Woking 2 Braintree Town 3
Vanarama National League
25th October 2016
Only goal difference separates Woking from the National League’s relegation zone after a desperately disappointing home defeat to fellow strugglers Braintree Town – the Iron’s first league win under new manager Hakan Hayrettin.
The Cards will feel rightly aggrieved to have missed out on a 3-1 lead just before half-time, after Gozie Ugwu latched onto a stray back-pass and slotted the ball home only to be bizarrely ruled offside, but can have few complaints over the manner of their second-half collapse.
After falling behind early to Oliver Muldoon’s deflected free-kick, the hosts had done well to fight their way back into the game through Joey Jones’ back-post header and Fabio Saraiva’s excellent free-kick, but they were undone after the break as strikes from Michael Cheek and Simeon Akinola earned the visitors all three points.
The Woking players were left with looks of shock on their faces at full-time as the inquest into a damaging defeat began early, with many no doubt remembering Matt Tubbs’ inexplicable miss from six yards when the scores were level – the striker somehow deflecting Jake Caprice’s driven cross onto the bar as the Cards’ six game unbeaten home run came to an end.
Garry Hill made just one change from Saturday’s creditable draw with Barrow, with Saraiva returning in place of a suspended Keiran Murtagh – whose calming presence and experience in centre midfield was ultimately sorely missed. With neither Brian Saah, nor Ismail Yakubu fit enough to return, Terell Thomas continued alongside Jones in central defence; Braintree, beaten 6-1 at Dover on Saturday, made three changes including giving a debut to goalkeeper Daniel Lincoln.
The game got off to the worst possible start for the home side as they found themselves behind within two minutes – Muldoon’s seemingly harmless free-kick taking an inexplicable deflection and cannoning past a helpless Brandon Hall in the Woking goal. With the visitors starting brightly despite their lowly league position, it might have been two shortly after, as Sam Matthews dragged wide.
However, the Cards quickly got a foothold in the game through academy graduate and birthday boy Charlie Carter, whose bright run down the wing left the Braintree defence standing – only for the resulting pull-back to miss both Tubbs and the onrushing Woking midfield. With Ugwu also shooting over from a tight angle soon after, it was clear that the momentum was shifting, and sure enough the hosts got their reward as Saraiva’s well taken corner found Jones free at the back post and the Woking number four bundled the ball over the line at the second attempt.
Woking’s lead was doubled less than five minutes later. The 20-year-old Carter was once again at the heart of the action as he charged into the Braintree half and won a free-kick after being bundled unceremoniously to the floor, Saraiva stepped up, and unleashed an unstoppable 30-yard effort into the top right-hand corner of the net.
It could, and probably should have been three just before the break, as Ugwu raced clear on goal, rounded Lincoln and scored – albeit after the whistle had gone. Clearly, with the through ball to the Woking striker having come from a Braintree defender, he could not have been offside in that instance, but whether the linesman was in fact flagging for the original Woking pass remains to be seen in the post-match highlights… if only for instant replays at this level!
Despite a virtually full-team appeal from the Woking side, the decision stood, as ultimately it always would after the Braintree players and goalkeeper had stopped early and not attempted to prevent the goal. Steve Thompson did very well, as the half-time whistle sounded shortly after, to drag his players away from the officials amidst a chorus of boos from the watching crowd – but one can only wonder what psychological blow that moment had on a team that had otherwise been cruising since the equalising goal.
Half-time: Woking 2 Braintree Town 1
Braintree, no doubt buoyed by their apparent luck and eager to make amends for Saturday’s mauling at the Crabble, were much improved after the break – with substitute Harry Lee pulling the strings. It was his cross-field ball that found Bournemouth loanee Matthews free on the Woking left, with the winger having the time to get his head up and send in an inch-perfect cross for Cheek to flick a deft header past Hall.
The Cards were not without their chances in a somewhat disjointed second-half performance: Saraiva stinging the hands of Lincoln with another fine long-range effort, before Tubbs somehow failed to find the net after good work from Ugwu and Caprice down the right-hand flank. In fairness to the on loan striker, who had scored three goals in his first four games for the club, he appeared to react late to the chance as the ball was whipped across the six-yard box – and it was unfortunate that the ball just so happened to deflect up off his outstretched boot and onto the woodwork.
The visitors also struck the bar themselves as both sides strived for a winner: after Hall had done well to deny Cheek one-on-one, the ball was gifted back to the opposition by a tiring Frankie Sutherland – replaced by Anthony Edgar a couple of minutes later – and fell to Lee Barnard, who curled his effort against the frame of the goal from the edge of the area.
But Woking’s luck could not hold out as the back four found themselves too far forward and were dissected by a defence-splitting pass through to Akinola, who despite dithering on the ball as he approached the Cards’ penalty area, had the time to pick his spot and sneak the ball under the outstretched dive of Hall.
Delano Sam-Yorke and Max Kretzschmar were both thrown on as late substitutes as the Cards searched for a third of their own, but despite five minutes of stoppage time the hosts were unable to create another notable chance as their visitors held on for a first league win in seven – dating back to mid-September when former boss Jamie Day was still in charge.
Garry and the team will no doubt be bitterly disappointed to lose at least one point from such a crucial bottom of the table match-up. The loss was undoubtedly harsh on the home side, who will regret not pushing on and putting the game to bed before half-time when a third goal may well have killed off a Braintree team desperately short on confidence, but sadly it wasn’t to be.
Hill and Thompson will now be desperate to respond with at least a point from a challenging trip to Boreham Wood on Saturday, before heading to Stockport for an equally crucial FA Cup first round clash – with the prospect of moving to within one game of a third round tie against a Premier League outfit, not to mention a big pay day for everyone involved. Let’s hope that a few of our more experienced heads – such as Murtagh, Saah and Yakubu, are ready to play some part in those two games and help us bounce back from a harrowing night at the Laithwaite.
Woking: Brandon Hall, Jake Caprice, Nathan Ralph, Joey Jones (c), Terell Thomas, Frankie Sutherland (Anthony Edgar 73), Charlie Carter, Dennon Lewis (Max Kretzschmar 85), Fabio Saraiva, Gozie Ugwu (Delano Sam-Yorke 78), Matt Tubbs.
Subs not used: Chike Kandi, Andy Little
Goals: Joey Jones 25, Fabio Saraiva 30
Bookings: Charlie Carter 78
Braintree Town: Daniel Lincoln, Ian Gayle, Jerome Okimo, Jake Goodman, George Elokobi, Oliver Muldoon (Harry Lee 29), Chez Isaac, Sam Matthews (Monty Patterson 77), Lee Barnard, Simeon Akinola, Michael Cheek (Jack Midson 83).
Subs not used: Jon Ashton, Claudio Dias
Goals: Oliver Muldoon 2, Michael Cheek 52, Simeon Akinola 82.
Bookings: Monty Patterson 80
Referee: Sam Allison
MOTM: Joey Jones – led a very young team well in the absence in almost all of the experienced players, scored one, and worked tirelessly coming out of defence to try and get something moving ahead of him; very unlucky to be on the losing side.