WHITES were knocked in their attempts to extend their four-point cushion from the relegation zone when they let a two-goal lead at Hartlepool United slip to lose 3-2 on Saturday.
With both sides pushing for a winner, Lee Molyneux grabbed an injury-time clincher in windy and wet conditions at the Super Six Stadium.
The substitute curled Josh Hawkes lay-off into the bottom corner to end Dover’s 100% win record against their County Durham opponents.
Two controversial spot-kicks after the break from Hawkes had restored parity after Andy Hessenthaler’s men had been ahead at the break thanks to fine finishes from Alfie Pavey and Jai Reason.
Athletic fashioned there first chance early on, however, Bedsente Gomis was unable to connect with Reason’s pinpoint cross to the back post.
Pavey then collected Reason’s pass and went from goal, but his 20-yard curling effort flew just wide of home stopper Scott Loach’s far post.
But the striker made no mistake on 28 minutes with his second in as many matches.
Mitch Brundle’s lofted ball over the Pool defence was accurately volleyed first time into the bottom corner by Pavey as Dover looked to continue their 100% winning record against United.
Dover captain Brundle then saved his side at the other end, clearing Luke James’ bobbling shot off the line.
And the hosts were punished for their miss as the away side made it two on 39 minutes.
Reason scored his sixth goal of the season for Dover, latching onto Anthony Jeffrey’s ball 20-yards from goal and placing the ball perfectly into the bottom corner, out of reach from Loach’s despairing dive.
Hartlepool nearly hit back immediately through Nicke Kabamba’s fierce 20-yard strike, only for visiting stopper Lee Worgan to make a strong one-handed save to push away the Havant & Waterlooville loanee’s shot.
The rebound fell for Mark Kitching, but the left-back – who was subsequently substituted for Molyneux three minutes before the break, ballooned his shot over the bar via the body of Brundle.
Brundle then almost put himself on the scoresheet when his drive from Bobby-Joe Taylor’s corner was well blocked by the home defence.
Following the restart, Jamie Allen sent two efforts wide, one from inside the area following good wing play from Jeffrey, and then another from just outside the penalty box.
James’ nearly reduced the arrears, but Worgan denied the striker from an angle with his legs.
New Hartlepool signing David Edgar could only look in disbelief after being denied a debut goal.
The Canadian international headed Liam Noble’s corner goalwards, only to see the ball hit Reason on the head and bounce up onto the crossbar before dropping down onto the goal line and away to safety.
The deficit was halved on 70 minutes when referee Leigh Doughty gave a penalty against Taylor after a cross struck the defender’s hand from five yards.
Hawkes converted and then nearly completed the comeback seconds later.
James found the midfielder in the box to fire goalwards, only for Worgan to block from point-blank range.
However, the equaliser arrived after another penalty was given three minutes after the previous. The referee deemed Jeffrey’s tackle in the area to be unfair and pointed to the spot, leaving Hawkes to smash the ball past Worgan to make the scores level.
Sub Inih Effiong nearly won it for Dover as Scott Loach Palmed away his curling shot and the home side countered Dover’s attack to grab a dramatic late winner.
Earlier, boss Hessenthaler made two changes to the side that started against Braintree Town last week. Jeffrey and Danny McNamara came in for Scott Doe and Ricky Modeste.
Whites next host Boreham Wood in the National League on Tuesday 12th March, kick-off 7:45 pm.
DOVER ATHLETIC REACTION
JAMIE Allen’s first-half strike stunned Hartlepool as Dover won 1-0 at a sodden Victoria Park on Saturday.
The Summer signing from Southport turned and fired into the bottom corner on 28 minutes as Dover won their opening National League fixture of the season at the fourth attempt.
White’s goalscorer showed a glimpse of what was to come early on, running clear of the home defence and squaring for Nortei Nortey to shoot, but the midfielder’s skewed effort failed to reach the target.
Skipper Mitch Brundle then released the dangerous Allen down the left and the winger’s first-time cross just evaded the outstretched legs of Ryan Bird.
The first shot on target saw Pool’s Padraig Amond volley Ryan Donaldson’s corner straight at Mitch Walker.
The second effort on goal came soon after from Kane Richards. The away attacker cut in from the right, but his weak effort was easily held by Scott Loach in the home goal.
The next action saw Athletic take the lead. Brundle’s corner was initially cleared to Femi Ilesanmi and the defender’s first-time ball back into the box was fired home by livewire Allen.
The lead should have been doubled minutes later as Ryan Bird thundered a header the wrong side of the post from Josh Passley’s cross.
The teams were almost level before the break, but Jack Nunn could only volley Liam Donnelly’s cross wide.
Home substitutes Rhys Oates and Jake Cassidy combined just after the break with the latter volleying wildly into the air when well placed. The ball fell back to Oates, but the winger’s header failed to hit the target.
A lightning counter from Dover saw Nortey release Allen out wide, but the forward’s low pass was blazed over by Richards from close range.
Bird went close with another header, this time nodding Ilesanmi’s cross straight at Loach.
Hartlepool ramped up the pressure and a quick free-kick was fired in. The ball rebounded towards goal off Amond, but a combination of Walker and Parry cleared the danger.
Sub Tobi Sho-Silva should have sealed the win with twenty minutes remaining. The striker had just Loach to beat after being found in the box by Richards, but he placed his effort wide of the far post.
Lewis Hawkins fired a low twenty-yard drive wide as the County Durham side continued to press for a goal.
And the monkey hangers came close to finding an equaliser late on.
Connor Newton created space for himself to shoot from just inside the box, but Walker was able to catch his effort with a diving save.
Louis Laing then drove forward from the back and unleashed a fierce effort on target, with the visiting keeper comfortably clasping the ball.
Dover almost made the three points safe at the death as substitute Mitch Pinnock sent an inch-perfect cross towards Bird, but the big striker could only nod the ball agonisingly wide.
Earlier, manager Chris Kinnear made two changes to the team that started their final home friendly against Margate. Nortei Nortey and Manny Parry started in place of Mitch Pinnock and Manny Adebowale, who dropped to the bench.
DOVER ATHLETIC REACTION