By Alex Hoad
Battling Dover were eventually seen-off by two late goals from play-off chasing Torquay United at Crabble on Saturday.
Whites fell behind after just 90 seconds when Gulls skipper Asa Hall unleashed a superb volley from the edge of the box but Jake Goodman equalised before the half-hour and after Dover had spurned some decent chances, in the end, it needed two goals in the final 12 minutes to seal the points and take the Devon side within six points of the promotion places.
Andy Hessenthaler made a single change with George Wilkinson coming in for Myles Judd, who was serving the first of his three-game ban for his red card at Stockport last weekend, with Arjanit Krasniqi reverting to left-back and Danny Collinge playing full-back on the opposite side.
After missing two months with a back injury, TJ Bramble made a long-awaited return to the squad, named on the bench in place of Khale Da Costa, who left the club earlier this week.
The visitors made the perfect start as Hall – who netted the 8th-minute winner as Torquay beat Wrexham 1-0 last Saturday – latched onto a headed clearance, chested the ball down, and unleashed a swerving 20-yard volley which flew past Adam Parkes and into the roof of the net.
Boosted by the bright start, the Gulls took control and Dan Holman, Ben Wynter, Armani Little, and Stephen Wearne all tried their luck as Dover struggled to get into the game.
United keeper Shaun MacDonald had only touched the ball with his hands once by the time Dover drew level against the run of play.
A deep corner from the right by Krasniqi was met by Alfie Pavey at the far post and after rolling across the face of goal Goodman was on hand to ram home from a couple of yards out.
The goal settled Athletic down and Dover grew into the game, though the lively Michael Gyasi was unable to thread the ball through for Henry Woods on the edge of the box.
At the other end, Parkes did well to deny Wearne with a point-blank save at his near post while Hall fired the follow-up well over – a chance far easier than that from which he had broken the deadlock.
Goodman headed a deep Koby Arthur free-kick off-target before the break while Dover changed their shape at the interval and continued to enjoy good spells of possession.
Gyasi continued to be a thorn in the Gulls’ side and saw an effort collected by MacDonald, who also held a Goodman header from a huge throw from captain Ryan Hanson and saw Pavey skew wide from an Arthur cross.
Wynter fizzed a shot past Parkes’ post at the other end as the visitors began to increase their urgency just before the hour.
Duke-McKenna and Danny Wright came on as Torquay chased the game and Wright sent a header wide and Lewis had another effort deflected past the post while on 73 minutes Gyasi miscued his shot when clean through after latching on to an almighty clearance from Parkes which had sailed over Lewis’ head.
It proved a pivotal moment as Torquay scored the game’s crucial third goal just five minutes later. Lewis lost his marker Pavey and met Little’s deep corner with a powerful header that flashed past Parkes and into the net.
Dover piled on the pressure late-on, with Bramble firing off target from the edge of the area, Goodman directing a Ransom cross the wrong side of the post, and Pavey nodding wide from a corner, however, they were stung on the counter-attack deep into stoppage time as Little freed Duke-McKenna down the left and he drove forward before firing a low shot past Parkes and into the far corner.
Whites remain 32 points from safety, though wins for Altrincham and Wealdstone hauled them away from the drop-zone and Dover have played more games than any team in the bottom-five.
Notts County are the visitors to Crabble on Tuesday (7.45pm).