Appropriately enough for November the Fifth, there was plenty of spark in evidence during County’s first appearance beyond the FA Cup qualifying rounds since 2012.
But two Jimmy Ball goals were not enough for the Hatters, who, despite a spirited performance over 90 minutes at Edgeley Park, were ultimately denied a place in the second round by National League side Woking.
The ‘Cards’ were clinical in their finishing, as they successfully converted four out of four attempts on target – two in each half – with a Gozie Ugwu brace being sandwiched between Joey Jones’ opener for the visitors and a late strike by substitute Fabio Saraiva.
Three changes were made to the County team that had started against Kidderminster a week earlier.
Ball, together with Josh Amis and Danny Lloyd, returned to the 4-3-3 starting line-up in place of James Hooper, John Marsden and Kay Odejayi – all of whom were to take to the field as attacking substitutes in the course of the tie’s second half.
A frenetic first half saw visiting goalkeeper Brandon Hall parry away early efforts by Ball and Max Cartwright, before Ball, with nine minutes played, latched on to a flick by Lloyd and rifled home from just inside the box to give the Hatters the lead.
But Woking settled into the game – and went ahead themselves with two goals in 13 minutes.
First, Jones rose unmarked to head in his side’s first corner of the afternoon, and, following a subsequent counter-attack, Frankie Sutherland played in Ugwu who slotted past Ben Hinchliffe from six yards out.
The Hatters responded well to going behind. Lloyd’s header from a Mark Ross delivery on the right was saved by Hall, while Amis fired wide of the near post after being fed from the same flank by Ball.
And, just a minute before the interval, the pressure paid off, as Ball converted Lloyd’s low cross from the left to send County in deservedly level at half-time.
The Hatters spent much of the spell immediately following the break camped out in Woking’s half – but were undone just before the hour-mark, when a long ball over County’s defence from newly-introduced substitute Charlie Carter fell for the onrushing Ugwu to double his own tally and put the Cards back in the lead.
And, in the face of continued County pressure, the visitors also had the final word towards the end of normal time – with Saraiva’s shot from the left nestling in the far-bottom corner to make the tie safe for Woking.
FULL-TIME: County 2 (Ball, 9 and 44), Woking 4 (Jones, 18; Ugwu, 31 and 59; Saraiva, 90).
County: Hinchliffe, Ross (Capt.), Cartwright, Montrose, Clarke, Smalley, Minihan (Hooper, 66), Stopforth, Amis (Odejayi, 80), Ball (Marsden, 80), Lloyd. Unused Subs: Meppen-Walters, Ormson, Carney, West.
Man of the Match: Ball.
Attendance: 4,025 (195 away).