Fighting effort could be the Gulls' turning point
IF TORQUAY United do eventually stay up this season, this will go down as the night when they finally rediscovered the never-say-die spirit that enabled them to do it.
On a dramatic night in the East End, Alan Knill's Gulls played for almost the entire match with 10 men and twice came from behind to earn what could turn out to be a hugely important point.
After eight defeats in nine games, United stared down the barrel of yet another wretched situation when their most experienced defender, Aussie centre-back Aaron Downes, was sent off after only three minutes for a professional foul.
Seconds later Dagenham's Medy Elito converted the penalty, and a long night seemed to stretch ahead for anybody with United at heart.
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But, with young Angus MacDonald sent on for Downes and striker Elliot Benyon sacrificed in attack, Torquay dug deep to stop the eager Daggers from finishing the job.
It was vital that United did not concede a second goal before half-time.
But they did not crumble then. And they certainly did not crumble during a terrific second-half display.
From Michael Poke in goal to Rene Howe on his own up front, there were big performances right through the side.
It was clear midway through the second half that United, making light of their lost man, had completely undermined their opponents and were emphatically in charge.
When their first equaliser came, through new loan midfielder Joss Labadie in the 71st minute, it was no more than they deserved.
At that point there was only one team who looked like winning it.
So when, just five minutes from time, Dagenham regained the lead completely against the run of play, it felt like the sort of blow from which United might not recover.
But they refused to accept defeat, even at that late stage, and were rewarded with an 88th minute penalty after home defender Luke Wilkinson flattened substitute Lloyd Macklin in the box.
Up stepped Howe to convert the penalty for his 15th goal of the season. He will seldom score a more crucial one.
United's band of more than a hundred supporters, including Torbay MP Adrian Sanders and many of the loyal Capital Gulls, acclaimed that goal and the final whistle as if it had clinched safety all on its own.
You couldn't help feeling for Downes, who had endured four days he'd rather forget after his part in Oxford's first two goals at Plainmoor last Saturday.
Skipper Lee Mansell's midfield header wrongfooted him in that third minute.
Abu Ogogo gambled on the mishap and raced clear.
Downes did well to turn and almost catch the Daggers' captain, but he was always struggling to overtake him and any contact from behind, as Ogogo headed into the area, was bound to spell trouble.
Down went Ogogo, referee Keith Stroud pointed to the spot and sent Downes off.
Melito rammed the penalty into the top right-hand corner, moments before Knill decided to take Benyon off, send on MacDonald and tackle the rest of the match with a 4-4-1 formation.
Knill had given only a second league start for Torquay to left-back Tom Cruise, in place of Kevin Nicholson, and he'd also received a boost when Labadie passed a fitness-test on a knee injury sustained against Oxford.
Both Cruise and Labadie responded with authoritative, and at times classy, displays.
Dagenham, trying to make their extra man count by stretching United from side to side, poured on the pressure.
Poke tipped over from Josh Scott, while Billy Bingham and Scott Doe both missed good chances.
Early in the second half Melito also squandered two more openings, but by then United had the bit firmly between their teeth and were visibly gaining in confidence.
In the 62nd minute, with Knill urging his side forward and Daggers boss Wayne Burnett becoming increasingly agitated on the sideline, Joe Oastler had a strong crossshot tipped over by Chris Lewington.
Burnett sent on Ben Strevens for Howell in the 70th minute, but United were in full cry by then and a minute later they equalised.
After Brian Saah had a header tipped away and then scrambled behind, Mansell took the corner from the left.
The ball eventually reached Saah at the far post, he headed down and Labadie was there to stab into the roof of the net from point-blank range...1-1.
You'd never have known that they were a man down as United went for victory.
Knill sent on winger Macklin, a statement in itself, for Ryan Jarvis.
Billy Bodin, working hard, Macklin on a Bodin through-ball and Labadie with a 25-yard free-kick just over all nearly scored.
So when, five minutes from time, Matt Saunders crossed diagonally from Dagenham's right and Scott lunged in at the far post to volley in, you can imagine how United felt.
They also claimed there was a hint of offside, just to rub salt into the wounds.
But back they came, and three minutes later Macklin was just about to chest the ball down with his back to goal when Wilkinson clumsily barged him over.
Again Mr Stroud pointed to the spot.
Howe summoned up one of his trademark stuttering runs before sending Lewington the wrong way with a chip-shot into the right of the net...2-2.
It may now be ten games without a win, but this almost felt like a long-awaited victory. Almost.