Former Fleet player Nathan Elder ruined Ebbsfleet United’s promotion dream by scoring the decisive winning goal for Dover Athletic in today’s Conference South play-off final.
More than four thousand fans were packed into Stonebridge Road to witness a scrappy game being settled by Elder’s 56th minute header.
It means Dover, not Fleet, will play in the Conference Premier next season leaving Steve Brown’s side to do it all again at this level when the new campaign kicks off in August.
There were two changes to the Fleet side which lost the second-leg of the semi-finals 1-0 at Bromley last Saturday.
Anthony Acheampong and Dean Rance were the duo not involved this time, so in came Paul Lorraine and Michael Corcoran.
Ricky Modeste saw a low shot fly just wide from outside the box on two minutes before Daryl McMahon tested Dover keeper Mitchell Walker from similar distance at the other end moments later.
Billy Bricknell glanced a header over the bar from McMahon’s 14th minute corner but Fleet were unfortunate not to take the lead when McMahon’s 35 yard free-kick flew inches over walker’s bar midway through the half.
Play was stopped for several minutes as Fleet stopper Preston Edwards was treated on the pitch following an accidental coming to gather with Elder.
Ben May’s 34th minute shot took a slight deflection off a Dover defender enabling Walker to gather it easily.
Bricknell was unable to control the ball as he moved forward into the box allowing a visiting defender to get a vital touch.
Six minutes of stoppage time were signalled as a result of Edwards’ earlier injury, during which Shane Huke headed over from Anthony Cook’s corner.
But a largely frustrating first half finished without a goal and everything still to play for in the second period.
There was a lucky escape for the hosts four minutes after the restart as Tom Wynter’s wind assisted delivery from the left landed in the six-yard box but there was nobody there to meet it.
Callum davies did well to block Bricknell’s effort as the Fleet striker worked his way into the box before pulling the trigger.
Edwards did well to deny Modeste after the Dover attacker had easily brushed aside Aiden Palmer on 56 minutes.
But it was from the resulting Modeste corner Dover broke the deadlock as elder powered home a header against his ex-club to send the visiting supporters behind the goal into raptures.
Huke had to head behind Moses Ademola’s shot for a corner as Dover went in search of a quick second.
Sean Raggett headed just off target from Craig Stone’s free-kick seconds before Bricknell was replaced by Michael Thalassatis.
Ademola’s shot was pushed out by Edwards and the Fllet keeper was called into action again moments later to deny Modeste.
Osborn’s 71st minute shot from inside the box hit the side-netting immediately before he made way for Stacy Long.
Corcoran sliced an effort wide from outside of the box as Fleet began to press forward in numbers searching for a leveller.
Cook's 35-yard free-kick failed to trouble Dover keeper Walker, who was called into again one minutes later to save May’s low shot.
Raggett headed just over with Edwards under pressure and then McMahon fired straight at walker as the action continued to swing from end to end.
Four minutes of added time were signalled but this was added to as Thalassitis was forced off through injury and replaced by Chris Sessegnon.
Liam Bellamy saw a free-kick from outside the box deflected behind by the wall for a corner and Ademola almost added a second with virtually the last kick of the game by aiming at empty net after Edwards had come forward for a late Fleet corner.
Ultimately this wasn’t to be Fleet’s day but congratulations to Dover who will be mixing it in non-league’s top tier next year with the likes of Bristol Rovers and a host of other former Football League clubs.
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Ebbsfleet: Edwards, Howe, Palmer, McMahon, Lorraine, Huke, Osborn (Long 71), Corcoran, May, Bricknell (Thalassitis 63, Sessegnon 90), Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Sankofa. Att: 4,294