A magnificent volley from Ricky Holmes fired Northampton Town to another three points as an off-colour Cobblers side came from behind to beat Dagenham & Redbridge 2-1 and remain level on points with leaders Plymouth at the top of League Two.
Holmes had been named on the bench by manager Chris Wilder but that didn’t stop him from once again being Northampton’s match-winner as his stunning goal 11 minutes from time rescued the visitors who had been second best for much of this game.
The Cobblers were distinctly off the pace in the first half and they were fortunate not to be at least one behind at the break against an at times rampant Dagenham side who, boosted by the arrival of new manager John Still, created a succession of clear-cut chances but wayward finishing combined with brilliant goalkeeping kept them at bay.
The visitors barely threatened at all in the first hour and though they slightly improved after half-time, Dagenham finally made the breakthrough when Christian Doidge converted from close-range.
It was difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Cobblers had laboured up to this point but the introduction of Holmes brought them to life as John-Joe O’Toole bundled in a corner to bring the visitors level before Holmes’ moment of brilliance won it.
Dagenham will be wondering how they failed to win this game, let alone lose, but as is so often said, the mark of a good side is one which wins when not at their best and that was the case for Northampton whose character and spirit again shone through as they continued their excellent run of form to keep pace with leaders Plymouth and move seven points clear of third-placed Oxford United.
Wilder had opted to rest both Holmes and Marc Richards for this game which meant new loan signing Lee Martin came straight into the team for his Cobblers debut while Sam Hoskins and Nicky Adams also returned to the starting line-up in place of the injured Alfie Potter and Lawson D’Ath.
Buoyed by Still’s appointment, Dagenham were fast out of the traps with almost the entire opening 10 minutes played in Town’s half, and the visitors almost were behind early but Brendan Moloney cleared off the line before Ashley Chambers’ snatched at his shot from eight yards out after Adam Smith fumbled a corner.
Dagenham continued to come flooding forward and but for a brilliant save from Smith they would have been ahead as the Cobblers keeper superbly denied Christian Doidge when faced one-on-one.
Smith had been far busier than he would have wanted in the opening stages, and he was called into action again on 11 minutes when parrying away Josh Passley’s powerful effort.
There was little indication of the chasm that separates these two in the league as relegation-threatened Dagenham dominated the opening quarter with promotion-chasing Northampton barely able to muster one attack of note.
Finally, though, the Cobblers managed to carve out an opportunity on the home goal when Martin, Town’s brightest player up to this point, headed into the path of Hoskins, who turned and shot low with Mark Cousins getting down well to save.
That came largely against the run of play, however, and the home side remained on top with Chambers’ long-range attempt sailing well over
This was not the Northampton team of recent weeks with passes continuing to go astray and Dagenham thought they had the goal their dominance warranted but Chambers’ header from Ashley Hemmings’ cross was ruled out for offside.
Having had to soak up so much Dagenham pressure, the Cobblers then almost took what would have been an undeserved lead when, just short of half-time, a rare forward into Dagenham territory led to Adams crossing for Zander Diamond, whose header was brilliantly blocked on the line by Justin Hoyte.
But back came Dagenham who were once again inches away from making the breakthrough when Doidge broke found himself clean through on goal and lobbed Smith but the ball, which seemed to take an age to come back down to earth, had just too much on it and landed beyond the goal.
Chambers was the next to fluff his lines, spooning over when he had time and space in the penalty area following a swift breakaway from a Cobblers corner, as Northampton somehow survived through to half-time unscathed.
Unsurprisingly, Wilder made a change at half-time in an attempt to alter the pattern of the game with Richards replacing Hoskins.
That change had an immediate impact as Cobblers began the second half brighter and enjoyed more possession with Martin’s volley landing on the roof of the net before Collins curled an effort wide.
But Dagenham remained a threat, emphasised by Chambers who almost got through on goal but Diamond got back well to put pressure on and Smith saved well.
However, that was merely a sign of what was to come as, eventually, Dagenham’s pressure told.
The breakthrough came on 62 minutes when a poor clearance from Martin was pounced upon by Passley, who drove to the byline and sent in a low right-wing cross that was turned home by Doidge, who couldn’t miss when just yards from goal, for Daggers’ first ever home goal against Northampton.
Wilder threw on Holmes for Martin in another attempt to rejuvenate his side, and the Cobblers responded well to going behind as they finally applied some overdue pressure on Dagenham’s goal with a sustained spell of possession.
And that soon rewarded in a swift equaliser when, six minutes after Dagenham took the lead, O’Toole bundled home Adams’ corner.
Dagenham’s goal had stung the Cobblers into action and boosted by the equaliser, the visitors now went surging forward looking to add a quick second and they almost found it but Adams’ low shot was well held by Cousins after a slick move.
They had taken a while to get going but the Northampton pressure was now relentless as they penned Dagenham back with wave after wave of attack, and that would soon result in a second goal which came in quite sensational fashion.
A corner from the right was cleared to the edge of the area where Holmes was perfectly-placed to launch a magnificent first-time volley that arrowed right into the top corner, giving Cousins no chance.
Northampton could perhaps count themselves a tad fortunate to be ahead having been second best for much of this game but their quality had shone through and despite Dagenham trying everything in the final few minutes, Town comfortably survived six minutes of added time to record a ninth win in 10 league games.
Dagenham: Cousins, Passley, Labadie (c), Dikamona, Boucaud (Jones 85), Chambers (Hawkins 81), Muldoon, Hemmings, Worrall, Hoyte, Doidge (Cureton 81)
Subs not sued: O’Brien, Raymond, Hickford, Widdowson
Cobblers: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, McDonald, Buchanan (c), Martin (Holmes 67), O’Toole, Byrom, Adams (Taylor 87), Hoskins (Richards 45), Collins
Subs not used: Clarke, Horwood, Cresswell, Lelan
Referee: Iain Williamson
Attendance: 1, 729
Cobblers fans: 892