Dover Athletic 2
Dorel o.g. 65
THERE is a reason Dover Athletic are riding high at the top of the National League and they came away from a Plainmoor with a deserved three points.
United struggled to penetrate the visitors all afternoon and were unable to recover the early goal from Paul Lewis, with defeat sealed by a Vincent Dorel own goal on 65 minutes.
United boss Gary Owers understandably stuck with the same side that bulldozed their way past Maidenhead with a 4-0 win in midweek, but there is a return on the bench for goalkeeper Ryan Clarke and Jon-Paul Pittman, with James Gray and young Neal Osborn on loan at Barnstaple.
Dover arrive at Plainmoor with confidence high after a terrific start to the campaign and they brough a couple of familiar faces in the shape of former Gull Giancarlo Gallifuoco and winger Kadell Daniel, who enjoyed a brief loan spell at TQ1 a couple of seasons ago.
The feel-good factor around Plainmoor unfortunately dwindled inside five minutes, as the visitors grabbed an early lead with a painfully simple goal, with Paul Lewis nodding home a routine cross from the left.
It was incredibly frustrating for Owers and his staff to see all their pre-match plans thrown into disarray so early in the encounter but, to their credit, United quickly recovered their composure and placed the Dover defence under pressure with a succession of balls into the box.
Yellow Army irritation, however, was quickly focussed on the officials and it was hard to argue with their assessment, as many of the coin-toss decisions in the early stages went in favour of Dover.
As the game settled into a pattern, United were having some joy down the left flank, with Liam Davis pushing forward and channel runs from Luke Young, but the final delivery kept picking out the safe hands of goalkeeper Mitch Walker.
At the other end, Dover were a continued threat and experienced forward Ryan Bird found some space on the edge of the box for a sweet strike against the bar. United were then grateful to see the offside flag raised after Lewis had again found the net.
There was plenty of endeavour from United but the Dover defence always looked in control, and well protected by Gallifuoco playing in a screening role in front of the back four. Bird, meanwhile, flashed another header inches wide after a lovely cross from Jamie Allen.
Ryan Higgins provided the final act of a difficult first period but Dover again cleared with ease, and United emerged from the interval knowing something very different was required to get any change out of an impressive visiting side.
Owers acted swiftly in his need for more attacking impetus, removing the more protective instincts of Damon Lathrope for Jennison Myrie-Williams.
The swirling wind had gathered strength in the early stages of the second period and it was having a serious impact on the quality of football from both sides, which was a scenario much better suited to a Dover team content to protect their lead.
Higgins was having a bright game going forward and his prodding helped create room for a Myrie-Williams shot, which was well blocked, but the general pattern was a Dover defence happily soaking up any pressure.
Visiting boss Chris Kinnear opted to shake up his troops by withdrawing Mitch Pinnock for Daniel on the hour and he was soon celebrating with his team-mates after yet another painfully simple goal.
A quick throw from ‘keeper Walker was the catalyst and Allen was soon in the United penalty, floating over a lovely cross for Bird to head into the turf. The ball actually struck the bar and bounced back off the head of Dorel for an unfortunate own goal that the Frenchman could do little to prevent.
Pittman for Higgins and a change in formation was the United response, but there was a physical superiority in the Dover side, particularly on set-pieces, and Gallifuoco very nearly made it 3-0 with a header against the foot of the post.
Ruairi Keating for Rhys Murphy was the final roll of the dice for United and sheer numbers in the box forced a chance for Jamie Reid, but his effort was rocketed into the side-netting. The Gulls kept plugging away but were beaten by the stronger side on the day.
United (4-3-2-1): 30 Vincent Dorel; 23 Ryan Higgins (9 Jon-Paul Pittman 68), 6 Josh Gowling (capt), 5 Sean McGinty, 3 Liam Davis; 8 Luke Young, 4 Damon Lathrope (27 Jennison Myrie-Williams H-T), 12 Callum Evans; 13 Josh McQuoid, 19 Jamie Reid; 39 Rhys Murphy (10 Ruairi Keating 78). Substitutes (not used): 1 Ryan Clarke (GK), 2 Michee Efete.
Booked: Gowling 84, Keating 90
Dover Athletic (4-5-1): 1 Mitch Walker; 2 Josh Passley, 5 Manny Parry, 6 Connor Essam, 3 Femi Ilesanmi; 10 Jamie Allen, 8 Mitch Brundle (capt), 4 Giancarlo Gallifuoco, 21 Paul Lewis, 11 Mitch Pinnock (24 Kadell Daniel 58); 17 Ryan Bird. Substitutes (not used): 7 Kane Richards, 12 Loui Fazackerley, 18 Nortei Nortey, 27 Aziz Deen-Conteh.
Booked: Lewis 27, Ilesanmi 79
Referee: Samuel Allison
Attendance: 1,915 (102 Away)