Woking 3 Chester 1
Vanarama National League
29 August 2016
A win at last! And richly deserved, too, as the Cards produced a performance of great determination and no little skill to see off a Chester side coming off the back of a 4-0 trouncing of Sutton United.
Superbly led by ‘man of the match’, Keiran Murtagh, and benefiting from the confidence boost provided by the return of Ismail Yakubu in central defence, Garry Hill’s side started strongly, taking the lead in the 17th minute from a drilled effort by Murtagh. Familiar doubts crept in when Chester equalised in the 26th minute but the Cards quickly restored their advantage when Joey Jones powered home a header two minutes later before finally making the game safe when Gozie Ugwu netted in the 75th minute after the Chester keeper could only parry a fine Jake Caprice cross into his path.
With two games in three days, it was no surprise to see Garry Hill ring a few changes from the side which was crushed 4-1 at York City. In came Yakubu, Max Kretzschmar, Ben Gordon and Dennon Lewis, with Zac Ansah, Charlie Carter, Fabio Saraiva and Anthony Edgar dropping to the bench.
In hot sunshine the Cards lined up in what looked like a 3/5/2 cum 5/3/2 formation, with Yakubu, Jones and Brian Saah in central defence. Things looked ominous with only a minute gone when Chester’s Jordan Chappell was sent on his way by a ball bisecting the Woking backline but, fortunately, he dallied and Saah was able to make the first of several telling interceptions. Tom Shaw then shot wide before Woking began to turn up the heat. Kretzschmar ought to have buried Gordon’s cross after an excellent move instigated by Murtagh but headed well over. Penny, full of running as usual, was unlucky to see his near-post effort deflect off the post and then trickle wide. The Cards continued to press, with Ugwu nearly putting in Penny and then Caprice, following a fine run, seeing his shot blocked.
Penny, getting behind the defence once more, just got his toe to a through ball but couldn’t skew it back sufficiently to trouble Chester’s keeper, Worsnop. But in the 17th minute the home pressure paid off. As the ball came out to Murtagh, some 20 yards from goal, he drilled a left-footed shot just inside Worsnop’s post. Although the shot was not particularly powerful, it was well-placed and gave Worsnop no chance.
With the crowd warming already to the Woking players’ determined display, the question was whether, this time, the side could hold onto an early lead and not suffer another defensive collapse. Chester’s main tactic was clearly to play to the height advantage of their two giant central defenders, Hudson and Astles. Michael Poke first of all blocked a header by James Alabi before thwarting Hudson from the resulting corner and was then relieved to see another header clear the bar.
The Woking goal miraculously survived a goalmouth scramble as the ball ricocheted off the bar but the reprieve was very short-lived. In the 27th minute the ball was played in from the Chester left and Ryan Lloyd glanced a fine header beyond Poke.
To the relief of home fans, Garry Hill’s side rapidly regained the lead. Following a foul on Ugwu, Kretzschmar floated in a free-kick which Jones headed powerfully home to make it 2-1 to the Cards with 28 minutes gone.
Woking continued to look the more threatening side in the remainder of the half, with Caprice making enterprising runs down the right flank and Ugwu drawing several fouls, including one just outside the area, from which Kretzschmar’s free-kick was blocked by the Chester wall.
Far from hanging on grimly till half-time, the Cards continued to take the game to Chester, with Yakubu heading over another fine move started by Murtagh and then Ugwu shooting just wide. In added time Kretzschmar blazed over the bar and Lewis and Caprice kept up the attacking momentum.
Garry Hill’s side left the pitch at half-time to warm applause but knowing that the job was only half done.
Half-time: Woking 2 Chester 1
The Cards were probably relieved to see that Hudson had been replaced at half-time, although substitute Elliot Durrell was known to carry an attacking threat.
Joey Jones almost gifted the visitors an early equaliser as he gave the ball away in the box, but Chester thereafter found it hard to create any clear openings against a resolute Woking defence, and their frustration quickly told as they picked up three bookings for dissent.
Joey Jones nearly repeated his first-half headed goal, only to see his effort blocked by Worsnop. Chester’s best chance of an equaliser came in the 59th minute when Kane Richards’s cross came to an unmarked Sam Hughes, who headed over the bar.
Substitute Zac Ansah, who had replaced Charlie Penny, nearly extended Woking’s lead in the 74th minute when he robbed a defender and then advanced on goal, only to see his shot ruffle the side-netting.
But a minute later his strike partner, Ugwu, got the crucial third goal. Caprice put in a searching low cross which Worsnop could only parry. The lurking Ugwu rammed it high into the net via a slight deflection from a Chester defender to make it 3-1 to the Cards.
Garry Hill brought on Charlie Carter for Kretzschmar and Fabio Saraiva for Yakubu, with Murtagh slotting immaculately into central defence.
The expected final onslaught from Chester did not really materialise, although they pumped numerous high balls into the box. Poke had little to do in practice other than to deal with a few over-hit efforts. Meanwhile, Lewis hit a thunderous effort which whistled just wide of the visitors’ goal as Woking saw out the game comfortably enough to record a hugely welcome first win of the season.
Great credit must go to Garry Hill and Steve Thompson for keeping their nerve after a run of poor results and to the players for a very committed performance over 90 minutes plus, with everyone playing their part. Special plaudits must go to Keiran Murtagh, who oozed class throughout; Jake Caprice, Woking’s ‘player of the season’ so far, with his skilful runs down the right flank; and perhaps to Gozie Ugwu, who worked tirelessly up front and who began to show that he can test defences.
The win takes the Cards up one place to 22nd in the table but, more importantly, ensures that they are well in touch with teams above them. They now need to take the confidence gained from this win and ensure that they get something out of the forthcoming away games at Macclesfield Town and struggling Guiseley.
Woking: Michael Poke, Jake Caprice, Ismail Yakubu (Fabio Saraiva 78), Joey Jones, Brian Saah, Ben Gordon, Dennon Lewis, Max Kretzschmar (Charlie Carter 76), Keiran Murtagh, Gozie Ugwu, Charlie Penny (Zac Ansah 68)
Unused substitutes: Brandon Hall, Anthony Edgar
Scorers: Keiran Murtagh 17, Joey Jones 28, Gozie Ugwu 75
Booked: Max Kretzschmar, Zac Ansah, Gozie Ugwu
Chester: Jon Worsnop, Evan Horwood, Johnny Hunt (Sam Hughes 46), Blaine Hudson (Elliott Durrell 46), Ryan Astles, Jordan Chappell (James Akintunde 70), Luke George, Tom Shaw, James Alabi, Kane Richards, Ryan Lloyd
Unused substitutes: Liam Roberts, Craig Mahon
Scorer: Ryan Lloyd 26
Booked: Johnny Hunt, Jon Worsnop, Luke George, Evan Horwood
Sponsors (Ben’s Collectors Records and Iprintanything.com) MOTM: Keiran Murtagh (pictured)