Elito pen 67
UNITED had to win and hope results elsewhere went the right way to keep the dream of survival intact.
Other teams did their bit by only drawing but the Gulls succumbed to yet another 1-0 defeat at home to Dagenham and relegation now looks almost certain.
The effort and fight will go to the end but a game that showed no real difference between the sides was decided by a Medy Elito penalty on 67 minutes, and that has been the problem all season.
Not enough goals and one bad mistake from one individual in too many games.
United manager Chris Hargreaves made just one enforced change from the side that defeated Bristol Rovers last weekend. A thigh injury to Shamir Goodwin prompted a recall for Billy Bodin on the wing and the spare place on the bench went to fit-again midfielder Damon Lathrope.
Dagenham boss Wayne Burnett was understandably ruthless in his team selection after the 4-1 hammering to Portsmouth last Saturday. Luke Wilkinson, Jack Connors, Sean Shields and Chris Dickson all dropped out.
The replacements included former United loan forward Ade Azeez, plus Femi Ilesanmi, Billy Bingham and Ian Gayle. The other Dagger with a Yellow past was centre-back Brian Saah, who spent two years as a Plainmoor favourite.
Referee Dean Whitestone soon had to make a major decision on Saah and he probably got it wrong. The searing pace of Shaquile Coulthirst picked up on a loose pass to just beat the former Gull to the ball outside the penalty area.
Saah had committed himself to the tackle and while there was nothing nasty in the tackle, he was the last man and should possibly have received a harsher punishment than the yellow card that followed.
Courtney Cameron attempted to exact immediate retribution with the subsequent free-kick, drifting over a cross to Krystian Pearce, who was unfortunate to twice be denied by a fine double save from Chris Lewington.
United quickly recovered from the mild disappointment to keep pressing forward and when Coulthirst was dumped to the ground 25 yards from goal, Lee Mansell whipped a delicious free-kick over the wall and inches wide of the post.
Gradually, Dagenham settled into their own rhythm and had Yellow hearts fluttering when a set-piece from the left was headed into the top corner, but the linesman’s flag immediately quelled celebrations from the visiting support.
The theme of the first-half continued with more set-piece situations causing problems for the Dagenham defence and a poorly cleared corner fell to Ben Harding for a looping cross to the back post, but Coulthirst’s header was comfortable for Lewington.
United kept trying to turn the screw and maintain the high tempo, a point typified by a swashbuckling run down the left from Cameron and he was unlucky to see his cut-back for the lively Coulthirst intercepted by an alert Gayle.
The afternoon then ended prematurely for Bodin, who hobbled off with an ankle problem a few minutes before the interval to be replaced by Danny Stevens. The first period meandered to an even conclusion and United trundled into the dressing room to prepare for a massive 45 minutes.
The restart carried appropriate vigour, as Elliot Benyon immediately burst into the right channel and forced over a low cross that only just evaded the darting run inside from Cameron.
Captain Mansell was epitomising the need and desire in Yellow ranks, covering every blade of grass on the Plainmoor turf he knows so well but the Daggers, to their credit, remained resolute in defensive areas.
The Yellow Army took up the mantle of lifting their troops but the early intent of the second period was replaced by two sides struggling to find real rhythm in attack. It was a match that increasingly looked like it would hang on one pivotal moment.
Luke Norris tried to be that man for Dagenham on the hour-mark turning neatly inside but his 25-yard curling shot always had too much elevation to trouble the happily under-employed Martin Rice in United’s goal.
The game had slipped into a worrying malaise and the Gulls desperately needed something to re-energise their approach, but the agonising outcome was a wild swing from Dale Tonge dumping Elito to the ground.
The same man picked himself up and showed terrific poise to plant a confident spot-kick in the top corner. A dire moment for United and Dagenham sought to press home their advantage with the fresh legs of Blair Turgott replacing Azeez.
Hargreaves turned to his bench soon after, removing Cameron and Tonge for Ashley Yeoman and Jordan Chapell. It was time to throw everything at the possibility of salvaging something from the game, and the season.
A corner from Stevens almost opened the door, as Baily Cargill rose highest to head goalward but the effort was straight down the throat of a relieved Lewington. United were camped in the Dagenham half and this really was now or never.
Benyon was presented with a glorious chance from the next attack, sneaking into the right channel but with Coulthirst waiting in the middle, the option to rifle over the bar from a tight angle was not in the right script.
Dagenham missed an even better opening moments later, as a deep corner found Luke Howell at the back-post but his skewed shot flew well wide with the goal gaping. Burnett then introduced Lawson D’Ath and Chris Dickson for the tiring Elito and Norris.
Dagenham should have added gloss in the final seconds when Dickson surged in behind but Rice made the save. Sadly, it was academic and United’s season is now virtually game over.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge (14 Ashley Yeoman 71), 5 Krystian Pearce, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 30 Baily Cargill; 10 Billy Bodin (23 Danny Stevens 40), 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 8 Ben Harding, 11 Courtney Cameron (12 Jordan Chapell 71); 26 Elliot Benyon, 27 Shaquile Coulthirst. Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke, 4 Aaron Downes, 6 Damon Lathrope, 20 Nathan Craig.
Dagenham and Redbridge [4-4-2]: 1 Chris Lewington; 18 Gavin Hoyte, 5 Brian Saah, 22 Ian Gayle, 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 7 Medy Elito (12 Lawson D’Ath 85), 8 Abu Ogogo [capt], 17 Luke Howell, 6 Billy Bingham; 27 Adebayo Azeez (25 Blair Turgott 68), 33 Luke Norris (14 Chris Dickson 87). Substitutes [not used]: 2 Luke Wilkinson, 15 Matthew Saunders, 26 Jack Connors, 30 Jordan Seabright [GK].
Booked:Saah 4, Elito 34, Turgott 80
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Attendance: 2,425 (113 away)