Match Data 2012/2013
Dover Athletic 2
Eddie Hutchinson (Ramsey, 46)
Dan Strugnell (Woodford, 76)
Sahr Kabba (Bossman, 85)
Ricky Modeste (McMahon, 76)
Ben May (Willock, 85)
Billy Bricknell (Ademola, 64)
So it’s nice now and again to have to put some effort into getting to an away match, and because of its awkward position Dover requires just that; especially when the M25 throws road works and car accidents at you just where you don’t want them. Sat there this morning just past Clackett’s I couldn’t help but feel envious of those of our band I’d bumped into outside the station this morning, intending to travel down into Kent using the high speed train service from St Pancras; a route which by all accounts took considerably less time than the road journey even with the first leg into London.
But the merry few who did make it to the Crabble did so in good spirits, and easing an aching back out of the car I couldn’t help but feel for the locals who this season have had to make journeys to Dorchester, Weston and that ridiculous trek down to Truro. Heavens, if it took us five hours to get there, how much longer would it have taken them?
Before the match I predicted this one as a 1-1 draw, but harboured doubts that even the newly resurgent Hawks would falter against the mighty Dover Athletic; sitting third in the table behind faltering Salisbury and the powerhouse that is Welling with only two points dropped in their last six games. Not for nothing was Chris Kinnear awarded the Blue Square South Manager of the Month award before today’s game. What I really didn’t want after the three hour trip down was to go behind in the first five minutes, which has been the case so many times after long journeys in recent seasons.
There was an opening salvo from the hosts that could have produced such a moment, but it was busy rather than threatening. Billy Bricknell first fired wide when a high ball dropped to him in the box, and then he tried to lob Clark Masters with a second attempt that dropped wide.
The Hawks meanwhile carved out a couple of half chances from set pieces. Alex Grant’s long free kick was headed wide of the back post by Ed Harris, and then Chris Arthur’s thumping shot deflected for a throw in that ended with a foul in the Dover box.
The problem really was that Dover had clearly done their homework. Whenever the Hawks came forward Palmer gained two bodyguards that stuck to him like a second skin – particularly during set pieces where the pincer movement stopped the striker even jumping for the ball. Sahr Kabba was left largely unchallenged, but his height against the big Dover defence was a disadvantage. Even Christian Nanetti, who will usually dance his way round any back line, was closed down and muscled off the ball with cold efficiency every time.
It looked bleak. The visitors did win throws on the right, but none came to anything, and as the half progressed it looked more like a case of when, rather than if, Dover would take the lead. After sending a free kick into the wall and forcing another save from Masters, the Whites eventually did just that in the 36th minute. Barry Cogan’s initial drive was blocked heroically by Dan Strugnell, whose ears are probably still ringing from shoving his head in the way of the blast, but when Lloyd Harrington curled the corner that followed back into the box, Tyrone STERLING was there to head the ball squarely into the net.
The Hawks won their first corner in the 37th minute, a measure of how well Dover were defending, but it came to nothing and little followed before Dover’s second goal a minute from the break. COGAN’s free kick was pumped through the box from way out almost on the half way line on the left, and although Danny Webb tried to claim the finish for himself, the ball went 35 yards untouched to go in off the back post.
The fact that Ed Harris had been the biggest threat to the Dover goal speaks volumes about the first half, and virtually on the whistle he did send a header at Mitch Walker that the keeper at least had to stop, but as the travelling faithful switched to the much colder eastern end of the ground for the second half, the prospects for the rest of the game felt as bleak as the weather.
If I wanted to resort to clichés I’d be saying here that football is a game of two halves. That much is blindingly obvious, as was the fact that something had to change before the Hawks ended up on the receiving end of the kind of battering they’ve become good at handing out at home this season.
What wasn’t so obvious was the way in which this was going to happen. When Harrington curled a free kick round the wall three minutes after the restart it looked set to go in, but Masters brilliantly went full length and pushed the shot round the post. It was a pivotal moment in the match. Had that gone in, there wouldn’t have been any way back, but very quickly the Hawks were at the other end turning the runs up the wing into crosses rather than being dispossessed for throws that created nothing.
Arthur got to the line for the first time and slotted the ball back into the box. Palmer was crowded again and ended up facing the wrong way, forcing him to lay the ball back to Perry Ryan who fired wide.
Then it was KABBA’s turn. He came up the same left side but instead of looking to lay the ball off took it past two defenders and cut into the box to fire a low shot at the near post that quite caught the Dover defence out.
The Whites seemed almost affronted that the Hawks had dared to score a goal, but then got another slap in the face minutes later when Nanetti fired from range forcing Walker to palm the ball round the post in mid-air. Arthur put in the corner, but it came down just behind Harris.
The Hawks were now passing the ball and Dover were noticeably starting to flag. Alex Grant worked his way forward to earn another corner and although that came to nothing, the ball stayed in the Dover half until half time substitute Steve Ramsey walloped one wide from the midfield.
Then ten minutes after the first, a second well worked goal put the Hawks on level terms. Palmer was on the left busy with the defence and managed a heavy cross that went to the far side where Jake Newton got hold of it. He spotted NANETTI arriving in the middle and set up a perfect finish for the Italian with the ball smashed into the roof of the net.
A flurry of substitutions followed as both sides tried to find a winning formula; Dover rattled and the Hawks ascendant. The hosts did manage to compose themselves, and in fairness it was they who had the better chances in the final minutes. Moses Ademola drove a low shot across the goal from the right, and the ever present Harris headed clear seven minutes from the end when Dean Rance took a shot from the edge of the box after a corner.
The signal that four minutes would be added to the end of the game brought about a curious sensation. I couldn’t decide if that meant four minutes of torture while the Hawks hung on for a point, or four minutes of opportunity to find a winner. The game had gone from one extreme to the other.
Ultimately the Hawks have to be happy with recording a draw against a side that had them beaten at half time, which adds a well-earned point to the six claimed in the last two games. The season is beginning to build to a climax, and the Hawks now face five winnable matches against sides below them in the league before facing off against teams from what already looks like a confirmed top five. At 41 points, the mission now must surely be to make the season safe quickly. Three wins out of the next five would put it to bed in style before having to take on Dover, Salisbury and Boreham Wood in the inevitably bumpy run in. Wouldn’t it be nice to go into April knowing relegation woes are a thing of the past? Sorry, won’t it be nice to go into April knowing relegation woes are a thing of the past?