Fit-again Justham adamant battle to be number one for Daggers this term remains fierce as ever
PUBLISHED: 09:00 09 August 2018
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In an article from out 'Kick-Off' pullout, Dagenham & Redbridge goalkeeper Elliot Justham previews the National League season
Dagenham & Redbridge goalkeeper Elliot Justham insists the battle to be the club’s top stopper in the Vanarama National League this term is as fierce as ever.
The 28-year-old starts the new campaign as the only goalkeeper on Daggers’ books to have featured in the Football League.
That compares to the beginning of the past two seasons for the Essex club, when Justham found himself vying to start between the sticks with Mark Cousins.
With Cousins having joined divisional rivals Barnet this summer, Justham now faces competition from young Lewis Moore, while teenage stopper Tarek Najia also trained with the first-team squad throughout pre-season.
Easily being the most experienced of the three, Justham is the clear favourite to be Daggers’ top stopper this term.
But rather than view his team-mates as rivals, the former Luton Town man is keen to help both Moore and Najia in their development as custodians.
“If Lewis and Tarek ever wanted advice, I’m happy to give it, but I learn from them as well,” he said.
“Lewis is someone I’ve worked with for two years and he deserves his pro deal because he has been fantastic, patiently waiting for his chance.
“He will have learnt a lot from Mark too because he had a great year in goal last season.
“Tarek is a good, young lad who is hungry and (goalkeeping coach) Jim Stannard has helped us all, especially me in coming back from injury.
“For me, it’s a case of being there if needed and the keepers we have are challenging me for the shirt, which is what I need.”
Justham is back in the first-team picture for Daggers after recovering from an injury that kept him out for the majority of last term.
Spending so long on the sidelines, the 28-year-old may have been forgiven for fearing the worst about the future of his career.
Justham admits there were times early on when he did wonder if he ever would return, but is glad those worries are now firmly behind him with the stopper now back at full fitness.
“I might have feared the worst when I first saw the surgeon, but he told me to give it my best shot at getting back and that if I did that, I’d have every chance of doing that,” he added.
“It was a frustrating time in the gym, but thankfully I got through it and now I’m back.”
Justham’s return to the position of being top stopper for Daggers comes at a time when things are vastly different to the 2016/17 season when he was previously the club’s number one.
With Daggers currently in a difficult financial predicament, many of the club’s first-team stars have departed over the summer.
The management team has also changed, with Peter Taylor replacing John Still, who also coached Justham at Luton, in the dugout.
The 28-year-old, though, is fairly relaxed about the summer of change on the whole, believing that it is part and parcel of being involved in the sport.
“I’m used to it because it’s part of football. It has been nice that there are still some of the lads from last year still here because they know what’s going on behind the scenes,” he said.
“Thankfully the lads who have come in have taken to it straight away. There’s a good understanding in the squad and, coupled with the loan signings, there’s an exciting buzz around the squad.”
As well as there being changes to both the playing squad and the management team ahead of the new season, there has also been an alteration in expectations.
Since Justham joined Daggers in the summer of 2016, the club had been expected to feature among the front runners in the division.
But with the club’s current financial position, those expectations have fallen this term and the Essex club are tipped for a relegation battle if the bookmakers are to be believed.
Justham, however, insists the squad remain as amibitious as they ever have been since he moved to Victoria Road two seasons ago, and added the players are looking forward to proving their doubters wrong over the coming months of the campaign.
“There’s probably not so much pressure on us to do well this year, but we put pressure on ourselves to perform,” added the former Luton stopper.
“It’s a younger side, but we’re hungry to do well and there’s no reason why we can’t.”