An 85th minute goal from Kemar Roofe gave Oxford United another away win and ended Dagenham's stubborn resistance as the U's marched on at the top of the table. A flashing free kick from the dangerous Roofe was enough to win a close game and keep United hot on the heels of leaders Plymouth.
Returning just ten days after a winning visit in the JPT, United started well on a bitterly cold afternoon, Ryan Taylor testing home keeper Liam O’Brien with a low shot after two minutes and the gamewas played almost exclusively in Dagenham territory for the first five minutes, Danny Hylton causing most of the problems with some clever movement to get between the lines.
However Dagenham then grew into the game and fired a warning with a ninth-minute drive from Josh Labadie which Benji Buchel tipped over the bar. The Daggers looked a much more dangerous side than they had been in the first encounter, helped by the inclusion of former U’s loanee Kyle Vassell and the always dangerous Jamie Cureton up top. Cureton should have given the Daggers the lead on 21 when he arrived in the box at precisely the right moment but could only head a right-wing cross wide rather than test Buchel.
Ashley Hemmings pinged an effort just over the bar on 33 for the home side but Dagenham were looking dangerous on the break rather than having a concerted period of possession, as John Lundstram and Liam Sercombe ran the show in the middle of the park for the Yellows. Even so, Cureton definitely should have given them a half-time lead when he met a low cross on 42 but he could only steer it into the away fans from ten yards out.
Again the U’s started the second half on top, winning a series of free kicks around the Dagenham box but unable to create a clear sight of O’Brien’s goal until MacDonald fired into the keeper’s arms on 52 after good build-up play from Taylor.
Even so, Dagenham again had two good opportunities with neither Chamber nor Cureton able to make clean contact when crosses reached them inside the penalty area. The luckless Hylton was then booked for diving when it looked to most people as though he had been fouled after rounding the keeper, before Roofe almost found the breakthrough with a powerful shot to end a surging run from the excellent Lundstram that O'Brien clawed away after 66 minutes.
Dagenham, without a home win all season, started to drop deeper and deeper as the U's came on strong. Roofe was the centre of everything as two of his crosses were blocked or cleared before he hooked a 70th minute shot beyond O'Brien but on to the bar. His moment was still to come.
Michael Appleton had warned before the game that he didn't think Dagenham would be in the relegation places come the end of the season and on this spirited performance he is right; two long-range efforts which flashed just wide before the goal might have changed everything. However, on 85 minutes they were doomed to another defeat. Sub Callum O'Dowda had only just come on when he was fouled 20 yards out and central. Roofe measured his free kick to perfection, whipping it across the goal and unerringly inside the left-hand post to win the game with a moment of sheer class.
Dagenham had given their all but in close games this season United have consistently found a moment of magic to seal a win rather than settle for a point. Often it has come from Roofe, whose name was being sung by the superb Oxford fans who had long ago forgotten the plummeting temperatures as they gave their side a well-deserved ovation at the final whistle.
See you Tuesday for the visit of Newport County.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher. Stats by OPTA
See Highlights and reaction in Yellow Player HD