Well what a difference 48 hours makes! After losing to Fleet on Saturday, despite dominating the match, Whites went into this game needing a win to get back amongst the play-off positions. Playing a side that had lost only once in 26 league games, Dover had a great first half and they should have been leading by more than the two goals from Wilkins and Cloke. The second half was a nervier affair, especially after Ade Olorunda cut the lead in half, but Athletic deservedly hung on.
Following the injury to Tommy Tyne at the weekend, there was just the one change to the eleven that had started in Hampshire. Lee Spiller regained his place in the side, which meant that Craig Wilkins, who has been deployed as a defender most of the time recently, was pushed back up-front.
Whites showed great attacking impetus from the first whistle, and within the first few minutes, Hastings’ Lee Worgan had had to block Nick Humphrey’s header, and also tip Craig Wilkins’ effort around the post, both from Jon Wallis free kicks. But the visiting keeper really excelled himself after a sublime cross from the left from James Rogers. Jimmy Dryden met the ball in the six-yard box, and Worgan pulled off an outstanding point-blank save to deny him.
Yet with a mere 13 minutes played, Dover got the goal that their early dominance deserved. Cloke’s long throw from the left was headed backwards by Wilkins, and the ball looped over the head of the keeper. Cue the ‘rocking the baby’ celebration as the side celebrated the birth of Craig’s daughter this week (congratulations Wilko!).
The attacking thrust continued to come from the Whites, and ten minutes later the lead was doubled. Another impressive set-piece by Wallis, this time from a corner from the left, found Cloke unmarked at the far post, and he headed into the net.
Hastings briefly rallied, with Lee Carey sending a speculative effort from 25-yards out over the bar, but Sam Adams was presented with a much better chance. John Keister, playing what could be his last game of the season with a five-match ban about to begin, gave the ball to the striker in the centre circle, and although he had a clear run at goal he slotted his chance wide of the post.
With the first half drawing to a close, Whites should have extended the lead. Wilkins’ header from a Rogers corner looped over the bar, before a more controversial decision. Another corner eventually fell to Byron Walker in the area, and his half-volley looked to have gone over the line, though the assistant referee adjudged that Russell Eldridge had cleared the ball before it had a chance to go into the net.
Whites looked to start the second period in the same vein as the first, as they forced a couple of early corners, yet just before the hour mark the visitors hauled themselves back into the game. A quick corner wasn’t dealt with, allowing Ade Olorunda to flick the ball over the line from a couple of yards out.
Although both sides made changes in personnel, Dover continued to look the better side. Dryden headed one chance straight at Worgan, and then he was put through on goal but muscled off of the ball by the covering defender before he could get his shot away.
And with the side unable to seal the win, tensions began to increase, especially as Hastings had equalised late on to snatch a point in the corresponding fixture at the Pilot Field on Boxing Day. Glen Knight tested the nerves as he fumbled a Russell Eldridge shot on the line following another short corner, but he managed to thwart the danger before anyone could capitalise.
Rhys Whybourne headed a corner over at the near post, and Graham Webb had a low shot cleared as the ball bounced about in the area, but although Whites’ fans nerves were shot to shreds, the side hung on to record the win.
This was a very important win for the Whites, as they put Saturday’s defeat behind them. The confidence that the win gives the team should be immense, especially as they beat a side that would have gone top with a win here. Dover now need to just keep playing as they did here, as they go into the crucial final four games of the season.
Referee: Ian Regan Assistants: Alan Marshall & Stephen Rowden
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