Marc White made three changes to last week’s winning lineup; with Jason Prior and Luke Moore picking up suspensions and Matt Briggs suffering a hamstring injury, Josh Taylor, Harry Ottaway, and George Francomb came into the starting XI. Elsewhere Joe Rabbetts made it onto the bench for the first time this season, with James McShane also returning to the matchday squad for the first time since late September. But it was Rutherford’s Meadowbank return that caught the eye, as he completed his remarkable Wanderers comeback, making his first appearance for the club since 3 September 2022.
With the morning’s heavy rain having mostly cleared, we kicked off at Meadowbank beneath a crisp, clear afternoon sky. Despite the sense of occasion surrounding Rutherford’s return, it was the visiting side that made the better start. Fresh off the back of their 92nd-minute winner at Ebbsfleet United last weekend, the Daggers were eager to continue their form as Wanderers struggled to get out of the blocks.
Hunting high in the Wanderers half, the visitor’s press gave them an early lead after a scuffed ball out from Harrison Male. The ‘keeper’s languid pass to George Francomb was caught by Freddie Sears, who with the turf in front of him, drove toward the byline. His pulled-back ball across the box found the unfortunate Dan Gallagher amidst a horde of onrushing bodies, with the Wanderers man only able to fumble the ball past Male and put Dagenham ahead in the fourth minute.
Determined not to divert from the plan, Wanderers continued to play out from the back. But another loose pass in the eighth minute presented the Daggers with an opportunity to double their lead. Joe Cook’s driven ball up-field was intercepted by Josh Rees who immediately found Sears unmarked on the edge of the box. Sears, who had been at the heart of much of Dagenham’s attacking play, went for a chipped effort that Male was just about able to tip over the bar. But the former West Ham United man once again saw a sight of goal from the resulting corner, with his side-footed effort at the back post almost finding a way in, before Male scraped the ball off the line.
Wanderers finally managed to make inroads toward the Dagenham goal as the game passed the ten-minute mark. Controlled, neat possession gave Male and his defenders some much-needed respite as White’s side looked to assert themselves in the match.
With 13 minutes on the clock, Jimmy Muitt was the first to turn out from midfield and drive into space, accompanied by a relieved cheer around Meadowbank. Muitt’s drive down the right side of midfield was halted on the edge of the Dagenham box, but not before he was able to play a sideways ball to Harry Ottaway. A loose first touch almost took the chance away, but with Dagenham slow to react, Ottaway fired a ferocious strike toward goal which flew past Elliot Justham, and into the net via the underside of the crossbar.
With the game beginning to settle, neither side conjured many chances as the half progressed. But another haphazard Wanderers pass once again gifted Dagenham a golden opportunity, and Inih Effiong gladly took it. Niall McManus was the culprit this time, with his weak cross-field ball to Male instead finding Effiong on the penalty spot with the striker’s tidy finish flying past a stranded Male.
Wanderers struggled to create chances following Dagenham’s second goal, and the first half began to fizzle out. But Sears came face-to-face with Male for a third time just moments before the whistle as the forward latched onto a Dagenham ball over the top. Male was once again equal to the striker, standing tall the Wanderers shot-stopper was able to palm Sears’ strike away from his near post and keep Dorking in the game heading into the break.
With players on both sides complaining of a kit clash, Wanderers reemerged from the break sporting their orange third shirt. But it was the return of Alfie Rutherford that dominated the discourse as the second half began. Part of a double switch that saw Callum Kennedy replace Joe Cook, Ryan Seager made way for Rutherford whose name was met by a welcoming roar by the Wanderers fans.
The returning Rutherford offered a new option as Wanderers went in search of an equaliser. His tidy footwork affording the hosts a chance to hold onto the ball further upfield. But the Daggers continued to showcase their rapid attacking prowess as Effiong was released by a precise through ball down the left flank. With Gallagher unable to catch the Dagenham man as he made his way into the box, Dan Pybus managed to recover and halt Effiong before he could conjure a shot.
Moments later, Wanderers missed their best chance of the game so far. Eight minutes into the second half, a Francomb corner was flicked toward Gallagher at the back post, who with time to shoot volleyed goalwards, but his strike whistled wide of Justham’s goal without troubling the ‘keeper.
Despite an improved attacking display from Wanderers, it was Dagenham that flourished as the half progressed. Comfortable on the break, Frank Vincent exploited the space left by the Wanderers backline as they crept further upfield. Driving toward goal from midfield and cutting inside on the edge of the box, Vincent’s low strike was blocked without troubling Male, but it was another indicator that the visitors could further their lead.
Ottaway then managed another strike from distance after being found by Pybus in midfield, but this time Justham managed to force the ball wide as the tension continued to rise. But any hope of a late comeback was dashed in the 78th minute as Dagenham once again showcased their attacking impetus. First-half substitute Myles Weston broke down the left flank before looping a ball into the box, right-back Josh Hare connected with the cross and guided his header past Male to double the visitor’s lead and kill the game.
A flurry of half-chances came for Wanderers in the final few minutes, but none troubled Justham too much, and the match finished 3-1. Wanderers will now begin their preparations ahead of next Saturday’s visit to eighth-place Gateshead.
Dorking Wanderers: (3-5-2) 1 Harrison Male, 22 Barry Fuller, 15 Joe Cook (12 Callum Kennedy 45’), 37 George Francomb, 7 Jimmy Muitt, 17 Josh Taylor, 20 Dan Gallagher, 4 Dan Pybus, 6 Niall McManus (10 Alfie Rutherford 45’), 24 Harry Ottaway, 19 Ryan Seager (11 James McShane 60’)
Unused Subs: Huk, Rabbetts
Goal(s): Ottaway 13’
Yellow Card(s): Pybus 77’, Fuller 81’, Taylor 86’
Dagenham & Redbridge: (4-3-3) 1 Justham ©, 2 Hare, 16 Phipps, 5 Eastman, 3 Johnson, 15 Page (11 Myles Weston 26’), 6 Hessenthaler, 8 Rees, 9 Effiong, 7 Vincent (21 Longe-King 77’), 24 Sears (17 Kendall 85’)
Unused Subs: Francis-Clarke, Ling
Goal(s): OG Gallagher 4’, Effiong 33’, Hare 78’
Yellow Card(s): Vincent 63’
Referee: David Richardson
Sponsors Man Of The Match: Harry Ottaway