Dagenham & Redbridge all but confirmed their place in League Two next season following a tremendous 2-1 away victory over Gillingham at a wet and windy Priestfield Stadium.
It was Dominic Green who sealed the win late in the second half after Rowan Vine’s sensational effort had cancelled out Brian Woodall’s first half opener for the visitors.
Andy Hessenthaler named an unchanged side from the one that drew with Bristol Rovers on Good Friday, meaning the strike partnership of Vine & Danny Kedwell would start together for the second game in succession.
Former Dagenham & Redbridge players Oliver Lee and Danny Spiller were both consigned to the bench, ready to be called upon if needed by the Gills. John Still made two changes from the side that drew with Burton Albion the Friday previous, with John Akinde and Dominic Green dropping to the bench. They were replaced by central midfielder Billy Bingham and winger Josh Parker as the visitors opted to use a more rigid 4-5-1 formation for the short trip to Kent.
The game started at a very slow pace, mainly due to the difficult conditions of lashing rain and a biting wind, both of which made the Brian Moore Stand we were located in extremely treacherous. The first action of the game came when a Chris Whelpdale run down the line resulted in a poor cross into the box that eventually drifted wide for a goal kick, once again due to the fierce winds.
The first shot of the game though came courtesy of Brian Woodall who netted in the 1-1 draw with Burton on Friday; the striker broke clear and fired a shot towards goal whilst under pressure from a Gills defender. Gillingham ‘keeper Gazzaniga looked to have got a touch on the ball to tip it wide, but the referee was having none of it and gave a goal kick.
The Daggers looked to establish their dominance in the game and minutes later Abu Ogogo had two fierce drives from just outside the box blocked by the recovering Danny Kedwell, unorthodox defending, but it worked! Gillingham then responded with some pressure of their own, Vine starting only his second game for the club fired a shot over the bar after Lewington came out well to slide along the wet surface and claim an enticing Jackman cross from the left hand side.
The weather meant it was difficult for either side to establish a foothold in the game or create any really good opportunities; it showed as Whelpdale’s shot from distance was easily saved by Lewington to deny the midfielder his 11th goal for the Gills. The main outlet for either side were the wingers, Elito for the Daggers & Payne/Whelpdale for Gillingham, however neither of these three were receiving a large majority of the ball making it different for opportunities to be created, therefore creating a midfield stalemate.
As half time approached it was the home side who nearly took the lead. The Daggers on loan defender Mathieu Baudry made an uncharacteristic error by slipping on the wet surface, this allowed midfielder Jack Payne to pick up the ball and run forward, eventually bearing down on goal. As Payne continued, he took a touch that was slightly too heavy, enabling Lewington to rush out and smother the ball at Payne’s feet to extinguish the danger and deny Payne a shot on goal.
Gillingham were looking the more dominant side so it perhaps came as a bit of a surprise when it was the away side that took the lead in the contest with 38 minutes on the clock. Mickey Spillane played a pass through to Ogogo on the right hand side whose cross come shot was parried by Gazzaniga in goal; however it fell straight into the path of Woodall who beat his marker to slide the ball home into the roof of the empty net as the Daggers went a goal up. That was Woodall’s 10th goal of the season in all competitions and it looked at that stage to be a very important one indeed.
Woodall was now understandably brimming with confidence and it showed as he flashed a shot just wide of the post to test the nerves of Gillingham supporter’s minutes later. The home side did nearly level it all up before half time though, but a Danny Kedwell shot that was heading in was blocked superbly by Baudry who was looking to make up for his earlier mistake. That was the end of a very exciting first half, the teams went in to a mixture of boos from the home supporters and cheers from the away contingent.
The second half kicked off with a flurry, the Daggers wasting no time in trying to build on their slender lead as Elito was set free down the left hand side following some neat passing in the middle of the park. The winger took the ball to the by-line before cutting it back where Josh Parker was on hand to fire a tame shot goalwards that was palmed away by Gazzaniga as the score remained 1-0 Daggers.
Gillingham then began to come forward with much more presence as they tried to salvage their play off push. Chris Whelpdale was released through on goal where he chipped the ball over Lewington before clattering into the ex Leatherhead stopper, however Baudry was on hand to recover and head the ball out for a corner before it went over the goal line.
The Gills did find their equaliser though just a couple of minutes later when a mix up between Scott Doe & Baudry allowed Rowan Vine to latch onto the ball headed through by Doe, before opening his body up and curling an unstoppable shot past Lewington and into the far corner of the net for his first Gillingham goal. A draw though would be no good to either team in their respective fights at opposite ends of the table, so it would now be an all or nothing push for both the Gills and the Daggers.
Straight from the restart it was the away side that pressed, with Josh Parker forcing Gazzaniga to head a ball away from outside the box. John Still then made a change, bringing on Dominic Green who was ineffective on Friday for Josh Parker who was seemingly running out of steam this afternoon.
After a short lull in play the Daggers sprung a neat counter attack on the left hand side with Elito leaving his marker for dead before racing forward and playing a neat reverse ball to Dominic Green on the right. Green then cut inside which gave the defenders a chance to recover before he hit a deflected shot that went straight down Gazzaniga’s throat.
Andy Hessenthaler than rang the changes in an attempt to breathe new life into the uninspiring Gills by bringing on ex Dagger Danny Spiller for Lewis Montrose in the centre of the park. Minutes later and the home side reverted back to a more attacking 4-3-3 formation as Jo Kuffour was brought on for Joe Martin.
It was however the Daggers that regained the lead with 73 minutes played as Dominic Green netted a superb solo effort. The tricky winger was given the ball just inside the Gills half and proceeded by sticking the ball through the legs of an opponent, before darting straight past Jack Payne and firing a low powerful shot that beat Gazzaniga all ends up to make the score 2-1 to the away side. A simply superb effort by Green who later insisted that he’d scored better in his short career.
The Gills fans were now becoming impatient and it showed as Danny Jackman flashed a free kick wide of Lewington’s post, further increasing the nerves of the away supporters, let alone the home contingent! Hessenthaler then made his final change, replacing goalscorer Vine with Dennis Oli. With just three minutes on the clock, everyone thought that Gillingham had found their equaliser after a ball in from newly introduced Oli reached Whelpdale who fired a shot into the ground that quite literally went an inch past the post. It was looking as though it was backs to the wall time now for the away side.
John Still proceeded to make two changes in injury time to try and count down the clock; Brian Woodall received a rapturous round of applause as he was replaced by Josh Scott, whilst John Akinde was brought on for the tiring Medy Elito. With just minutes left the Daggers were defending for their lives, Scott Doe hooked a ball clear of the back line whilst Mark Arber produced a superb last ditch sliding tackle, whereas Baudry was in the thick of things, getting in a last gasp block to deny a goal bound shot from a Gills midfielder.
After the onslaught though, the ball was lumped upfield and the referee declared the game to be over, much to the relief of the 313 travelling Daggers fans from Essex. This was a result that all but guaranteed League Two survival, however it also meant that the Gills will now have to win their remaining games if they are to stand a chance of qualifying for the play offs.
Man Of The Match: Abu Ogogo, the converted midfielder was simply fantastic getting around the park and producing several good balls forward, furthermore he played a big part in Brian Woodall’s opening goal. Mr Consistent has once again shown why he is one of John Still’s most valuable assets.
Attendance: 5773 (313 Dagenham & Redbridge Supporters)