SUMMARY:Against a backdrop of scintillating sunlight that projected it's bright beams across the impressive-looking Victoria Road surface, the Daggers produced a performance seemingly inspired by the earlier announcement by owner Peter Freund announcing his vision for next season, declaring many optimistic changes to the club in pursuit of one goal: we will 'return to the Football League and never look back'. For a second consecutive week, a play-off challenger were blunted by Dagenham, under the guidance of Peter Taylor whose unexpected switch to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation continued to yield further success, with his side looking menacingly potent going forwards, energetic in midfield and solid enough in defence that danger-man Paul McCallum was completely nullified. The no-pressure environment, and surprising lack of intensity from an Eastleigh team looking to earn a play-off spot, certainly aided the Daggers, who made it four games unbeaten while also securing a third consecutive clean sheet.
TEAM NEWS: Peter Taylor kept faith with the 4-3-3 formation that proved so crucial in the previous weekend's victory at Ebbsfleet United, but made one change, with Conor Wilkinson coming into the side at the expense of a mightily-unfortunate Tomi Adeloye, who struck the winner at the Kuflink Stadium only to be dropped for the visit of Eastleigh. However, that was probably a strategic move from Peter Taylor though as he expressed a desire to make a lot of changes for the Braintree Town game on Easter Monday, which indicates that the likes of Adeloye, Ben Nunn, Liam Gordon, Harry Phipps, Jack Munns and Alex McQueen will be given their chance to impress after being left out quite frequently in recent weeks.
With mathematical safety comes the common footballing phrase of there being nothing to play for, however it's often at that stage of the season when a team can produce their best performances of the campaign, with the relaxed environment and the added boost of the pressure being completely off, enabling you to play with freedom, flexibility and composure. That was certainly the case the weekend prior to this clash as the Daggers stunned Ebbsfleet United with the kind of energetic showing they would want to emulate against the Eastleigh, whose situation matched that of the Fleet; Ben Strevens' side also found themselves embroiled in an intense battle to make the play-offs, so Dagenham assumed the role of party spoilers once again. It was destined to be an interesting match-up at Victoria Road as the home side's formation was conducive to the high-intensity display they wanted from their front three, while Eastleigh possessed the league's second top scorer in Paul McCallum, an intelligent forward that can utilise even the tiniest of gaps.
Eastleigh's attacking threat prevailed over Dagenham's in the opening stages as the play-off hopefuls demonstrated the hard-working attitude and rapid transitional football that had lent themselves well to the Spitfires' unlikely promotion charge. Their intentions were evident from the first whistle as several crosses were swung into the box towards the arching head of McCallum, who - in making darting runs into the box and managing to get his head to every cross - indicated the threat he would be able to pose if Dagenham were to afford him even a seemingly improbable few yards of space to work with. The home defence managed to control Eastleigh's prized asset relatively well, though, and it appeared as though Manny Onariase was winning every battle against his equally-imposing rival - on one occasion he judged the motion of a fizzing ball that was on the verge of putting Eastleigh's number 9 through on goal and stepped in perfectly to snuff out the danger.
It was perhaps a fixation on the threat of McCallum that meant the Daggers neglected Eastleigh's other threats. Matthews obliged when a gap opened for him from distance but the strike sailed into Justham's arms, and then Doug Loft, whose erratic performance thus far had seen him give the ball away at will, stumbled in possession which allowed Matthews to steal in and take on Kenny Clark, the only man that stood between the midfielder and Elliot Justham. Clark done superbly well to minimise the options Matthews had, but couldn't stop the attacker getting a shot off on his favoured left foot, but thankfully the defender had done enough to prevent Matthews getting enough curl on his effort to find the desired target of the bottom-left corner. Amazingly, this shot, which foreshadowed spells of Eastleigh domination, was actually the last time they threatened in the whole game. It was like Strevens side completely crumbled as soon as the Daggers began to get any sort of rhythm, and they simply couldn't recover, which is a testament to the way the hosts maintained an unrelenting tempo from the tenth minute right up until half time.
Onariase was the first to go close as he directed the first of a succession of Daggers corners just wide while off balance, then a few minutes later Balanta tested Southwood for the first time with a header that was easily caught. Momentum was building in east London and, when a glorious Ollie Harfield cross was plucked out of the air by Southwood with Wilkinson just ready to pounce behind him, there was a tangible sense of ominous danger in relation to how the Daggers were playing. They were controlled and patient as they sprayed the ball about, vastly contrasting to the way they'd started the match with panicky hesitation. Just before half time, Chike Kandi gently took the ball into his stride on the byline before he suddenly decided to make an unexpected surge at goal some fifty yards in the distance. His rapid pace and powerful running seemed to stun the motionless Eastleigh defence and took him all the way to the edge of the box, where a desperate Wynter finally thwarted what would've been an unbelievable solo goal.
The visitors' desire to get to half time unscathed was obvious, however there was a damaging blow about to hit them on the stroke of the interval. Balanta crept into some unvacated space on the wing after a good period of keepball, and he put a fairly tame ball across goal. Both Wynter and the keeper looked blankly at eachother whom they both expected to deal with the danger rather easily and in the end Wynter let it run across the face of goal, unaware of the presence of Ollie Harfield, who calmly swept home his first goal for the club from barely five yards out. That presumably changed the manner of both managers' respective teamtalks, but for Dagenham it was a deserved reward for a very impressive display in the simmering sunshine. They carried the momentum into the second period, and within six minutes of the restart they'd extended their lead, leading to the prospect of a heavy victory that didn't seem unrealistic. As they had all afternoon, a corner proved problematic for Eastleigh as Kenny Clark was allowed to head it into the path of Kandi, both players unmarked, leaving the striker with the simple task of hooking it home with his head. Glorious stuff from the Daggers.
Minutes later, almost an outstanding goal to make it three. There didn't seem to be much danger when Kandi picked the ball up at the corner flag but the man who'd caused Eastleigh incomprehensible amounts of problems, produced a brilliant bit of skill to baffle his marker. He arched his body to the left, feigning to cut inside, then suddenly knocked the ball down the line with the edge of his boot and spun around to hare towards the keeper. Then, Kandi picked out Balanta with just the keeper to beat, but Southwood pulled off a spectacular one-handed save to tip the ball over, denying Dagenham what would've been a superb goal all-round. With energy coursing through their veins, the hosts' continued to prowl towards the goal at every opportunity, constantly stretching the tired legs of the opposition defence. It was a return of the seamless link-up between Balanta and Wilkinson that we haven't seen in a while, culminating in Daggers' Colombian striker whistling a powerful shot over the bar. Then, a few moments later, Harfield produced an unbelievable cross that found both Wilkinson and Wright completely unmarked, but a great opportunity was spoiled when Wright sliced it in clearance-esque fashion.
Still the Daggers pressed, with Eastleigh almost consigned to the fact that they'd have to contend with another 30 minutes of domination. Conor Wilkinson, having another very quiet game by his typically free-scoring standards, showed his quality by turning a defender expertly with the outside of the boot, then stinging the palms of Southwood by blasting straight at him, forcing a good reflex save. Wilkinson nearly scrambled home from close-range soon after but was denied by a last-gasp clearance, before Robinson scuffed an effort towards the bottom-corner, but it was tipped wide even though it was probably trickling astray of the net anyway. At around this point, the Daggers took their foot off the gas and the game fizzled out somewhat. Eastleigh had a late spell of opportunities, the biggest of which saw Yeates fail to do a dangerous free-kick from the edge of the box justice, while also introducing Chris Zebroski more in desperation than genuine hope. Knowing the Daggers know, there was always fear that one Eastleigh goal would prompt a late capitulation, but thankfully they held on and there was never really a moment in which their comfortable lead seemed in jeopardy. All in all, it was a very enjoyable performance that capped a fantastic day for the football club, and let's hope this strong run of form is carried into the last two league games. Ollie Harfield got the 'Man of the Match' award, but there were at least six or seven strong contenders, with Clark, Onariase, Smith, Balanta, Kandi and Wright also all putting in particularly noteworthy displays.