SHAUN GALE paid tribute to his men as the Hawks made light of missing players to grind out an outstanding 1-0 win at Dover last night.
Giuseppe Sole’s fifth-minute goal proved enough to earn the visitors three vital points in their bid to keep their play-off ambitions alive.
With Dover aiming for promotion themselves, it was a fantastic display from the Hawks, who are now 10 points behind fifth-placed Chelmsford but with three games in hand.
Hawks boss Gale said: ‘It was an outstanding team performance and every man on the park worked their socks off.
‘We may have rode our luck at times and Aaron Howe made some saves but we fought for everything.
‘With four key players missing, I can’t speak highly enough of the lads.
‘It was a gritty battling performance and it earned us three points.’
The Hawks were forced to shuffle because of suspension and unavailability.
Paul Hinshelwood, Sam Pearce and Giuseppe Sole returned in place of suspended trio Ian Simpemba, Jon McDonald and Mustafa Tiryaki.
Striker Liam Sewell was on the bench after being recalled from his loan spell at Gosport Borough.
Sammy Igoe’s early corner picked out an unmarked Pearce who headed the ball back across the area instead of going for goal.
It proved to be a dream start for the visitors, however, when they grabbed the lead after only five minutes.
This time, Igoe drilled the ball in low and hard and Sole timed his run perfectly to tuck the ball in from six yards.
When Dover looked to make a quick response, 41-goal Adam Birchall missed his kick from close range.
The home side were playing good, passing football and Jake Newton had to guide a dangerous low cross out for a goal-kick.
It was an entertaining game, with both sides playing enterprising football.
Hawks keeper Aaron Howe did well to punch the ball off the head of Birchall in another Dover attack.
On 24 minutes, the Hawks went close to extending their lead as Ian Selley put Manny Williams in with a ball over the top.
When Williams’ low shot was blocked by goalkeeper Ross Flitney, the ball was worked to Steve Ramsey who curled an effort narrowly over the bar.
Dover were having more and more of the play but the Hawks, with James Tyrrell and Pearce in the heart of their defence, were looking strong.
They were ably supported by Hinshelwood on the left, who was getting through a lot of defensive work.
Six minutes before the break, the Hawks were indebted to Howe who pulled off a marvellous point-blank save from Luke I’Anson’s header.
The visitors came under increasing pressure as the half came to a close but managed to weather the storm.
Igoe put the Hawks in trouble at the start of the second half when he was robbed outside the area – but Birchall had his shot blocked.
The Hawks found themselves under pressure as the rain began to fall heavily.
I’Anson stepped inside two tackles but could not direct his shot on target.
Gale’s men regained some composure, with Igoe busy on the right flank.
The home side went close to levelling the score on the hour as Birchall’s fierce shot on the turn was pushed away at full stretch by Howe.
I’Anson rifled the rebound over the bar from inside the area.
The Hawks continued to frustrate Dover with a magnificent rearguard action, while Howe kept on denying them with three more excellent saves.
And at the death, Sole went inches to extending the Hawks’ lead.
DOVER: Flitney, Fish, Wynter, I’Anson, Essam, Harris, Ashton, Spence, Simmonds, Birchall, Cogan. Subs: Charles, Baker, Main, Cutler, Hook.
HAWKS: Howe, Newton, Hinshelwood, Selley, Pearce, Tyrrell, Fogden, Ramsey, Williams, Sole, Igoe. Subs: Robson, Scott, Sewell, Baldacchino, Ashmore.
Referee: Mr D Rock