FC Halifax Town’s unbeaten home start to the season was finally ended after an action-packed 4-3 defeat to Woking.
Neil Aspin admitted his side were in for a tough time until their injury list cleared up, but he could hardly have envisaged the scale of the task they faced just 16 minutes in.
Town’s unbeaten home record had never looked so perilous this season as the Cards raced into a 3-1 lead with less than a quarter of the game gone.
Archie Love’s early opener was soon forgotten thanks to a blistering Woking riposte, but that was just the start of the drama as Town came within touching distance of cancelling out a 4-1 lead, which included a superb hat-trick from striker Jack Marriott, despite being reduced to 10 men after Reece Gray was sent-off.
The Shaymen didn’t let their unbeaten home record go without a fight, but eventually paid for some sloppy first-half defending as Woking recorded only their third away win of the season to condemn Town to their third league defeat on the trot.
Gray and Tom Anderson made their home debuts for Town in a side that featured four loanees and a fifth, Sam Patterson, on the bench.
Love displayed the kind of versatility Town will need during their injury problems by starting on the left of midfield after playing at full-back in midweek.
And the Burnley man was on hand to tap in Adam Smith’s cross at the back post within the first two minutes to hand the hosts a flying start.
But Town were soon brought crashing back down earth as Ipswich loanee Marriott notched two of Woking’s three quickfire replies; tapping in after Matt Pearson’s block from a low cross fell into his path before confidently drilling past Matt Glennon after the Town defence had been sliced open.
The back-four combination were playing together for the first time and it showed as a back-line missing three-quarters of its usual composition was horribly exposed when Scott Rendell capped off a superb counter-attack to leave the Shay watching on in stunned silence.
It could have been even worse for Town when a shot from the edge of the box was deflected just past Glennon’s far post as Woking looked rampant.
Town were left reeling from that little lot for the rest of the half as they struggled to regain any composure on the ball.
Gray showed some deft touches and Smith was again a useful outlet on the right, but Town’s attack missed the presence and fear-factor of Lee Gregory, with the best they could muster before the break coming in the shape of Scott McManus’ long-range strike which Sam Beasant did well to hold.
The confidence seemd to have drained out of the Shaymen as they tried to work their way back into the game; a frustrating task given Town’s carelessness on the ball and Woking’s attempts at running down the clock.
The Town fans were doing their bit as they cheered on any forays towards the Woking box, but the hosts couldn’t generate a sustained spell of pressure needed to reduce the deficit.
The injuries that have decimated Aspin’s strongest starting 11 showed no signs of clearing up as Pearson was forced off after an hour, leaving the Town man to watch on with strapping to his left leg.
Halifax were at least showing some of the fighting spirit that was lacking against Guiseley a week ago as substitute Josh Wilson’s free-kick was blocked before Gray fired over from range.
But another quick break from the visitors put the result beyond doubt as the highly-impressive Marriott buried his shot across Glennon.
As soon as Town appeared to have given themselves a glimmper of hope through Josh Wilson’s low shot beyond Sam Beasant, Gray was sent-off for an alleged stamp just inside the Woking half.
The reaction to that decision inside the Shay said much about its dubious nature and only added to the frustrations over Peter Bankes’ officiating, which was encapsulated when he inadvertantly got in the way of Dan Gardner reaching the ball just outside the box.
But Gardner set-up a grandstand finish when his swerving shot from 25 yards careered past Beasant and raised hopes of an astonishing comeback, although Marriott should have sealed it once and for all for Woking when he again raced clear only for his shot to squirm just the wrong side of the post.
Halifax: Glennon, Pearson (Patterson 61), Ainge, Anderson, McManus, Smith, Love (Gardner 46), Maynard, Marshall, Gray, Ironside (Wilson 60). Subs not used: Senior, McReady.
Scorer: Love (2), Wilson (75), Gardner (81)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 3
Woking: Beasant, Cestor, Payne, McNerney, Nutter, Ricketts, Betsy, Marriott (Johnson 90), Murtagh, Banya (Newton 41), Rendell. Subs not used: Howe, Sole, Goddard.
Scorer: Marriott (10, 14 & 73), Rendell (16)
Shots on target: 6
Shots off target: 2
Town man of the match: Dan Gardner