Victoria Road | Att: 1290 | Vanarama National League | 6/1/18
30. Mark COUSINS 05. Craig ROBSON 06. Matt ROBINSON 07. Luke HOWELL 11. Fejiri OKENABIRHIE 14. Dan SPARKES 17. Andre BOUCAUD 18. Kevin LOKKO 19. Sam LING 23. Michael CHEEK 29. Jake HOWELLS
01. Scott LOACH 02. Carl MAGNAY 03. Blair ADAMS 09. Jake CASSIDY 12. Jonathan FRANKS 14. Michael WOODS 17. Nicky DEVERDICS 18. Lewis HAWKINS 22. Liam DONNELLY 28. Keith WATSON 29. Michael LEDGER
DAGGERS FIND RUTHLESS STREAK TO DOWN SORRY POOLS
Hartlepool were without doubt one of the poorest sides to pitch up at Victoria Road all season, but that can't overshadow what was a brilliant home performance. The Daggers extended their unbeaten run to three games and in doing so were able to rediscover the ruthless free-flowing style of football which served them so well in the early stages of the season, comfortably scoring four while also hitting the bar, having another chalked off for offside and missing several other chances. Two completely avoidable headers from visiting midfielder Michael Woods, the first of which threatened to turn the game on it's head, were the only disappointing aspect of the match for Dagenham; a reminder that the defence is as shaky as ever, but a devastating attacking performance from John Still's side rendered those as mere meaningless consolations. Dan Sparkes' first two goals for the club were supplemented by strikes from Okenabirhie and Cheek as the floodgates opened late on, producing a powerful statement to the rest of the division.
The display at Pools earlier in the season is widely regarded as our best of the season, but resulted in a smash and grab defeat; here, only three points would suffice, and Dagenham began in the right manner if they were to get them. Even the absence of Ferrier and Whitely in the lineup for the third game in the row couldn't disrupt Daggers' attacking flow as they began with pace, energy and purpose to take control of the game early. The visitors were apparently missing a number of players and their struggles were evident from the off at Victoria Road as they began on the back foot, where they would remain for the whole of a home-dominated half. The first two chances fell to Kevin Lokko from set-pieces, only narrowly missing the target twice to offer a warning sign which the visitors failed to yield. As the contest continued at a similar tempo, an early opener was imminent. The skill of Fejiri Okenabirhie was a powerful weapon to use and he effortlessly breezed past his practically non-existent marker before setting up Cheek but, as most of the home contingent prepared to celebrate what would surely be a goalscoring strike, a home defender got back to block, and the Daggers were denied, at least for now.
Then, Okenabirhie went close again when he headed a dangerous cross over the bar before rifling a low effort towards goal, which forced Loach into a good save. At times like this and with the home fans possibly thinking it could be 'one of those days' where nothing goes for you, it would be easy to panic and be desperate, but Daggers remained calm and patient in attack, happy to keep the ball as they tried to unlock the North-East outfit who at times had all ten outfield players behind the ball. There was only so much pressure they could soak up, and the breakthrough finally arrived in the 39th minute, as danger man Okenabirhie jinxed past a defender and from the right drilled in an inviting low cross which was poked home by Sparkes for his first Dagenham goal. It was the least they deserved, having had an effort disallowed for offside while also hitting the bar beforehand, and was a perfect time to score just before the break.
The Daggers were hoping to continue their dominance after the break and it was one-way traffic at the beginning of the second half, except this time in Hartlepool's favour. With nothing to protect anymore, they pushed men forward and looked a different team; all of a sudden the home side looked very vulnerable. The Pools had already had a header brilliantly cleared off the line by the time their recent onslaught resulted in a leveller. Also unable to withstand much pressure, the home defence could only watch as an inch-perfect Franks cross picked out Woods, who planted an unchallenged header into the bottom left-corner. It now looked like the Daggers would be made to rue those missed opportunities.The game had been turned on it's head in the space of 15 minutes, and this sparked a crazy second-half. Dagenham regained the ascendancy almost instantly to go back infront following some dreadful away defending, as Howell picked out Cheek in the box, and although Loach fantastically kept out the shot, he could do nothing about the rebound, which was scuffed in. From that moment, the floodgates opened and the home team began to turn on the style. Morgan Ferrier was introduced to the action, possibly the last thing the visitors wanted, and he made an instant impact.
Ferrier showed excellent strength to turn in the box before showing good vision and laying off for Okenabirhie to thread a smart shot into the bottom-right corner through the legs of a defender; a deserved reward for his stunning display. Barely had the home supporters finished celebrating that goal when the ball was in the net again just a minute later. Once again it was Ferrier, who breezed past his marker and fizzed the ball across goal, where Sparkes was arriving to smash home into an empty net to make it four. The away side had completely imploded in East London and their fans were clearly furious as they let their frustrations be known. This pulsating second-half had yet another twist when Hartlepool had a late rally, which resulted in Woods being unmarked to head home again, nearly a carbon copy of his first. They even piled on the pressure in stoppage time and had an effort cleared off the line, but it was too little, too late and the Daggers go marching on into the playoffs ahead of their next game, on Tuesday.
NEXT UP: Home v Boreham Wood, Tuesday 9th January at 7.45pm, Vanarama National League, Victoria Road