Eastleigh made history on Saturday, booking their place in the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy for the first time.
And, for the second home game running, it was midfielder Jamie Collins who made the telling intervention on an afternoon when, by manager Richard Hill’s own admission, his side “didn’t play particularly well again.”
A fortnight earlier, Collins had returned from injury as a sub and headed home an 81st-minute decider for the ten-man Spitfires, sealing an unlikely 2-1 victory over Bath City in the Conference South.
On Saturday he left it even later, plundering a stoppage-time Trophy winner against a Dover side who had themselves taken the lead with ten men after having big No9 Nathan Elder red-carded after 38 minutes for stupidly leaning in towards Collins with his head.
In much the same way that they had struggled to hit the heights against Bath, the Spitfires were again below their best on Saturday as too many passes went astray.
They started purposely enough and should have built on a rather fortuitous second-minute opener when Yemi Odubade’s strike took a massive deflection off teammate Jai Reason, sending keeper Mitch Walker the wrong way.
It was an apt ‘gift’ for man-of-the-match Reason, who had celebrated his 24th birthday two days earlier and later tweeted: “What a win today! Thanks to @Yemdog10 shooting at me to get the deflection!”
Eastleigh quickly lost their early impetus as the game hit a lull.
And when the disappointingly small 368 crowd finally woke from their slumbers just after the half-hour mark, it was to the sight of Michael Kamara rising above the Eastleigh defence to meet Barry Cogan’s deep free-kick with a downward header which slithered past goalkeeper Ross Flitney for the softest of equalisers.
Elder’s moment of madness followed, prompting Eastleigh to pick up the momentum again and launch a series of raids on goal – the best of which resulted in Walker turning away Reason’s stinging, low drive.
But though Reason continued to toy with the visitors at the start of the second half, it was the ten-man visitors who took the lead on 55 minutes when the increasingly dangerous Liam Bellamy sprinted into the area and tumbled over after having his heels clipped by Chris Todd. Cogan did the honours, crashing home the penalty via the underside of the crossbar.
Hill made a double substitution just before the hour, withdrawing Odubade and Will Evans in exchange for Damian Batt and new signing Reece Connolly from Farnborough.
Connolly, playing his first game since being suspended by Farnborough for five weeks in late November after traces of cocaine, marijuana and a third unconfirmed drug were found in his system, has been signed non-contract by Eastleigh while he awaits an FA hearing.
If the FA throw the book at him, he could face a lengthy suspension which, on the evidence of Saturday’s 30-minute cameo, would be a crying shame because the ex-Aldershot youngster – 22 later this month – looks an outstanding talent.
It was from his hold-up play and neat lay-off that McAllister so nearly equalised in the 66th-minute, but the targetman’s delicate shot curled agonisingly wide.
Eastleigh kept playing their slick passing football and were finally rewarded with a marvellous team goal on 80 minutes.
Green, Connolly and Ben Strevens were all involved in the build-up and it was Batt who provided the crucial assist, slipping a slide-rule pass into the path of the classy Strevens who finished low past Walker from the right of the area.
The Spitfires won it in stoppage time. Todd helped on a corner and, with Kamara in close attendance, Collins let the ball bounce before hooking home an historic close-range winner. “We started the game very, very well, but we just took a step back rather than a step forward and there was no tempo to us,” admitted Hill.
“We saw a little bit more of that (tempo) in the second half and we were unlucky on a couple of occasions not to score earlier.
Dover boss Chris Kinnear, who brings his side to Eastleigh again tomorrow, this time in the league, said: “We worked very hard, even with only ten men, and deserved something.” Eastleigh: Ross Flitney, Dan Spence, Michael Green, Jamie Collins, Dean Beckwith, Chris Todd, Yemi Odubade (Reece Connolly, 59), Ben Strevens, Craig McAllister, Jai Reason, Will Evans (Damian Batt, 59). Subs (not used): Jack Dovey, Sam Wilson, Jamie Bulpitt.