A PENALTY four minutes from time inflicted a first defeat for Farnborough Town caretaker chief Ian McDonald — but spirits remain high in preparation for the visit of Conference title chasers Yeovil this Saturday.

Boro matched the high-flying Daggers stride for stride in a way that only Norwich City have done since Boxing Day, in a performance which earned praise from well-respected boss Garry Hill and the Daggers faithful who haven't seen their team undone in the league at Victoria Road since September 28.

But Macca's men eventually ran out of luck when substitute Joff Vansittart was adjudged to have raised an arm in an aerial battle with Lee Matthews, and FA Cup hero Junior McDougald stroked home the resulting penalty past the otherwise superb Tony Pennock.

It was tough luck on Macca's men, who fought gallantly throughout and might have made the early running had Lenny Piper and Ken Charlery shot either side of former Welsh under 21 keeper Tony Roberts.

But despite Boro slipping to 14th in the table - just seven points off the bottom three - Macca is still happy in the knowledge his boys are doing the club proud in their fight for survival.

He said: "The lads have virtually done all that I've asked them to do. We've competed, played good football and I thought we had the better of the chances in the first half.

"Dagenham came back at us in the second half and we've dealt with everything they've thrown at us until the end where we ran out of luck.

"There were two shouts of a penalty in the game, I thought the first one was - Stuart Reeks has clearly brought the lad down - but the second one, Joff was holding the player up and the lad has just bundled into him.

"It's disappointing but overall it was an excellent performance and bags of spirit."

Boro, without the suspended Christian Lee and injured Dean Green, included all four of their new signings in the travelling party with defender Stuart Reeks and midfield man Geoff Pitcher both given debuts.

Pitcher, wearing Steve Watson's old No.7 shirt, was outstanding, while Reeks, donning Lee's No.10 jersey, limited the threat of deadly duo McDougald and Mark Stein admirably.

Ronnie Girvan and Paul Harkness were unused substitutes.

Boro started the strongest and tested Roberts twice in the opening few minutes with Charlery, making a return to his former stamping ground, disappointed not to have done better after good work by Baptiste.

The battle of the keepers - arguably the best two in the Conference - continued as Pennock brilliantly denied Stein, while, at the other end, Roberts expertly kept out another Charlery effort.

Both Piper brothers then tested Roberts' handling with stinging shots as the half drew to a close, and on the evidence of the shot count, Boro were enjoying the better.

But back came the Daggers after the break, forcing Boro on the back foot. Tony Taggart, enjoying a new lease of life at left back, made two crucial challenges while Reeks and Darren Annon threw themselves at everything to further protect Pennock behind them.

Baptiste then headed Boro's best effort wide of the far post from Garry Butterworth's corner.

Boro believed they had done enough to earn a point, and thought their luck might be in when, in the thick of intense Dagenham pressure, Reeks blatantly pulled down McDougald latching onto Stein's through ball. To their relief, referee Kevin Friend was just that, and waved play-on.

But it could have been a costly decision to the final outcome, as with the seconds ticking down, Vansittart and Matthews rose together to attack John McGrath's corner from the right and Mr Friend pointed to the spot much to the dismay of the Boro defence.

McDougald stepped up to stroke the ball home in the left hand corner to leave Boro down, but certainly not out, as they look to bury the ghost of Westley and continue their Play-Off charge.

BORO: Pennock; C Piper, Taggart, Reeks, Annon, Butterworth, Patterson, Pitcher, L Piper, Charlery (sub Vansittart 79mins), Baptiste. Not used: Potter; Osborn, Girvan, Harkness.

Ref: Kevin Friend. Att: 1,542.

l The reserves are in action on Wednesday night when they entertain Havant & Waterlooville in the Capital League (ko 7.45pm).

l All seven of the Boro exiles were in action for Graham Westley's Stevenage on Saturday in the 1-1 draw with Morecambe.

l Director and kit man Ron Berry is the latest person to quit the Boro ranks. He, like everybody else it seems, is expected to join up with Westley at Broadhall Way.