IT WAS another case of previous points being punctured by a deflating defeat as Woking slipped to a 2-0 whimper against Kidderminster Harriers in the West Midlands.
A concession in the first 30 seconds set the tone for a flat performance, with the game put beyond the visitors courtesy of a debated free-kick from Harriers’ skipper Kyle Storer.
Prior to this game boss Garry Hill had laid down the gauntlet to his squad to use Saturday’s confidence-building win over Macclesfield Town as a springboard here, with ‘consistency’ the buzz-word on everyone’s lips in the Cards camp.
“We are capable if we turn round and play to our standards and defend properly of going to Kidderminster and getting a result, but it’ll be tough,” Hill had said on Saturday evening.
“They’re a very good footballing side, they’re a very well run club, they’re fighting for a play-off spot, so we’ll have to be at our best.”
Despite his glowing reference, Hill must have quietly been thinking that this was the ideal time to take advantage of Harriers’ recent Harry Caray.
Chairman Mark Serrell and Director John Davies both tendered their immediate resignation in the lead up to this game, with both men taking parting shots at an increasingly virulent section of the Aggborough faithful, whose ‘negative chanting’ was prevalent during Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Braintree Town.
The bone of contention for Harriers fans being the ousting of former boss Steve Burr – now at Chester – for ex-Coventry gaffer Andy Thorn in January; a move which Hill admitted he was also ‘surprised’ at.
Although the same score line, at least it was just the 250-mile round trip for the travelling 34 Cards fans this time round, some of whom will no doubt recall trudging back from Cumbria after a miserable 2-0 defeat to relegation-doomed Barrow this Tuesday night a year ago.
And Hill’s post-match assessment that night was uncannily as pertinent here as it had been then, with the boss warding against complacency in hitting the ‘magic 50-point mark’ which would all but secure Conference football for another year.
“We’ve got a lot of work still to do – I don’t want people getting carried away and thinking we’re mid-table and comfortable. We are not comfortable,” was Hill’s message that night, with his side one point better off 12 months on.
Kidderminster boss Thorn started with January signings, ex-Manchester City trainee Adrian Cieslewicz and Saturday’s two-goal saviour Amari Morgan-Smith in attack, and the pair combined to sensationally open scoring just 30 seconds in.
Big forward Morgan-Smith picked up where he had left off against Braintree, finishing off Cieslewicz’s low centre from the right to punish a sleeping Cards defence. And minutes later the defensive dalliance was compounded as the visitor’s backline went from slumbering to lumbering.
Young centre-back Mike Cestor was forced off with a recurrence of his hamstring problems to be replaced by Giuseppe Sole, as Hill and Steve Thompson reshuffled their pack in search of a quick reply.
And Woking’s three-man attack nearly proved an inspired switch as Jack Marriott went just wide after 15 minutes.
Springing Harriers’ offside trap to meet a flighted John Goddard pass ahead of onrushing stopper Nathan Vaughan, the young Ipswich-loanee saw an improvised lob bounce a few feet past of the gaping goal. And albeit a half-chance, in truth with it went Cards’ best opportunity of the game.
A wistful Woking did settle as the half progressed, showing signs of the slick passing they had shown against Macclesfield at Kingfield just three days previously.
Kevin Betsy fizzed a dangerous low ball from the right into Scott Rendell, who couldn’t add a third goal to his week’s tally as he diverted narrowly wide.
In a rare foray forward, Mansfield midfielder Keiran Murtagh then fired an effort goalwards from the right wing, however the loan-man’s effort diverted to safety via defender Cheyenne Dunkley.
But the wide-boy making all the noise was that man Cieslewicz, with the Polish youngster’s electric engine at full revs throughout.
The Pole was giving his chaperone John Nutter an exhausting evening and sent an effort just wide on the half-hour. Cards’ left-back was then forced to haul the forward down on the stroke of half-time to halt a home team counter.
Having picked up a yellow card moments earlier, experienced stopper Josh Gowling went crudely through the back of Sole on half-way.
But with Cards players in yellow shirts looking for a second yellow for the ex-Bournemouth player, an unmoved referee waved Cieslewicz on to force a dangerous free kick on the edge of Woking’s box.
Fortunately for Aaron Howe ex-Aston Villa youth player Danny Jackman sent the dead-ball rising over the bar with the last kick of the half.
Usually placid skipper Mark Ricketts got in the ref’s ear as the sides retired to the dressing-rooms, with his team-mates increasingly feeling on the rough end of some ‘home’ decisions.
Betsy tried to add a little sauce to this Worcester trip shortly after the restart, forcing Vaughan into an early stop.
But in reality this was a bland serving from the Cards, lacking the kick of those three tasty goals from the Macclesfield game.
Another dubious free kick award from the man-in-the-middle – with Sole going from victim to alleged offender – brought a second goal with 20 minutes remaining.
Reds skipper Storer’s deft right-foot curler evaded Howe’s four-man yellow wall and the keeper’s despairing dive to find the bottom left corner in style.
Howe had to be sharply off his line to keep the deficit to two as Amari-Smith almost grabbed his second brace in three days.
Sub Reece Beckles almost set up an unlikely comeback with 10 minutes to go when he had the ball in the net from a Josh Payne rebound.
However the 18-year-old was the latest player on the wrong end of a questionable official’s decision as his close-range effort ruled out for offside, when in fact it appeared to be other Cards players that had strayed the wrong side.
Assistant boss Steve Thompson rued that ‘elusive consistency’ after the game, saying: “We did recover (from the early goal), with good possession in the first half and we felt we could get something out of it at half-time.
“But we didn’t do enough in the second half and didn’t test their keeper enough.”