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Mission accomplished in dramatic fashion
Albion 4, Dagenham & Redbridge 3 A no lesser luminary than William Shakespeare once wrote that timing is everything.
That has certainly been the case for Albion this season.
Evening games always have more of an atmosphere and the final night match at Withdean was an absolute humdinger as Gus Poyet’s Seagulls clinched promotion in extraordinary style.
Championship football coinciding with the move to The Amex next season was always the dream ticket.
Poyet’s team have delivered the dream with a brand of passing football not normally associated with the lower divisions.
Dagenham, fighting to avoid relegation, did their utmost to wreck the party but Albion, as they have done throughout the campaign, found a way to win.
Poyet predictably kept changes to a minimum following Saturday’s accomplished 2-0 home victory against Sheffield Wednesday.
The only alteration was in the centre of defence, Tommy Elphick deputising for suspended skipper Gordon Greer after the Glaswegian’s red card for elbowing in the closing moments against Sheffield.
Inigo Calderon once again took over the captain’s armband in Greer’s absence.
Dagenham also made one change to the side which ended a five-match sequence without a victory by beating Notts County 3-1 at home on Saturday.
West Ham loanee Oliver Lee came into a five-man midfield at the expense of former Seagull Darren Currie, whose legs cannot cope with two matches in quick succession these days.
Currie joined another ex-Albion player, Bas Savage, on the bench.
Poyet warned in the build-up that victory would not be a formality.
Dagenham had a big incentive to live up to their billing as party poopers, considering they arrived just two points and two places above the relegation zone.
John Still’s team had not read the script. They stunned a sold-out Withdean into silence with a goal after just 21 seconds.
A header by Adam El-Abd fell to John Akinde, the visitors’ solitary striker. His ensuing shot took a deflection off Elphick past the wrong-footed Casper Ankergren for his second goal in as many games since joining the Essex strugglers on loan from Bristol City.
You do not get to where Albion are by being fazed by such an inconvenience. They responded in the manner of champions.
Craig Noone was their inspiration. The lively winger had a sweetly struck shot from 30 yards athletically tipped over the bar by Tony Roberts, Dagenham’s 41-year-old custodian.
Noone then finished a jinking run with another fierce effort from just outside the penalty area which rattled the bar.
Albion were level moments later, El-Abd flicking on an Elliott Bennett corner for Calderon to toe-poke in at the near post.
What a season it has been for the Spaniard. He now has seven goals to his name, which is some going for a right-back.
With parity restored, it took the Seagulls only a minute to take the lead. Noone’s cross was met at the far post by Glenn Murray with a well-directed header which a defender tried to hook clear but was over the line when Chris Wood made sure, giving Murray his 21st goal of the campaign.
Dagenham, to their credit, did not crumble when confronted by such a swift and rousing recovery.
The Seagulls continued to look ill at ease at the back without Greer’s calming influence in an entertaining first half.
Akinde was a menace. He had an angled drive tipped over by Ankergren and, shortly before the interval, finished a strong run with a low shot which again had Albion’s dependable Danish keeper at full stretch.
If fortunes fluctuated in the first half, it was nothing compared to the opening 11 minutes of the second half, as Albion suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves behind again, then level again.
Dagenham’s equaliser, like Akinde’s quick opener, was fortuitous. Romain Vincelot rolled a pass for Jon Nurse to turn inside the box and shoot past Ankergren via another wicked deflection, this time off Calderon.
Dagenham went ahead three minutes later, Danny Green converting his 12th of the season from the spot after El-Abd brought down the ubiquitous Akinde.
Once again Albion’s mettle was severely tested and, once again, they found a thrilling answer. Liam Bridcutt made it 3-3 in the 56th minute with a beauty, a rising drive into the roof of the net from 20 yards.
An extraordinary contest took another twist in Albion’s favour seven minutes later. Ashley Barnes, on in place of Wood, headed a Bennett corner into the roof of the net for his 16th goal of the season.
Poyet does not like games like this. He calls it 50-50 football, as opposed to the controlled manner in which his side have secured the vast majority of their victories this season.
The Withdean faithful lapped it up, of course – goals galore, numerous close shaves at both ends and the dramatic shifts in momentum made for a riveting spectacle.
Albion have rarely looked so vulnerable in defence with nerves increasing as the prize drew closer.
Ankergren, much busier than normal, was forced into another good save from a Green free-kick before Mark Arber, the Dagenham captain and centre half, lobbed just wide amid recriminations in the Seagulls’ ranks.
It was an uncharacteristic way for Albion to haul themselves over the finishing line but enthralling all the same.
ALBION (4-2-1-3): Ankergren; Calderon, Elphick, El-Abd, Painter; Bridcutt, Dicker (Kishishev, 85); Bennett, Murray, Wood (Barnes, 56), Noone (Sparrow, 65). Subs not used: Brezovan, Navarro, Sandaza, Dunk.
Scorers: Calderon (18), Murray (19), Bridcutt (56), Barnes (63).
Booked: El-Abd (82) foul, Ankergren (90) time wasting.
Dagenham (4-5-1): Roberts; Ogogo, Arber, Doe, Ilesanmi; Green, Vincelot, Gain, Lee (Currie, 83), Nurse; Akinde.
Subs not used: McCrory, Antwi, Savage, Bingham, Lewington, Lancaster.
Scorers: Akinde (1), Nurse (48), Green (51) penalty.
Booked: Green (41) foul, Vincelot (68) foul, Ilesanmi (73) foul.