CONCORD Rangers hopes of making the Skrill South play-offs were dealt potentially a hammer blow at home to Dover Athletic.
The Kent side came from behind to win 2-1 at Thames Road and gave their own chances of finishing in the top five a real shot in the arm.
But for Concord it means they are now seven points adrift of the play-offs and though they have, in theory, two games in hand, they face playing another four times by this time next week when the curtain falls on their debut season in non-league football’s second tier.
The one question mark looms over what happens with their controversial game against Ebbsfleet, which was abandoned at Thames Road last Tuesday because of a floodlight failure.
The game had been rescheduled to be played on Thursday night, just 24 hours after Concord go to Basingstoke. But Ebbsfleet have appealed against the decision to replay the game in full as they were leading 2-0, albeit having just been reduced to 10 men, when the lights went out in the 52nd minute.
Whatever the outcome, the Beachboys know they face a physically daunting week that would have been made all the more mentally challenging after their defeat to Dover.
In truth, Concord probably didn’t do enough to merit all three points, though they certainly didn’t deserve to lose a game in which the momentum swung regularly from one side to the other before eventually siding with a visiting side who can at best be described as effective but were anything but pretty.
Indeed, Concord centrebacks Steve King and Paul Goodacre will still have headaches by the time they face Sutton on Monday with all the heading they did to clear Dover’s bombardment of long balls that were aimed at the head of their experienced striker Nathan Elder.
They did that job superbly until Dover manager Chris Kinnear chucked on another totemic forward – former Grays Athletic man Jeff Goulding – and that bombardment became too much and the visitors were able to get two late goals.
First sub Tom Murphy drilled home from the edge of the box after a loose ball had fallen invitingly to him 20 yards out, then Goulding flicked home Moses Ademola’s corner to give Dover the win.
The two teams cancelled each other out in a nervy first half which saw Dover start the stronger but Concord finish on top.
Joe Gardner went close for Concord after 15 minutes when he scurried on to a Tony Stokes through-ball but a deflection turned his shot wide while, at the other end, former Canvey loanee Ademola – who was probably the best player on the pitch – saw a snap shot flash just wide.
But the best chances of the half were almost carbon-copies of one another: one for Concord and the other for Dover.
Concord’s chance came first. Gardner, who had a frustrating afternoon where little seem to come off, produced his best bit of quality of the match when he fizzed a wicked cross into the box which Lewis Taafe got his head on to.
Taafe’s effort looked for all the world to be heading into the bottom corner but Dover keeper Mitchell Walker produced a stunning save to tip the ball around the post.
Concord’s stopper Jamie Butler showed whatever his counterpart could do, he could do better when, just before half time, Elder was given the freedom of the penalty area to meet Ademola’s cross only for Butler to get the slightest of touches to the ball and turn it on to the post. The ball then fell invitingly back into the hands of the Beachboys number one as Elder held his head in his hands.
Stokes did well to create space for a shot he curled just past the post minutes after the re-start but Dover looked the stronger team in the opening exchanges of the second period and Elder’s fiercesome drive so nearly found the far corner.
Concord boss Danny Cowley responded by bringing off Gardner and replacing him with Steve Cawley – and the substitution had an immediate impact.
Cawley found a pocket of space in the left-hand corner of Dover’s area, their keeper Walker was drawn out of goal and with a clever dink to the back post, Cawley found Stokes who prodded home.
It was so nearly 2-0 just a minute later when Concord broke again and Taafe’s centre was hacked clear by Sean Raggert with Stokes poised for another tap in.
Taafe then played a cute ball through the Dover defence to find Cawley who dragged his shot inches past the post and that was cue for Dover boss Kinnear to make the changes.
First Murphy was thrown on to give some attacking impetus to his side at right wing back and he netted with a crisp drive within two minutes and then Goulding showed good skill for a big man to turn in Ademola’s corner and leave Concord crestfallen.
Cowley tried to pick his team up for one last effort but it wasn’t to be this time as Dover hung on for a potentially decisive win.