Wrexham 2 Woking 1
Vanarama National League
7th January 2017
A second half strike from Wrexham captain Rob Evans was enough to consign Woking to a third straight Vanarama National League defeat.
Woking will be hugely deflated not to have emerged from Wales with at least a point from this tight encounter between two teams low on confidence after enduring disappointing campaigns moving into 2017. The Cards were spirited throughout, generally composed in possession and deserved more from this match.
The Cards made just a solitary change from the side that suffered the stoppage time heartbreak at Kingfield on New Years Day, with Garry Hill rewarding the players for their significantly improved showing in the return game with Aldershot by sticking with the majority of the side. Max Kretzschmar, scorer in that match, suffered an injury setback which made him unable to take even a place amongst the substitutes. In his place, Hill fielded Connor Hall, an 18 year old striker bought in this week on loan from Sheffield United, via a successful and goal-laden spell in the Northern Premier League with Mickleover Sports.
Woking lined up with Michael Poke retaining his place in goal, a back three of Joey Jones, Terell Thomas and Saah, with Dennon Lewis and Nathan Ralph providing width from wing back. Kieran Murtagh, Fabio Saraiva and Kane Ferdinand formed a three man midfield, whilst the debutant Hall lined up alongside Gozie Ugwu in the forward line.
Wrexham, coming into this match having lost 5 of their last 6 games under former Dragons favourite Dean Keates, had made some significant changes to their playing squad. Seven players were released from the Racecourse Ground with two new faces bought straight in to the starting line up, in the form of left back James Jennings and much-travelled striker Izale McLeod.
The first half of this match was a cautious affair, with neither side showing much in the way of attacking willingness. For Woking, this was perhaps understandable, almost as if the team made themselves a New Year’s resolution after the Boxing Day humbling to keep a clean sheet in the first half of games. Wrexham, as the home team, would have been expected to show a bit more attacking initiative, the fact that they didn’t betrayed their own recent poor form and low confidence.
Wrexham had an early, optimistic shout for a penalty when McLeod took a tumble in the box under challenge from Saah, the referee waved away the protests, which came largely from the home fans. Chances were few and far between in the first period, the Woking defence coping fairly comfortably with the home side’s threat, which largely came from the aerial ability of Jordan White, who won some useful flick-ons that McLeod couldn’t latch onto.
Woking’s first effort on goal came in the 30th minute, a well-struck shot from the left foot of Fabio Saraiva stinging the palms of the home keeper Chris Dunn, who retained his place in the team after coming on as substitute for the former Cards custodian Shwan Jalal in the previous game. A couple of minutes later a cross from Dennon Lewis was headed goalward by Murtagh which had Dunn scrabbling backwards, however the ball bounced on the roof of the net. Woking ended the half well, winning a couple of corners, the last of which was cleared invitingly to Nathan Ralph, however he shot high and wide.
Ugwu and Hall worked the channels hard up front for the visitors, although at times did seem to be learning each other’s games – hardly surprising given this was the first time they have played together and the relative inexperience of the on-loan teenager. The two Wrexham centre-halves seemed determined to welcome Hall to the National League, and he had to withstand some robust tackling, which was evidenced by his first shirt being replaced following it absorbing blood, and then his replacement shirt being caked in mud soon after.
The half ended in nervy fashion for the Cards, as Nathan Ralph was harshly penalised for an aerial challenge on the edge of the box. Jennings struck the resultant free kick fiercely with his left foot, the ball whistling past Poke’s left hand post into the empty terrace behind the goal. The referee drew what was a cagey first half to a close immediately after that effort.
Half-time: Wrexham 0 Woking 0
Woking began the second half strongly; Garry Hill surely impressed upon them that this game was eminently winnable, were they to show a bit more attacking drive and purpose. In the 48th minute a cross from Lewis found the head of Hall, his looping header narrowly clearing the bar. It was rough justice on Woking then that this increased adventure and determination to be first to the ball resulted in conceding a goal. A loose ball in the centre of the pitch eventually found its way to John Rooney, who, on the same day that brother Wayne was equaling Manchester United’s goalscoring record at Old Trafford, curled a fine right foot shot past Poke from the edge of the penalty area.
Woking responded positively to this blow, pushing forwards from the kick off and winning a corner. Whilst this was cleared initially by the Wrexham rearguard, Woking worked the ball wide left to Nathan Ralph, who cut inside and appeared to overrun the ball. However, the wing back managed to force a right foot shot at goal, which was blocked allowing Fabio Saraiva the opportunity to capitalize with a fine diving header past the motionless Dunn. Saraiva showed fine reactions and opportunism to convert what was little more than a half chance, and Woking were deservedly back on level terms.
Disappointingly, Woking were only level for five minutes, although there was considerable misfortune in the build up to the goal. Ugwu was challenged just inside the Wrexham half and went to take the throw in, only for the referee to give the decision to the home team. Wrexham took the throw in quickly, as Woking were caught napping expecting an attacking throw in, the ball was worked down Woking’s left, with Jordan White hitting a cross-cum-shot which fell invitingly to the Wrexham skipper Rob Evans, who smashed home from inside the area. Whilst Woking were understandably aggrieved that the throw went against them, there was still plenty for Wrexham to do to turn that into a chance at goal.
Then, on 70 minutes, Woking had the best chance of the match. A fine strike from Saraiva from long range was parried well by the keeper, Hall was first to react however Dunn was able to block the follow up with his legs. Just a minute later, a near identical passage of play occurred and, again, the Cards were denied by the Wrexham keeper. This time it was the increasingly influential Murtagh who struck well from the edge of the box, again, Hall was first to the rebound however this time he attempted to check back inside onto his right foot and could only fire over the bar. Make no mistake, these were two excellent chances in quick succession for the teenager, who showed great instinct to react to the opportunities, but lacked the clinical finish required in the circumstances.
Garry Hill made his first change after this, withdrawing the debutant Hall and throwing on Luke Kandi to partner Ugwu up front.
Woking continued to press, Saraiva and particularly Murtagh exerting considerable influence and winning the midfield battle as the Cards searched for the equaliser. Clear cut chances were hard to come by, a couple of corners came to little, the closest being one that was misjudged by the otherwise excellent Dunn who came and missed his punch, unfortunately Joey Jones was unable to stretch to head in what would have been an empty net.
Charlie Carter was introduced for Kane Ferdinand with 10 minutes to go as Woking looked to press for the equaliser.
In the 81st minute some good midfield link play between Murtagh, Saraiva and Kandi ended with the skipper heading over the bar from the penalty spot. Ugwu, who battled gamely with little tangible success all afternoon, was fouled on the edge of the box eight minutes from the end. Murtagh sent a wicked free kick agonisingly wide of both Woking players’ heads and the far post, with the keeper at full stretch.
Whilst still playing on the front foot, Woking were unable to create any further chances in the time remaining. A final change was made a minute from time, Frankie Sutherland coming on for Brian Saah as Garry Hill looked to push more men forward. However, it was Wrexham who had the best chance of a further addition to the scoresheet, with Rooney narrowly missing out on a brace when his right foot strike curled just wide of Poke’s post. A late booking for Kandi for what was a frustrated lunge after losing possession in the attacking third rather summed up how the team must have felt by this stage.
The home fans raised their voices in support of their manager as the referee blew the contest to a close.
Woking need to take the positives from this match, whilst the result is hugely disappointing, the performance was not. Generally speaking, the defending carried on from the second Aldershot match, with the side looking more determined and solid, allowing a platform to launch attacks from. The midfield trio linked up well and Murtagh and Saraiva have the quality in possession to create goalscoring opportunities. Cards fans will be hoping that Gozie Ugwu can rediscover his autumn form, and there was some promise shown by young Connor Hall that points to him being a useful acquisition.
By the manager’s own admission, Woking are in a relegation battle, and cannot afford to keep losing games that they play well in, which has been the case in the last two outings.
With a home game with Leatherhead coming up in midweek in the Surrey Senior Cup, Garry Hill will be wrestling with the dilemma of potentially resting tired bodies versus the opportunity to seek to develop key on-field partnerships, and, hopefully, secure a win, ahead of another long away trip, this time to Devon, to take on Torquay United next Saturday.
Wrexham: Chris Dunn, James Jennings, Martin Riley, Curtis Tilt, Anthony Barry (Hamza Bencherif 89), Jordan White, John Rooney, Izale McLeod (George Harry 82), Mark Carrington, Rob Evans ©, Leo Smith (Callum Powell 60).
Subs not used: Shwan Jalal, Jordan Davies
Goals: John Rooney (51), Rob Evans (60)
Woking: Michael Poke, Terell Thomas, Joey Jones, Brian Saah (Frankie Sutherland 89), Keiran Murtagh ©, Chigozie Ugwu, Nathan Ralph, Fabio Saraiva, Dennon Lewis, Kane Ferdinand (Charlie Carter 80), Connor Hall (Luke Kandi 71)
Subs not used: Brandon Hall, Jake Caprice
Goal: Fabio Saraiva (55)
Referee: Peter Wright
My MOTM: Keiran Murtagh. The skipper was a class apart, showing composure, drive, determination and skill. At the heart of all of Woking’s best play. His form will be key to Woking’s ability to pick up the points required to ensure the battle against relegation is successful.