Ogogo o.g. 80
UNITED fought their way to the play-off fringes in League 2 with a determined 2-1 win over Dagenham & Redbridge at Plainmoor.
Danny Stevens scored the only goal of an enterprising first half, squeezing the ball home from close range but the Daggers responded with a marvellous equaliser just 17 minutes from time.
The game was briefly heading for a draw until Niall Thompson made an instant impression, driving in a low cross that struck the outstretched leg of Abu Ogogo and floated into the top corner for the winning goal.
United manager Martin Ling enjoyed the luxury of naming the same starting line-up and substitutes from last weekend’s 2-0 win at York City, with November Player of the Month Brian Saah continuing to wear the captain’s armband in place of the suspended Lee Mansell.
Dagenham boss John Still made just one change from the team that defeated Fleetwood 1-0 seven days ago and that was on the bench, where Jake Caprice came in for Josh Wakefield.
The Gulls came flying out of the blocks on a crisp December Day at Plainmoor and Rene Howe tested the strength of the woodwork with a thunderous left-shoot drive from a narrow angle crashing into the upright.
It was a terrific effort from the left channel after some neat approach work by Kevin Nicholson but the Dagenham response was an incisive surge through the middle from Jake Reed, and Saah needed all this powers of recovery to make an important block on the final shot.
United had to cope with a mild period of pressure from the visitors until Joe Oaster released the shackles with a dangerous low cross for the run of Ryan Jarvis that required an alert clearance from Luke Wilkinson.
In a decent end-to-end opening 20 minutes, Saah was again the defensive hero for the Gulls, producing a fine block on a goal-bound shot by Reed from the edge of the penalty area.
Despite the attacking intent, neither goalkeeper was truly worked until Dagenham stopper Chris Lewington safely held a scooped shot from Howe after United’s big striker had been released in the right channel by a pass from Billy Bodin.
The next save was bordering on miraculous as Aaron Downes climbed highest to flick on a looping free-kick and Howe found space just eight yards out, but he was denied by Lewington bravely launching his body in the path of a certain goal.
Moments later, United would not be denied and Stevens was the man to profit from determined work by Howe, who saw his initially deflected shot clawed away from under the bar by Lewington.
The ball fell perfectly for Stevens, who took a touch on his chest before forcing a low volley past Lewington and a melee of defenders all desperately trying to protect their exposed net.
Michael Poke’s first meaningful contribution arrived just three minutes before the interval, as United’s custodian saved superbly with his legs after Saunders had cut in from the wing to fire in a low shot following a half-cleared Dagenham corner.
The first period concluded with a fabulous flowing move from the Yellows, starting with Nicholson exchanging passes with Bodin, via a clever dummy from Howe, and the final low cross from United’s full-back was scrambled clear by the retreating Daggers.
The second half started with a Howe drive fizzing just past the top corner and then Plainmoor was bouncing with indignation when Femi Ilesanmi appeared to thwart a run by Bodin with a handball in the box, but referee James Adcock waved away the vociferous shouts for a penalty.
United’s next foray stemmed from the hardworking Jarvis, sporting the finest ‘tash of any Movember advocate, who teed up Oastler for a run across the middle, but his final pass was just too strong for Bodin to reach.
Tempers were raised just after the hour-mark when an excessive challenge from Ogogo stoked the bubbling fires inside Howe, and the visiting skipper rightly picked up the first caution of the afternoon.
The flow of proceedings continued to work in favour of the Gulls and with a quarter of the game remaining, Still introduced Brian Woodall and Caprice for the tiring legs of Reed and Michael Sipllane.
Neither man had touched the ball, however, when Jarvis spurned a glorious chance to seal the win, heading wide from an excellent position after he had been picked out by a sweeping Nathan Craig cross.
Within a minute, the Gulls were almost punished for that miss, as Saunders weaved a path across the edge of the box and speared a fine shot inches past the despairing dive of Poke, and beyond the far post.
Sadly for United, Saunders found his range in magnificent fashion moments later, smashing a wonderful first-time volley past Poke from distance. The ball rocketed in off the post and nobody could deny it was a fantastic strike.
Ling immediately attempted to repair the damage by removing Stevens for the outright pace of Thompson and the impact was instant, as United restored their lead in the driving rain.
The move started with a surging run from Bodin and then Craig Easton intelligently fed the ball wide for Thompson on the left, who instantly fired in a cross that took a massive deflection off Ogogo to loop past Lewington and nestle in the top corner.
There was a huge slice of luck involved and Ling sought to capitalise further by removing the limping Jarvis, who had taken a knock just before the goal, for the youthful enthusiasm of Ashley Yeoman.
The final roll of Dagenham dice was to replace Medy Elito with Josh Scott for the closing five minutes in what had become a torrential downpour. The protective response from the Yellow bench was the removal of Bodin for Damon Lathrope.
Referee Adcock handed Dagenham one last chance to save the points with a harsh decision against a Downes tackle, but Saunders curled his shot into the grateful arms of the Yellow Army sat in the Family Stand.
United (4-4-1-1): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah (capt), 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 15 Billy Bodin (6 Damon Lathrope 86), 18 Craig Easton, 20 Nathan Craig, 19 Danny Stevens (29 Niall Thompson 74); 8 Ryan Jarvis (23 Ashley Yeoman 81); 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes (not used): 13 Martin Rice (GK), 16 Angus MacDonald, 17 Saul Halpin, 21 Thomas Cruise.
Booked: Oastler 83
Dagenham (4-3-3): 1 Chris Lewington; 19 Abu Ogogo (capt), 2 Luke Wilkinson, 4 Scott Doe, 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 14 Jake Reed (23 Brian Woodall 68), 6 Michael Spillane (21 Jake Caprice 68), 15 Matthew Saunders, 17 Luke Howell, 12 Medy Elito (10 Josh Scott 85); 7 Sam Williams. Substitutes (not used): 16 Kevin Maher, 18 Gavin Hoyte, 24 Billy Bingham, 30 Jordan Seabright (GK).
Booked: Ogogo 65, Elito 67, Ilesanmi 90
Referee: James Adcock
Attendance: 2,069 (96 away).