The Daggers took another big step towards securing the Nationwide Conference
title with a hard fought 2-2 draw at Oxford's Kassam Stadium in a
classic game of two halves.
It was probably no real surprise that John Still stuck with the fluid 4-3-3,
4-5-1 formation used so successfully against Stevenage the week before for what
was a key game in the title run in. The only change in line up was Mark Arber
making his debut in place of the injured Jon Boardman. Arber, brought in on loan
on deadline day, fitted in almost seamlessly, another fine John Still signing.
The Daggers fans, 668 of them according to official numbers, were loud and
proud all night and did the club proud throughout. The nature of the stadium,
impressive though it is, meant that although both sets of fans were very noisy,
neither could hear the other which is a real shame.
The game itself was comfortable in the first half for the Daggers despite a
few efforts that went close for Oxford without them ever really threatening to
the 17th minute the Daggers took the lead. Fosters throw dropped to Jake Leberl
who shot hard and low. Turley got down well to parry but the ball ran off him.
Paul Benson (right) reacted first and lifted it over Turley and in from close
range for his 25th of the season sending the visiting fans wild.
Daggers had the game under control from then on to the break without creating a
lot of chances, secure in the knowledge that the pressure was on Oxford to win
this one. Paul Benson was unlucky to shoot just over after some great close
control in the box just after the half hour and then Ben Strevens had a shot
straight at Turley late in the half as the visitors looked comfortable at half
time, Glen Southam (left) in particular superb in midfield.
Jim Smith shuffled his pack at the break, replacing Rose with Hargreaves.
This worked for the home team and they looked hugely more dangerous from the
resumption. Burgess really should have levelled things three minutes in to the
half when he met Odubade's cross on the six yard line, but the shot was
uncontrolled and clipped the bar and over.
by this United streamed forward, Odubade causing Scott Griffiths (right) real
problems, not helped by him having a dopey yellow card for kicking the ball away
in the first half. Referee Ward proved true to previous form too, ignoring all
sorts of fouls then suddenly giving a series of free kicks round the Daggers box
for nothing challenges.
The Daggers were still a threat on the break though, both Strevens and Benson
having shots over the bar, but the momentum was with Oxford. After 66 minutes
Ancelet's cross was met by Burgess and looked in all the way until tipped round
the post at full stretch by Tony Roberts.
Jim Smith made his last throw of the dice then, throwing on top scorer Rob
Duffy and Marvin Robinson and the move looked inspired as United drew level.
Gavin Johnson's cross from the Daggers right for once evaded everyone and fell
to Yemi Odubade who controlled and shot past Robbo into the far corner of the
net in from the edge of the area, the goal coming in the 70th minute
Daggers fans took a breath and roared their team on once more, but it was Oxford
that scored again within two minutes. This time it was a rare Robbo (left) aberration
this season. A hopeful punt up the Oxford right saw Robbo chase out of his area,
chest down and try to hammer clear up the field when row Z would have done fine.
The clearance was sliced and fell straight to Odubade 40 yards out who hit it
first time into the empty net in a great finish.
Now it was the home fans making all the noise for once, although the Daggers
took a deep breath and pulled themselves together for a final effort. Oxford had
chances to seal it through Robinson, Odubade and finally Quinn but as the time
ticked away could not close the game out.
Griffiths could have equallised in the 89th minute when the ball dropped to him
in the area but the shot was straight at Turley and it looked like Oxford would
get the vital three points to keep the Daggers sweating but Sam Saunders (right)
and Sam Sloma, on as substitutes thought otherwise.
With the fourth official about to show the added time, a panicky Johnson
clearance dropped on the edge of the box, Quinn should have hoofed it but
dallied and was robbed by Saunders who slipped in Sloma. Sam's shot was pretty
much straight at Turley but hit so hard he could not react and the Daggers were
level. Cue pandemonium in the away section and exodus in the home.
Robinson had one last shot fly wide before Mr Ward blew for time. the Daggers
fans and players celebrated a point that means that they remain 11 clear with
seven games left, with one in hand on Oxford. Eight more points will now
guarantee League Two football next season.
A night to remember!