After all the build-up and hype, it was Dover who claimed the season’s first round of bragging rights with Tom Murphy’s clinical second-half strike the difference between the two sides.
Fleet boss Steve Brown made only one change to his side, Daryl McMahon making his debut after completing a suspension, in place of Dean Rance. This meant Billy Bricknell was fit enough only to take his place on the substitute’s bench and Michael Thalassitis continued to plough a lone furrow up front.
The visitors began on the front foot but were rocked inside just six minutes when Dover took the lead. Ricky Modeste and Elliott Charles combined to force a corner off Paul Lorraine and Ashley’s Carew’s far post delivery was met by the head of the rangy Richard Orlu who powered it home. Dover continued to force the game, though Fleet really should have been back in it minutes later when Thalassitis managed to prod the ball out of Mitchell Walker’s squirming grasp, McMahon crossed to Anthony Cook at the far post and he headed against the bar, with the rebound falling to Stacy Long who blasted over the empty goal.
Fleet finally got going after 20 minutes as Dover appeared to feel the effects of losing Lloyd Harrington to injury and the visitors’ midfield played some neat interchanges, Long and McMahon trying to find a weakness to exploit in the Whites’ back line. Dominic Green fired wide and Cook had two half chances, while for Dover Modeste and Murphy had snapshots held by Edwards.
With Howe and Cook pressing down the right, and Thalassitis’ hold-up play getting into gear, Fleet pushed Modeste into a more defensive role and began to enjoy greater possession. Again Cook troubled Walker, who had a half to forget in the Dover goal, while Howe crossed low but Long found his shot blocked. At the other end, on 37 minutes, Murphy beat Aiden Palmer to a long ball and dashed off a shot that brushed the post as Dover continued to pose a danger.
Fleet deservedly equalised almost immediately when Green’s corner fell to Corcoran out wide, he fed the ball back into the box. As Dover’s defence came to clear, Long’s delightful back heel wrong-footed them all, fell into the path of Cook and he smashed a shot across Walker and into the net.
And the visitors would have been disappointed to hear the half-time whistle as they continued to create chances right up until the break. Thalassitis almost rounded off another decent midfield move but his shot was deflected for a corner and Corcoran headed Green’s set-piece just wide of the post as Steve Brown’s side ended the half much better than how they began it.
Had Fleet carried their momentum into the second half, it may well have been a different story but where the first 45 minutes was a high-tempo derby affair, the second was more reminiscent of Saturday’s clash against Havant. Neither side seemed able to create clear-cut chances though Dover were first into the fray, ex-Fleet pairing Charles and Craig Stone both seeing their shots blocked in the six-yard box.
Fleet took a quarter of an hour to register their first salvoes of the second half, McMahon’s long-range shot deflected wide and then Cook’s attempted lob tipped over by the Dover goalkeeper. Bricknell replaced Thalassitis on 67 minutes but no sooner was he in action than Dover quite unexpectedly took the lead when Murphy’s half-volley from a long ball flew straight past Edwards and into the bottom corner of the net.
Brown threw Rance and Tom Phipp into proceedings in a bid to claw back a point for the Fleet but though the visitors carved out a few half chances and had the majority of possession in the closing 20 minutes, they could fashion little that troubled Dover’s defence. McMahon’s long-distance shot and Green’s free-kick were the closest the Fleet came, but it was nowhere near close enough.
Fleet take another trip to the south coast, this time Eastbourne, on Saturday as they look to kick-start the season – which if they can recapture the form of the first-half, is certainly on the cards.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, Corcoran (Rance 75), Huke, Lorraine, Green, McMahon, Thalassitis (Bricknell 67), Long (Phipp 82), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Sankofa.
Stacy Long and Anthony Cook tied for man of the match v Havant. The vote for tonight’s game is now live on the front-page sidebar.