LUCKLESS Woking were struck by the ‘curse of the ex-player’ on Saturday as goals from two former Cards secured the points for National League new boys Bromley.
Efforts from Moses Emmanuel (known to Cards fans as Moses Ademola from his days at Kingfield) and Adam Cunnington before the break cancelled out John Goddard’s sixth-minute opener.
Disappointed Woking boss Garry Hill was left to rue back-to-back losses for his side, following Guiseley’s shock 1-0 win in Surrey seven days previously.
It’s now no win in five league games for Hill’s men who, on the whole, looked like their minds were elsewhere during another out-of-sorts display – perhaps attention had already turned to their daunting double trek up to Grimsby this week.
Despite seeing his side slide down to 11th place in the National League standings, Hill says his primary concern is the wellbeing of his injury-plagued squad after losing new signing Sam Smith to a groin injury just 21 minutes into his Cards debut.
Ever since losing last year’s top scorer and player of the year, Scott Rendell, to a season-ending cruciate knee ligament injury at Tranmere Rovers on the opening day of the season, the vacant role in Hill’s attack has proved a poisoned chalice as different personnel and options have failed to staff the post satisfactorily.
In fairness to the Cards’ new arrival from National League North outfit Brackley Town, Smith, and those who have tried before him, Rendell’s are big boots to fill; Woking’s No9 finished last term as the third-highest scorer in the division with 24 league goals.
Kingfield chief Hill had joked in one of his post-match interview earlier in the season that he ‘must have done something wrong in a former life’ to warrant his squad’s wretched injury luck this season. Seven days before Saturday’s trip to Kent, Hill had seen the latest man to try and fill the attacking void left by Rendell, Shaun Jeffers, stretchered off with a back injury in just his second Cards appearance, which sidelined him this time around.
Thinking that the injury curse couldn’t possibly strike his attackers again, 25-year-old Smith was thrown straight into the starting XI by Hill – but incredibly the former Rushden & Diamonds man’s debut only lasted 20 minutes due to a groin injury, which saw the stricken forward replaced by Keiran Murtagh.
Having led 1-0 as Goddard swept in his 15th goal of the season after a Joe Quigley knock down, the writing was on the wall for the visitors from that point onwards.
Within just 10 minutes of Smith hobbling off, the game had been turned on its head: Bromley duo Emmanuel and Cunnington coming back to haunt their old side.
The identity of the hosts’ scorers further compounded a miserable day round the M25 for Woking’s large contingent of travelling fans, as talk of Sod’s Law swept across the away section of the Hayes Lane terraces like the persistent wind and rain.
Indeed, the mastermind behind Woking’s latest league reverse was a former Cardinal himself, Ravens’ interim manager Neil Smith, who had served as first team coach at Kingfield before Hill’s arrival.
Cards’ cursed luck continued in the 23rd minute when Smith’s side benefited from one of this season’s most bizarre penalty awards by bungling referee Brett Huxtable.
Cameron Norman – the full-back drafted in at centre-half for the afternoon – looked to have closed an untidy tussle in the Woking penalty area, but saw his attempted clearance cannon back off the nearby official.
The man in back then compounded the sense of incredulity in the away ranks by blowing for a marginal-looking push in the back by Norman on Ravens’ Adam Coombes – Emmanuel blasting home the spot kick to level up the scores.
Rather sportingly, Woking boss Hill chose not to lambast the official; the same could not quite be said of the Cards fans behind Jake Cole’s goal.
Hill said: “From where I was, I couldn’t see what was going on in the melee on the floor but the referee’s given the penalty for Cameron Norman pushing, which was a silly penalty to give away; I’ve got no complaints about that.”
Only the reflexes of his in-form stopper Cole kept Hill’s side in the game – Emmanuel being denied a second on more than one occasion when clean through one-on-one with Woking’s No1.
But the Cards’ reprieve handed to them by the gloves of Cole was shortlived as Woking fell behind to a fierce Cunnington turn and shot from the edge of the penalty area on the half-hour mark.
Robust former Ebbsfleet United targetman Cunnington certainly made a point to his former employers having failed to convince as one of those trialled in the No9 position by Hill in a brief loan stint at Kingfield back in October. The latest incumbent of that heavy shirt, Quigley, clipped the top of the crossbar with an audacious lob shortly after but the hosts took a commanding 2-1 lead into the break – with the stiff breeze in their favour for the second period.
Sadly for Hill, the next 45 minutes proved as frustrating as the first: Brian Saah the next man to be crocked, the big centre-half pulling up with a hamstring injury.
Home keeper Alan Julian picked up where his counterpart Cole had left off in the first half, with a string of fine saves.
The most presentable chance for an equaliser fell to the usually accurate Murtagh, but the Woking sub miscued from six yards out.
Some more outstanding handling by Julian in the closing stages made sure Saturday would be a pointless trip for the Cards – the Bromley stopper flinging himself across the turf to keep out a curling effort from Goddard.
Despite banking a miserly two points from a possible 15 over recent weeks, ever the pragmatist, boss Hill was remaining upbeat about his side’s wobbling form. He said: “We had great support again here today, they (the fans) will be bitterly disappointed, we know that and understand that, but I can’t knock the players for a lack of effort.
“To be honest, to be [only] 2-1 behind at half time, I was quite relieved. We were very fortunate that [we had] a good performance from Jake Cole and some of their finishing [was awry] – we could have been dead and buried before half time.
“I felt we started the second half much better and asked their goalkeeper some questions, but not enough.”
Hill was also left to ponder this week’s dreaded double-header at Grimsby – with his side reacquainting themselves with the Mariners in their FA Trophy tie on Saturday, the sides having already faced off in Tuesday night league fixture (turn to Back Page for match report).
“I’m not knocking the effort today… we’ve just got to keep working hard now and go up to Grimsby for another two tough games,” added Hill, whose only good news of the day came from Yorkshire where FC Halifax Town were surprise 4-2 winners over Town.