Victoria Road | Att: 1633 | Vanarama National League | 2/4/18
30. Mark COUSINS 02. Ben NUNN 03. Luke PENNELL 05. Craig ROBSON 08. Charlee ADAMS 09. Chike KANDI 11. Fejiri OKENABIRHIE 14. Dan SPARKES 17. Andre BOUCAUD 23. Michael CHEEK 29. Jake HOWELLS
01. Lee WORGAN 03. Alex FINNEY 05. Alex WYNTER 08. Stuart LEWIS 09. Delano SAM-YORKE 13. Joe ANDERSON 14. Jai REASON 16. Seth-Nana OFORI-TWUMASI 19. Blair TURGOTT 29. Ross LAFAYETTE 37. Michael PHILLIPS
Maidstone victory has Daggers dreaming of late Play-off surge
Even when it looked as if they were consigned to mid-table mediocrity after a turbulent campaign, a recent and dramatic upturn in form for the Daggers may just yield an improbable late push to the play-offs, and another twist in this entertaining National League season. Of course it would take a lot of doing but, after everything that's gone on at the club recently, you can't write them off just yet and their latest success - a battling and hard-fought victory over Maidstone - shows that the courageous bunch of players are up for the fight. Though it wasn't the greatest of games, with both teams clearly feeling the effects of a demanding Easter schedule, the Daggers found that extra bit of quality and largely looked comfortable against an underwhelming Stones outfit whose below-par display indicated that they might be dragged into the relegation battle. Despite remaining relatively untroubled for most of the encounter, a nervy ending was set up as a two-goal lead, provided by excellent goals from Okenabirhie and Robson, was not only halved but severely jeopardised as the visitors threw everything at the Daggers, who became suddenly nervy but managed to survive and extend their unbeaten run to three games. This leaves them just six points off the play-offs and though it may be a tough ask, it's just a pleasure for the desperately-needed feelgood feeling to return to Victoria Road - a feeling that seemed to have disappeared forever.
Both the Daggers and Maidstone had endured a difficult start to 2018, with different factors meaning their squads were dismantled and their early-season aspirations crumbled, yet they arrived at Victoria Road in contrasting moods; a rejuvenated-looking Dagenham were unbeaten in two, while the Stones had only won twice in twenty outings, without tasting away success since December. That sequence was destined to continue from the offset in east London and though the front three of Sam-Yorke, Turgott and Lafayette looked dangerous on paper, they failed to really trouble Daggers' defence, which was controlled effortlessly by the solid Craig Robson. A few early crosses looked to stretch the home defence and temporarily left them rattled, with Phillips ghosting into the box unmarked and heading off-target in a rare moment of indecision amongst the home backline. The early running was mainly done by Maidstone and they looked to get the ball to Turgott at every opportunity, however the on-loan winger lacked an end product and on many occasions fired tamely into the arms of Mark Cousins, despite his trickery creating many openings.
Eventually the match settled down and this enabled Dagenham's quality to shine through. Boucaud was the orchaestrator in midfield, controlling the tempo and bringing the wingers into the game, and in one such example the experienced midfielder found Nunn in acres of space on the right. The full-back proved his attacking prowess once again with a fantastic delivery, which was fizzed into a great area and set up for Okenabirhie, who pounced on Wynter's inability to clear. Aside from Sparkes' sliced half-volley it was their first opportunity but it was clinically taken as Fejiri calmly set himself and produced a composed and powerful finish beyond Worgan to not only hand his side the lead, but become the club's top goalscorer. That silenced the vocal away support and from that moment the game was hardly in doubt, with the Daggers growing in confidence and continuing to pressurise a rattled Maidstone side, who then began to resort to long balls and diving in the box in desperate attempts to win a penalty. The goal had raised the mood around the ground and though there wasn't too much between the sides, the Daggers definitely had the edge and rarely looked like relinquishing their advantage, which was nearly doubled before the break as Robson nodded a corner tantalisingly wide before Adams lashed a powerful effort narrowly wide of the post.
Though they looked comfortable, the fragility of a single-goal lead was illustrated by Maidstone's start to the second half, which was positive and with dangerous intent. However despite having lots of territory, they lacked the predatory instinct to break down a Dagenham defence that was unusually powerful. Then, out of nowhere, they again found a killer goal to settle the nerves at the Chigwell Construction Stadium and virtually secure the victory. From a Maidstone perspective it was another goal that was against the run of play and hard to take, but the Daggers remained clinical and for that deserved their two-goal cushion. It came from a corner kick taken by Sparkes and from the moment the ball left the winger's foot it was obvious that the delivery was destined to wreak havoc in the away defence, because it was laced with superb power and pace, landing in a deadly area. Just like the opener, Dagenham retained their composure in the box and this time a soft layoff in the box found Craig Robson to lash an unstoppable effort into the roof of the net - another crucial contribution from a leader who continues to prove himself. From then on the Daggers were comfortable and nearly added gloss to the scoreline when a lovely disguised ball from Cheek found substitute Howell on the counter, he found Okenabirhie whose cross was collected. However, a nervy finale was set up when Wynter first saw a dipping overhead kick clear the bar before bundling home from a huge goalmouth scramble in the Daggers box. This brought a nervy, nail-biting ten minute spell where time seemed to stand still but eventually the whistle confirmed the three points, and after the game fans and players were left uttering these two words: ''Who knows?''
NEXT UP: Home v Woking FC, Saturday 7th April 2018 at 3pm, Vanarama National League, Victoria Road