Fleet fell to Dover in their final game at Stonebridge Road of 2013 in front of their biggest home gate of the league season, losing ground on leaders Bromley in the process.
A calamitous own goal barely 20 seconds into the match pulled the rug from beneath the home side and they never really got into sufficiently high gear to trouble Dover after that as a second goal in the first-half saw the visitors dig in for the three points.
A spanner was thrown into Fleet’s pre-match plans after Chris Sessegnon withdrew due to a family illness, so Joe Howe took his place, while Daryl McMahon and Ben May made way for Michael Corcoran and Michael Thalassitis, who passed a late fitness test.
But Fleet’s new-look line-up got no time to settle as 20 seconds after the kick-off, an extraordinary own goal put Dover in front. Osei Sankofa’s back pass under pressure from Elliott Charles put Preston Edwards in trouble and though the Fleet goalkeeper got his left boot to it, he looked off balance and rather shanked it as it bounced past him and over the goalline.
That setback rocked the Fleet and for a spell they looked tentative, unable to get a passing game together. Charles, who has struggled to score or hold down a regular place for Dover all season, once again reserved his best for playing against the Fleet, unsettling defenders as he did at Crabble back in August.
Fleet’s chief threat was Anthony Cook once again as he buzzed around the final third looking to unlock the Dover defence and he earned a Terrell Forbes a caution with one bursting run, while forcing Mitch Walker into the first save at the Swanscombe End with a low drive on the half-hour mark.
And the Fleet winger kept plugging away, drawing a second Dover caution – this time for Sean Raggett – as he was hacked down 25 yards from goal. Cook crashed the resulting set piece against the crossbar as Fleet finally looked like they were getting on top of proceedings.
But the home side’s ascendancy was dealt a blow on 38 minutes when Dover went further in front. Corcoran surrendered possession in his own half and Chris Kinnear Jr played a ball wide for Charles who cut inside and drilled a low shot just inside the far post – the striker’s first league goal of the season.
Fleet should have responded with a goal within four minutes when Cook’s weighted cross saw Thalassitis head goalwards from six yards out but Walker was well positioned and he deflected it over the bar. At the other end, in time added on, it was Dover’s turn to hit the woodwork when former Fleet favourite Nathan Elder saw his effort come back off the crossbar.
The second half needed a big effort from the Fleet but they failed to break down the visitors’ resolute defensive line in a second period of few concrete opportunities. Thalassitis saw his header go behind off Raggett and Billy Bricknell felt he had been checked inside the box after a run in the first exchanges of the half, before Steve Brown replaced Alex Osborn with McMahon.
The Fleet midfielder was straight into the action with a drive from 25 yards that cleared the crossbar but then the game became disrupted as Charles twice went to ground before succumbing to a knock and then Kinnear made rather a meal of a tackle that saw him sprint back on to the pitch 30 seconds after very slowly limping off it.
Still, however, Fleet could not up the tempo and May’s introduction for Corcoran was the home side’s final throw of the dice. McMahon had another go, firing wide, but Dover absorbed everything the Fleet could muster in the final third without ever looking likely to add to their two-goal lead – their best chances being a Kinnear effort that cannoned off Sankofa and two Liam Bellamy strikes that disappeared into the terracing.
Four minutes of time added on was never going to change the outcome of a match settled in the first half but Fleet won’t have long to lick their wounds and will be looking to get another run going as they host Bromley on New Year’s Day.
TEAM: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, Corcoran (May 73), Lorraine, Sankofa, Osborn (McMahon 53), Rance, Thalassitis, Bricknell, Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Long, Phipp.