An incredible, pulsating match at Victoria Road saw unbelievable drama including a red card, a missed penalty, a scored penalty, five goals and a dramatic last-minute winner as Dagenham & Redbridge snatched all three points in the cruellest of fashions against Chester.
An action-packed contest, thrilling from start to finish, started as it would go on as Daggers earned a penalty in the opening ten minutes, however, the ever-reliable Hawkins saw his effort well parried away by the keeper but the home side did take the lead against the run of play in first-half injury time through Sheppard’s fizzed, low strike.
The game was turned on its head in eight second-half minutes though as firstly Luke George levelled before Shaw found the top corner to complete the turnaround. John Still’s side began to pile on the pressure and after seeing two shots scrambled off the line, their patience was rewarded when Johnny Hunt was sent off for saving the ball with his hand. Whitely scored the resulting penalty and then, with time running out, Jordan Maguire-Drew sent the stadium into raptures to break Chester hearts in the fourth minute of injury time.
Dagenham & Redbridge came into the game having won every game in 2017 without conceding a single goal including a brilliant 2-0 win against Tranmere at Prenton Park last week, a game from which the hosts were unchanged. They began the half rapidly, but it was Chester who had the first opportunity of the game. Powerful forward James Alabi flicked a long punt forwards onto Horwood, whose cross was clipped onto the post from Luke George but Dagenham responded and in their first real attack of the game, were given a great chance to take the lead as Okenabirhie breezed past his man from a throw-in but was bundled down in the box. The referee pointed to the spot and up stepped Ollie Hawkins. However, the division’s third leading scorer couldn’t add to his tally as Liam Roberts parried his attempt back into play and minutes later, they were almost made to rue the miss when Alabi tried a lob that was well saved.
It was a breathless opening in East London and from the kick-off, the Daggers broke and Hawkins looked to atone for his penalty miss as he powerfully cannoned the ball towards goal, only for Roberts to clamber it away. Then, in the 22nd minute, Luke Guttridge played a delightful ball across the face of goal but, to his dismay, there was no-one to tap in as another chance went begging. The match began to settle down after that and gradually Chester began to take control, dominating the midfield and playing multiple dangerous deliveries across goal but the only time they really tested Elliott Justham was in the 36th minute when Durrell looked to replicate his wondergoal against the Essex side earlier in the season with a similar strike from distance that was excellently tipped over by the Daggers’ stopper but just as the visitors looked to edge closer to an opener they were hit by a sucker punch in first half injury time as a throw-in found defender Sheppard whose low drive swerved and beat the keeper at his near post.
This didn’t phase Chester who began the second half as they ended the first. They finally got their reward in the 50th minute when Ollie Hawkins misjudged the flight of the ball and this allowed the visitors to swing a cross in. The ball arrived in a packed box, where it was eventually smashed into the bottom corner by Luke George to level the scores. Instead of this being a wake-up call for Dagenham, it only worsened things as the away side, to the joy of their supporters, completed the turnaround eight minutes later. This time an intricate passing move saw Theo Vassell beat Okenabirhie and find Elliott Durrell, who laid the ball off for Tom Shaw to whip the ball into the top left corner to put his side 2-1 ahead. Dagenham, now looking limp and deflated, turned to Maguire-Drew to spark a revival, as he replaced Guttridge, while Jake Howell also came on for Frankie Raymond.
Instantly, Maguire-Drew almost found the equaliser as, from a dangerous Okenabirhie cross in the 65th minute, he prodded the ball goalbound, only for the ball to be clawed off the line and as tension in the ground grew, another agonising chance went begging as Ryan Astles almost diverted the ball past his own keeper, but yet again the ball was scrambled off the line. But then, just as it looked as though it wasn’t to be their day, the Daggers had another opportunity with just four minutes of normal time left. A corner was whipped in and Shaun Donnellan powered it towards goal and it looked to be heading for the bottom-right corner until Johnny Hunt stopped it with his hand. Another penalty was awarded and Hunt was given his marching orders, with Whitely converting the ensuing penalty to salvage a point.
But they weren’t done yet and the indication of six added minutes saw the crowd roar their side on in anticipation. Then, just as time was running out, Paul Benson crashed a header against the bar in the 94th minute but moments later Victoria Road erupted as the ball fell to Maguire-Drew, who smashed the ball into the bottom-right corner before running towards the corner flag, where he was mobbed by his joyous teammates, while Chester players sank to the floor – it was a fitting end to a thrilling game.