A SOLE goal ‘Gez’ in the nick of time salvaged a 1-1 draw as Woking took it to the wire against the Darts in the first home game of the new season at Kingfield on Tuesday night.
After such a comprehensive league opener up at Alfreton three days previously, Woking struggled to get going against a resolute but unambitious Dartford side, who had taken the lead via a Rory McAuley header just after half time.
But with an anxious 1,500 inside Kingfield starting to get the feeling that the home side wouldn’t score if they played on all night, up popped sub Giuseppe Sole to power home a Dean Morgan cross in the third of five additional minutes.
Before Sole stole a share of the points, it was quite hard to fathom how Garry Hill’s side were on the brink of a first defeat of the season, with the home side having passed their Kentish visitors off the park for the first quarter of the game.
But Hill said the performance was simply not up to scratch.
He added: “I couldn’t see us equalising. We tried two or three different formations, got all our subs on, and got the break deep into injury time. Over the 90 minutes we deserved something but it was an opportunity to win and push on. It’s a performance I am disappointed with.
“I suppose we can take the positive of four points out of six but it’s mixed with frustration.”
Scott Rendell tested keeper Jason Brown’s handling early on, while John Goddard and Theo Lewis were afforded acres to run into from a back-peddling rear-guard, as Woking forced the blue wall back towards their own goal.
And Woking were seemingly dazed from banging their heads against that blue wall as they allowed midfielder Max Cornhill and then forward Tom Bradbrook sight of Aaron Howe’s goal as the half wore on.
Normally a manager hurling abuse at a fourth official is quite rightly frowned upon – but with a member of the Kingfield crowd having to take over fourth official duties after an injury to referee Hopkins, there were a few smirks early in the second half as visiting boss Tony Burman took the new man on the touchline to task for a disputed free kick.
Darts are only playing Conference football this season after they were handed a relegation reprieve due to Salisbury City’s summer financial meltdown.
And with boss Burman making wholesale player changes with the club having planned for life in the Conference South, it would have rankled with Woking gaffer Hill and a frustrated home crowd had they not got something against their rivals, who Woking would no doubt like to think they will be in the opposite half of the table from come May. With that in mind, Joey Jones, Reece Beckles and Sole were roused from the bench with 15 minutes remaining.
Those encouraging care-free summer friendly performances seemed a distant memory as Woking got stuck back into the muck-and-nettles of Conference football, discarding their passing principals for a more up-and-at-them approach in the dying moments, with Howe and co launching high balls into the mixer.
And Cards went all in as one last missile deflected wide for a corner.
Dean Morgan kept alive a deep Payne delivery down the left and after some timely trickery to skip past full-back Lee Burns, the Montserrat international picked out Sole, who stole a yard in the box to power home a header from close range, to the relief of Kingfield.
The late drama, however, was not enough to soothe boss Hill.
“By the standards we set on Saturday I was expecting a bit more than what we gave over the 90 minutes,” he said.
“Four points out of six is a solid start but, as a manager, when you have a good game on Saturday you can get greedy. We’ll take the point and move on to Macclesfield.”
The manager did however reserve a pat on the back for impact substitute Sole, who snatched the headlines with his late heroics.
“It was important for us – we’ve got a point out of the game,” he said.
“We set ourselves a little target of what we want to achieve over the first five games and this goes towards reaching where we want to be.”
This weekend’s opponents Macclesfield have enjoyed a fine start to the summer, a stark contrast to the financial difficulties they have been tackling over the summer.
The Silkmen have won both of their opening two games, following up an impressive 1-0 win over Braintree on the season’s opening day with a 3-2 triumph over newly-promoted Telford on Tuesday night.