Elito pen 4
Howe pen 89
THIS is the Torquay United we know, the team we love, respect and support through thick and thin.
The context of a trip to Dagenham was just one win in 2013, a run that has seen the club dragged into an unexpected relegation fight and when Aaron Downes was sent-off for a professional foul on just four minutes, it felt like game over.
Medy Elito cracked in the penalty for Dagenham, who created, and missed, countless chances in a dominant first-half. The Gulls looked dead and buried but the second-half was inspirational stuff and the equaliser from Joss Labadie on 71 minutes was fully deserved.
The ten brave souls in Yellow were controlling the game and looked like grabbing a winner, so a strike from Josh Scott on 85 minutes came as a massive blow. United would not be denied, however, and Rene Howe converted an equalising penalty in the final seconds to complete a pulsating performance.
United manager Alan Knill made one change to the side defeated 3-1 at home by Oxford on the weekend, with Kevin Nicholson rested after suffering from a recent chest infection. Thomas Cruise was the ready-made replacement at left-back, as Nicholson reverted to bench-duty.
Dagenham caretaker boss Wayne Burnett also made just one selection switch, as his side basked in the glory of an excellent 2-1 win at Rotherham on Saturday. Billy Bingham was the man preferred to the experienced legs of Kevin Maher in midfield.
A meagre crowd greeted the two sides on a freezing night in East London and it was huge credit to the hardy souls who had made the long trip from South Devon for a pivotal night in the survival hopes of their side.
Those supporters had barely bought their tea and pie when the evening was almost over. Downes was caught the wrong side of Josh Scott after a sizzling run from Elito and referee Keith Stroud had little hesitation in awarding the penalty.
Yellow pain was complete when Downes was shown a red card and Elito smashed home a decisive spot-kick into the roof of the net. Knill was left with a crisis to solve and his only option was the removal of forward Elliot Benyon to allow Angus MacDonald to take the vacated slot in central defence.
All the plans of keeping it tight and trying to snatch that vital first goal had gone out of the window, and the Gulls now had a real test of character against a powerful and confident outfit on a bitter night.
The one bright light of hope was the amount of time left on the clock to claw a way back into proceedings and loan midfielder Labadie was showing the right attitude with some biting tackles in the midfield area.
Michael Poke was then called upon to keep United in the game with a stunning save to turn away a Scott header that was heading for the top corner before the Yellow number one intervened in fine style.
Given the situation, set-pieces looked the best hope of an equaliser for the Gulls and Brian Saah was slightly unlucky to see his glance from a Cruise delivery fail to hit the target, but it was forlorn stuff in truth.
Dagenham soon burst clear through Scott and should have doubled their lead when the ball reached Bingham, who had oodles of time but still contrived to lash his shot horribly wide with just Poke to beat.
United did try to respond with a cross from Joe Oastler but Ryan Jarvis failed to commit to his run, and the moment had gone. It was another sad sign of the complete absence of confidence in Yellow ranks.
There was solace in a calming of the attacking verve from the home side and the industry of Billy Bodin was a possible outlet for the Gulls, but he needed help from those around him, especially in terms of protecting possession.
Howe was another Gull battling hard in the van but the focus in the closing stages of the first period was keeping the deficit to one goal, and giving Knill the chance to reorganise his troops. That ambition was only just kept alive when Scott Doe flicked a low corner into the side-netting.
United then created their first genuine opening of the night after a swift break down the right from Oastler, who picked out Howe for a looping header that only just missed the far corner of Chris Lewington’s goal.
The half-time whistle sounded and despite a very difficult first period, the Gulls were still in the game. In the context of this match and this season, a point from Dagenham could be the catalyst for a drastically needed change in fortunes.
Elito had the chance to swiftly end that hope when a cross from Bingham found the Dagenham goal-scorer, who, amazingly, steered the ball over from just two yards out. Scott was next to spurn a glorious opportunity, curling over when it seemed easier to score.
The fight-back started with more steel from Labadie in the engine room to win a free-kick that fell to Cruise, who was unfortunate to see his whipped delivery narrowly evade the run of Jarvis. Snow then started falling from the Essex sky but there was definitely a mild warming for the Yellow Army, with the United performance slowly improving.
Oastler was the next to send over a teasing cross and Lewington was hesitant in stretching to turn the ball over for a corner, but the set-piece failed to conjure another chance. However, the encouraging pattern led to some nerves in the Dagenham side.
Bodin sought to exploit the changing tide with a long-range shot, comfortably fielded by Lewington. Cruise was another Gull enjoying a decent half, as was Labadie, who saw his speculative shot spin wide off the back of team-mate Bodin.
Burnett responded by withdrawing Luke Howell for Ben Strevens, but the action was at the other end, when another splendid cross from Cruise found the head of the outstanding Brian Saah, who was thwarted by a fabulous Lewington save.
The subsequent corner was whipped over by skipper Lee Mansell and Labadie was able to scramble the ball home for an absolutely massive equaliser, and almost the best thing about the whole situation, was the fact the goal was deserved.
Unbelievably, the Gulls were almost in front when Bodin surged brilliantly into the box to forge an opening for Howe, who looked certain to score when Doe intercepted with an excellent tackle. Bodin then headed into the arms of Lewington from a good position.
Knill looked to build on the positive vibe by removing Jarvis for the fresh legs of Lloyd Macklin. The Daggers, meanwhile, were simply unable to cope with United and huge credit had to be reserved for Howe, who was looking back to his dominant best.
Dominic Green came on for Bingham for the closing minutes but Bodin was again bamboozling the home defence to release Macklin, who was denied by a dramatic winner by the feet of a beleaguered Lewington. The corner from Cruise was headed inches over by MacDonald.
The fantastic Bodin then won a free-kick on the edge of the Dagenham area and Labadie grabbed the ball for a sublime curling effort that skimmed the bar. United were flying and a point had suddenly become the very least they warranted.
The pain of Scott’s goal was, therefore, a hammer-blow. There were claims for offside but the luck refuses to fall United’s way, and Dagenham profited with a goal completely against the run of play.
Referee Stroud then quietened Yellow protests by awarding the Gulls a penalty for a high challenge on Macklin. The imperious Howe stepped up to send Lewington the wrong way and the relief was felt all
across the Bay, and beyond.
Even into injury-time, the ten-man Gulls continued to pile forward in search of a winner but Dagenham held on for a point in a gripping second-half of football.
Huge congratulations to the players and coaching staff for an incredibly brave display. Next up, a trip to Southend on Saturday – bring it on.
Dagenham [4-5-1]: 1 Chris Lewington; 18 Gavin Hoyte, 2 Luke Wilkinson, 4 Scott Doe, 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 15 Matthew Saunders, 19 Abu Ogogo, 17 Luke Howell [9 Ben Strevens 70], 24 Billy Bingham [11 Dominic Green 78], 12 Medy Elito; 10 Josh Scott. Substitutes [not used]: 14 Jake Reed, 16 Kevin Maher, 26 Louis Dennis, 30 Jordan Seabright [GK], 31 Gianluca Gracco.
Booked: Ogogo 75
Gulls [4-4-2]: 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 21 Thomas Cruise; 8 Ryan Jarvis [14 Lloyd Macklin 75], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 24 Joss Labadie, 15 Billy Bodin; 9 Rene Howe, 26 Elliot Benyon [16 Angus MacDonld 5]. Substitutes [not used]: 3 Kevin Nicholson, 6 Damon Lathrope, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 19 Danny Stevens, 20 Nathan Craig.
Booked: Labadie 84, Mansell 86
Sent-off: Downes 4
Referee: Keith Stroud