Season of ups and downs for Daggers but one for Wilkinson to remember

PUBLISHED: 15:34 09 May 2013 | UPDATED: 15:34 09 May 2013

Luke Wilkinson of Dagenham celebrates scoring against Morecambe at Victoria Road in January.Pic: Dave Simpson/TGS

Luke Wilkinson of Dagenham celebrates scoring against Morecambe at Victoria Road in January.Pic: Dave Simpson/TGS

Dave Simpson/TGSPHOTO c/o 27 Plaiters Way, Braintree, Essex, CM7 3LR - Editorial Use ONLY - FA Premier League and Football Leagu

Dagenham & Redbridge defender Luke Wilkinson talks about his thoughts on the season.

If you would have told anyone around Dagenham & Redbridge at the start of the season that Luke Wilkinson would be the club’s player of the season many would have laughed you off.

The 21-year-old would have done something similar himself but although it turned out to be a disappointing season on the pitch – with League Two safety secured only a tense final day of the campaign – the displays of Wilkinson have been one of very few highlights.

The former Portsmouth youngster had spent the 2011/12 season on loan at Conference South side Boreham Wood and did not come into the Daggers team until September.

But he impressed right from the off and went on to play in the remaining 46 games of the Daggers campaign.

Wilkinson is delighted with his individual performances in his breakthrough season, but only hoped they had led to a better position in the League Two table.

“If someone had said to me when I was coming towards the end of my loan at Boreham Wood that I would be the player of the year at Dagenham I would have been shocked and surprised,” said Wilkinson.

“It’s been a really good season for me on a personal note, but I would’ve liked to have finished higher up the league.

“Hopefully both the team and I can push on next season.

“It is great to be recognised by the fans for the performances and I only hope I can improve further next season.”

Although the League season is 46 games long, the decisive result for Daggers – who stayed up only on goal difference after Barnet’s final-day defeat at Northampton – proved to be their 1-0 win over then play-off hopefuls Exeter City.

Things went to plan on that day thanks to Scott Doe’s early header, but after that their bid for survival effectively fell apart.

Wilkinson added: “Doey’s goal has proved crucial. They were going for a play-off place at the time and we got the goal early on and set our stall out well.

“We had to defend for our lives at times, but the plan worked and we got the positive result.

“At the end of the season we disappointingly faded away. We had just picked up enough points in the end. We set ourselves goals over the final five or six games which we fully expected to deliver, but we didn’t.”

It was hardly a surprise that the end of season awards saw Doe and Femi Ilesanmi join Wilkinson in the top three, as the defence had been the best part of the Daggers team for the bulk of the campaign.

At the other end of the field, the Daggers toiled after the big money sale of Dwight Gayle to Peterborough in January – and the striker still finished third in the Victoria Road scoring charts behind Luke Howell and Sam Williams.

They also had to do without Williams and fellow striker Josh Scott for the bulk of the season and Wilkinson felt that had a bigger impact than anything else. Willkinson added: “Dwight was a massive loss for us, he was such a good player.

“He had a good partnership going with Sam as well and when he went to Peterborough Sam took up the mantle. But then we lost both Sam and Josh as well to injuries.

“That brought other forwards into the team, but when you lose that experience it is always difficult.”

Alongside that, the club were rocked by the departure of long-serving manager John Still, who decided to call time on his nine-year spell at Victoria Road to take up a fresh challenge at Conference club Luton.

There was little experience around the first team squad throughout the season as well and not many players had been through a manager’s departure at that particular stage of the campaign.

The blow was softened when coach Wayne Burnett took up the managerial reigns and although results didn’t go as planned, Wilkinson believed Burnett had been a calming influence and can be fully judged next season with his own plans in place.

“I hadn’t experienced losing a manager before at that time of the season and when it happened there was a little bit of shock and surprise for a few of us,” said Wilkinson.

“But with it being Wayne coming in, who we’d been around for a while, that helped and all the boys were happy to work with him.

“We are all looking forward to working with Wayne and over the pre-season we’ll be working hard. He knows what he wants and we are all excited and I believe they’ll be some exciting times for us next season.”

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