Leon Archer slots the ball past Tony Roberts to give the Saints an early lead.
VIDEO St Albans City hopes of a second season in the Conference National diminished further on Tuesday but if the Saints are to be returned to the Conference South, and it is done with nine more performances such as this, then they will most certainly go down with all guns blazing. For long stretches City not only held but also were occasionally on top of the fastest and fittest team in the Conference but what St Albans lacked was the finishing power to match John Still's champions-elect Dagenham & Redbridge side. Watching Dagenham is a breathtaking experience, the speed and non-stop swarming around opponents is quite staggering yet Colin Lippiatt's Saints can take a lot of heart from the part they played in an enthralling encounter at Clarence Park. History may be repeating itself as the last time these two sides met in a league match at the Park, in January 2000, a 3-1 win for Garry Hill's Daggers just about put them out of sight in the race for the Isthmian League championship and this latest triumph at Clarence Park, coupled with another home defeat for second placed Oxford United, has just about put the seal on Dagenham's first Conference National championship and with it a place in the Football League. A disappointing crowd of 1,170, including a sizeable 390 from the east end of London, will have been somewhat surprised by City's starting line up as Colin Lippiatt ‘rested' four played from the weekend draw with Southport and brought back Malik Buari, Leon Archer and Chris Seeby with Guy Lopez given his first start. None of the four let the manager down, Archer scored his fourth goal in nine games while Deen, playing on the left of the midfield for the first time, looked a natural in his more attacking role. Buari gave the kind of performance he had hinted at during his first three games and supplied the brand of quality crosses from the right City have been crying out for for most of the season. With the defence under so much pressure this season there has been a body of opinion that the side has been short of a ball winner in midfield, someone who can also hold the ball, and in the form of Lopez, signed last week from Dorchester Town, City seem to have found their man. At the start of play the visitors were eight points clear with a game in hand while the Saints were four points below the safety line having played a game more than the sides they were looking to catch - surely there could be but just one outcome. But, far from the possibly anticipated rout we got, from the off, an end to end encounter that frequently threatened more goals but was kept in check by some outstanding defending at either end of the pitch. And behind the City defence was Paul Bastock who once again confirmed that he is the equal of any keeper in the Conference. Within the opening 13 minutes both sides had threatened to open the scoring, it was a fluctuation that was to continue for most of the entire 90 minutes. Dagenham maybe should have taken the lead on six minutes when Glen Southam sent Sam Sloma down the left but his low ball into the box just eluded the advancing and unmarked Paul Benson who spearheaded most of the Daggers attacks. City's response could hardly have been better. A Deen snap-shot went into the side netting while a cross from the same player clipped Scott Griffiths' head and fell to John Hastings whose delicate chip on the bouncing ball looped just over Tony Roberts goal. On 16 minutes City, having conceded the opening goal in 13 of their previous 14 games, made an astonishing breakthrough. Sam Saunders, after having a corner partially cleared crossed again but again it was repelled and once Buari was in possession City were on their way. Rampaging down the right the Ghanaian twisted Griffiths inside out before sliding a low diagonal ball into the penalty area that could not have arrived more perfectly for Archer to sweep home from eight yards out. Both goalkeepers proved their quality on 24 minutes, firstly when former Saint Roberts did an exceptional job in stretching to tip away Deen's deflected shot while seconds later Bastock, quickly rising to the challenge, spread himself superbly to beat away for a throw-in Chris Moore's close range one-on-one effort. A minute later Moore looked to have got clear of Djoumin Sangare in the race for another long ball but somehow the City defender chased back and managed to the nudge the sphere back to his keeper. City went straight back down to the Hatfield Road end with Archer helping the ball onto Tom Davis who was shaping up for the kill when the ball was whipped from his toe at the expense of a corner. This sparked a spell of three successive St Albans corners but at a time when the Saints appeared to be taking a grip on the game a tragic slipped allowed Still's men to strike. Taking what should have been a routine short pass from Lopez, Djoumin Sangare clearly pondered his options then lost his footing on the halfway line as Paul Benson applied some pressure. The Daggers leading marksman still had plenty to do but calmly drew Bastock before going to the City keepers left and slotting the ball into the York Road goal on 28 minutes. To lose a goal in such a fashion was a massive body blow for the Saints but spirits were raised with a decent snap shot by Hastings that went just beyond Roberts's left hand upright. The league leaders put the home goal under sustained pressure on 38 minutes but just when it appeared that the ball was about to be cleared Griffiths popped up to square it about a dozen yards for Dave Rainford to tuck the ball into the City goal. The fear was that City would now crack, but to their great credit they refused to lie down although more troubled beckoned when Benson again got the better of Sangare at a bouncing ball only to have his shot saved by Bastock. Quite surprisingly the half closed without any addition to the score, it seemed impossible that the game could continue at such a pace without someone finding the target. Within two minutes of the restart both sides had won their first corner of the half, another 45 minutes of roller coaster thrills was underway. A fine effort from 30 yards by Buari offered the first real threat on goal, Roberts watched cautiously as the ball fizzed over his crossbar but seconds later the Daggers were up in arms with the match officials when a headed goal by Moore was wiped out as offside. City had another let-off two minutes later when Benson drilled a low ball across the face of the goal that Ada controlled then fell on top of, players from both side raced in before the Saints scrambled it out for a corner. One-time Saint Craig Mackail-Smith may no longer be with the Daggers but with Benson leading the front line the Essex club still build their attacks around pace and time and time again they looked to get him away early, but three times in quick succession Gary Elphick, City's captain on the night, thwarted the striker with tackles that were genuine goal saving blocks in one-on-one situations. Sangare, although troubled with the falling high ball, also made a couple of outstanding tackles as Dagenham sought to wrap up the points. Despite the Daggers obvious threat, St Albans stayed in contention and Seeby, following a half cleared Buari cross, sent a 30-yard half volley a yard over Roberts' goal. On 59 minutes Bastock, a one time Dagger himself, pulled off a stunning save when the free Benson looked odds on to score after Moore appeared to take out Elphick with an off the ball block. Back came City again with another Buari cross knocked away but only as far as Lopez who, after smartly chesting the ball down, went close to sneaking a 25 yard effort inside Roberts' left hand upright. Within a split second of Elphick making one of his excellent tackles on Benson City almost stole an equaliser when Roberts just beat Buari to the long hoofed clearance. Roberts was soon forced into another save as Elphick headed goalwards from a Buari corner. For a few seconds the space just outside the home penalty area resembled a war zone as the ball was lost in the face of three fierce - and all perfectly legitimate - tackles before it broke to Benson who set up another City old boy, Ben Strevens, for a crisp drive that was not far off the mark. Ten minutes from time Bastock comfortably took a Benson header before pulling off another quite brilliant save after Strevens had got clear of Sangare. With the clock ticking down faster than City would appreciate the fourth official did his best to waste a few more seconds when taking five attempts to get the correct numbers on his board as Dagenham tried to make a substitution; he made Graham Poll's card waving antics at last summers World Cup seem positively top notch officiating. As the game drifted into four minutes of added time City made one last sortie on the visitors goal with Davis picking up a short pass from Lee Clarke before riding two challenges only for his low shot from 18 yards to be taken in some comfort by Roberts. As the final whistle sounded Dagenham, after what was at least their third huddle of the evening, remained on the pitch for a prolonged period to celebrate with their 390 supporters as the gap at the top was increased to a surely insurmountable 11 points. City, having just gone down to their 10th home defeat of the season and seen their recent poor record extended to just two points from the last 21 available, felt less inclined to join in the frivolities but they had no reason to sorry for themselves after giving their all in a thoroughly absorbing contest. Tonight, Wednesday, on Saintsnet there will be interviews with Colin Lippiatt plus the Dagenham management duo of John Still and Terry Harris.