Hartley 65, Carey 85
Dagenham & Redbridge 3
Dikamona 13, Cash 24, Doidge 41
THIS was not supposed to happen.
With three games of their Sky Bet League 2 season to play and promotion within their grasp, Argyle were supposed to brush aside their already-relegated opponents and move on optimistically to the penultimate weekend in good fettle.
After all, they had returned to Home Park after successive away victories at two hard-to-win places – Portsmouth and Leyton.
After all, they had previously beaten every other League 2 side from 14th position downwards at Home Park, conceding only seven goals in the nine matches.
After all, their visitors had won only six of their previous 43 matches all season.
After all, Dagenham’s attack arrived at Home Park as the worst in the division, to face the third-best attack.
After all is said and done, none of the above mattered.
Argyle imploded, conceding three first-half goals inside half an hour as Clevid Dikamona, Matty Cash and Christian Doidge inflicted a defeat which will have resounded around Accrington, Oxford and Bristol, as much as it did Plymouth.
The Pilgrims had a majority of the possession, more shots on target in this game than in their previous half a dozen combined, and more corners than Muller, but their admirable second-half response was not quite enough to take anything from the match.
A Peter Hartley header just after the hour and a commitment to nothing-barred attacking promised a comeback of epic proportions but, although Graham Carey netted a late second, it was two little, too late.
A point was probably the least they deserved and a chance to achieve that fell to Jamille Matt in injury-time when Curtis Nelson headed down Craig Tanner’s cross, but the shot went over; then Hartley, having escaped attention, headed Jake Jervis’s delivery wide.
It was that sort of afternoon.
There is still life in the race for automatic promotion from League 2, and, hence, still hope, but it will take a couple of results of similar unpredictable magnitude as this one if the Pilgrims are not to be obliged contest the play-offs for the second successive post-season.
Argyle went into the match with two changes from the 11 that started Tuesday night's 3-1 win at Orient, where forward Reuben Reid and midfielder Carl McHugh had suffered injuries.
As anticipated, neither passed muster and, with manager Derek Adams reverting to a 4-2-3-1 slash 4-3-3 shape after a rare dalliance with 3-5-2 at the Matchroom Stadium, Jervis and Gregg Wylde were the chosen replacements.
Jervis, who scored twice after coming on for Reid in London to take his tally to the season for 14, partnered Jamille Matt up front, while Wylde resumed his place on the left side of the midfield.
Back-on-top-form Carey, who had set up four of the Pilgrims' five goals in their previous two victories, was tucked in behind Matt, with Jordan Houghton and Hiram Boateng – the young lungs and legs of the side – occupying central midfield.
Dagenham & Redbridge, with nothing to play for apart from pride and contracts, made five changes from the side that began their first post-relegation game at home to AFC Wimbledon in midweek, which they lost 2-0.
There was no place in the starting line-up for veteran forward Jamie Cureton, a perennial thorn to the Argyle side over the seasons, nor for former Pilgrim Ashley Hemmings. Both started proceedings on the substitutes’ bench.
Carey took up from where head left off at Portsmouth and Leyton, prompting, teasing, cajoling and generally getting Argyle going forward.
The chances rained in: Carey tried a shot from range that went over; Jervis had a penalty shout waved away after appearing to be fouled by Dominic Hyam; Carey, again, curled a shot wide and then provided an inswinging corner from which Matt had a header cleared from the goal-line.
Then, from nowhere, a dagger to the heart. Dikamona lost Nelson and headed Oliver Muldoon’s corner home from four yards. Suddenly, the Pilgrims were at sea and an opposition break threatened a second; Luke McCormick, though, kept out Matt McClure’s tame shot.
Nevertheless, Dagenham had something to hang on to, and immediately showed every intention of doing just that. Argyle forced corner after corner and half-chances fell to Wylde, Hartley and Boateng.
It seemed only a matter of time before a goal would come. When it did, though, it was to Dagenham again. In their first attack since their goal, Cash was given too much room on the fringe of the Pilgrims’ penalty area and took advantage to curl a fine finish past McCormick.
The Argyle players appeared as stunned as a pretty well silent Home Park, as well they might, and it took a while to rally. However, after Boateng was set up for a shot that Mark Cousins saved, the game soon resembled an attack v defence training game again.
The defence held sway. Without any finesse or grace, they did their job and Argyle, losing patience at their situation, could not summon up the necessary to break them down.
Dagenham, on the other hand, found scoring only too easy. In what might well have been only their third attack of the game, they scored their third goal just before half-time.
Hartley gave away an unnecessary free-kick on the Pilgrims left, from which Doidge headed in Frankie Raymond’s deft delivery.
Argyle had a decent chance to claw something back before the interval, with Jervis returning Carey’s blocked free-kick into the box, from where Nelson headed over the crossbar.
The Pilgrims returned to the dressing-room – having had 59% possession, 14 shots and 11 corners – three goals down, to jeers from the home crowd; one suspected that may have been mild to what awaited them.
They emerged for the second 45 minutes with a new shape – 3-5-2 – and with Tanner and Forster having replaced full-backs Kelvin Mellor and Ben Purrington; Jervis and Wylde were now effectively wing-backs: desperate situations, desperate measures.
Tanner was soon in the thick of things, crossing low into the box from the left, then forcing Cousins into a save with a low shot from the right. Forster, too, contributed to Home Park’s forlorn hope with a flicked header at the near post that cleared the bar.
The all-out attacking policy continued, with Carey and Wylde both having goalbound shots blocked in the same attack, and Houghton being denied by a stretched leg as he went to stroke the ball home.
When Tyler Harvey was sent on for Boateng just after the hour, Argyle had just three defensively-minded players on the pitch. The young Plymothian immediately sighted goal and curled a shot just wide.
Finally, the Daggers’ damn burst. Carey’s right-wing corner found its way to the far post, where Hartley, barely off the ground, planted a header past Cousins. Having waited 67 games for a goal, he now had two in two games.
More attack v defence. More frustration as crosses failed to connect with heads, or headers failed to find the target. More desperate defending. More corners. More shots.
Just one more goal, though.
Two more games to go.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick; 2 Kelvin Mellor (28 Jordon Forster half-time), 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 16 Ben Purrington (27 Craig Tanner half-time); 32 Jordan Houghton, 20 Hiram Boateng (15 Tyler Harvey 62); 14 Jake Jervis, 10 Graham Carey, 11 Gregg Wylde; 19 Jamille Matt. Substitutes(not used): 3 Gary Sawyer, 24 Louis Rooney, 29 Jordan Bentley, 31 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Dagenham & Redbridge (3-5-2): 30 Mark Cousins; 6 Clevid Dikamona, 29 Luke Pennell; 2 Josh Passley (23 Ashley Hemmings 79), 25 Matty Cash, 18 Frankie Raymond, 21 Oliver Muldoon, 33 Joe Widdowson (capt); 9 Matt McClure (10 Ashley Chambers 76), 12 Christian Doidge (15 Oliver Hawkins 84). Substitutes (not used): 7 Jamie Cureton, 8 Andre Boucaud, 20 Quade Taylor, 35 Lewis Moore (gk).
Referee: James Adcock.
Attendance: 9,211 (69 away).