led to crosses into our box.
Harry Hooman - The odd nervy touch early on and one anxious back pass, but otherwise did well.
Steve Elliott - Usual dominating self as he led the back four in Benno's absence.
Russ Penn - My man of the match. Thought he was everywhere, breaking up play and throwing himself around to block shots and passes.
Marlon Pack - Didn't think he had the influence he has had in past games. Good spell in the first half but was in and out of the game.
Sam Deering - Slow start but grew into the game the further it went. Great cross for the first goal and unlucky to hit the post in the first half.
Jermaine McGlashan - Great strike for his goal and almost had another. Did well against the left-back Femi but thought crossing was patchy.
Chris Zebroski - Out of position really, standing in on the left for Mo, but showed some good touches and nearly got on the end of a good move in the first half.
Shaun Harrad - Poaching skills shown with the finish for his goal, and he was excellent at holding the ball up and linking with Deering, Zebroski and McGlashan. Promising signs.

Substitutes
Jeff Goulding (for Sam Deering 73) - Thought Jeff struggled in that 'hole' position, didn't really get into the game.
Bagasan Graham (for Chris Zebroski 82) - Could have got on the end of a cross with a bit more awareness, and only had one little run. Needs to show more when he gets a chance.
Darryl Duffy (for Shaun Harrad 85) - Not really enough time to influence the game.