Date Saturday 17th August 2019 | 15:00 Competition Vanarama National League Venue Victoria Road Attendance 1043 Home/Away Split 983 | 60 Referee Carl Brook
01: Elliot JUSTHAM 02: Will WRIGHT 05: Luke CROLL 06: Kenny CLARK 07: Alex MCQUEEN 08: Mitch BRUNDLE 09: Chike KANDI 10:Ángelo BALANTA 16: Harry PHIPPS 17: Will WOOD 19: Joan LUQUE
- LIAM GORDON | WOOD (66') - MATT ROBINSON - REECE GRANT | LUQUE (61') - JOE QUIGLEY | BALANTA (88') - JAMES DOBSON
01: James BELSHAW 02: Ryan FALLOWFIELD 03: George SMITH 04: Josh FALKINGHAM 06: Warren BURRELL 08: Jack EMMETT 09: MarkBECK 11: Joe LEESLEY 14: Brendan KIERNAN 18: Jack MULDOON 20: Connor HALL
- JOE CRACKNELL - GEORGE THOMSON | LEESLEY (62') - SAM JONES | SMITH (69') - JON STEAD - SCOTT BROWN
AS the home crowd TUMBLED below 1000 at a time where discontent was growing amidst continually frustrating performances, Dagenham's recent struggles were offset by an excellent display of attacking creativity which was as surprising as it was entertaining. Harrogate Town, albeit looking very off-colour compared to their usual brand of hard-working, free-flowing football, aren't used to losing by such margins and it's a testament to the Daggers that they were able to consistently cut open their defence with such effortless precision. Balanta (2), Kandi and Brundle found the net for the hosts' in what was the perfect reaction to Tuesday's unacceptable showing against Boreham Wood; with pace, precision, composure and ruthlessness, it was a performance that encompassed all the things Taylor's team have lacked so far. there were shaky moments, particularly within the hesitant-looking defence, but after four goals, three points and a comeback victory there's no disputing that it was a highly ENCOURAGING afternoon for the Daggers.
Both National League fixtures at Victoria Road this season have followed the same pattern - Daggers start with intent, concede an early goal on the break then crumble - and this was no different with Chike Kandi bursting through on goal after an intelligent Balanta through-ball five minutes in, only to see his unconvincing clip over Belshaw cleared off the line at the final moment after he'd perhaps taken one touch too many to narrow the angle for himself. It was no surprise that, instantly after the Daggers were centimetres away from having the lead, Harrogate went straight up the other end and won a corner that was scruffily diverted into the top-left corner via the head of Ángelo Balanta. 1-0 down again despite a decent start, and in those two minutes the end-to-end tempo of the game was firmly established, a theme that would persist throughout the encounter as both sides were able to unlock the other with just a single ball in behind.
To their credit, Dagenham rose to the challenge rather than buckling under it, and they continued to play well and create chances. The five changes that Taylor made had turned the Daggers into a side that looked dangerous whenever they had the ball however the main concern was that, for all their purpose and improvement, they were still losing the game. Then, in the 14th minute came a move that transformed the mood inside the ground. After awful defending from Harrogate, who were misplacing and miscontrolling simple passes, Alex McQueen released Chike Kandi. The striker had been brilliant all game and this time there was no messing around from him as he sat the keeper down before coolly slipping the ball into the bottom-right corner. Him, Balanta, McQueen and Luque were causing havoc for the visitors and, visibly motivated by the equaliser, continued to perform with a swagger and arrogance that unnerved the visibly-nervous Harrogate defence.
A temporary release from the home pressure came via a good spell for Harrogate, who were also enjoying success whenever they entered Dagenham territory. Danger-man Brendan Kiernan struck over the bar after silky movement before Jack Emmett fired into the arms of Justham, but if anything this seemed to spark the home side back into life again because within minutes Alex McQueen had seen a goal chalked off by a harsh yet fair handball decision and Balanta's shot was desperately blocked after he produced an outstanding bit of skill to get beyond his man. Then, just as they were getting closer - bang, déjà vu. Brendan Kiernan took a Muldoon pass into his stride and crashed powerfully past Justham, after poor defending allowed Harrogate to transition from defence to attack with absolute ease.
In another twist to what was swiftly becoming a crazy game, though, Mitch Brundle raced to the near post to head a Joan Luque corner into the ground and send it bouncing into the top-right corner for Dagenham's equaliser. 2-2 and only half an hour gone, however the worry for Dagenham was that, for all their superiority, they still weren't winning and had conceded twice; Harrogate's little pressure had still caused them problems so if and when Simon Weaver's men began to enjoy spells of control, they would pose a significant threat. This seemed a very real preposition as the visitors enjoyed more control before the break, with Muldoon missing a huge opportunity as he swivelled and fired over with just Justham to beat while Emmett also struck low at the keeper, but if anything this seemed to spark Dagenham into life again because Luque curled over and Balanta had a shot desperately blocked after showing excellent skill to get past his man.
The sounding of the half-time whistle neither halted Dagenham's momentum nor did it affect the flow of the game. The Daggers picked up where they left off and within minutes Balanta had released the marauding Will Wright with a perfectly-weighted, defence-splitting pass. However, Wright's attempted chip floated wide of the target and another presentable chance went begging, one that you wouldn't expect to go unpunished. Then, directly on the hour-mark came an incredible minute of football that transformed the emotions of both sets of supporters; no sooner was Kiernan's tap-in disallowed for offside when Balanta was curling beautifully past Henshaw at the other end after being played in by McQueen. Usually this would prompt Dagenham to go into defensive mode and sit on their lead, culminating in a torturous finale, however the ending to this game was as enjoyable as it has come at Victoria Road in recent years.
The writing was seemingly on the wall for a Harrogate equaliser, especially when the referee failed to award even one of three realistic home penalty claims, but generally Dagenham were comfortable and it was refreshing to see them go for a fourth goal. After shooting low at the keeper then smashing over the bar, it was fitting that Balanta, who has been Daggers' best player by absolute miles this season, sealed the victory with 85 minutes gone. The Colombian stooped low to glance low into the corner after Chike Kandi had hooked an excellent left-footed cross to the far post. Prior to that, the arrivals of Reece Grant and Liam Gordon drew applause from the home crowd - not only in appreciation towards them but also for Wood and Luque who made way - but the biggest reception of the afternoon was reserved for Balanta when he made way for Joe Quigley with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Even a late yet somewhat half-hearted Harrogate onslaught didn't overshadow what was a nerveless final few minutes of the contest and, when the referee finally blew the final whistle, it signalled Daggers first home goals and points of the campaign. The frustrations from recent weeks still remain, but credit to Peter Taylor and his players for what was a very decent display of attacking football. It can all change so quickly so fans won't be getting too carried away, but hopefully it is the start of a more positive few weeks for the Essex side.