Wycombe Wanderers 2, Dagenham and Redbridge 0.
STEVEN Craig went from villain to goalscoring hero as he netted a penalty to send Wanderers on their way to victory over ten man Dagenham and Redbridge.
The striker had received a couple of boos prior to kick off as supporters reacted to his midweek complaint over the late payment of a bonus, but by the end those jeers turned to cheers as his all-action display inspired his side to a long overdue and much deserved victory.
Craig had been involved in the first half incident that led to the visitors being reduced to ten men, with defender Scott Doe’s furiously violent reaction to the striker’s challenge on the Dagenham goalkeeper bringing with it the red card.
It was a game changer – and potentially a season-defining moment – as Wanderers dominated the second half to cruise to their first victory in six matches and at the same time end the Daggers’ eight game unbeaten streak.
Max Kretzschmar swept home a delightful second to put the seal on things, with Blues keeping their noses ahead of Portsmouth and Northampton as both of their fellow strugglers also picked up maximum points.
Wanderers started on the front foot as an excellent sliding challenge from Matt Saunders brought an end to a weaving run from Kretzschmar, as the Wycombe midfielder burst into the area after good work to win the ball by Craig.
Adams Park debutant Aaron Pierre sent a header from a corner over the bar as Blues began promisingly but they had to rely on a goalline clearance from Matt McClure – back in the side after a hamstring injury – as giant defender Brian Saah beat Matt Ingram to Saunders’ free kick and headed towards goal.
The visitors then almost snatched a fortunate opener as an attempted clearance from Pierre cannoned off Luke Howell and crept just past the post.
And the chances continued to come Dagenham’s way as Luke Norris fashioned some space for himself down the left channel and Ingram clutched his shot at the second attempt after spilling his initial effort.
Back down the other end Craig was inches away from converting a Kretzschmar cross, with Doe beating him to the ball, and former Dagger Stuart Lewis saw a fierce volley from outside the area blocked unwittingly by Medy Elito.
Wanderers now looked to get a stranglehold on the game as McClure was crowded out after Kretzschmar climbed highest to nod Sam Wood’s cross into his path, before Blues worked the resulting corner short for Matt Bloomfield to sting the palms of visiting keeper Chris Lewington with a rasping effort from distance.
It proved the midfielder’s final input into the game as he was injured shortly afterwards. Marvin McCoy replaced him, with Nick Arnold being pulled into midfield from full back in a reshuffle.
But Wanderers were then handed a numerical advantage as Craig caught Lewington as he chased down a through pass and Doe reacted furiously to the challenge, shoving the Scotsman with both hands to earn himself a deserved red card and leave his team mates to play more than half the game a man light.
Daggers were still adjusting when Blues took advantage of the extra space to work an opportunity for Craig, whose shot was turned around the post by Lewington.
Within seconds of the restart Wanderers had the chance to go in front as Lewis skipped his way into the area only to be tripped, with referee Geoff Eltringham further endearing himself to the home support by immediately pointing to the penalty spot. Craig stepped up and smashed it low into the bottom corner as the power beat Lewington, who guessed right.
Craig was now playing like a man possessed as he had a shot blocked – as did Wood, before Kretzschmar dragged a free kick wide of the near post as Wanderers piled on the pressure at the start of the second half.
They almost had a second as Arnold and Josh Scowen combined from a corner to flight the ball in for McClure, whose flying header scraped the crossbar.
But a minute later Wanderers had that crucial second goal as they notched their first goal from open play in a month. There was a hint of good fortune about how it was created as Pierre’s wild attempt looped the ball high up into the air, but there was nothing lucky about McClure’s expertly cushioned header as he nodded it calmly into the path of Kretzschmar to lash home from the edge of the box.
Chances were now coming thick and fast as Arnold’s low effort was whistling towards the bottom corner until Lewington beat it away, with a woeful Elito volley that was in danger of finding the upper tier of the Frank Adams Stand being all Dagenham could respond with.
Craig was withdrawn with ten minutes remaining and drew a generous round of applause from the Adams Park faithful, which was reciprocated by the striker as he clapped all corners of the ground as he made way for Jon-Paul Pittman.
Yet Wanderers still had chances to extend their lead without their side’s attacking fulcrum as Arnold was denied once more and Kretzschmar hit a free kick straight into the keeper’s arms.
And Lewis came mightily close to netting against his old club as he sidestepped his marker before sending his searing effort inches over the top.
Wanderers: Ingram, Arnold, Rowe, Pierre, Wood, Scowen, Kretzschmar, Bloomfield (sub McCoy), Lewis, McClure (sub Styche), Craig (sub Pittman). Substitutes not used: Horlock, Togwell, Kuffour, Morgan.
Attendance: 3,103 (200 from Dagenham)