With the Boxing Day order of service barely consigned to history, Fleet opened the new decade reading from much the same script, conceding late on to Dagenham as three points were again whittled down to one.
Alex Reid’s opener and a promising first-half spell gave home fans hope that the revival might begin as the year turned a corner but a disjointed and dispiriting second-half meant a point was all the Fleet had to show for their efforts.
There was just the one change for the home team, John Goddard starting in place of the injured Myles Weston.
Dagenham began in much the same way they had the Boxing Day game, running at the Fleet and looking to release Chike Kandi in behind the back line. Will Wright’s cross in the second minute was a warning but it flew behind everbody else in the box and out of play.
Fleet settled after five minutes and Andre Blackman’s well-worked run into space resulted in a pass to Alex Reid’s feet, the striker hitting a shot not too far wide.
Reid had much more luck with his next effort on six minutes and came courtesy of some terrible defending. Running on to a Gozie Ugwu touch, Reid was able to pick up the pieces after Toby Stevenson and goalkeeper Elliot Justham had created a world of confusion between them and the Stevenage loanee kept his focus to fire home from an angle.
For a spell, the Fleet had the Daggers on the ropes. Space opened up in the middle for Frankie Sutherland and his ball wide to Goddard forced a save from Justham. Moments later, Ayo Obileye also got a shot away after some good work behind him in midfield.
With Josh Payne seeing plenty of the ball in the middle, he was able to bring Blackman and Goddard into the action as Fleet played some neat football. Indeed, it was only the home side’s mistakes that allowed Dagenham a foothold and Tyler Cordner had to recover with a tackle inside the box after he’d surrendered possession.
Jordan Holmes was also fortunate that a carefree clearance to Kandi resulted only in an attempted lob being skewed high and wide.
Kandi was away again on 20 minutes, taking advantage of Blackman stranded upfield, before being denied by an excellent Cordner tackle inside the box. And Holmes did well to grab Wright’s speculative shot out of the air as he was unsighted behind a line of defenders.
That man Kandi sent another cross skipping into the six-yard box on the half hour that Jack King headed clear but Fleet had opportunities again before too long.
Ugwu just couldn’t stretch enough to bring down Luke Croll’s dreadful back pass before Reid should have made it 2-0 on 36 minutes. It was Ugwu who created the opportunity, his strength holding off the attentions of defenders until his lightweight shot was diverted through on goal for Reid, who had only Justham to beat but his attempt was straight at the goalkeeper.
Ben House had a half chance for the Daggers with an effort that he turned and fired low towards the bottom corner but Holmes was equal to that.
Mindful of events on Boxing Day, Fleet seemed caught in two minds about how ambitious to be in the second half but the longer that progressed, the poorer the game became as a spectacle.
The first five minutes saw Marvel Ekpiteta take centre stage with throw-in upon throw-in down the right and it wasn’t until five minutes had passed that there was any real action.
Blackman’s attempt to head a free-kick clearance was charged down and away on the break, Goddard was forced to bring down Kandi inside the centre circle at the cost of a yellow card.
Fleet’s distribution became increasingly hurried as mistakes crept in to their general play and it all allowed Dagenham to get on the front foot as they pressed for an equaliser.
Kandi had plenty of space to advance through the middle on 55 minutes and try his luck with a shot that had Holmes diving to block. Fleet struggled to get out of their own half for any length of time but as poor as they were at clearing their lines, Dagenham weren’t much better at exploiting them, Kandi’s shot on 62 minutes after sprinting clear a wholly wasted effort.
Alfie Egan and Tomi Adeloye added fresh legs to the cause but it was King’s intervention on 66 minutes that saved the Fleet’s bacon, clearing Alexander McQueen’s goalbound effort out of the six-yard box and behind for a corner.
Wright struck from the right forcing Holmes to gather and Cordner received a yellow card for a risky challenge on House as home fans and the manager on the sidelines became ever more animated and anguished in equal measure.
Fleet’s only real effort on the Dagenham goal of the second half to that point came after Egan’s energetic run on 78 minutes. Although he was dispossessed, Obileye connected well with a shot that went behind for the home side’s only corner of the second period.
But with the game ticking towards its conclusion, the inevitable happened with six minutes left. Obileye conceded a free-kick from a central position and though Will Wright’s free-kick was heading off target, it hit Ekpiteta on the head, skewing back towards goal as Holmes went the other way to cover the original flight of the ball.
Only in those final few minutes did Fleet’s efforts on goal become more pronounced. A frantic final period should even have resulted in a winner for the Fleet when Ugwu and Reid exchanged passes, the latter squeezing a pass between the central defenders for Ugwu to run on to but his shot was blocked by Justham’s legs.
That summed up another frustrating afternoon for the home fans who must make do with two points over Christmas when seven might have been the reward but for their side’s inability in recent games to hold the lead or take the chances on offer.
EUFC: Holmes, Ekpiteta, Blackman, King, Cordner, Obileye, Sutherland (Adeloye 77), Payne, Goddard (Egan 65), Ugwu, Reid. Subs not used: Umerah, Palmer, Grimes.
DRFC: Justham, W Wright, Stevenson (Quigley 73), Onariase, Clark (D Wright 82), Croll, McQueen, Robinson, Luque (Grant 66), Kandi, House. Subs not used: Eleftheriou, Seaden.