Paddy Madden’s first-half double earned Dave Challinor a first league win as County manager, as the Hatters survived a late onslaught to win 2-1 at Woking.
Fresh off the back of Wednesday’s extra-time heroics against Bolton, County picked up where they had left off at Edgeley Park, with two clinical finishes from Madden putting us in control at the break.
Woking were much improved after the break, pulling one back with 65 minutes on the clock through top scorer Tahvon Campbell, but County held on under some intense late pressure to emerge with a crucial three points that lifted us above The Cards in the league table.
Despite that mammoth 120 minute FA Cup performance in midweek, Challinor made just two changes to his starting XI; John Rooney returning from injury to replace Will Collar, whilst Ben Hinchliffe returned in goal for the first time since September – making his 250th County appearance in the process.
County soon put any concerns about an FA Cup hangover to bed too, by taking the lead with just five minutes played – Southam-Hales getting to the byline before cutting it back for Madden, who arrived late to sweep the ball home from close range.
It was a lead that the visitors richly deserved as they set about dominating the first half. Macauley Southam-Hales was causing all sorts of problems down the right-hand side, and had a big penalty appeal waved away on 15 minutes after cutting back inside his marker and appearing to be tripped – the referee instead waving play on.
It took until 20 minutes before the hosts had any real sight of goal, Max Kretzshmar bending a free-kick over the wall but into the side netting from the edge of the box.
At this point though it was one-way traffic, the lead doubled on 30 minutes and once again it was that man Madden, latching on to a loose ball on the edge of the area and curling an unstoppable effort into the far top corner for the Irishman’s eight goal of the season.
Campbell did force Hinchliffe into action for the first time with a fizzing effort from a narrow angle as Woking looked for a response, but the game should have been put to bed just before half-time as Antoni Sarcevic went through on goal, before dinking his effort over the ‘keeper but just wide of the post.
Half-Time: Woking 0-2 County (Madden, 5’, 30’)
Having been second best for most of the first-half, Woking manager Alan Dowson made a double change at the break with the introduction of Louie Annesley and Inih Effiong.
The hosts were much improved after those changes, Josh Casey forcing Hinchliffe into a good save from a narrow angle, before Effiong sent a looping header just wide from Kretzschmar’s set-piece delivery.
The Cards did pull one back with 25 minutes left to play; Kretzschmar getting away from Ash Palmer down the left-hand side before pulling it back for Campbell to turn home his 11th of the season.
With fatigue from Wednesday night clearly starting to creep in, this time it was County’s turn to be penned back by their buoyant hosts – Campbell going close to a second but being denied by the legs of Hinchliffe.
Dave Challinor’s side remained a threat on the counter-attack, and had a chance to seal the points with ten minutes to go as Ryan Rydel released Ollie Crankshaw on the counter-attack, but the substitute was forced wide onto his left foot and Craig Ross was able to make the save in the Woking goal.
With the hosts throwing everything forward in search of an equaliser, County were indebted to both Palmer and Hinchliffe for some heroic last ditch blocks to keep them at bay, as we held on to extend the manager’s unbeaten start to life in the County dugout to four games.
Full-Time: Woking 1-2 County (Campbell, 66’; Madden, 5’, 30’)
Line-up: Hinchliffe; Keane; Palmer; Kitching; Southam-Hales; Rooney (Raikhy, 70’); Croasdale; Rydel; Sarcevic (Crankshaw, 70’); Madden, Quigley (Barclay, 83’).
Attendance: 2,753 (294 County fans).
Photographer: Mike Petch