WOKING’S hot streak continued with a 3-1 victory over Wrexham to belie their rain-soaked surroundings in North Wales and move to within a point of the play-offs.
An own goal by Rhys Taylor in the 13th minute set the Cards on their way to just their second win at the Racecourse Ground; the Wrexham keeper unwittingly diverting a Keiran Murtagh strike into his own net.
The visitors led for only three minutes as forward Dominic Vose drove an unstoppable equaliser past Woking stopper Jake Cole from a free-kick soon after.
Cards’ young Bournemouth loanee Joe Quigley – who spent a temporary stint in North Wales before his arrival at Kingfield – gave sodden away fans reason to cheer just four minutes into the second half as he restored the advantage.
With the on-field conditions worsening by the minute, the contest became a war of attrition, but Bruno Andrade kept his feet to make sure of the points as he seized on a miscue from the luckless Taylor.
A drenched but victorious Woking boss Garry Hill delved straight into the football cliché handbook after the game by explaining that the Racecourse Ground is ‘a tough place to go’ for visiting sides.
But on an afternoon where North Wales took a battering from the elements – and three Vanarama National League games fell foul of the stormy conditions across the whole of the UK – that well-used footballing phrase seemed as apt as it ever has.
This intuitive and highly-focussed performance simply saw Hill’s men tackle the saturated surface better than their struggling hosts Wrexham, who have now lost five of their last six league games.
Conversely, the New Year schedule has seen Woking bank 16 points from a possible 18 to top the form table alongside Cheltenham Town, Grimsby and Southport.
Hill may have felt a touch of sympathy for under-fire Dragons’ boss Gary Mills who felt the wrath of a feisty home crowd as his side dropped down to 11th in the standings – albeit with two games in hand over their victors and play-off rivals Woking.
With saturated pitches leading to postponements up and down the football landscape, as well as feeling satisfied at the win, Hill admitted after the full-time whistle that he was equally relieved to see the match completed.
He said: “It’s a tough place to come at any time. The pitch was very tricky [but] the referee passed it fit this morning: it was playable at 10am, [and] it was playable at 3pm. But it was getting heavy with more rain the longer the game went on. The most important thing today was that it was played.”
Despite the puddled pitch passing its pre-match inspection, the sides took to a sodden surface with concerns still held over how much the ball would hold up in the most well-trodden areas of the field.
Both line-ups boasted plenty of creativity – Hill starting with Bruno Andrade out wide; the Portuguese winger with 11 assists to his name so far this season.
In the home line-up, Mills was relying on playmaker Vose – eight goals and seven assists this term – to provide the spark.
It soon became apparent to both benches, however, that there would be no hope of a slick passing game on an oil slick of a pitch.
Getting the ball from back to front, with no unnecessary risks was the order of the day. Giuseppe Sole was almost the first to profit from a ball forward in the 12th minute – Cards’ recalled striker forcing Taylor to palm the ball behind from distance.
Little did he know, but Taylor’s involvement was not quite over as, from John Goddard’s resulting corner, the hapless Dragons keeper diverted the ball over the line after a Murtagh strike had ricocheted back off the upright. Busy attacker Robbie Evans would have replied instantly for the hosts but for a fine low save by Cole up the other end.
However, only two further minutes had elapsed when the leveller did arrive – this time a static Cole could only look on helplessly as a Vose free-kick, from all of 30 yards, thundered into the top corner.
Keen to halt Wrexham’s growing momentum, and pin back the threat of wing-backs Sean Newton and Manny Smith, Hill left the shelter of the away dugout to make a change: the left-sided Chris Arthur coming on for right-back Jake Caprice just 30 minutes in.
That meant a switch of flanks for Cards’ man of the match Cameron Norman; the versatile 20-year-old showing maturity beyond his years to shackle the hosts’ threat out wide.
Both attacks did manage to slip through on the stroke of half time – Cole clutching a low Evans strike at the second attempt before Taylor was forced to tip over a rising Joey Jones effort from long-range.
The half-time stalemate was broken just four minutes after the restart as Quigley came back to haunt his former team-mates with a smart close-range finish – his fifth in 10 for Woking – from another Goddard centre.
Both benches freshened things up for the final furlong at the Racecourse – sub James Gray rattling the goalframe with a firm header.
Meanwhile Godfrey Poku added his trademark extra bite to the Cards’ midfield, freeing up Andrade to add a decisive third as he made Taylor pay the full price for a howler of a kick with a cool run on goal and finish.
With play-off rivals Macclesfield Town losing 1-0 to Halifax – who are Woking’s next league opponents on 23 January – these three points see the Cards jump up a place to sixth in the table.
Just one point now separates the Cards from fifth-placed Eastleigh, who were flying the flag for the National League in the FA Cup third round on Saturday’ holding Championship side Bolton Wanderers to a memorable 1-1 draw.