United 2 Dagenham 3
Two more goals from Tom Craddock were not enough for the U's tonight as visitors Dagenham secured a 3-2 win. Craddock's double strike in the second half kept his side in a game in which they never led as their recent good run came to an end against a well organised Dagenham side.
United welcomed Lee Cox as well as Craddock back into the starting line-up as the only changes to the side that beat Barnet in the FA Cup on Saturday, while there was the welcome sight of Liam Davis on the bench for the first time this season. Jon-Paul Pittman and Alfie Potter, suffering from a tight hamstring, were the ones to make way.
The visitors started brightly and had the first real shot from Luke Howell in the 8th minute after previously failing to pull the trigger when in good shooting positions. Two minutes later Medy Elito called Ryan Clarke into action, United’s number 1 pulling off a good left-handed save to keep the ball out.
United came to life in the 17th minute when Michael Raynes flicked on a Tony Capaldi long throw and James Constable swiveled and lobbed Chris Lewington in one fluid movement, but the ball landed on the roof of the visitors’ net. A minute later a beautifully weighted pass from Craddock released Constable for a run at Lewington, but the goalkeeper managed to get down well to smother the striker’s shot.
Another Capaldi throw in the 27th minute caused chaos in the Dagenham penalty area, leading to Craddock’s shot being blocked by a posse of blue-shirted defenders. Lewington then had to be alert to punch the ball away from another Capaldi throw and it looked like this might be United’s most potent weapon.
United might have been made to pay for these missed opportunities on the half-hour as Abu Ogogu’s cross was over Clarke and headed goalwards by Dwight Gayle, requiring a captain’s intervention from Jake Wright to hook the ball off the goal line. However, the evening took a turn for the worse in the 36th minute when Sam Williams rose highest to head home a corner to give the visitors the lead. It could have been worse two moments later as Femi Ilesanmi tricked his way to the byline and pulled the ball back for Gayle, whose shot brought the best out of Clarke to concede another corner.
In the 42nd minute Constable again found himself face to face with Lewington after being released by Adam Chapman, but this time the striker’s touch was too heavy and it allowed a covering defender to get back and put the ball behind. United had certainly had the chances to be at least level at half time but needed to lift themselves in the second half.
Instead they found their visitors had other ideas. Clarke made a good save from a shot from the edge of the area, and then a magnificent save at point blank from the lively Gayle, but on the second occasion was powerless as Luke Howell latched on to the rebound and planted it into the roof of the net to make it 0-2 in the 54th minute.
Could United get back into the game? Of course. On the hour the lively Sean Rigg showed great skill and pace to skin his full back down the left and race the length of the Dagenham half before cutting back his cross. The ball was slightly behind Craddock but he showed wonderful technique to adjust his body and volley the ball into the net for his ninth of the season and give United hope.
Sadly that lasted for less than two minutes as another set piece proved United’s undoing. This time from the other side, the ball was deep, looked inviting for anyone to attack, and it was Luke Wilkinson who accepted the invitation to storm in and bury his header past the helpless Clarke to make it 1-3. A poor goal to concede having just pulled yourself back into the game, but United were not about to lie down and were soon back on the Daggers' heels.
Two minutes later and it was 2-3 as Dagenham presented Craddock with his tenth of the season. Under absolutely no pressure whatsoever Femi Ilesanmi tried to be too clever and roll the ball across the defence, but instead sold the rest of his back line well short. Craddock was on to the ball in a flash, advanced a few yards then casually planted the ball past the keeper at the very last moment to again bring his side back into the game.
They then had the encouraging sign of Davis returning after injury for his first appearance of the season, and then the extra incentive of playing the last quarter of the match against ten men. The experienced Kevin Maher was already on a yellow card when he lunged in at Leven on half way and gave ref Sarginson little choice other than to show him a second yellow.
Dagenham dug deep and tried to take time out of the game and it was a question of whether United could stage a late head of steam to get at least one more goal. It might have happened on 83 as a clever Leven free kick set sub Simon Heslop free on the right edge of the area. His cross was steered into Craddock's path by the stretching Constable but for once the striker couldn't get his shot on target, slamming it over the top from ten yards out.
On 89 minutes it was just about game over as Leven and Davis engineered a move down the left which ended with a tantalising ball across the box which Chapman met with a well struck left-footed effort from no more than 12 yards. Somehow keeper Lewington got down to save to his left, and ensure that his side left the Kassam Stadium with all three valuable points. United threw everything they had at them, but Dagenham were not to be denied their win and United are left to bounce back as they welcome Torquay United on Saturday.
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