There were debuts a-plenty for Worthing as first competitive starts went to Kane Wills – in his second spell – Lewis White, Jake Robinson and Nodirbek Bobomurodov and, with regular Captain Aarran Racine suspended, only a second start for eighteen-year-old Joe Rye. Another Summer signing Adam El-Abd had to settle for a place on the bench.
Dover meanwhile included several debutants themselves, amongst them former Folkestone nemesis Alfie Paxman – the last man to score a league goal for the opposition at The Crucial Environmental Stadium – and fellow ex-Invictee Luke Wanadio. One time Whitehawk midfielder Lee Martin wore their Skipper’s armband.
You couldn’t get two sides with much more contrasting season’s last time out than this pair and it was the hosts who looked to continue that winning habit just four minutes in.
A ball into the box found Ollie Pearce and his nod down led to a chest control and instant low finish across goalkeeper Ryan Sandford, into the bottom corner, by the predatory Robinson.
It took a further ten for the under pressure Whites to summon a response which Martin curled comfortably off target, despite creating room for a shot via a neat cut inside his marker.
Millwall loanee Sandford then became the first of the two ‘keepers to be forced into a save when he prevented White from doubling the deficit, following a pass over the top by Robinson. A corner-induced rebound off Miles Judd dictating no more drama.
Last term’s Golden Boot winner Pearce came even closer, inexplicably heading the wrong side of the back stick once Joel Colbran had beaten Wanadio on the right to pick him out.
Half-an-hour into a tight contest, although the National League South newboys had carved out the clearer opportunities, the score remained one-nil but should really have been level-pegging.
That was down to a close-range miss from Martin; sweeping over a Wanadio cross from eight yards after Arjanit Krasniqi had switched play out to the left to ignite an initially promising move.
The lively White nearly did it on his own two minutes later; dispossessing former Kosovo Under-21 international Krasniqi before driving forward and firing straight at Sandford.
Unfortunately though, Reds profligacy would come back to bite them when some neat approach work saw Athletic move the ball around nicely, eventually resulting in a deadly delivery by Judd that Martin touched home around six yards out, to atone for his earlier blemish.
Reds came back out after the break intent on regaining the lead and almost did it in the opening seconds.
Pearce slipped in Wills whose quick-thinking tested the reflexes of Sandford, with the netminder holding on by the base of his near post.
Ollie was put on the spot shortly afterwards, thanks to the industry and trickery of Uzbekistani Bobomurodov.
James Beresford swung a beauty out to ‘Nods,’ who proceeded to drift inside off the right wing past one but not two as player/Assistant Manager Mitch Brundle brought him down in the penalty area. However, Sandford dived one way, Pearce’s spot-kick went the other; missing the netminder’s left-hand upright to keep the visitors very much still in the contest.
Undeterred, a rampant Reds continued on the offensive, with a typical burst through the middle by Marvin Armstrong ending in a white haze in the box. A mirror image outcome befalling White in the next breath.
Colbran conceded a free-kick near the corner of the eighteen yard area which Martin floated towards the far stick, only for Brundle to pull away from the pack and head over the crossbar on a slight angle.
Then, a leg-dangler by Paxman saw him scuff a weak clearance to White, who clipped the post as his twelve-yarder embedded itself in the side netting.
Alfie’s accuracy improved markedly moments later; a set-piece delivery off the left flank picking out Jordan Higgs who, in turn, located the safe hands of Harrison Male off his dome.
The game ebbed and flowed on a warm sunny afternoon, with the destination of the three points on offer appearing to be going either way until two minutes from time.
Once again a potential winner emanated from the same source; Paxman’s deep deadball, tight to the touchline this time, glanced deliberately goalwards off Tyrone Sterling’s noggin drawing a stunning one-handed tip over the top out of Male.