WREXHAM’S mini-revival under manager Brian Little hit the buffers on Saturday, but the Racecourse boss shouldered the blame for a defeat that proved – were it necessary – that there is plenty of hard work ahead if the club are to avoid a second successive battle against relegation in the New Year.
The Dragons had arrived at Victoria Road in confident mood following a draw and a win in their previous two away trips to Rochdale and Bury respectively, yet were made to look second best by a side that had lost their last five home league games.
And they could have no complaints, even though the scoreline flattered the Daggers, who sealed their victory only through two goals in the final six minutes.
To that stage it was a first-half own goal from defender Steve Evans that had separated the sides, but the reality was that Wrexham rarely looked likely to get back on terms, let alone take the three points.
And after experiencing defeat for the first time since his arrival at the Racecourse last month, Little admitted his heart had ruled his head in the wake of Tuesday night’s 1-0 success at Gigg Lane.
“I genuinely believe I picked the wrong team today because we won at Bury,” he said.
“In this business you have to be honest enough to admit a mistake and that applies to me. On another day with this sort of experience it has taught me a lesson and that is sometimes you have to change a winning side to deal with a particular system.
“You think you have to keep the same players but it just didn’t work today so I changed it at the break and nearly got something out of the game. A lot of people will see the scoreline and think we have been slaughtered, but that was not the case.
“I’ll learn from it and I hope the players will as well, but I can’t fault the commitment.”
If truth be told, Wrexham were a mere shadow of the team that so effectively frustrated Bury in midweek, a factor possibly down to fatigue.
But their opponents had endured a similarly punishing schedule and had counted themselves unfortunate to lose 1-0 at home to league leaders MK Dons in midweek.
And there were no signs of a hangover in their ranks, despite the difficult conditions underfoot, as Dagenham’s bright start gave them the platform to dominate the opening 45 minutes.
Prominent in their enterprising approach was teenage midfielder Dominic Green who was given his league debut by manager John Still.
The youngster’s pace and skill on the ball going forward was instrumental in giving them the upper hand during a scrappy first 20 minutes, during which it became evident that Wrexham were in for a torrid afternoon.
He was ably supported by Glen Southam and Shane Huke to such an extent that the visitors’ defence were happy to clear the ball at every opportunity, completely by-passing their own midfield and making it difficult for strikers Marc Williams and Michael Proctor to win any useful possession.
There were half chances at both ends, Green firing straight at goalkeeper Anhony Williams before Marc Williams, in for his injured namesake Eifion, headed wide from Chris Llewellyn’s corner.
But although the home side always looked more likely to open the scoring, ironically the breakthrough came after the Dragons had themselves threatened to take the lead.
Midfielder Robbie Garrett, who had retained his place in the starting line-up despite the recovery from illness of Sam Aiston, broke clear in the 23rd minute and made space for a low cross that just evaded Proctor.
In a quick riposte, the clearance eventually reached Jon Nurse on the right and his teasing cross into the six-yard box was inadvertently turned into the net by Evans, who was under immense pressure from both Green and Paul Benson.
The goal rocked Wrexham and they were fortunate not to concede another five minutes later when Sam Shoma picked out Green, who anticipated Williams’ rush from goal with a chip that curled just wide of the far post.
And the interval might have been even more uncomfortable for the visitors had it not been for a fine interception by the goalkeeper to turn away a Southam cross and when Green’s superb run and cross found no takers among his team-mates.
Acknowledging that Wrexham needed a lift, Little sent on Sam Aiston in place of defender Wes Baynes from the restart and the revised 4-4-2 formation soon began to turn the tide.
But the home side’s defence, little tested to that point, was not found wanting until the 66th minute when Aiston’s corner fell in a crowded goalmouth to Neil Roberts, whose close-range shot was somehow smothered on the line by former Wales international keeper Tony Roberts.
Another chance went begging for the Dragons after 73 minutes when Aiston again found space to pick out Proctor, but the striker’s measured attempt to curl his shot beyond Roberts was foiled by a fairly routine save.
Five minutes later, Garrett tried his luck with an instinctive volley after another corner had been cleared to the edge of the penalty area, his shot flying a couple of yards wide of the target.
And as Wrexham became increasingly more desperate to get something from the game, they were hit by a double-whammy.
Substitute Ben Strevens, who had been on the field for just 12 minutes, dispossessed Llewellyn in controversial fashion and steadied himself to lash home a superb second goal from fully 30 yards in the 86th minute.
And Dagenham rubbed salt in the Dragons’ wounds when another replacement, Jamie Taylor, who came on in the final minute, fired home the third in added time with his first touch of the game.
It was a finish that left the Racecourse boss in a philosophical frame of mind.
“We never thought for a minute it was going to be easy and today proves that,” said Little.
“People may have thought we had turned the corner, but football has a horrible habit of reminding you how cruel it can be and the two goals at the end today were cruel.
“Sam Aiston made a big difference for us in the second half, but we just lacked that cutting edge so it is back to the drawing board.
“For long periods I thought we would perhaps get something out of the game, but ultimately they scored twice at the end and that probably flattered them.”