Pacy Torquay United winger Niall Thompson makes big impact
JUST when it looked as if they might have to settle for a let-down draw, or even worse after Dagenham and Redbridge scored a spectacular 73rd-minute equaliser, Torquay United picked themselves up and clinched a 2-1 victory which may not grab too many headlines but could well prove one of their most important of the season.
Substitute Niall Thompson will have to wait a little longer for his first senior goal, as his cross-cum-shot deflected in off Daggers defender Abu Ogogo only six minutes after Matt Saunders' screamer for the visitors.
But, however they go in, they all count. And Martin Ling's Gulls just about deserved to follow up their 2-0 win at York City the previous weekend and move to within goal difference of the npower League Two play-offs zone.
Dagenham, one of the form teams of late, certainly made Torquay work hard for it. And when midfielder Saunders caught a first-time 25-yard volley – Michael Poke had no chance as it flew in off his right-hand post – the visitors were starting to look distinctly dangerous.
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At the time United needed to get back on the front foot, as it were, and Ling had pacy winger Thompson warmed up and ready to go on just before Dagenham equalised.
But making a change at 1-0 and making it at 1-1 are two different things, and both Torquay and Thompson deserve credit for turning round a situation that could have gone very wrong.
The result also leaves them with a home record which reads a healthy 6-3-1.
If any Plainmoor diehards still retained memories of that 4-1 home thumping by Southend United a fortnight ago, they were surely banished by the way the Gulls started.
They found top gear from the kick-off and hit the bar, through Rene Howe on Kevin Nicholson's pass, within 30 seconds.
United's movement, on and off the ball, and their work rate were impressive and they were visibly up for it.
Dagenham, whose pacy young side always looked capable of mounting a threat on the counter, also contributed to a lively first half-hour and former Yeovil Town striker Sam Williams was only denied by a good block from Brian Saah in the 20th minute.
Few worked harder for Torquay than Howe, in tandem with the willing Ryan Jarvis, and in the 32nd minute only an instinctive reaction save with his legs by Chris Lewington stopped Howe giving United the lead from eight yards.
No matter, as four minutes later the Gulls did score.
A clever flick by Billy Bodin from Joe Oastler's throw slipped Howe clear on the right, his cross looped up off Scott Doe, Lewington just managed to touch the ball out from under his bar, but Danny Stevens was there to take a touch and hook home from close range.
It was Stevens' third goal of the season and his second in successive games.
Dagenham reacted with real spirit – Poke just held on to a Medy Elito cross under pressure, then denied Saunders with a close-range save every bit as good as Lewington's from Howe, and Nathan Craig came up with an important tackle to stop Elito scoring.
On the stroke of half-time, United's best move of the match, involving Nicholson, Howe, Bodin and Nicholson again down the left saw Jarvis's near-post finish just deflected behind.
The Gulls also started the second half well, Howe going close and referee James Adcock turning down what looked like a pretty good handball shout against Femi Ilesanmi from a Bodin cross.
Jarvis missed a real chance, heading wide from ten yards when he was clear after great work by Craig on the right.
But midway through the half, with fresh forwards Brian Woodall and Jake Caprice sent on by manager John Still, Dagenham were starting to crank up the pressure when midfielder Saunders belted them level.
It was one of those now-or-never moments for United, and they came up with the right answer.
Ling sent Thompson on for Stevens within moments of the equaliser, and in the 79th minute United regained the lead.
Craig Easton started the move with a clever shimmy on the right, joined in again after a touch from Bodin in the middle, found Thompson on the left, and his firm, early drive, aimed for the far post, flew in off Ogogo.
Jarvis was replaced, to generous applause, with ten minutes to go, but there was understandable disappointment when Mr Adcock booked Oastler for a committed, but perfectly fair and winning sliding tackle in the 85th minute.
It was Oastler's fifth caution of the season, and he will now miss next Saturday's trip to Bradford City.
Dagenham had one near miss in stoppage-time, Saunders sending a 22-yard free-kick just over the bar after another harsh decision by Mr Adcock when Aaron Downes appeared to win the ball legally from Woodall.
However, the referee did book Ilesanmi after the final whistle when he spotted the Daggers' defender shoving Howe in the chest as the pair turned to head for the dressing rooms.