CARDS finished a man down as they were condemned to a royal execution in a far from regal performance at Princes Park on Tuesday night.
With one eye on those teams, like Dartford, perched below them in the table, and the other on a potential two-place leap up to a season’s high 14th place, the stakes were high for the Cards ahead of this one.
Coming off the back of a much-trumpeted 2-0 win up at Gateshead’s International Stadium on Saturday afternoon, Cards fans were surely going all in for a royal flush in Kent.
And the odds seemed stacked in the visitor’s favour as they raced into a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Scott Rendell goal with just four minutes on the clock.
Unbeknownst to those Cards punters, the writing was on the wall.
Straight from the kick-off Dartford found forward Alex Wall who fired in an immediate riposte, only to be compounded by the dismissal of young Yeovil loanee Joe Jones on the half hour.
Given this was their third away game in seven days, perhaps inevitably the house of cards collapsed from there on in, as a ruthless Dartford netted a further four past the 10 men without reply.
Boss Garry Hill lamented his player’s inconsistency after the game.
He said: “You can’t give a great performance like we did against Gateshead away and then go and play Dartford and think you haven’t got to raise a gallop and the result will just happen for you.
“It’s inconsistent whatever way you want to look at it. We don’t help ourselves. I can imagine everyone else is shaking their heads because I certainly am.”
With the original fixture postponed from over the Christmas period, both Hill and Dartford manager Tony Burman were no doubt relieved to finally get this game on despite some short sharp showers in Kent just before kick-off.
Referee Paul Rees and his match officials deemed that a pitch inspection was not necessary, hoping instead that the liberal scattering of sand would hold the heavy surface together for the 90 minutes.
Hill and Steve Thompson made a sole change to the starting XI from Gateshead on Saturday – Giuseppe Sole the man to get the nod to partner Scott Rendell ahead of Jack Marriott; with Hill admitting that the youngster had been late in meeting up with his team-mates.
Ever punctual skipper Mark Ricketts lined-up for his 200th Cards appearance since his arrival from Ebbsfleet back at the start of the 2009 campaign.
Darts called upon two Luton Town loanees; forward Alex Wall and midfielder Jim Stevenson making Burman’s line-up.
With Luton being well represented in both squads, it was apt that those inside Princes Park were cordially invited to a ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ start to the game, as both sides had their cake and ate it within the opening five minutes. It was Cards and recent Luton recruit Rendell who were smiling like Cheshire Cats first as the big forward flicked the visitors into a fourth-minute lead.
A switched ball to the right wing saw Kevin Betsy slip by his guard Tyrone Sterling before the Cards man rolled the ball back to the lurking Josh Payne on the perimeter of the box.
With the midfielder fenced in by white shirts, his dragged effort was heading harmlessly wide before Rendell darted in to deflect the effort home from close range.
But Woking were struck Tweedle-dum straight from the kick-off as Wall capitalised on hesitation from Jones in midfield to cut inside from the right to curl a fine effort into the far corner of Sam Beasant’s net.
The frenetic start continued as Rendell almost notched a carbon-copy of his opening goal but this time the big forward couldn’t apply the finishing touch to a scuffed Joe McNerney effort.
And then, with both sets of players becoming bogged down in the muck and sand, Yeovil youngster Joe Jones got have an early bath all to himself.
Overreaching for a loose ball on half way, Jones showed his inexperience in a crunch game as he went over the top of the ball and the ref reached for Woking’s fifth red card of the season.
For all their early dominance, the momentum would inevitably swing to Dartford as Woking faced an hour a man light.
The inevitable came in added time, with Woking barely able to kick-off before the half-time whistle went.
With passes increasingly going astray in midfield, Payne’s harmless looking ball forward was intercepted with a hopeful punt out from the Dartford back line.
Wall again didn’t give up the chase, as he out-manoeuvred McNerney to fire a low left-footer from just inside the box across Beasant and into the far bottom corner for his
The tea-party was well and truly over in the Woking dressing-room at half-time, with the players no doubt keen to hide any stray tea cups from boss Hill and assistant Thompson.
Hill sent on Marriott and Keiran Murtagh in place of Sole and John Nutter to try and start the comeback at the start of the second half but the boss’s gamble to reshuffle his pack backfired as Dartford instantly extended their lead.
With McNerney unable to make headway with a clearance, Dartford switched play wide before midfielder Max Cornhill latched on to a low Wall cut-back to finish from the penalty spot position.
An Elliot Bradbrook free-kick from the ‘D’ whistled wide moments later and Woking breathed again, momentarily.
A quick Betsy counter attack almost brought Woking a route back into the game. The winger’s centre from the right found Rendell, who in turn found Marriott in space.
However the sub fired harmlessly wide of the near post when perhaps an effort across goal was on and soon it was 4-1.
A deflated Cards back line failed to pick up from a routine corner from the left and Cornhill headed his second unchallenged from two yards.
Marriott did have the ball in the net with 10 minutes to go, tapping in a drilled cross from Betsy.
However such was his and his team-mates night that the effort was chalked off by a late assistant’s flag.
Dartford rounded off the second-half as they had the first, with a goal in stoppage-time and Woking barely able to kick-off before the final whistle. Sub Lee Noble completing the scoring in the final moments.
The result sees Dartford close the gap on the teams just outside the relegation places, and denied Woking the chance to all but end their fears of slipping down the league’s dreaded trap door.