In my eyes the Johnstones Paint Trophy is far from dead, here are my thoughts on it...
Dagenham & Redbridge were dumped out of the Johnstones Paint Trophy with a whimper by Southend United in this Essex derby. This blog won't be much of a match report, more of an evaluation and some thoughts...
Firstly to start off, I was very impressed with tonight's attendance, now you consider people seem to think that the Johnstones Paint Trophy is dead and in need of a facelift, tonight proves otherwise. The attendance this evening was a very good 2395, that's nearly 600 more than we received for a league game at the weekend against Crewe Alexandra. Now Southend did bring a few hundred extra fans, but that just proves the hunger fans still have for this competition, it's an evening out, a local derby, a good atmsophere, everything football is about! Not only is there the derby aspect of it, but at the end of the tunnel, there's a possible trip to Wembley, whether it's the Champions League or FA Vase Final, no one turns their nose up at a visit to the home of English football do they? Southends away support was also fantastic, 915 Shrimpers to add to the already fantastic atmosphere in the Sieve.
Next on the agenda, is the teams both sides fielded. Dagenham did swap it around a bit from the weekend, with Kevin Maher making a return from injury & Brian Woodall, Phil Walsh, Billy Bingham & Femi all coming in, but these players have been in and around the first team all season. Full credit to Southend as well who took the competition more seriously than I anticipated, Bilel Mohsni was by far my man of the match, his aerial presence and physical ability got the better of the Daggers this evening. It's just further testament to how seriously some clubs take this competition, others of course treat it farcically. I point you to Gary Megson who made several changes and then made substitutions a minute into the game in the last round against Bradford City, that's disrespecting the competition massively and is something I don't agree with.
The prices are also magnificent for this competition. You look at tonight, it cost me just £4 to get in, with adults being only £8, that's a fraction of the price for a normal league game and it was arguably a better atmosphere. The two JPT games I've been too this season have been two of the best games of this short season so far, Orient was not only cheap, but provided the experience of a lifetime in a record breaking penalty shoot out and one of the best atmospheres of the season, infact, one of the best atmospheres I've ever been involved in. People overlook these things, yes the result is very important, but football isn't as good without an atmosphere, cheap prices get more people in which creates a better atmosphere, it's simple logic.
I also think the format of it is also fantastic, giving the chance of a local derby for a number of rounds with the regionalisation of it, this also makes it cheaper to go too. For example the South East section, if you draw a London team, you can just do it by tube, it's so simple and so cheap. For the record, I don't have a clue if regionalisation is word or not, but it sounded good and appropriate!
On the match itself tonight, a bit of a drab affair, but Southend were probably worth their win in the end. Goals from former Dagger Ryan Hall either side of Damien McCrory's deflected equaliser as well as Neil Harris who rounded off the victory in added time. The performance of Chris Lewington was once again fantastic, some stunning saves, further enhancing his ever growing reputation. As I said Mohsni looked very good for Southend as did Hall who took his chances extremely well when presented with them. My one criticism of us tonight was Phil Walsh who didn't seem on the pace tonight, I love Walshy as a character, but I'm not sure if he's up to the standard, we'll find out in due course!
Basically, I'm beginning to love this competition more and more, when we don't get MK Dons away, it offers a laugh, the chance to dream of Wembley once more and even a penalty shoot out. The Johnstones Paint Trophy doesn't deserve the bad reputation it gets half the time, if you treat it with respect, it will reward you with cheap, exciting and pulsating football. It deserves to be nourished, cherished and it deserves the fans support, so whoever you support, whatever season, make sure you go down to your club and watch a Johnstones Paint Trophy game, you don't know what you're missing.
My final words go to Accrington Stanley player Tom Bender who was seriously injured in a collision with Ian Dunbavin and a Tranmere defender this evening. The injury was long enough to halt play for nearly half an hour and eventually cause the match to be abandoned it was that serious. I've heard he is making a recovery in hospital, he regained consciousness as he was leaving the stadium, I would like to wish him a speedy recovery, no footballer deserves something like that, it's just very unfortunate and one of them things. Tom has a bright future ahead of him and I'm confident that he'll push on through this injury in due course and who knows where we'll see him play in future years. On behalf of everyone at Dagenham & Redbridge Football Club, I wish you a speedy recovery!