Dover Athletic made light of having to play the entire second-half with ten men as Nathan Elder’s 78th minute goal condemned Eastleigh to the first defeat of their Conference Premier campaign.
The striker’s decisive intervention came when Craig Stone collected Matthew Lock’s throw on the right and was afforded far too much time to deliver a cross into the Spitfires’ box. Elder, completely free six yards-out, turned his header past Ross Flitney’s grasping right hand and into the net.
The afternoon had started on a brighter note for the visitors, the game seven minutes old when Jack Midson played in James Constable on the left of the Dover box. The former Oxford man’s low cross-shot was well held by Whites’ Number One Mitch Walker.
Elder had the hosts’ first sight of goal, taking a return pass from Stefan Payne in a central position before hitting a tame effort that was comfortably gathered by Flitney.
Fifteen minutes were on the clock when Eastleigh forged ahead. After receiving possession in the middle of the park Stuart Fleetwood hit a ball that sent Constable racing in behind Sean Francis to send a cross screaming towards the far post where Midson was racing in to complete an emphatic first time finish.
Dover were quickly seeking a response, Ricky Modeste seeing a shot deflected wide by a prone white shirt in the box. The unlucky Whites’ man was injured in the process of shooting and, within minutes, was replaced by ex-Havant & Waterloovile man Christian Nanetti. The Italian winger was swiftly involved in the play, teeing up Payne to send an effort whistling over from 20 yards.
Nanetti’s next contribution saw him dipping in from the right to slip a slide-rule ball into the area for Payne. The attacker rounded the advancing Fltney, but found Matt Fry – making his Spitfires debut in place of the suspended Michael Green – in the way of his pass across goal.
When Fry was caught under Elder’s delivery from the left, Nanetti was on hand to collect but could only shoot into the side-netting at the near-post.
There was no let-off for Eastleigh two minutes before the break. Sean Raggett did well in a tight spot to find Francis, who lifted a pass over the visiting rear-guard that found Payne on the left. The pacey attacker opened up his body, and slipped a cool finish across Flitney to level the scores.
With the half into three added minutes Raggett and Constable, with the ball long gone, tangled by the touchline. Referee David Rock saw enough in the Dover man’s reaction to sprint across and produce a red card.
The Kent outfit weren’t disconcerted by their numerical disadvantage and raced out of the blocks after the interval. Fry blocked a Lock dig at goal, with Stone picking up the pieces and crossing for Elder who nodded his flicked effort off-target.
Fleetwood clipped a 20 yard strike fractionally over for the away team before, back at the other end, Richard Orlu seized on Nanetti’s right-wing free kick at the second attempt and laid the ball off for Payne to unleash a shot that required a terrifc Flitney finger-tip stop to keep out.
Elder and Payne both diverted right-sided Nanetti corners a yard past the post, while Constable was denied twice in quick succession, first by the body of Payne and then by Walker’s smart handling.
Lock was agonisingly close to putting his side ahead with a delicate chip from range, and Fleetwood had a dipping drive held by Walker, before Elder popped up with what would prove to be the match winner.
There was still time for Constable, deep into four minutes of stoppage time to engineer an opening that he fired well over from near the penalty spot. Despite Richard Hill having reverted to a three-pronged attack, that was all the Spitfires could muster late on, as Dover held on for what was ultimately a deserved home victory.