County At Daggers Drawn, As Hosts Strike At The Death
The Hatters earned a point at Dagenham & Redbridge, and in the process – courtesy of Liam McAlinden’s 89th-minute goal – troubled the National League scorers for the first time since the opening weekend of the year. But they were denied all three when the ‘Daggers’ struck deep into added time to equalise with the last kick of the game.
The clear blue skies around East London gave no hint of the severity of Storm Ciara that was forecast to make land later in the weekend, as County took to the field showing three changes from the starting line-up against Dover Athletic at Edgeley Park seven days previously.
New signing from Salford City, Lois Maynard, made his immediate debut in central midfield – replacing Paul Turnbull, who was missing the first game of a three-match ban for the red card he picked up in the Dover fixture – while Nyal Bell and, following his recall from a loan spell at Curzon Ashton, Connor Dimaio were preferred to Jordan Archer and McAlinden, respectively.
A lively start ensued, with each side earning early corners without otherwise producing a cutting edge in the other’s final third. The first chance of note arrived with a dozen minutes on the clock, when Ben Hinchliffe used his legs to deflect beyond the right post a low drive by Ben House. And, after the resulting corner, Matt Robinson fired wide of the opposite upright.
Around the mid-point of the half, a lofted ball by Maynard from behind the halfway-line found Danny Lloyd – who cut in from the left before seeing his shot blocked by the legs of home goalkeeper Elliot Justham. And at the other end Sam Deering blasted over from 12 yards out.
Another measured through-ball from Maynard – on the ground this time, as opposed to in the air – picked out Bell in the home area, only for the striker to be beaten to it by Justham who dived forward to smother.
But the best chance of the half, which also fell to County, was saved until last. With a minute of normal time remaining, Dan Cowan’s long throw from the right was half-volleyed towards goal with ferocity by Lloyd, whose effort was kept out by means of a ricochet off Justham’s face.
HALF-TIME: Dagenham & Redbridge 0, County 0.
Just as the first half had had to wait 12 minutes for its first attempt on goal, so, too, did the second. And once again House and Hinchliffe were the dramatis personae – with County’s Number One standing tall to block the on-loan forward from Reading at point-blank range.
Both sides made double-substitutions, and within a couple of minutes of each other, shortly after the hour. And Hinchliffe remained the busier ‘keeper – holding on to deliveries from the right by Andrew Eleftheriou and Mitch Brundle.
One of County’s replacements, Sam Minhan, crossed from the right by-line for Lloyd – whose snap-shot was parried by Justham with a quarter of an hour remaining. And Lloyd then turned provider with a free-kick from the opposite flank that stand-in skipper Ash Palmer headed over.
The Hatters looked to have scored two minutes from time, when newly-arrived third substitute Ben Jackson fired towards goal – only for home captain Kenny Clark to head off the line. A minute later, however, they did so – as Jordan Keane’s low drive from the right was turned in off the far post by McAlinden.
McAlinden and Lloyd then both went close to doubling the lead with efforts that Justham saved. But with County still set to enjoy a first victory of the calendar year, as well as a fourth successive single-goal triumph over Dagenham, the hosts, who had not suffered a league defeat since 2019, grabbed a share of the spoils in the fourth and final minute of added time when substitute Chike Kandi fired home from close range.
FULL-TIME: Dagenham & Redbridge 1 (Kandi, 90 + 4), County 1 (McAlinden, 89).
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Cowan, Palmer (Capt.), Arthur; Thomas, Keane, Maynard, Clarke (Jackson, 86); Dimaio (McAlinden, 65); Bell (Minihan, 65), Lloyd.
Unused Subs: Walker, Ormson.
Attendance: 1,512 (334 representing The Twelfth Man).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.