(Picture: Action Images via Reuters)
By Matt Badcock
CIRCLING the Ebbsfleet United technical area, Daryl McMahon puffed out his cheeks.
The Fleet are certainly good when it comes to the entertainment stakes. For their manager it might be a little more stressful.
Having grabbed a late point in Saturday’s 3-3 thriller against AFC Fylde, McMahon’s side played their part in another six-goal rollercoaster on Tuesday night against Dagenham & Redbridge.
John Still’s Dagenham were two-goals ahead at half-time thanks to Corey Whitely’s fifth goal of the season and Kevin Lokko’s first for the club.
Jack Powell pulled a goal back for Ebbsfleet with a curling free-kick – his first touch of the game after hopping off the bench – just before the hour.
Morgan Ferrier’s stunning strike just five minutes later made it 3-1 to the home side and had most at the Chigwell Construction Stadium expecting that was that.
But Fleet haven’t lost a game in 2017 for nothing – Luke Coulson fired in a swift reply three minutes later before Danny Kedwell’s 80th-minute equaliser.
“We did it quite a few times last season as well,” said McMahon. “We’ve got great character in the group. That’s there for everyone to see. There’s great togetherness – subs on the bench, players in the stand, they’re all in the changing room saying well done to each other.
“We’re a very together group and we have got huge spirit. Everything about the football club is competitive and we are a competitive team.”
He added: “I’m very proud of them from both games, today and Saturday, because we have shown tremendous character.
“Sometimes that’s something people don’t notice with our team – for whatever reason. They want to talk about other things. They don’t talk about the character, quality and desire people have got to get back in games and the bravery as well. To not go hiding or go missing. I thought they were excellent.”
Add into that another fine performance from keeper Nathan Ashmore. He pushed Whitely’s penalty away in the first-half and made a brilliant point-blank save at the death to keep out Lokko.
McMahon reckons he’s the best in the business.
“I’m just glad Gosport sold him to us!,” McMahon joked. “I said it when we came up this year and I’ve just been saying it to Mick Payne, the England C goalkeeper coach, I’ve not seen everyone yet but I can’t see a better goalkeeper at this level.
“Obviously he was the best goalkeeper at our level last year, but he’s excellent. What I like about him is he just does his job. That’s all it is to him. He’s there to make saves, he makes saves.
“He doesn’t want any praise. He does his job and goes home. He’s an excellent player.”
Dagenham have their fair share of quality too. Although, quieter on Tuesday night, Whitely is building on an impressive debut season in the National League. Plucked by Still from Enfield Town last season, the wily boss has found yet another gem.
And in summer arrival Ferrier, Daggers have another talented attacker. The England C international’s curling shot couldn’t have been placed any better in the top corner.
But it’s mistakes at the back that Still says need to be addressed.
“We can’t defend at the moment,” Still said. “We can attack. We’re not the league’s leading scorers but we’ve got to be up there. But, at the moment, we are not defending restarts. Defending in general, not bad. But we’ve not defending restarts.
“Their third goal was a long throw into the box, it bounced twice in the six-yard box. With the greatest respect, that’s nowhere near the standard required.
“It is a new back four and I understand that but it’s still not good enough – it’s nowhere near good enough.
“We’ll score loads of goals this year. We’re quick, we’re sharp, we’re bright, we’ve got players who can score all over the pitch. For me, we don’t have any problems there but at the moment we don’t have the balance.”
Fleet have their own defensive issues. Captain Dave Winfield faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines and defensive partner Kenny Clark had to be left out at Dagenham with a slight hamstring problem.
So facing Maidenhead’s Dave Tarpey fresh from his four-goal haul at Fylde could make for another thriller on Saturday.
“I think it will be a tough game,” McMahon, whose side battled with the Magpies for the National League South title until the final day of last season, said.
“We know how they play, they knows us as well. There probably won’t be any secrets between both teams when we turn up on Saturday.
“We look forward to it. It will be another competitive game – hopefully it’s not 3-3 or 4-4! I’ll have a heart attack.”