WOKING swarmed The Hive to take a famous 3-1 win over promotion-chasing Barnet.
Goals from Josh Payne and Scott Rendell stung a Barnet side who were coming off the back of a five-game winning streak that has seen the North Londoners gate-crash the play-off places following the departure of Dutch manager Edgar Davids in January.
This win will live long in the memory of Cards’ colony of fans who packed the away end at Barnet’s impressive new home, something which those supposed never witnessed on the infamous slope of Underhill.
Cards held out for a stubborn goalless draw with Davids’ Barnet back in October, and considering the hosts’ lofty position of third in the table, four points represents something of a fillip for Garry Hill and his men, but also encapsulates the topsy-turvy nature of this Skrill Premier season.
“To come and win 3-1 at Barnet, and go to Gateshead and win 2-0, and go to Halifax and beat them; and be the only team to win at the Shay this year (shows that) on our day we’re a very tough side to beat,” said Hill post-match.
“It’s a league, apart from Luton and Cambridge, where you can end up sitting in the top 10, or (even) in the bottom four if you aren’t consistent enough.”
There’s something to be said for the weekend for the Cards at the moment, who have now gone four unbeaten on a Saturday compared to four defeats out of their last four on a Tuesday night, as the part-timers perhaps begin to feel the burn of a hectic end-of-season schedule.
With Mike Cestor hobbling out of Tuesday night’s latest limp loss up at Kidderminster with a recurrence of his hamstring troubles, Mark Ricketts partnered Joe McNerney at the back. Other than that, Hill and assistant Steve Thompson named an unchanged side, with Aaron Howe continuing between the sticks in place of Sam Beasant.
Bees management duo Ulrich Landvreugd and Dick Schreuder had to make do without the sting of 12-goal leading scorer Jake Hyde who, like Cestor, faces a spell on the physio’s table with a hamstring injury.
Given the mudbaths they have played on in recent weeks, both sides were intent on getting the ball down on a carpet of a pitch – the only mark against being the confusing scrubbed out lines courtesy of rugby league tenants London Broncos – from the start.
And with Barnet looking to play out from the back in the Dutch style, boss Hill admitted that he had tasked his players with repeating their perfect counter-attacking execution from their Gateshead smash-and-grab.
“We gained a lot of confidence after our win at Gateshead and we came here today with a similar game plan. You must stop Barnet from playing from the back and frustrate them,” said Hill. Barnet’s crop of young talent had the better of the early stages, with winger Keanu Marsh-Brown cutting some impressive shapes on the right flank. It was probably a touch of déjà vu for full-back John Nutter, who had spent the previous Tuesday night chasing 23-year-old Kidderminster winger Adrian Cieslewicz around Aggborough.
But it was Marsh-Brown’s fellow England C squad member, Josh Payne who grabbed the opener after 23 minutes.
Adam Newton, Jack Marriott and Kevin Betsy worked some neat triangles on a congested right flank before full-back Newton floated a cross to the far post for which Payne had to compete with midfielder Mark Byrne.
The Cards man won the dual before bundling in past Beekeeper Nick Jupp from inside the six-yard box. Barnet fans and players appealed in unison for a Payne push but the ref remained unmoved, adjudging that Payne had simply wanted it more than Byrne in the challenge.
Payne and Marsh-Brown were due to jet off to Amman after the game as Paul Fairclough’s England C prepared to take on the Jordanian U23 side on Tuesday night. The pair having already acquainted themselves in November’s international against the Czech U21s at Kingfield.
As is the recent trend, Woking conceded the lead moments later, midfielder Curtis Weston the man to equalise.
Latching on to a hopeful punt upfield – à la Dartford’s second goal two weeks ago – Weston beat a flat-footed Cards back line before rounding the on-rushing Howe to prod a well-taken finish into the unguarded net.
But Woking were gifted the lead back five minutes later when Jupp, like Howe, came rushing off his line when it appeared better to stay at home. Another hopeful ball in, this time from Marriott, seemed to be heading to safety with in-form John Goddard struggling to keep the ball in play at the back post before Jupp clattered into the Cards man with a clumsy challenge as he hacked the ball away.
With some appealing for a corner, some for a penalty – again to much home disgust – the ref pointed to the spot.
Rendell’s checked run up sent Jupp the wrong way as he tucked the penalty into the bottom left corner for his fourth goal since returning to the club in January.
Goal number five was to follow at the death of a frenetic second half, with both teams having strong claims to have done enough to win it.
Goalscorer Weston could and perhaps should have bagged a brace of his own as he flashed a close-range header wide.
But with the game in the balance, and Kevin Betsy seemingly just taking the ball for a walk to the corner to eat up some of the remaining two minutes, the wily winger caught out three napping defenders as he slipped a ball inside a busy Bees box into sub Giuseppe Sole.
Sole’s first-time lay-off back found Goddard in the ‘D’, who in turn fed a waiting Rendell to calmly roll in across Jupp and into the far corner from eight yards, before sinking to his knees in front of delirious Woking fans.
After a satisfying win, Hill took the opportunity to reflect on where the club currently sit.
“It’s three years we’ve been in charge now, me and Steve Thompson, and I think we’ve come a long way as a club.
“We’re all level-headed at the football club but it’s that sensibility that we’re a Woking football club, trying to get stability, trying to build for the future, and I’m sure that in time the club will find the ways and means of getting the finances in to get us to a level where we can compete on a level playing field against 16 full-time clubs, 14 ex-football league clubs, and not just be one of those part-time clubs who are hanging in trying to stay in the Conference each season.
“You’ve got your top clubs who pay the strong money in the Conference but our number one priority is to get young players at the football club, to gain that experience, and to build for the future – unless I win the lottery.”