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Whites lose relegation battle

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Dover Athletic 0 Scarborough 2

IF DOVER are eventually relegated from the Conference, the “Hands of Hotte” could become as infamous in Whites’ folklore as Mr Maradona’s 1986 World Cup con trick.

A season in which little has gone right for Dover on or off the pitch was summed up by the 48th minute incident that put virtually everything else in Saturday’s game in the shade.

Trailing 1-0 at half-time, Neville Southall’s bottom-of-the-table side sprang out of the traps after the restart and Kevin Seabury’s throughball set Scott Ramsay up for a run on goal.

Goalie Andy Woods, both manager’s choice as the man-of-the-match, blocked Ramsay’s effort but the ball ballooned up into the air and Ramsay headed the rebound goalwards.

As the ball dropped under the bar left back Mark Hotte, diving backwards to his left, used not one hand but two to claw the ball away off the line. A penalty and a sending off seemed certain, but instead referee Steve Rubery waved play on to the disbelief of most of the 1,005 spectators inside Crabble.

The match video confirmed that Hotte had indeed produced a superb save to keep the ball out, but the referee said: “I didn’t see it because I had two or three players blocking my view, and my linesman didn’t see it either.”

How both men missed the incident will have to remain one of football’s mysteries, but the consequences for Dover could be dire. Losing at home to the team second from bottom of the table is the last result you want in Whites’ position, but Southall insisted that he had seen enough to reinforce his belief that Dover can still escape the drop.

He rightly praised the team’s effort and attitude throughout the 90 minutes, but the fact the match again finished goalless as far as Dover were concerned - despite the home side playing with three up front - only served to highlight one of their major shortcomings this season. Twenty eight goals in 29 games signals relegation material whatever way you look at it, and until Whites improve their poor record in front of goal then the immediate outlook can only remain grim.

On the plus side, the ball did spend appreciably more time in the Scarborough penalty area than has been the case in the majority of Dover’s games this season, but either the final delivery - especially from free kicks - wasn’t good enough or Woods was left unchallenged as he frustrated Whites’ time and again.

The first occasion came after 17 minutes when Ramsay showed superb skill to control Jimmy Aggrey’s long ball before drilling in a low drive which Woods turned for a corner.

At the other end, Phil Smith - with his one genuine save of the game - did really well to punch away Darren Stamp’s header before Woods produced a wonderful double save on the half hour. First, he flew to his right to keep out Matt Carruthers’ 20-yard free kick, and was then up quick enough to turn Jake Leberl’s follow-up effort for a corner.

Soon after, Scarborough were in front after what Southall described as “a stupid goal to goal away”. Aggrey miskicked wildly back towards his own penalty area and, as Smith advanced hesitantly from his line, Dean Shields nipped in to poke the ball past him and over the line.

Dover, with home debutant Leon Kelly pleasing the home fans with his willing running up front, now forced corner after corner as they tried to equalise before half-time but nothing would drop Whites way.

The handball controversy early in the second half only increased their frustration but they kept plugging away, led from midfield by Kevin Seabury whose Football League pedigree with Shrewsbury began to show through as the half wore on.

Scarborough, for their part, gradually fell back in defence of their one-goal lead, so that much of the last 15 minutes or so were played with virtually everyone in the visitors’ half. Dover won a series of free kicks but, apart from one hectic goalmouth scramble, they led to nothing with Woods frequently ending the danger with his safe handling.

Southall threw Phil Stant into the fray for the closing stages and although the veteran striker made his bustling presence felt, he too could not find a genuine scoring opportunity.

To the surprise of some, Southall had switched leading scorer Keith Scott to the back three to fill in for the injured Lee Shearer, and the vastly-experienced Whites skipper didn’t let his manager down. Leberl, however, was always struggling to handle Stamp in the air, and Scarborough’s second goal in injury time came when Stamp again outjumped his marker to flick on a long ball and he then ran on to volley substitute Karl Rose’s cross firmly past Smith.

Dover: Smith; Scott, Leberl, Aggrey; Browne (Day 79mins), Seabury, Strouts (Le Bihan 78), Norman; Kelly, Ramsay (Stant 75), Carruthers. Subs not used: Davies, Hyde.

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