TEAMS chasing titles are able to grind out points even when they are not at their best but the same is true at the other end of the table.
United travelled to Dagenham bottom of League 2 but a combination of excellent defending and the determination of Aaron Downes to score a header early in the second half was enough to secure a massive win.
It was a performance full of grit, determination and belief, and the outcome is the Gulls have climbed out of the bottom two for Christmas, and we deserve it.
After the tremendous 1-0 win over high-flying Southend last weekend, United manager Alan Knill understandably stuck with the same starting line-up and bench for the trip to East London.
Dagenham boss Wayne Burnett opted for a couple of changes from the side defeated 2-1 at Oxford seven days ago. Scott Doe came in for Luke Wilkinson at the back and Medy Elito replaced Josh Scott as a different forward option.
In the blustery wind and rain, Zavon Hines needed just a couple of minutes to show his attacking prowess, cutting inside full-back Dale Tonge to unleash a shot that was well saved by Michael Poke in United’s goal.
The Yellow response was a weaving run from Billy Bodin that eventually earned the Gulls a corner, which was whipped in by Jak McCourt for the head of Damien Mozika, but the Frenchmen could not keep his effort down to threaten Dagenham goalkeeper Chris Lewington.
The two teams then became engaged in a spell of gentle sparring but Dagenham’s willingness to allow midfield runners to burst forward had the Yellow defence on high alert in the first 15 minutes.
Boasting a proud home record of just one defeat at Victoria Road in the first half of the season, it was hardly surprising that the Daggers were enjoying more of the possession but Knill will take comfort from the fact his side looked solid and not too flustered.
Poke, however, did need to be on his mettle when a launch forward from Lewington found Elito sneaking in behind, and the Yellow custodian produced an excellent save to turn away a left-foot half- volley from the home winger.
John Marquis changed the pattern with a cheeky effort from a tight angle that Lewington palmed around the post, and McCourt’s delivery was sliced awkwardly clear by defender Gavin Hoyte.
Dagenham were soon turning the screw once more and when Hines was allowed space for a shot, it was again down to Poke to produce an excellent save in turning the ball around the post.
As the first half entered its closing 10 minutes, the skies above Victoria Road opened for a Christmas monsoon and a tussle between Marquis and former United defender Brian Saah prompted a mild query for a penalty, quickly dismissed by referee Lee Collins.
Marquis then dangled a leg to reach a driven cross from Jordan Chapell and the unorthodox attempt looked a certain goal until Lewington intervened with a stunning save that almost surpassed the cumulative efforts of Poke at the other end.
The Daggers, to their credit, were straight up the other end and causing problems, but a marvellous clearance from Downes prevented Poke from once again muddying his busy gloves.
The half ended with United more than happy with their defensive display, particularly with a strong wind blowing in their faces, although it was more good defending from Downes to clear in the first act of the second period.
The Gulls were then able to surge forward and Bodin did very well to skip past Lewington from a route one pass, but the angle was tight and the Daggers cleared for a corner.
No matter, McCourt fizzed over an excellent cross and a moment’s hesitation from Lewington allowed Downes the room to beat the home ‘keeper with a thunderous header and send the Yellow Army into raptures.
It was a goal that stemmed from accurate delivery and impressive determination from United’s Australian centre-back, and the silky skills of Bodin were also becoming more of an influence on proceedings.
Dagenham gradually recovered from their shock at conceding and Lawson D’Ath should have done better after turning Anthony O’Connor in the box, but the Gulls were grateful for some wasteful finishing by the man on loan from Reading.
It would be the curtain-call for D’Ath, who was replaced by Chris Dickson on the hour and the new man immediately drifted past O’Connor, only for a meek effort to be comfortably gobbled up by Poke.
The substitute’s next effort was considerably more concerning, as a cross from Elito picked out Dickson, who was denied an equaliser by the post, with the rebound from Hines blocked by desperate Yellow defending.
There was increasing worry for the Gulls, as a lack of attacking threat allowed the home side to pile on the pressure and the introduction of Dickson had certainly given the Daggers an added dimension.
Knill turned to his bench for a change in the complexion of his team and Chapell was removed for Nathan Craig, who perhaps offered the Gulls a better chance to retain possession with his terrific range of passing.
The nerve-jangling reality, however, was sustained pressure on the Yellow goal and Burnett twisted again with the introduction of Anthony Edgar for Elito.
It had become a time-wasting exercise for the Gulls and Marquis was working tirelessly in the vanguard to harass the home defenders, all of which was a process that chewed away the vital seconds.
Four minutes of injury-time had Yellow hearts quivering through the final stages but, despite the Daggers dominating possession, United defended with impressive bravery and clung on to three massive points.
Dagenham [4-4-2]: 1 Chris Lewington; 18 Gavin Hoyte, 4 Scott Doe, 5 Brian Saah, 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 8 Abu Ogogo, 7 Medy Elito [19 Anthony Edgar 82], 17 Luke Howell, 12 Lawson D’Ath [14 Chris Dickson 59]; 41 Zavon Hines, 9 Rhys Murphy. Substitutes [not used]: 2 Luke Wilkinson, 10 Josh Scott, 20 Sean Shields, 26 Jack Connors, 30 Jordan Seabright [GK].
United [4-3-3]: 1 Michael Poke; 2 Dale Tonge, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Aaron Downes, 21 Thomas Cruise; 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 17 Jak McCourt, 36 Damien Mozika; 12 Jordan Chapell [20 Nathan Craig 75], 16 John Marquis, 10 Billy Bodin. Substitutes [not used]: 5 Krystian Pearce, 9 Karl Hawley, 11 Courtney Cameron, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 26 Elliot Benyon, 31 Daniel Sullivan.
Referee: Lee Collins
Attendance: 1,675 [176 away].