Brighton 4 Dagenham & Redbridge 3
Dagenham & Redbridge let an early second-half lead slip as Brighton battled back to edge a seven-goal thriller and clinch promotion to the Championship on Tuesday.
All the pre-match focus was on the home side with the knowledge that three points would secure them a top-two finish, but Daggers were intent on spoiling the party and took a shock lead with the game’s first attack.
Danny Green found John Akinde in space on the edge of the box and his speculative effort took a huge deflection off Adam El-Abd, wrong-footing keeper Casper Ankergren and crossing the line after just 21 seconds.
The goal silenced the Withdean crowd, but sparked the players into life and they laid siege on Tony Roberts’ goal.
A fierce left-foot strike from Craig Noone was brilliantly tipped over by the veteran stopper, who then denied the winger again, getting the faintest of touches as Noone’s next attempt came back off the crossbar.
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It appeared to be just a matter of time before Brighton would find the breakthrough and sure enough a quick-fire double on 18 minutes swung the game in the hosts’ favour.
First, Elliot Bennett’s corner to the near post was poked goalwards by El-Abd and finished off by captain-for-the-night Inigo Calderon.
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Then, immediately from the restart, the Seagulls broke forward and with the supporters barely back in their seats, top scorer Glenn Murray headed home Noone’s cross, putting promotion back on the evening’s agenda.
Fireworks from outside the Withdean Stadium were greeted with cheers, but the celebrations appeared premature as Daggers dominated toward the end of the first half.
All the visitors best work came courtesy of Akinde, with the powerful forward twice testing the reflexes of Seagulls stopper Ankergren before the interval.
There was plenty cause for optimism among the travelling Daggers supporters at the break, but even the most optimistic of the 239 gathered miles from the pitch could not have foreseen the turnaround in the opening minutes of the second half.
On 48 minutes Romain Vincelot caught Noone in possession and passed to Jon Nurse, who’s shot on the turn took a huge deflection off Calderon, leaving Ankergren with no chance and Daggers back on level terms.
And just three minutes later the champagne was firmly back on ice. Oliver Lee burst forward from midfield and found Akinde in space to his right. The Bristol City loanee powered into the penalty area and was fouled from behind by El-Abd, leaving referee Roger East to point to the spot.
Unfazed by the occasion, Danny Green stepped up confidently and blasted his 12th goal of the season into the bottom corner to put Daggers 3-2 up to the hosts despair.
Lesser teams may have folded, but Brighton showed the composure and class typical of their manager Gus Poyet, to battle back, preserve their unbeaten home record and gain entry to English football’s second tier after a five-year absence.
On 56 minutes Scott Doe’s tame clearance fell to Liam Bridcutt, who fired his first time effort spectacularly into the top corner from 30 yards to equalise.
Then on 63 minutes Brighton finally regained the lead. Bennett’s corner found Ashley Barnes unmarked and the substitute headed past Roberts from six yards.
The fourth goal appeared to knock the stuffing out of the visitors, but there was still time for Daggers to cause a late scare.
In the dying minutes, with the jubilant Brighton supporters congregated on the perimeter of the pitch ready to celebrate, Mark Arber’s looping effort had keeper Ankergren beaten, but bounced inches wide of the far post to the relief of the home crowd.
The final whistle ensured Championship football will grace Brighton’s new stadium next season, while Daggers face a desperate five-match battle to keep the Victoria Road crowd entertained with the delights of League One.
Dag & Red: Roberts, Ogogo, Arber, Doe, Ilesanmi, Green, Vincelot, Lee (Currie 83), Gain, Nurse, Akinde. Subs: Lewington, McCrory, Antwi, Savage, Bingham, Lancaster.
Attendance: 7,619 (including 239 away supporters).