DESPITE getting the perfect start Boro eventually lost out to the high-flying Daggers at Victoria Road.

Boro put up a good fight but were undone by a 37th minute strike, as championship chasing Dagenham & Redbridge recorded their first Conference victory of 2002, defeating the visitors by the same score they had done when they visited the AIMITA Stadium last October.

But optimistic boss Graham Westley was boosted by a good battling performance from his side. "It was interesting to see today how my team played against one of the leaders," he said. "We didn't look short or outclassed. We've got something going that we can start building on.

"We've got a lot to look forward to. I was very much encouraged because that shows that we have nothing to be afraid of. Nine out of 11 players all won their one on one battles, but in key areas we lost it. I know where I need to buy.

"We are getting everything right, but this year is a learning experience."

Things couldn't have started any better for the visitors, when in-form Gary Holloway, who was praised by Westley after the match, put them ahead after just two minutes.

A ball in from the right was neatly laid on to Holloway by Gary Crawshaw and he made no mistake, sending the ball ploughing past Tony Roberts in the Daggers goal.

But it took the home side only five minutes to equalise; a strong right foot strike from Danny Shipp sailing past the diving Darren Bonfield, between the sticks for Boro, in the seventh minute.

A miskick by Daggers' new signing from Woking, Steve West let Steve Watson in for a chance, only West to make amends with a superb tackle, before Justin Gregory was forced into a goal line clearance to deny Ken Charlery's effort.

Watson and Daggers' Matt Jones were both shown the yellow card within the first half hour after clashing with each other out wide on the right.

Boro were then dealt the knock out blow when Mark Stein netted his 16th goal of the season and first since December, confirming him as joint top Conference goal scorer with team mate Charlery.

A freekick on the edge of the area was pushed forward by Mark Smith and flicked on by the head of Charlery for Stein to power past Bonfield from close range.

With Daggers controlling proceedings Gregory and Barry Laker were forced into some frantic clearances on the edge of the 18-yard box.

Down the other end Michael Warner sent some threatening crosses into the box but there was no one to put them away.

The second half started in much the same vein with Charlery and Stein combining well again in the box, but Bonfield collected well from Stein's header.

A good run down the left by Chris Piper was cleared by Smith only as far as Watson, whose left foot strike agonisingly hit the upright before being cleared by Dean Hooper.

Watson was again involved in another Boro attack, launching the ball over from the right to Gary Patterson, but Roberts managed to punch clear.

Crawshaw then collected out wide and forced Roberts into a great diving save when he sent a floating ball onto the head of Rocky Baptiste.

Substitute Lenny Piper got stuck in immediately with some fancy footwork on the edge of the box, after his introduction on 74 minutes.

The visitors had appeals for a penalty turned down ten minutes later when Lenny Piper's run on goal was ended as he crashed over Roberts who made a good save at his feet.

In the closing stages Boro had a number of opportunities to equalise but substitute Miguel De Souza and Lenny Piper both saw good chances thwarted by Roberts, and Daggers scooped another three points in their race for the title.

DAGGERS: Roberts; Hooper, Vickers, West (sub Goodwin 76 mins), Smith, Shipp, Janney, Heffer, Charlery, Stein (McDougald 85), Jones (Broom 57).

BORO: Bonfield; Warner, Gregory, Patterson, Annon, Laker, Watson, Holloway, Baptiste (sub De Souza 68 mins), Crawshaw (L.Piper 74).

Ref: Mr D Spicer Att: 1,736.