Fleet’s play-off ambitions finally fell by the wayside as Dover gatecrashed the last home game of the season to deservedly make off with all three points.
Alfie Pavey’s second-half goal as the visitors finally converted one of their chances was enough and Fleet were unable to really test Lee Worgan to haul themselves back into contention.
There were three changes for Garry Hill’s men with Dave Winfield, Ebou Adams and Michael Cheek out, making way for Bagasan Graham, Jack Payne and Gozie Ugwu. It meant Fleet operated with a back three of Lawrie Wilson, Sam Magri and Chris Bush while Myles Weston was deployed behind Graham on the left.
And Fleet were looking buoyant and eager in the opening stages, threading several passes together from kick-off before Dover could even get a touch.
Danny Kedwell threaded a ball through to Ugwu on five minutes and his direct running caused problems but he was shut down before he could create any more. Graham enjoyed a number of incisive runs from midfield as well as Fleet sought to get the first goal.
Dover were quick on the counterattack, however, and Alfie Pavey directed a cross past Nathan Ashmore on 10 minutes but the assistant’s flag was up straight away.
Moments later, Wilson floated a deep delivery towards Kedwell on the far side of the box and his quick first-time ball into Andy Drury’s path had just a little much on it.
But Dover began to force the pace from 20 minutes. Pavey’s dangerous cross from the right fizzed low into the Fleet six-yard box and Ashmore only just got a touch at full-stretch that fell for Mitch Brundle who should have hit the target but saw his effort deflected over.
Anthony Jeffrey was bright down the left for Dover and he got away again on 22 minutes, denied only by a crunching interception by Sam Magri. Fleet’s attacks too often foundered on the edge of the box and Dover were quick to exploit the flanks every time as the home side – not always comfortable with Dover’s width – began to retreat and come under increasing pressure.
Bobby Joe-Taylor drew a one-handed stop from Ashmore from a free-kick that referee Gary Parsons seemed to dream up out of nowhere and Pavey should have done better than flap at Jeffrey’s 33rd-minute cross that zipped across the face of goal.
A second Dover ‘goal’ was ruled offside from a second Taylor free-kick as Brundle headed home and the same player then almost turned a pass in at the near post, denied only by Weston’s intervention. Fleet were hanging on and half-time rather interrupted Dover’s flow as they ended the first 45 minutes with a Kevin Lokko shot running just off target.
Fleet suggested they might have more to show in the opening moments of the second half when Ugwu was released to get in behind the Dover defence finally but the loanee’s cross dropped behind Kedwell.
But normal service was resumed with Dover back on the attack. The lively Pavey crashed a shot off the crossbar on 49 minutes but needed only two more to find his range.
The goal that proved to be the winner was routine enough for Dover, Fleet losing possession in midfield and a move ending with Jeffrey’s pass into space gobbled up by Pavey who just had to keep his shot on target to score.
Fleet were almost straight back into it when Graham advanced from the left side of the penalty area and stabbed the ball beyond Worgan only for the former Maidstone goalkeeper to rather fortuitously grab it as it bounced back up.
That was Fleet’s best, albeit brief, period of pressure on the Dover goal and the remainder of the half became an exercise in frustration for the watching home fans.
Magri had to twice perform heroics at the other end and Ashmore denied Jeffrey with a desperate hand pushing his cross away from goal.
Kedwell’s bustling run delivered a cross for Graham to fire over and then Payne had an equally fierce run through midfield to supply Kedwell but Dover were equal to that as well.
The visitors were content to soak up the pressure and attempt to deliver a coup de grace of their own. They almost got it on 74 minutes when Inih Effiong’s run down the right ended with Jeffrey scooping the ball over the goal from six yards.
A flurry of yellow cards were all that marked the final 10 minutes as Fleet toiled to no avail for even an equaliser that would merely have recouped some pride, while elsewhere Eastleigh and Harrogate Town got the victories to seal their play-off places.
EUFC: Ashmore, Wilson, Magri, Bush, Weston, Rance, Drury (Whitely 72), Payne, Graham (Adams 81), Kedwell, Ugwu (Cheek 58). Subs not used: Miles, Moncur.
DAFC: Worgan, Passley, Lokko, Doe, Taylor, Brundle, Lewis, Reason, Allen (Effiong 65), Jeffrey, Pavey. Subs not used: Walker, Adebowale, Nortey, Daniel.