United were beaten in the cruellest fashion this afternoon as an own goal gave Dagenham a 1-0 win over the U's. In a close game it was just that vital piece of luck that divided two totally committed sides in Sky Bet League 2.
After losing their way in Essex at Southend on Monday, United returned with a changed line up that saw Michael Raynes in at centre half, Andy Whing and Scott Davies in midfield and David Connolly up front. Alfie Potter was a late withdrawal after picking up an injury in the warm up; far from ideal last-minute preparation and perhaps contributing to a nervy start where Dagenham motored forward and penned United back for the first ten minutes.
The Yellow Army behind Ryan Clarke’s goal were in fine voice and urged their purple Isinglass-shirted team forward and having eased their way into the match United started to bite into challenges and push further forward. Connolly couldn’t quite find a way through a packed penalty box after 26, Smalley’s effort was blocked a few seconds later and on 37 came the best chances of the half. Williams cut inside his man and reversed a ball for Ruffels to run on to inside the box. His cut back found Williams but he leaned back as he shot and the ball flew over the bar.
With Whing knitting things together and Davies increasingly influential alongside him, United had overcome their early nerves and perhaps shaded the first 45 minutes; Williams was a constant thorn in the Daggers’ side down the right and Connolly worked tirelessly in a thankless lone front-man role.
Dagenham had a great chance to break the stalemate on 55 as Luke Norris found space near the penalty spot but blasted the chance over both the goal and the scoreboard at the open end of the ground.
At the other end Davies tried his luck with a speculative effort from 25 yards that went as wide as Norris’s effort had gone high but for all the effort and hard work on both sides, neither keeper had really been tested in the first hour of the game.
Raynes rose and thumped a header over the bar on 72 from a long throw from left-back David Hunt as Oxford finished strongly. Sub James Constable turned sharply on 77 and drove in a low shot which home keeper Chris Lewington did well to stop with his legs but it took a typical Whing challenge on 86 to preserve the point as he flew in to rob sub Chris Dickson, who seemed to have a simple task of planting the ball into the empty net.
That stubborness looked to have earned United a point but with two minutes to go they were undone on the most unlucky manner. Howells' shot was blocked by Raynes and flew out but struck Bevans and looped up and over the top of the stranded Clarke to drop almost apologetically into the net to win the game for the Daggers.
A harsh scoreline and an unlucky goal but United now need to bounce back after two defeats in Essex in a week. This was an improvement but still more is needed when they welcome Fleetwood to the Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by Opta
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