Monday, 31 May 2010

Dagenham & Redbridge 3-2 Rotherham United: Match Report

League Two Play-Off Final
Wembley Stadium
May 30 2010

While England were labouring to gifted victory in their final World Cup warm-up, Dagenham & Redbridge and Rotherham produced a scintillating finale to the domestic season as the Daggers were promoted to the third tier of English football for the first time in their 18-year history.

Pockets of Wembley were left empty by the relatively modest followings both sides summoned for this final, but the atmosphere crackled and roared as noisily as the most glamorous occasions held at the national stadium this season, bolstered by a frenetic opening period.

Pablo Mills and Ryan Taylor saw headers crash narrowly wide for the Millers, answered by a Paul Benson strike and a vicious freekick from Danny Green, the latter of which forced a superb reflex stop from Rotherham goalkeeper Andy Warrington, whose hands were stung as he swerved from an unsighted vantage point before the ball was scrambled away.

When the opening goal arrived, the only surprise was that it had taken 38 minutes to materialise. Damien McCrory raced down the left flank and sent a hopeful cross into the path of Benson, who was allowed a mystifying amount of space to swivel and place a perfectly executed drive into the far corner of Warrington's net.

His teammates surged to the bench in wild euphoria, but if their concentration was unjaded then their opponents' determination was invigorated by the goal. Twelve seconds of open play later, Kevin Ellison's aggressive foray finished with a cross angled expertly towards Ryan Taylor's near post charge. The understated forward's strike rate has been virtually non-existent for two years, but he nodded past Roberts to equalise, creating a scoreline more in line with the outlandish openness of the encounter.

Ellison and Danny Harrison both had time to test Roberts before halftime, but the interval replenished Dagenham's spirit, a quality they had been lauded for in the build-up to the final.

Eleven minutes after the restart, a skirmish on the left hand edge of the Rotherham penalty area left Danny Green with time to elude Warrington's dive with an arrowed shot which gave some insight into why both managers had suggested his skills might well surpass the division they aspired to compete in.

His goal was patently not to be the last, as patches opened up like throughfares on the sprawling Wembley turf. Harrison bounced his finish off the turf and onto the top of the crossbar when it seemed simpler to tap in a right wing cross which had left him with a gaping net, although Taylor redeemed his slackness through an attack down the same side.

Teasing his markers, Mark Lynch sent Nicky Law to the byline with an intelligent through ball, met with a cutback for Taylor, whose emphatic finish was only matched by his exuberant celebrations in front of the proximate Yorkshire hordes.

In fierce heat, endurance levels seemed certain to tell in the final half hour. Several players took to the ground or stretched limbs against goalmouths, in between tearing the length of the pitch for frenzied penalty area ping pong sessions and increasingly ragged feats of clearance. As limited as much of the defending was, both sides exhibited sufficient endeavour to justify dodging cruel, late defeat.

Pursuing a triumphant end to a season when automatic promotion had occasionally been within grasping distance, Rotherham manager Ronnie Moore jostled and harried his cast to avoid falling behind again, but their hazardous approach to penalty area marking threatened that outcome. Eventually, Jon Nurse bundled home following a corner which had Warrington's defence rattled.

Even then, further goals seemed as inevitable as the deterioration of the playing surface they came on. Adam Le Fondre, who had scored 27 goals in the league, lurked menacingly in front of the Daggers' defence, demonstrating clever touches and bursts of pace.

Blackburn loanee Marcus Marshall replaced Mills in a bid to add guile to a spate of Rotherham attacks in the closing minutes, but too often they lacked the precision and urgency to concern Roberts. A succession of long throws caused him to leap for a couple of nervy punches, and Nick Fenton should have imbued far more conviction into a late free header from the edge of the six-yard box, but Dagenham were more resolute by now. The team who sneaked into the play-offs in seventh position can salivate at trips to Charlton and Southampton. For Rotherham, a stellar part in a memorable final will be little consolation.