Published: 17:00, 10 May 2014 |
Updated: 09:13, 11 May 2014
Dover are back in Conference Premier for the first time since 2002 after beating Ebbsfleet 1-0 in the Skrill South play-off final.
In front of more than 4,000 fans at Stonebridge Road, a goal from former Fleet striker Nathan Elder secured the Whites' place back at non-league football's top table.
The win erased the pain of last season's play-off final, when Dover were beaten 3-2 by Salisbury City, while for the Fleet, promotion will have to wait for another season at least.
The most significant team news for Ebbsfleet came in defence. Injury ruled out Anthony Acheampong, while Osei Sankofa was left on the bench, so Paul Lorraine made one final appearance for the Fleet. He was partnered at centre-half by Shane Huke, as in Steve Brown's very first game in charge back in August. In central midfield, Michael Corcoran replaced the suspended Dean Rance.
Craig Stone, like Rance, was sent off in the second leg of the play-off semi-finals. But the Kent Senior Cup final, five days earlier, had allowed Stone to serve his one-game ban (Rance is banned for three) and he led the Whites out against his former club.
The first half was a truly forgettable affair.
Ricky Modeste drilled a low shot just wide for Dover in the first few minutes, before Daryl McMahon fired straight at Mitch Walker for the home side.
McMahon then delivered a right-wing corner which Billy Bricknell headed wide of the near post, although much of the play was inside Ebbsfleet's half.
Dover sent their big men forward from the back every time they won a set-piece, even if the free-kick was well inside their own half. And that led to stop-start football and precious little entertainment. None of the Whites' balls into the box led to anything.
For the Fleet, McMahon tried his luck with a free-kick 35 yards out and his shot whistled just past the angle of post and bar, although Walker probably had it covered.
There was a lengthy stoppage when Fleet keeper Preston Edwards was caught accidentally by his former team-mate Elder, who stretched to win a 50-50 ball just inside the penalty area. Edwards lay prone for several minutes but eventually got back to his feet, sporting a large bandage around his head.
There was more energy about both sides at the start of the second period. Tom Wynter's dangerous cross from the left bounced in the Fleet six-yard box and zipped behind, before Bricknell dispossessed Sean Raggett on the touchline and drove into the box, before his shot was well-blocked by another Whites defender.
Modeste got in behind Palmer moments later and only a fine save by Edwards stopped him opening the scoring. But from the resulting corner came a goal. Elder met Modeste's in-swinging corner from the right and although Edwards got a hand to his header, he couldn't stop the ball hitting the back of the net.
The ineffective Bricknell made way for Michael Thalassitis, but still it was Dover doing all the attacking. Moses Ademola turned his man on the edge of the box and got a shot away, which Edwards got down well to save.
A deep cross from Palmer fell at the feet of Alex Osborn and the winger took a touch before rifling a shot towards goal. The ball rippled the side-netting and many inside the ground thought it had gone in, but their celebrations were quickly cut short.
Ben May then set up Corcoran for a shot which he dragged well wide, before Cook swirled a free-kick over Walker's crossbar. Ebbsfleet were getting on top and, roared on by their supporters, they went close again when Walker dived to his left to claw out a deflected May effort.
But time was against them and still Dover's defence, the best in Skrill South, stood firm.
Modeste's hanging cross had Edwards scrambling but Raggett's header floated behind. At the other end, Walker made a straightforward save from McMahon's curling effort as the Whites started to celebrate.
Ebbsfleet ran out of ideas and Dover ran down the clock, seeing out four added minutes to start the promotion party.
Ebbsfleet: Edwards, Howe, Lorraine, Huke, Palmer, Osborn (Long 71mins), McMahon, Corcoran, Cook, May, Bricknell (Thalassitis 64mins, Sessegnon 90mins). Subs not used: Sankofa, Hall.
Dover: Walker, Stone, Wynter, Kinnear, Raggett, Orlu, Modeste (Forbes 90mins), Davies, Elder, Bellamy, Ademola. Subs not used: Hook, Murphy, Rogers, Goulding.
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