The last Vanarama National League play-off semi-final saw Forest Green Rovers, who were looking to make their 2nd straight play-off final, take on Dagenham & Redbridge, who were eyeing an instant return to the Football League at The New Lawn. With the first leg ending 1-1 after a Liam Noble penalty was cancelled out by a goal from Brighton loanee Jordan Maguire-Drew just before halftime, there was still everything to play for. But before we get into the match, if you’re unfamiliar with FGR they are quite an interesting club.
When you think of a match day at the football you probably think of a burger bar at some point, well not at Forest Green. The Gloucestershire-based club turned fully vegan in 2015, four years after taking red meat off their menus. Speaking on the club website at the time, club chairman Dale Vince said “The meat and dairy industry is responsible for more emissions than all the world’s planes, trains, cars and boats put together. It involves incredible animal cruelty and staggering numbers”.
Forest Green are also sponsored by Ecotricity, a company founded by Vince that specialises in selling green energy to consumers. Some of the benefits of this green initiative have included an organic pitch, solar panels on the roof of the ground as well as having charge points for electric cars, but anyway back to the football.
Forest Green booked a place in their second play-off final in as many seasons with a 2-0 semi-final 2nd leg victory over Dagenham & Redbridge.
Rovers secured their ticket to Wembley with first-half goals from Christian Doidge and Keanu Marsh-Brown who will hope to repeat their feats against Tranmere Rovers next week.
After the game, manager Mark Cooper said: “It’s just another game, we’ve got one left to play and we have a shot now at getting into the Football League”
Skipper Liam Noble added: “We knew we had to come here and play well, it might not have been pretty at times but I think when we went 2-0 up we just had to see the game out”
“We know it’s not job done yet, far from it.”
After a cagey opening ten or so minutes in which neither side could establish themselves in the game, Forest Green began to find some rhythm in and it was former Dagenham man Christian Doidge who fired up the fans after a quick sprint to put pressure on the Daggers’ defence.
15 minutes into the game Dagenham almost took the lead from a Jordan Maguire-Drew half-volley on the edge of the box. The chance came from a stray lifted pass from Dale Bennett, who up until that point hadn’t put a foot wrong, was played across the face of the area who couldn’t take advantage.
After about 20 minutes Forest Green began to have a good spell and created their first chance of the game when Wigan loanee Kaiyne Woolery was released down the right wing with a great ball, however, Woolery’s shot was quickly closed down by Mark Cousins and went out for a throw.
Forest Green were beginning to find their feet now, and with the support of the home crowd, they managed to create a few chances within a couple minutes but unfortunately couldn’t turn the ball home.
Just over ten minutes before half time and Forest Green finally made use of their home advantage and made it 1-0 through Christian Doidge. Doidge’s 26th goal of the season came after Woolery brought the ball out of the air on the byline and cut it back across the box where the number nine could calmly slot home.
Only five minutes until the break and there was another big talking point in the game after Bennett was given a yellow card for kicking Feriji Okenabirhrie which sparked huge a reaction from the away side.
The New Lawn the erupted on the stroke of half-time as the home side doubled their lead. After exchanging passes with Ethan Pinnock inside the opposition area, Keanu Marsh-Brown then found himself some space before curling an effort from the edge of the area into the top corner to make it 2-0 at half time.
Forest Green fans were in for a scare just after the break when Dagenham really started to apply some pressure. Throwing themselves in front of the ball, there were appeals for handball from the away fans but nothing was given.
It was almost 3-0 after skipper Liam Noble found Marsh-Brown out wide on the left who drove into the box before fizzing the ball inwards. The ball was put behind by a Dagenham defender before the scorer of the second goal was brought off to a standing ovation.
Inside the last ten minutes, Dagenham were inches away from their first goal of the match after the ball pinged around the box but luckily the Rovers defence held on.
The closing stages were met with choruses from the home fans to see the side over the final whistle, which was the cue for a pitch invasion by the home fans which was met by applause from the travelling Dagenham & Redbridge fans.
See you at Wembley next week FGR!