GIUSEPPE SOLE’S nightcap put the Bedfordshire Hatters to sleep in an epic 1-0 win over champions-elect Luton live on the box.
All those BT Sport viewers watching on from their armchairs, and a throng of vocal Cards fans in a packed Cardinals bar back at Kingfield HQ, would surely have thought that it is Woking that were the champions-in-waiting rather than their high-flying hosts on this showing, as Garry Hill and Steve Thompson masterminded a classic Cards away day against illustrious opposition to trump even those wins at Halifax, Gateshead and Barnet earlier in the campaign.
As many Cards fans who had managed to make the rush hour dash up to Kenilworth Road, took their seats, so too did supporters in front of the big screen at Kingfield, lured in by £2 pints, reduced grub, and the chance to see their heroes on the big screen for the first time in over two years.
Club marketing-man Elliot Machin was delighted with the bumper turn out. He said: “It was hard to call what the turnout would be, but it’s hard to get up to Luton on a Monday night, so it’s a great opportunity for the fans to take advantage and get behind Garry and the team.”
TV execs billed this as Hill versus Still, with Garry taking on his fellow-Dagger-in-the-dugout John who, prior to defeat here, had overseen a Luton club record 27-game unbeaten run, stretching all the way back to
At kick-off Still sat on the brink of an unprecedented third Conference title, and the top-Hatters of a return to league football after five years away. But Woking hats on, all those stats do is confirm what a proud night this was for Hill and his men.
Hill spoke to the BT cameras straight after the final whistle to voice his pride at a ‘first class performance’ and a ‘thoroughly deserved three points’, a sentiment echoed on the night by BT pundit, and ex-England stopper David James.
“Truthfully I did (believe Woking could get a result against Luton),” said Hill. “I just had this feeling in the back of my mind you know, that we’ve gone at Halifax, Gateshead and Barnet and won, where no one gave us a chance of winning. You also have a situation where the boys were going to raise the bar to another level and show how good they are in front of the cameras.
“I thought we had a football team out on the park and a football club tonight that everybody can be proud of.”
The cameras gave Cards fans rare access to the pre-match team-talks. ‘Positivity’ was the message coming out of the away dressing-room, clearly up for a touch of Conference giant-killing.
As such, the Woking management-duo went with a brave starting XI, trying to match Luton’s 40-goal strike partnership of Andre Gray and Paul Benson with their own hot-shots; the in-form and returning ex-Hatter Scott Rendell, partnered by live wire loanee Jack Marriott.
Woking flew out of the blocks, silencing the 6,600-strong Kenilworth Road crowd in a stunning display.
Lining up against a number of his England C teammates, Josh Payne was clearly keen to impress and got stuck in to the centre of the action from the first whistle.
As the name might suggest, Luton enforcer Alex put in a Lawless over-the-top tackle to try and halt Payne’s powerful start. However the challenge – which went unpunished by ref Chris Kavanagh – merely seemed to push Payne on, as the midfielder sent two vicious volleys hurtling towards Luton’s ever-present keeper Mark Tyler from distance.
Tyler shovelled the dipping first attempt out of his bottom-right hand corner before being beaten all-ends up as Payne rattled a perfectly executed, swept half-volley on to the angle of post and bar from all of 25 yards.
Impish BT anchor Mark Clemmit roamed the dugouts to catch the views from the benches, with assistant-boss Thompson reiterating the positive message that Woking would ‘play without fear’ despite facing a Luton side who have scored more goals at home then Woking have combined home and away this season.
With the floodlights and camera giving this league clash a cup-tie feel, Kevin Betsy rolled back the years to take the game to Luton, giving young full-back Scott Griffiths a night he won’t forget down the right-hand wing.
Betsy strolled in behind the home defence three times in quick succession to cause panic in a Luton back line that has conceded just 11 goals at Kenilworth Road this season.
Payne shaved the outside of Tyler’s fortunate goal-frame again with a steered side-footer from range. The goal frame, aptly on St Patrick’s Day, increasingly benefiting from the luck of the Irish.
The on-screen stats confirmed Woking’s dominance in possession, as they kept Luton penned-in during a dominant first third of the game.
Ex-Hatter Rendell (right) almost capped a perfect first-half performance when he ghosted onto a Payne free-kick but saw his header chalked off by a marginal assistant’s flag.
Tangerine-shirted Luton could consider themselves well and truly squeezed as they went in for their half-time oranges.
‘Woking are smoking’ surmised the impressed commentator David Farrah.
The smoke signals were there for an equally hot second half, as the part-time visitors again took the game to their full-time hosts; Goddard seeing an early curler blocked on route to goal.
Fortunately Hatters stopper Tyler had left the lucky goalposts where they were at the switch of ends, with Howe this time the beneficiary of a charmed frame on two occasions.
A deflected Jake Howells left-wing cross bamboozled Howe and a deer-stalking Paul Benson as the ball sailed against the far upright on the full, before Adam Newton, in trying to nod the loose ball to safety sent it rolling against the opposite post. A flying Joe McNerney hacked off his own goal line.
No technology required.
Fraser Franks got his bonnet on a late corner with the league’s leading scorer Gray unable to bag the bobbling rebound.
Enter Sole for a subbed Marriott to show Gray how it’s done, with his first touch of the ball in the 87th minute.
Murtagh started and almost finished the move; winning a ball he had no right to in the centre of the park, he exchanged passes with Betsy before controlling a sweet half-volley over Tyler and against the woodwork, yet again.
But there was Sole, ahead of Franks in the box to nod past a helpless Tyler in front of the travelling fans.
Cue pandemonium at the final whistle, both at Kenilworth Road and Kingfield as Cards fans celebrated long into the night.
“Without doubt that’s the biggest result I’ve had since I’ve been at the football club. And it’s a very proud night for everybody connected,” said a jubilant Hill.