SUBSTITUTE James Walker emerged from the bench to claim a dramatic late winner for Dover in an exciting encounter with Chelmsford, but Clarets boss Glenn Pennyfather felt a draw would have been a fairer result.
Former Chelmsford striker Billy Bricknell put Athletic in front just prior to the half hour mark while Cliff Akurang headed the visitors level one minute before the hour.
Walker then stung City with four minutes left to ensure his side sit eight points behind their opponents in sixth place, with two games in hand.
Glenn, whose only change to the starting 11 was to draft Akurang in up front for the injured Kezie Ibe, felt choked by the result but pleased with the way his players responded to an interval debrief after a below par first half.
“We told them a few home truths at half time, and in the second half we were excellent,” he said.
“Dover were out on their feet but we gave the ball away in a good area when we were attacking and they transferred it up the other end to nick the winner. On balance, I think a draw would have been the right result as they had the first half but we were better in the second, but they’ve taken their chance and that’s what separated us.”
The hosts forced the Clarets into some early defensive work, although it was the away side who registered the first real shot as Max Cornhill’s low effort was comfortably collected by goalkeeper Mikael Ruiz on 18 minutes.
Bricknell squandered a chance to open his account just afterwards, drilling wide from the edge of the box.
Decent build-up play involving Craig Parker teed-up Ricky Modeste at the other end on 24 minutes, Ruiz easily dealing with the resulting shot.
Then, moments later, Modeste did well to keep the ball in play on the left flank before supplying Sam Corcoran, whose strike was thwarted by the body of Ed Harris.
Nevertheless, it was the hosts who looked the most threatening, with George Purcell going close, and they deserved the lead they took on 29 minutes when some defensive hesitancy allowed Bricknell to place the ball beyond ‘keeper Stuart Searle.
Both rearguards then attempted to gift goals to each other in the aftermath, Akurang getting behind the back line to shoot at Ruiz in the 38th minute.
The impressive Searle was kept busy as half time approached, firstly denying Bricknell again before making a superb double save from Jemal Johnson’s long-ranger, then getting up to stop Bricknell converting the rebound.
“I thought in the first half we were terrible and never got to grips with the game,” Pennyfather recalled.
“When we passed the ball about we created opportunities but, for the vast majority, they were in the ascendancy.
"That’s not how I expected the game to pan out as, for the first time this season away from home, we were on the back foot and were lucky to go in at half time only 1-0 down.”
When Warren Whitely was brought off the bench for City after the break, the winger made a huge impact on the game.
His exceptional, pinpoint cross picked out the head of Akurang and he made no mistake in burying the ball past Ruiz in the 69th minute.
This made for an entertaining clash as both teams went for the three points and a brilliant finish from Akurang on 71 minutes was ruled out for an earlier foul.
Athletic’s skipper, Ian Simpemba, was wracked with disbelief as his goalbound header was cleared off the line by Aiden Palmer but his team did make a second breakthrough with four minutes left.
An initial header was cleared by Kenny Clark, but only as far as Purcell, who crossed for substitute Walker to fire home.
With City pressing for another equaliser, Dover were able to hit them on the break and Searle was at his best again to deny Johnson, while a deflected Purcell effort smacked the crossbar.
When Modeste saw his desperate late strike from distance career well wide, Chelmsford’s feint late hopes of a point disappeared with it.
Remaining optimistic, Glenn summarised: “Any side below us would want to swap places, even Dover as they’ve got games in hand but they have to win them.
"There are ten games to go and there are six teams in the mix. Every game is difficult for every side and the good players step up at this stage of the season.”