CARDS motored away from rivals Lincoln in the Conference standings with an A1 display on the road.
In a game of ‘one-way traffic’, as boss Garry Hill described it, Woking raced into a two-goal lead by the half-way stage to all but ensure the three points would be returning back down the A1 with them on Saturday evening.
Hill will be hoping this long-awaited away-day cheer will steer his play-off hopes back on track – as his side ended a woeful, winless run of 10 games away (in all competitions) going back to a 3-1 victory at FC Halifax mid-November.
A satisfying day was put into perspective at the end of a difficult week for Hill personally, having attended his mother’s funeral the previous day. And the Cards’ gaffer dedicated an uplifting performance to his mother’s memory: “On the back of a tough 24/48 hours… to get a result here today, from my own point of view, it’s one for my mum.”
Woking fans arrived at Sincil Bank perhaps a little unsure as to what to expect from what proved an entertaining afternoon, given their paltry return of just three points from a possible 30 on the road.
Plus, this was just their side’s second appearance of a sparse February fixture list; both teams, in fact, had to postpone games with Torquay United in recent weeks.
But after encouraging recent displays at Barnet, and a Valentine’s Day’s draw at Kidderminster, the travelling Cardinals who made their way up to Lincolnshire caught a dominant display.
And their gaffer Hill says that there is plenty of gas left in the tank despite his side tailing off the play-off places during a bleak mid-winter – with one win in 11 games prior to this tie.
“With 11 games to go we’ve got to try and get as many points as we can and see where it takes us,” said Hill. “We proved at the start of the season that we could go nine games unbeaten and hopefully this one kick-starts us for a final push.”
With Woking now nine points off the play-off places – prior to playing Dartford on Tuesday – promotion opinions are split on the terraces; some reminding any boo-boys among the Cards’ crowd that trips to such grandiose venues like Sincil Bank were a mere pipedream not so long ago.
The players certainly seemed to appreciate the smooth Sincil Bank surface as Kevin Betsy and John Goddard burst out of the blocks – the lush Lincolnshire turf has thrived under the glare of two heat lamps donated by the local constabulary after a recent drugs bust.
Coming after last week’s announcement that this is to be his final campaign with the Cards, Betsy’s energetic display against Imps’ full-back Jordan Cranston was clear evidence that he is aiming to bow out on a high.
Having received a rapturous reception from the travelling supporters, Betsy flashed an early chance fractionally off target before Woking deservedly took the lead after 20 minutes as Cranston was penalised for impeding his man.
Midfield maestro Josh Payne – who was soon to score a stunner himself – floated over the assist for striker Scott Rendell to nod home from inside the six-yard box; his 16th of the campaign.
With Woking a goal to the good, 25 stop-start minutes followed before the Sincil Bank silence was broken on the stroke of half time. Payne caused uproar when he lunged into a 50:50 challenge with home goalkeeper, Paul Farman.
City stopper Farman had said prior to the game that he had expected Woking to challenge for the Conference title this term, and the Imps’ keeper was certainly playing like this was a title-decider.
“I think, had it not been for their goalkeeper, it would have been quite embarrassing today because he’s made four or five great saves,” was Hill’s view.
Back to the Payne incident, and despite cries of foul all around him referee Wayne Barratt opted not to blow up, and as play continued into a sixth minute of added time, City defender Jon Nolan barged over the lively Yemi Odubade in a dangerous position 25 yards out.
Despite taking treatment after being winded by his earlier collision, Payne preceded to simply stroll back on to the field and swerve an unstoppable effort into Farman’s top-right-hand corner with the last kick of the half – further compounding the sense of injustice in the home ranks.
Payne’s latest strike was even more spectacular than his effort in September’s 3-1 win over the Imps at Kingfield, adding to his – and fellow free-kick specialist Giuseppe Sole’s – deadly dead-ball reel.
“I’ll take a poor man’s Gez Sole free kick,” joked Payne. “I just wanted to try and reverse it [the ball] because he [Farman] had set up in the middle of the goal: sometimes they come off and sometimes they don’t.”
After the switch of ends City came out with renewed intent but didn’t cause any major worries to a solid looking Woking back-line. The visitors, meanwhile, were content to utilise the searing pace of wide-man Chris Arthur and loanee Eastleigh hitman Odubade on the break.
The fearless Farman continued his brilliance between the sticks to smother Odubade when through one-on-one: while a wasteful Cards were perhaps fortunate not to face an anxious final 30 minutes or so as Odubade headed over from close range before being replaced by super-sub Sole, who sliced high and wide with his first touch.
But a limited Lincoln attack never realistically looked like reducing the two-goal deficit, to leave Cards boss Hill to hail an away win – at last.
“All round [it was] a very good team performance,” he said. “[I’m] very pleased: their [Lincoln’s] home form has been very good… over eight or nine home games they’ve beaten some very good sides and had some very good wins.
“We’ll take those three points home with us and then it’s on to Dartford Tuesday night and we’ll see where we go. We haven’t done very well there in the last few years, but coming off the result at Lincoln hopefully we’ll go to Dartford and carry on the good work.”