THE number 13 strikes fear into the hearts of superstitious sportsmen. For last weekend’s Masters’ golfers, Augusta’s hole 13 is a par-5 ‘slog’; a word that also sums up Cards’ current 13-game winless league run.
Midfielder Matt Robinson does not often chip in with a goal but his early effort had set Woking on their way to an even scarcer three points on home soil – 2 January’s derby win over Aldershot Town the last at Kingfield.
But, despite a vastly improved showing on recent matches by the hosts, set-piece foibles once again proved their undoing as Gateshead forward Ryan Bowman converted from the penalty spot deep into first-half stoppage time.
Despite voicing his ire at having to hold an almost carbon copy post-match debrief as his men once again failed to hold on to a lead, Cards’ boss Garry Hill was remaining phlegmatic about Saturday’s stalemate with a play-off hunting Heed outfit.
“You’re always happy with a point but, at the end of the day, you want to win games,” mused Hill.
“I felt over the 90 minutes today that, if any team was going to win the game, it was going to be us who would against a team that’s only six points [Ed – eight] off the play-offs.”
Although the likes of Robinson and man of the match Mark Ricketts did offer fans some springtime green shoots of recovery over the 90 minutes, it was a far cry from the last time the sides met in December when, still a serious play-off candidate, Woking were able to put Neil Aspin’s Gateshead to the sword 5-1 in what must rank as Cards’ best away day of this gruelling 2015/16 National League campaign, to date.
Unruffled, if, by his own admission, in uncharted winless territory, gaffer Hill added that it’s his players’ inability to see out a result of late that is causing headaches in the home dugout. He said: “The most frustrating part in the last few games is that we were 1-0 up at Eastleigh; 1-0 up against Kidderminster; 2-0 up at Southport; we’ve gone 1-0 up here today, but we’re giving cheap goals away and inviting teams back into matches.”
Sadly, the déjà vu feeling for Hill and a supportive, if sparse, Kingfield crowd was of those recent slip-ups and not the five-star victory that had flung the Cards into the top four spots in the National League standings before Christmas.
The home starting XI bore a striking resemblance to that which had thrown away a two-goal lead at Southport seven days earlier – Joey Jones returning to the heart of defence in place of Ipswich Town youngster Joe Robinson.
Meanwhile, Hill kept faith with his other Robinson (Matt) who, once again, started on the right-hand side of a ‘diamond’ midfield four – while Alex Smith offered the support to lone loan Cambridge United striker Danny Carr with top scorer John Goddard continuing his spell on the sidelines with a hamstring problem.
Unfortunately, Smith’s afternoon lasted just 11 minutes as, like Goddard, his hamstrings felt the pinch – Bruno Andrade making an early entrance from the bench.
Smith’s slice of tough luck aside, the hosts had started the brighter of the sides on a chilly spring afternoon in GU22 – Keiran Murtagh sending a sighter towards Sam Russell in the Heed goal before the away stopper drew begrudging applause from the Kingfield Road End as he clawed Robinson’s left-footed curler out of the top corner.
But there was nothing Russell could do moments later as, this time, Robinson took the upper hand in their personal duel.
Collecting the ball on the opposite flank, he again fancied his chances from distance on his left foot – and via a sizeable deflection from the long outstretched leg of defender James Curtis the ball nestled in the back of the net to give the hosts a deserved lead after 31 minutes.
But an eventful half wasn’t to end there as another injury blow struck the Cards’ chances.
A sickening clash of heads by Jones and Alex Whitmore saw referee Whitton forced to pause proceedings as Woking physio Steve Snelling was again called in to action. After treatment on the pitch, both Jones and Whitton were withdrawn – as is the standard precaution with head injuries – as the half ticked over to the start of four additional minutes.
But rather than running the clock down, Woking allowed the match officials to take centre stage (again) in the final minute of the added four when they adjudged Brian Saah to have hauled down his opposite number Curtis at a Matt Pattison corner kick – an award manager Hill said he had ‘no complaints with’.
Gateshead’s reward from 12 yards was by no means a gimme given Jake Cole’s recent form between the sticks but, such is his confidence at present, former Football League hitman Bowman coolly sent the ball right and the Woking man to his left to level things up at the break.
To come out for the second period back to square one was tough on the home side who were more than value for their lead before Saah’s tangle – but they remained positive as Carr continued to bustle at the spearhead of the attack before sending a deflected shot narrowly off target before the hour mark.
Sensing that slippery first win in 13 was in their own hands, Hill threw reliable plunderer Giuseppe Sole into the attack for one final throw of the dice.
Showing a spike in confidence levels, seen fleetingly in recent weeks, midfielder Murtagh marauded forward to send a stinging drive goalwards before Heed keeper Russell again had to fling himself down low to prevent Robinson from grabbing his brace from the edge of the penalty area.
It was as close as Woking would come to settling the contest but, having survived a couple of speedy counter attacks, led by Gateshead’s jet-heeled Daniel Johnson, a point was a fair reflection over the whole of the piece according to Hill, who added: “I’ll drive round the M25 tonight and say to myself ‘it’s another point in the right direction’.”