Captain Scott Doe headed a dramatic late winner as Dagenham & Redbridge returned to second place with a crucial victory over Forest Green Rovers in a promotion clash that they had comfortably controlled for the majority of the game. It seemed like they would have to settle for a point after Maguire-Drew’s far-post tap-in was cancelled out by an excellent header from Christian Doidge against his old club with just ten minutes remaining, but just before injury time, Doe snatched all three points to ensure his side recovered from two scoreless losses in ideal fashion.
After missing the last three games due to suspension, Corey Whitely returned to the Daggers lineup while Maguire-Drew also replaced Raymond in midfield. The match promised to be a thrilling spectacle but it was a mistake that gifted the first chance of the game. The visitors’ Dan Wishart lost the ball on the edge of the box to Maguire-Drew, whose shot forced Sam Russell into a decent stop. The hosts’ continued to have the majority of possession as Whitely forced a corner before Okenabirhie pulled his shot wide of Russell’s goal, all before the ten-minute mark.
Forest Green then ventured forward for the first time and wasted their first sight of goal when Wishart crossed for Woolery to fire over, but three minutes later they really should’ve taken the lead after a defensive mix-up saw Woolery through with Justham stranded and only Doe on the line to beat, but the Daggers’ captain denied a definite goal with an incredible block on the line then, at the other end, the hosts’ tried to regain control with Maguire-Drew and Hawkins both heading just over the bar.
Defender Jake Sheppard, who has already bagged two goals for Dagenham, then surged towards goal and firstly fizzed a low effort into the arms of Russell before bringing the best out of him with a stinging strike that was fantastically tipped over by the Forest Green keeper, who was continuing to keep his side in the game. Another flurry of chances then ensued for the now-dominant Essex side. Maguire-Drew and Boucaud smashed shots at the seemingly-unbeatable stopper, but finally Maguire-Drew did beat him, only for his curler to be denied by the crossbar. Boucaud had another attempt but that was it for the first-half and half-time could enable supporters of both sides to catch their breath.
The second-half continued at a frantic pace as both sides looked to break the deadlock. Forest Green enjoyed a dangerous spell around the Daggers box, only for the hosts to take a thoroughly-deserved lead after 53 minutes. Fejiri Okenabirhie raced down the left-flank, firing the ball across goal where Maguire-Drew was waiting to tuck it into the bottom-right corner. Whitely then blasted over after going on a good run before Rovers made two substitutions; Wishart and Carter making way for Kelly and Bugiel as they adopted a more offensive approach in their quest for an equaliser, seconds before Dagenham broke and Boucaud went through, but a key tackle prevented the shot. Bugiel and Cooper both saw efforts blocked as the east Londoners desperately tried to protect their lead.
They continued to press for a second goal to put the game beyond doubt, but it looked like they were to be made to rue their many chances when, disastrously, Forest Green levelled from nowhere, with Doidge of all people scoring against his old club. It illustrated how the best teams can gain points from nothing, as Noble crossed and the Welshman produced an excellent glancing header into the bottom left corner. The home side were clearly deflated and from that moment it seemed like even a point, the least they deserved, was in jeopardy as Forest Green camped in an around the box, but then – with time running out – Dagenham won a free-kick with 89 minutes on the clock. Raymond delivered the set-piece into the area, and there was Scott Doe, who powered the ball in to the elation of fans and teammates alike. The players celebrated in a huddle with manager John Still, which was a fitting way to cap his contract extension, knowing just how huge the result could be come the end of the campaign.
But they had to keep focus and see out the remaining five minutes of stoppage time. Forest Green would have one more chance, but Noble’s free-kick clipped the side-netting and moments later the referee’s whistle signalled the end to a thrilling game of football and a great advertisement for the National League. Next up is another big clash, as Dagenham make the long trip to Barrow on Saturday.