THOSE in Gloucestershire on Saturday saw two clubs heading in two very different directions as a Dan Holman quadruple consigned Woking to a sixth straight league loss.
Former Cards’ loan hitman Holman’s day of delight was just another in a string of ex-players lining up to punish their old team-mates of late, as Woking boss Garry Hill saw his side’s winless slump extended to a ninth game at Whaddon Road.
While one could argue that on the day one man made all the difference between the sides on Saturday, you would be hard pressed to find a fan who thought these sides would be competing in the same division for much longer. Of course, that scenario looks increasingly likely given that the Robins’ are perched on top of the National League ladder.
Indeed, were Gary Johnson’s high-flying birds not to make an immediate return to the Football League – where they had flitted for the previous 16 years unscathed – it would be one of the shocks of the season, so super-ior they appear to their title rivals.
The flip side to that coin would, of course, mean Woking exiting the National League via one of the two possible routes.
However bleak their current predicament – Cards’ last league win came on 9 January – Woking will, of course, almost certainly be playing at the top table of the Non-League game again next season.
Whether Hill – who has another year left on his contract – is still steering the troubled Kingfield liner come the 2016/17 campaign concerned Woking fans will have to wait and see, although many have resigned themselves to this being their last season under his stewardship.
‘Punching above our weight’ and ‘manage expectations’ have become well known Hill-isms in recent times, as the Woking gaffer seeks to put a touch of realism on to the fact that his part-time side are competing on an uneven keel financially to some of his ex-Football League opponents, such as Tranmere Rovers, Grimsby Town and last weekend’s victors Cheltenham.
The gaffer has also coined the phrase ‘the magic 50’, in reference to the half-century points mark, which has become generally accepted as the number of points required to stay up – that Woking have stalled on 49 points since 30 January – a 2-2 home draw with Barrow – will, no doubt, have given Hill and his players sleepless night’s recently.
Of course, it is unthinkable that Woking will remain pointless until the end of the season, and experienced boss Hill even predicted after last Tuesday night’s painful late 2-1 defeat to Eastleigh, ‘We can’t go up and we can’t go down’.
However, the longer his side remain shy of the ‘magic 50’ mark – and with a tough looking eight-match run-in ahead, including meetings with Cheltenham-chasing Forest Green Rovers and Grimsby – there is sure to be anxiety among the Kingfield faithful between now and April.
Vexed supporters haven’t faced a losing rut of this magnitude since the painful 2002/03 season – when a seven-game losing streak saw Woking avoid the Conference (as it was then known) trap door by just a solitary point.
How Hill’s men would have loved their former team-mate Holman – who scored 14 goals in 26 league appearances for the Cards between August and January – to have mistakenly joined them in the away changing room last weekend.
With nine goals in a Robins shirt now to his name, hitman Holman is clearly keen on a speedy return to the Football League with his new club, whom he joined after his temporary stint at Kingfield and having fallen out of favour at former club Colchester United.
There was no disguising Hill’s look of ‘the one that got away’ on the touchline as his former scorer showed no sentiment in seeing off his old pals with two superb strikes in either half. Indeed, the Woking boss admitted as much post-match.
He said: “The player who has done the damage today was a player we had at our club. In the past we’ve had those players who can take those opportunities to punish teams: we haven’t got that now.”
Indeed, Hill added that if Holman continues his hot streak in front of goal, then the National League trophy could well be on its way to Whaddon Road: “Gary Johnson knows better than anybody that he [Holman] will be the difference between Cheltenham winning the league or not.”
Woking now have a week’s respite from – or a week to stew on – recent results as supposed opponents Grimsby play the second leg of their FA Trophy semi-final with Bognor Regis this Saturday.