Dagenham & Redbridge 3
Okenabirhie 50, 86
ON a day when United had to maintain the encouraging momentum of recent weeks, the painful reality was a performance lacking the urgency and intensity needed to survive.
Dagenham and Redbridge punished the Gulls with a positive display, deservedly taking the victory with second-half goals from Fejiri Okenabirhie, Craig Robson and Okenabirhie again in the last few minutes.
United boss Gary Owers made two enforced changes from the side that won 2-1 at Maidenhead last weekend. Match-winner on that day, Elliott Romain, was ineligible to play against his parent-club and replaced by Jamie Reid, while new signing Jakub Sokolik came in for the injured Josh Gowling.
Dagenham arrived at Plainmoor as a side low on confidence, having lost their previous four games and a number of players leaving the club for pastures new. One familiar face for the visitors was former United winger Dan Sparkes.
Despite their apparent recent difficulties, the Daggers started as the brighter outfit and a clever exchange on the left created room for a cross, which Okenabirhie thankfully headed straight at goalkeeper Vincent Dorel from a good position.
The game turned scrappy with both sides contesting for the ball but a lunge from Dowling earned the young midfielder a yellow card and a test of his discipline and control with 82 minutes still to play.
United were struggling to find any passing rhythm but it was a cause not helped by referee Simon Barrow, who was incurring the frustration of players and supporters for some tight decisions given in favour of the visitors.
Dagenham ignored the jeers and were playing the more progressive football, with a dangerous free-kick to the far post very nearly falling for a visiting forward and the Gulls had to desperately scramble to safety.
The loud voices of Owers and his assistant Martin Kuhl demanding more from their team was a suitable summary of a strangely lacklustre opening half-hour from United, with Dagenham looking the more likely to score.
The pressure was mounting and a deep corner gave Luke Pennell the room to climb above his man, steering a strong header out of the reach of Dorel but, mercifully, the ball bounced off the top of United’s bar and out for a goal-kick.
From nowhere, United were presented with a glorious chance, as a scooped ball forward from Sokolik deceived the retreating Robson, but goalkeeper Mark Cousins was swiftly off his line to smother the shot from Reid.
Brett Williams then escaped his man in the left channel and was bearing down at goal, but his unselfish attempt to square a pass for the unmarked Reid was blocked by the Dagenham defence. In hindsight, it was clear from Williams’ reaction he knew a shot on goal would have been the better option.
It was a significant improvement in United’s attacking threat, although growing hope turned to huge relief moments later, as Dagenham had a goal ruled out for offside.
The game had come to life in the dying minutes of the first period, as a deflected shot from Liam Davis was held by Cousins and United could at least enter the interval with a bit more belief after an improved end to the half.
United maintained the intensity immediately after the break and caused the visitors a couple of minor concerns, but were then hit by a major setback, as the lively Okenabirhie rifled a powerful drive past Dorel and the goal Dagenham arguably deserved for their earlier endeavours.
It was enough to convince Owers a double change was required, removing Reid and Aaron Barnes for the different option of Ruairi Keating in attack and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans in midfield.
Almost instantly, a deep cross had Cousins pawing the ball clear under heavy pressure. Dowling was trying to drive his team forward from the engine room and no shortage of effort from the Gulls, but not enough goal-threat.
Mason Bloomfield very nearly doubled the Dagenham lead on 66 minutes, forcing his way past Sokolik before opening his body for a side-foot effort that flew over the crossbar when he should have done better.
Jake Gosling replacing Conrad Balatoni and a change to a more attacking formation was United’s next roll of the dice. The new man was released on the left by a surging run from skipper Sean McGinty, epitomising the urgency needed from the Gulls.
Gosling won his team a corner that Dagenham cleared to Michee Efete, who tumbled in the box for a very hopeful penalty claim. It was pretty much game over on 75 minutes and credit to Sparkes for a wicked delivery that made it easy for Robson to glance his header past the dive of Dorel.
The chance for a route back into the game with a deep cross from Dowling for Keating but he was unable to find the right connection, and that was the end of that, as Okenabirhie jinked into the box for a decisive third.
Three points against Dagenham was very important but now that opportunity has gone, three points at home to Sutton on Tuesday are an absolute must.
United (3-5-2): 30 Vincent Dorel; 26 Conrad Balatoni (11 Jake Gosling 70), 14 Jakub Sokolik, 5 Sean McGinty (capt); 2 Michee Efete, 8 Luke Young, 24 George Dowling, 21 Aaron Barnes (29 Connor Lemonheigh-Evans 57), 3 Liam Davis; 19 Jamie Reid (10 Ruairi Keating 57), 39 Brett Williams. Substitutes (not used): 1 Ryan Clarke (GK), 17 Tommy O’Sullivan.
Booked: Dowling 8
Dagenham & Redbridge (4-5-1): 30 Mark Cousins; 2 Ben Nunn, 5 Craig Robson (capt), 3 Luke Pennell, 29 Jake Howells; 14 Dan Sparkes, 6 Matt Robinson, 7 Luke Howell, 8 Charlee Adams, 11 Fejiri Okenabirhie; 24 Mason Bloomfield. Substitutes (not used): 9 Chike Kandi, 13 Lewis Moore (GK), 15 Bondz N’Gala, 26 Liam Gordon, 32 Elliott Bonos.
Booked: Robinson 17
Referee: Simon Barrow
Attendance: 1,931 (82 Away)