Barrow AFC 2 Dover Athletic 3

This was the afternoon Barrow AFC’s soft side made an unwelcome return, as they simply subsided in the last 20 minutes of this dramatic defeat against Dover Athletic at Holker Street

In the early months of the season, the Bluebirds all too frequently had spells in games where they’d lose the plot and get punished, which is what really held them back.

In fairness, such spells have been largely eradicated since manager Ian Evatt first switched to playing with a three at the back in November – true, they’ve suffered defeats in that time but never as calamitously as this.

Indeed, this was the first time since the second half of the defeat at Harrogate Town last October that the wheels came off so spectacularly, but it was still frustrating to see a relapse of an old habit.

In the end, what should have been a return to form in front of their home fans became one of their most infuriating defeats of the whole campaign, as a two-goal lead was inexcusably squandered.

Their late collapse came from nowhere, as for three quarters of the game, while not quite at their best, AFC were still more than good enough and they definitely merited their advantage.

Dover goalkeeper Lee Worgan needed to be in sparkling form in the early stages as Barrow did something they couldn’t manage in their previous home game against Boreham Wood, which is fly out of the traps.

It prevented them from quickly going in front and Dover, who had made the marathon 367-mile bus journey from Kent on the morning of the game, managed to shake off their early lethargy.

It was actually quite an even game by the time the Bluebirds broke the deadlock with an absolute peach of a finish from John Rooney, who bent in a first-time effort from just outside the box.

In truth, the second half had been sedate by the time Lewis Hardcastle doubled the hosts’ lead when his shot, which may not have been going in, took a massive deflection off Whites defender Kevin Lokko. From there, things should have comfortable, but AFC haven’t been able to make things that way on their own patch often enough this season.

Some credit must go to Dover, who are a much-improved side under Andy Hessenthaler from the one completely shorn of confidence that was swept aside in September’s reverse fixture.

It was Hessenthaler’s substitutions that made a huge difference to the course of this game, not least the bold move to replace right-back Josh Passley with winger Anthony Jeffrey.

Jeffrey played a huge part in making Barrow’s lead disappear, as he got away from Josh Granite before teeing up Mitch Brundle to give the Whites hope, then equalised after beating a couple of defenders.

Once the game was level, there really was only one winner and it was another sub who grabbed it in the 89th minute when Ricky Modeste turned in a wicked free kick from Bobby-Joe Taylor.

The Whites celebrated wildly at the final whistle, not just because of the manner of their victory, but also because their unlikely three points had secured their survival in the National League.

In contrast, the Bluebirds were left to contemplate just how they let this slip, and why it’s happened again.