Fleet exited the Buildbase FA Trophy at the opening hurdle for the first time in six years as Dagenham made it through for their first appearance in Round Two since 2006/07. In freezing and wet conditions, the home side certainly had the chances to take the visitors to a replay at the very least but Angelo Balanta’s first-half goal proved decisive.
There was only one change for the Fleet, Garry Hill preferring Bagasan Graham to Myles Weston, while Dagenham made three changes, most notably youngster Lewis Moore filling in for Elliott Justham in goal. Kenny Clark captained the Daggers only two weeks after departing the Kuflink Stadium.
And the visitors certainly needed Clark’s experience and rigidity in an opening spell where Fleet were well on top. Corey Whitely got first sight of goal on three minutes as his busy harrying of the Dagenham back line produced a shot that he pulled well wide. Fleet’s few shortcomings were mainly self-inflicted and on four minutes, Nathan Ashmore was almost caught in possession as he attempted to play the ball out of his box and, caught by Jack Munns who flashed an attempted lob past the bar, the Daggers were almost gifted an opener.
But it was the Fleet, led by the sprightly Graham, who enjoyed the better opportunities. Goalkeeper Moore looked uncertain in the opening stages and he punched a Lawrie Wilson cross clear only as far as Jack King who stretched but couldn’t convert.
If anyone was going to score, it seemed likely it would be Fleet’s central defenders with Sam Magri and King combining as Moore fumbled a clearance. Magri tried his luck with an effort only for the rebound to bounce away from King inside the six-yard box.
The pair were still at it on 17 minutes, Magri on the right edge of the box and delivering a cross for King to direct just wide. Five minutes later, Ebou Adams advanced quicker than his forwards and with little else on, drove a low shot with some venom that Moore did well to push away. From the resulting corner, Michael Cheek turned swiftly to get an effort on target but that was swept off the line.
With numerous chances gone begging, it seemed fortune was swinging the other way and so it proved. Liam Gordon pounced on Lawrie Wilson’s miscontrol and drew a good save at the near post from Ashmore. The Fleet keeper had less luck with the next Dagenham attack. A ball over the top sprung Fleet’s attempts to play offside and the home defenders stepped up, committing Ashmore to come for it but instead allowing a quick-thinking Balanta to hoist a shot over Ashmore’s head from 35 yards.
Fleet rather lost their way for a period and felt doubly sorry for themselves when a ball bounced off the lower half of Emmanuel Onariase but vociferous penalty claims were waved away. With Jack Payne going off injured on 38 minutes, the home side could have gone into their shells but fashioned their best chance four minutes before the break. Whitely nudged a through ball into Cheek’s path and he held off two challenges to get a shot in that was blocked. Kedwell, following up in the centre, then smacked his shot wide.
Fleet came out with purpose in the opening minutes of the second half and just 120 seconds in, Graham wriggled free down the left and stood up a cross for Cheek. He took the ball in his stride and quick as a flash turned and launched the ball at the goal but Moore blocked it instinctively. Another big shout for handball was then overlooked by referee Mr Reeves.
Garry Hill went all out to earn a replay by going with a three-man attack, bringing on Cody McDonald for Wilson, Drury also seeing action to replace Adams. The front three took a while to get a look-in but as Dagenham sat deeper in the closing stages, the chances began to come the home side’s away again. Ashmore had to make a smart stop from Connor Wilkinson before a swift counterattack ended up with Drury planting a shot just over the bar.
Rance fired on target from a Chris Bush pass before supplying McDonald whose shot on the turn was narrowly wide. And with just four minutes left, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be Fleet’s day when Whitely opened up a gap and slipped a low cross into the box that had Moore in all sorts of trouble, but with the ball pinging around the six-yard box, Ben Goodliffe eventually got enough of a foot on it to give the red shirts the slip.
Despite Ashmore coming up for two corners and Fleet dominating the late possession in the relentless sleet, Dagenham held firm to progress.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Bush, Magri, King, Adams (Drury 58), Payne (Rance 38), Graham, Whitely, Kedwell, Cheek. Subs not used: Weston, Miles.
DRFC: Moore, Gordon, Hoyte, Onariase, Clark, McQueen, Goodliffe, Phipps, Wilkinson, Munns (Wright 67),Balanta (Kandi 67), Subs not used: Adeloye, Harfield, Naija