By Alex Hoad
The National League chapter of Dover Athletic history came to a close – for at least one year, anyway – with a cruel defeat to Weymouth on the season’s final day.
Despite a barnstorming second-half performance which saw them hit the woodwork on four occasions, Whites were stung by a controversial late winner as the Terras snatched the points with a 2-1 win at Crabble which saw boss Andy Hessenthaler and midfielder George Wilkinson each shown the red card.
Keeper Alexis Andre saved a stoppage-time penalty from Tom Blair – awarded by referee Tom Bishop despite furious appeals for offside – only for Blair to turn in the rebound to break Dover hearts in the 95th minute.
The lively Brandon Goodship had already struck the inside of the Dover post when he stepped-up to fire the visitors ahead from the penalty spot inside 10 minutes after Danny Collinge was adjudged to have fouled Portsmouth loanee Haji Mnoga as he tried to clear the ball.
It was the 100th goal Dover have conceded in the National League this season.
Henry Woods flashed a low cross-shot across the face of goal before Andy Hessenthaler was shown a red card by the referee after his protests about a free-kick awarded against Michael Gyasi for an apparent shirt-pull on half-way on 16 minutes.
Woods saw an effort deflected into the arms of debutant Terras keeper Tommy Scott but despite some encouraging approach play from Gyasi and Arjanit Krasniqi there were no further attempts on goal before the break.
All that changed after the interval as Dover produced what was perhaps their best half of any match in any competition this season.
They flew out of the blocks like a changed side and Krasniqi saw a shot blocked almost immediately by Matt Buse while long-throws from Collinge and a succession of in-swinging corners from George Wilkinson and Krasniqi caused havoc in the Weymouth goalmouth.
Gyasi fizzed the ball across the six-yard box while Collinge saw a 20-yard strike destined for the top corner deflected just past the upright on 53 minutes.
The increasingly influential Gyasi and Luke Baptiste each saw an effort blocked and Collinge fired over from range before Andre Jr was called into rare action at the other end to stop a shot from Goodship just before the hour.
Scott tipped a swerving Krasniqi shot onto the crossbar with Baptiste unable to scramble in the looping rebound while the incessant pressure continued and Scott almost spooned Woods’ shot over his own shoulder and into the net, with Gyasi penalised for his attempts to force the ball over the line.
With 20 minutes remaining Gyasi picked the ball up on the left and drove inside before curling a powerful shot which thudded the base of the far post. He came even closer to a deserved goal four minutes later when sub Jack Nelson (pictured) latched onto a Woods through-ball and played a superb cross across goal where Gyasi recovered and curled a higher shot against the same post from an angle.
The bombardment eventually paid off 15 minutes from time when Jake Goodman flicked on another Collinge long throw and Nelson was lurking at the back post to head home his first Dover goal to spark great scenes in the River End.
Whites could smell blood in the water and Gyasi saw another attempt blocked by Buse and later fired in a low cross which Scott did well to hold at his near post, while with five minutes remaining the imperious Collinge rose highest to meet a Wilkinson corner only to see his header hit the crossbar.
Wilkinson went into the book after appearing to poke the ball away to thwart a Weymouth counter-attack with three minutes of normal time remaining and he was refused treatment and ordered onto his feet by referee Mr Bishop after going down with apparent cramp in the box in the dying seconds.
It was Wilkinson who conceded the crucial penalty deep into the four added minutes, adjudged to have hauled down Blair, despite frenzied appeals from his teammates for an offside in the build-up.
Andre Jr flung himself to his right to deny sub Blair, only for the big forward to tuck home the loose ball to seal Weymouth’s first win in 15 matches, and first on their travels since October, and deny Dover the point they deserved as a bare minimum.
After the final whistle the players and fans joined together in a period of mutual appreciation as the curtain came down on this challenging campaign which nobody associated with the club will ever forget.
Dover: Andre Jr, Moses, Goodman, Ransom, Woods, Collinge, Byford (Nelson 64’), Wilkinson, Baptiste (Nikaj 86’), Krasniqi, Gyasi. Subs not used: Bexon, Wratten, Agbebi.
Scott, Greenwood, McBurnie, Goodship (Bearwish 83’), Mnoga, Robinson, Mampala (Blair 82’), Murray, Buse, Harfield, Carlyle. Subs not used: Mussa, Ash, Bruton.