Ebbsfleet United 0 Dover Athletic 2
Elliott Charles wheels away after scoring Dover's second (Pic: Andy Payton)
A freak own goal inside 20 seconds sent Dover on their way to a 2-0 win over fierce rivals Ebbsfleet at Stonebridge Road.
The visitors were the beneficiaries of a calamitous mix-up between Fleet keeper Preston Edwards and defender Osei Sankofa from the very first play of the game.
And they gave the hosts a real mountain to climb when Elliott Charles made it 2-0 just before half-time.
In truth, Dover never looked like relinquishing their lead in the second period and the result, which followed their 2-1 win in the reverse fixture at Crabble in August, has breathed life into their play-off push.
Ebbsfleet saw their 10-match unbeaten run come to a crashing end and their Skrill South title hopes now look extremely remote, with leaders Bromley winning at Whitehawk to leave the north Kent side 16 points adrift.
Elliott Charles tangles with Aiden Palmer (Pic: Andy Payton)
A war of words had broken out in the days preceding the game.
Dover boss Chris Kinnear, who saw six members of last season's Whites squad follow new Ebbsfleet manager Steve Brown to Stonebridge Road in the summer, said the north Kent club were "throwing money at people" following the takeover by Kuwaiti investors.
But the Fleet's vice-chairman Peter Varney hit back in a statement on Friday, not only denying Kinnear's claim regarding player wages, but also suggesting his comments were a deliberate attempt to stir up animosity towards between the clubs.
A glance at the team sheets showed that only two of those six players, Dean Rance and Billy Bricknell, were in Ebbsfleet's starting XI. Of the other four, Daryl McMahon and Ben May dropped to the bench, having played at Bromley on Boxing Day, while Chris Sessegnon wasn't involved at all. Long-term injury victim Shane Huke was denied the chance to line up against his former employers.
Dover's line-up featured three players who were with Ebbsfleet last season. Craig Stone captained a Whites side which also included Liam Bellamy and Nathan Elder.
Preston Edwards stunned by the bizarre own goal (Pic: Andy Payton)
The build-up to the game had generated plenty of hype, but no-one could have predicted what was about to happen.
A seemingly harmless ball towards the Fleet goal was played back to Edwards by Sankofa. But the pace on the ball seemed to deceive the keeper, who, attempting to boot it clear, made only the thinnest contact and turned round in horror to see it trickle into his net.
The Dover fans behind the goal couldn't believe their luck and the other three sides of Stonebridge Road were stunned into silence.
Ebbsfleet were rocking and they almost conceded again, Tom Murphy heading straight at Edwards from close range.
Charles then surged into the box and rifled a shot towards the top corner, with Edwards flying high to his right to tip the ball over.
The home side tried to pass their way back into the game, although Sankofa, clearly unnerved by the goal, looked worried every time he was put under pressure.
Ebbsfleet gradually came into the game. Terrell Forbes was booked for body-checking Anthony Cook, whose subsequent free-kick took a deflection and drew a good low save from Mitch Walker in the Whites goal.
Cook then went down in the box and appealed in vain for a penalty. Frustrated, he pushed Tom Wynter in the chest and was lucky not to have his name taken.
Tempers flare during the first half (Pic: Andy Payton)
But the winger was involved in the Fleet's best moments too.
Cook had one shot saved by Walker and drilled another over, before Dover defender Sean Raggett scythed him down on the run. Players from both sides piled into the melee which followed.
But Cook composed himself and after drilling the free-kick into the wall, he lashed a ferocious follow-up against the crossbar, via a deflection.
Dover, though, were about to double their lead.
With 38 minutes played, Michael Corcoran conceded possession midway inside his own half and the men in yellow shirts pounced on the error. Chris Kinnear Jnr made ground and spread the ball right to Charles, who beat Edwards with a precise low shot which kissed the far post on its way in.
Ebbsfleet could have been dead and buried by the interval, Elder planting a shot against the crossbar when it seemed easier to score.
Stone floated over an inviting right-wing cross at the start of the second half and Charles looked certain to make it 3-0, only to miss his kick at the back post.
Dean Rance tries to get away from Liam Bellamy (Pic: Andy Payton)
The home side then enjoyed a short spell of dominance.
Joe Howe's cross was volleyed over by Michael Thalassitis, before McMahon, brought on for the ineffective Alex Osborn, thumped a shot into the Plough End.
Dover were obstinate in defence, however, and with striker Charles now operating as a right-winger, they often packed 10 men behind the ball.
And their determination to defend the lead was outweighing Ebbsfleet's powers of creativity. Kinnear tried his luck on a rare foray forward but his shot was charged down.
The home side were completely smothered and couldn't even get on the ball. Bellamy delivered another cross for Dover and Elder headed it over.
McMahon played a low ball into Bricknell's feet on the edge of the Whites box and he managed to spin his man, but Walker was equal to his low shot.
A 50-yard burst from Murphy almost laid on a third goal for Dover but when the ball was teed up for Bellamy, he shot wildly over.
Ebbsfleet threw everything at Dover in the dying stages but their attacks were desperate and the visitors soaked up the pressure comfortably.
Ebbsfleet: Edwards, Howe, Lorraine, Sankofa, Palmer, Osborn (McMahon 54mins), Corcoran (May 74mins), Rance, Cook, Thalassitis, Bricknell. Subs not used: Hall, Long, Phipp.
Dover: Walker, Stone, Wynter, Kinnear, Raggett, Forbes, Bellamy, Orlu, Elder, Charles (Bakare 63mins), Murphy. Subs not used: Kamara, Woodall, Cogan, Hook.
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