THREE was the magic number at Kingfield on Saturday as Woking and Dover Athletic netted a Trophy trio apiece.
This was a thrilling third round FA Trophy tie in more than one sense of the word, as 90 minutes – plus crucially, five more added on for stoppages – couldn’t separate Garry Hill and Chris Kinnear’s men, who will duke it out again in Tuesday night’s replay to see who will take their place in this season’s quarter-finals.
Given how his side were mere moments from victory as they entered injury-time 3-2 up, Kinnear won’t care to agree, but it was perhaps apt that it was returning Cards hitman Scott Rendell who forced a rematch on a weekend of cup upsets.
Former Luton Town forward Rendell, 28, is perhaps best known for his winning strike as the then Non-League Hatters knocked top-flight Norwich City out of the fourth round in 2013 – the goal recently being voted in the BBC’s 50 most iconic FA Cup goals alongside Tim Buzaglo’s hat-trick strike against West Brom in 1991 no less.
While Rendell’s late leveller – his second of this tumultuous tie against Athletic – won’t hit the headlines in quite the same way as that goal, on another weekend of FA Cup shocks, the brace was the talk of the terraces at Kingfield as the Cards snatched a late Trophy reprieve.
“To come back and score two is good personally, but as a collective we were disappointed that we were in that position [3-2 behind] in the first place, but we stuck together and luckily I nicked one at the end,” was Rendell’s assessment of his first full outing since picking up an ankle injury in early December.
Hill’s top-scorer Rendell has previous with The Whites from earlier on this season when he plundered a fab four-goal haul in a 6-1 Conference demolition in August. However, Cards’ boss Hill was under no illusions that Kinnear’s resurgent Dover – with just an FA Cup third round loss to Premier League Crystal Palace in their past 18 games in all competitions – would represent a different animal this time around.
“We beat them earlier in the season but I don’t look at that and say that will happen again,” said Hill, who has made no secret of late of his desire to lead Woking out at Wembley for the first time since 1997.
And Woking looked a step further along the Wembley way when Chris Arthur powered in a 16th minute opener. Rather comically, Arthur was stood hand-to-ear trying to decipher instructions from the home dugout moments before Josh Payne’s corner found him outside the Dover penalty area.
Left to his own devices, the fast full-back simply strode forward, side-stepped two Dover defenders and drilled a lethal left-footed strike past goalkeeper Andrew Rafferty from all of 30 yards. Not a bad way to open your Kingfield account.
It seemed implausible that a fellow full-back would follow Arthur on to the scoresheet, but the Whites’ skipper Connor Essam had clearly taken note, as he stole in to level things up with a diving header after 36 minutes.
Powerful new home strike partnership Rendell and Ross Lafayette – Cards’ latest loan signing from Luton – continued to probe for a way ahead, and the pair were instrumental as home advantage was restored on the stroke of half time.
Chasing a Jake Cole punt down field, Lafayette was tugged back just inside the box by Dover defender Sean Francis. Rendell stepped up to calmly roll in his first goal since December 2 – his 16th in total of the current campaign.
Given Woking’s recent woes in defending set-piece situations, it was perhaps no shock when Hill’s pre-match premonition that Kinnear’s hardy band of tall scrappers would try and hit the home side from set-plays came true. Within 10 minutes of the second half, Dover had conjured up two identikit goals from long throws to turn the tie around.
Firstly midfield man Nick Deverdics latched on to an Essam hurl in from the right, before Stefan Payne pounced on some defensive dallying to drill past Cole at his near post, again from an Essam aerial assault from the touchline.
Indeed, the match ball rarely troubled the commendably lush January turf from that point onwards; Rendell and Lafayette (right) increasingly being sought out with defence-to-attack missiles.
Rendell scuffed a shot against a post from inside the box with 10 minutes to go before Lafayette diverted a Kevin Betsy snap-shot a foot or so wide of the target with what Cards fans must have feared was their last action of this season’s Trophy. But with the five extra minutes having flashed up on the fourth official’s board, Rendell played his trump card in the penultimate minute of the five.
With Lafayette hauled down in a dangerous area again, super-sub Giuseppe Sole cannoned the resulting free-kick into the Dover danger zone. Pinballing its way around a packed penalty area, the ball finally popped up perfectly for Rendell to nod his late leveller into the roof of the net and keep Woking still in with a shout of the quarter-finals.
“When you equalise so late you’re pleased to still be in the competition,” said relieved boss Hill before Tuesday’s replay. “It’s mixed feelings at the moment but we’ll go down to Dover on Tuesday and hopefully finish the job off.”