Dagenham FA Cup tradition soothes League heartache

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The Independent Football

If, as seems highly possible, Dagenham & Redbridge score against Norwich City in the FA Cup a week on Saturday, it will be their 100th goal in the competition in just 10 years. If, as again is highly possible, that goal is scored by Junior McDougald it will be the eighth consecutive FA Cup tie in which he has done so, which has sent officials scurrying to check the history books. They like breaking records at Dagenham.

If, as seems highly possible, Dagenham & Redbridge score against Norwich City in the FA Cup a week on Saturday, it will be their 100th goal in the competition in just 10 years. If, as again is highly possible, that goal is scored by Junior McDougald it will be the eighth consecutive FA Cup tie in which he has done so, which has sent officials scurrying to check the history books. They like breaking records at Dagenham.

The morning after the night before – the celebrations after beating Plymouth Argyle in Tuesday's replay finished at around 1.30am – and the Essex side were contemplating what they had achieved in reaching the fourth round of the Cup for the first time.

They were also wondering whether to take up Norwich's offer of 3,000 tickets for the fixture, a large number for a mid-table Nationwide Conference club. Except the Daggers are no ordinary side and not just because of the vein of league experience, from the former Welsh international Tony Roberts in goal to ex-Chelsea striker Mark Stein on the bench, which runs through the side.

In fact, defeating Plymouth at the tight little Victoria Road ground was more of a Cup upset than a shock. Dagenham have reached the third round for three years in succession now, and were only defeated in the last two seasons by Premiership clubs. Even then Charlton Athletic were taken to a replay before winning in extra-time.

Yesterday the Daggers were playing down their hopes of beating First Division Norwich, although, secretly, they fancy their chances. "There is a danger of complacency setting in," said spokesman David Simpson. "People are starting to expect us to win."

Manager Garry Hill, who likes to shoot from the lip (his column on the club's website is called 'Garry's Gabble'), is in no doubt that the gap between the Conference and the League clubs has closed. "There is no difference between clubs in our league and the Third Division and it is only when you get to the top half of the Second Division that you start to notice," he said. The theory is backed up by the added presence of Farnborough Town in the last 32.

Bizarrely, the Daggers best Cup run has coincided with a frustrating League season in which they went the best part of two months without a win. Hill denies there is any hangover from the bitter disappointment at being pipped to promotion by Boston United on goal difference last season. Insult, many at the club feel, was added to injury when Boston were found guilty of financial irregularities only to be fined rather than deducted points.

Dagenham currently lie 11th in the table, 22 points behind the leaders Yeovil Town, but there is a lifeline. This is the first year that Conference teams have been offered a second Football League place via the play-offs, and if they win their two games in hand they will be in touching distance.

Having lost just two of their past 15 games, they are the form team. As Norwich will undoubtedly find out. But first there is Scarborough on Saturday. "If you said we could win at Norwich or have a guaranteed play-off place, then I would take the latter," Hill said. Spoken like a true pro.

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