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Cards win a thrilling contest

Brian Caffarey - 28th April 2010

Cards win a thrilling contest Woking 2 Dover Athletic 1
BSS Semi-final play-off, first leg
27 April 2010

This was a night which took you back to those great Kingfield evenings of yesteryear, full of passion and drama, when Geoff Chapple’s sides had the ground rocking. A crowd of over 3,000 was treated to a thrilling, pulsating, skilful, absorbing contest – a wonderful advertisement for non-League football.

The visitors, who had finished second in the league, shocked the home fans with a very early goal but Graham Baker’s side fought back superbly to gain the lead by half-time and perhaps ought to have reinforced that advantage by the time the final whistle blew. As it is, the tie is perfectly balanced for Saturday’s second leg at the Crabble, which will be eagerly awaited by both sets of fans.

With Harry Arter still missing from midfield, Graham Baker made one change from Saturday’s line-up against Weymouth, deciding to start with Moses Ademola (pictured) up front alongside Craig Faulconbridge, Gez Sole wide right and with Jerome Maledon coming in to join Mark Ricketts in central midfield.

With the bumper crowd still taking their seats after a delayed kick-off, the Whites drew first blood. A corner flighted over saw the lanky Olly Shulz rise, apparently unchallenged, near the far post to head down and into the net.

The riveting opening to the game continued when, two minutes later, Faulconbridge, an ever-present threat in the air with his clever positioning and timing, thundered a whipped-in cross from Aswad Thomas against the bar, only to see the ball hurriedly cleared from danger. Gez Sole then threatened to break clear on the right before being fouled, while Ross Worner, uncharacteristically, dropped a centre, under a heavy challenge.

Nicky Nicolau, who has provided some excellent balance on the left in recent games, was already beginning to show up well with some well-judged corners and free-kicks flighted in. The Cards piled on the pressure, forcing three corners in succession and Dover’s resistance was duly broken in the 18th minute. The third corner was cleared to Thomas, whose fine cross was nodded down superbly by Faulconbridge into the path of Ademola, who crashed the ball home to level the scores.

Woking nearly capitalised again immediately when Sole’s cross led to another Faulconbridge assist, with the danger only averted after an almighty scramble in the box.

The momentum than swung briefly in the visitors’ favour. Tom Hutchinson, a wonderfully steady influence in defence all night, had to intervene quickly to thwart an attack along the byeline and then the ever-dependable Ricketts had to clear off the line after Shulz once more had sent in a header from a corner. The attacking flurry ended with Worner holding a fierce long-range effort at the second attempt.

In the 29th minute Sole had to admit defeat after struggling for some minutes to shake off a leg injury resulting from a bruising encounter with the Dover keeper, Ross Flitney. Matthew Wright came on to join Faulconbridge up front, with Ademola switching to the right flank. The change didn’t inhibit the former Brentford man – whose confidence seemed sky high after finally getting the ‘monkey off his back’ with his fine goal on Saturday. He proceeded to bamboozle the Dover defence with a great run down the right before finally being eased out.

It was typical of this pulsating encounter that the action switched straightaway to the other end as the visitors had vociferous appeals for a penalty turned down as a Dover attacker crashed to the ground in the Woking area. Worner then had to resort to an acrobatic one-handed tip over the bar as a terrific free-kick arrowed towards the top corner.

In a virtual repeat of the sequence which led to the Cards’ equalising goal, the Dover defence then cracked again as the home side racked up a succession of corners. Nicolau fired a deep cross just beyond the far post where, from the tightest of angles, Wright managed to direct a header under the bar to put the Cards 2-1 up, with only a few minutes to go to the break.

Jerome Maledon, hustling effectively in midfield, looked intent on increasing that lead as he and Ademola interchanged passes in a burst upfield. It was good to see his desire for goal even if it seemed a little unfair of him to berate his team mate over the final ball!

A more bizarre third goal might have followed as the ball suddenly ricocheted back to Flitney off Hutchinson. The Dover keeper was fortunate to be in the right position just to stick his hands out and grab the ball. The half ended with a clever cameo from Nicolau, tricking his way up the byeline. Faulconbridge tried to glance it on to Ricketts but the latter was just beaten to the ball by Flitney.

Half-time: Woking 2 Dover Athletic 1

It was hard to believe that the two sides could maintain the tempo of one of the best halves of football seen at Kingfield for ages, but the second period began in a similar vein with a sally down the right from Maledon and Ademola. Wright couldn’t quite get on top of the cross, with his header rising over the bar.

Rather as in the home league game, but less markedly so, Dover began to enjoy the better possession but created fewer decent openings, with the Woking defence and midfield successfully harrying and closing down. At the other end, the Cards looked threatening on the break through Ademola’s pace and Faulconbridge’s mastery in the air.

Ross Worner was called into action, eight minutes in, making a smart reaction save down near his post. Faulconbridge then went tantalisingly close to reaching a Nicolau free-kick at the far post but a slight deflection had nevertheless resulted in a corner. The Cards went even closer to extending their lead as Thomas’s resulting downward header went narrowly wide.

Worner had another opportunity to impress midway through the half, launching himself into a full-length dive to hold a free-kick, but Woking continued to stretch the Dover defence down the flanks, with both Ademola and Thomas firing in fine crosses towards Faulconbridge and Wright.

On the one occasion when the Dover attack broke free of the Woking defence, a stumble allayed any real threat, but the home fans held their breath a few minutes later before the referee waved away the visitors’ appeals for a penalty.

With Charlie Moone now on for Ademola, Woking continued to press for a third goal. The Cards’ determination was exemplified in a crunching tackle by Nicolau and Wright’s battling to win a corner. Once again, Nicolau’s cross almost produced a result as Faulconbridge’s header produced another almighty scramble. A lovely interchange then saw Wright advance into the area from the Woking left. With everyone expecting a cross, the Crystal Palace loanee tried a clever shot with the outside of his left foot, which flew narrowly over.

Worner dealt comfortably with a header and safely clutched a cross before Woking launched a final assault on the Whites’ goal. As Joe McNerney entered the fray in place of ‘man of the match’ Faulconbridge, Ricketts won a free-kick out right. Nicolau’s cross was met by Thomas but his header flew over the bar.

And so it is all to play for at the Crabble on Saturday, with Woking at least knowing that Dover will have to pierce their defence again to get back into the tie. Whatever the final outcome, Cards fans will rejoice in seeing a fantastically committed and enterprising display from their side, with ‘man of the match’ displays from a host of players. Dover too, of course, played their part fully, with some skilful play showing why they attained the runners-up position in the league. Saturday can’t come soon enough!

Woking: Ross Worner, Ricky Anane, Aswad Thomas, Mark Ricketts, Tom Hutchinson, Tony Sinclair, Giuseppe Sole (Matthew Wright, 29), Jerome Maledon, Craig Faulconbridge (Joe McNerney, 90), Moses Ademola (Charlie Moone, 80), Nicky Nicolau

Unused subs: Jon Boardman, Matt Pegler

Dover: Flitney, Walder, Hill, Cloke, Shulz, Tabiri, Southall, Leberl (Fish, 82), Welford, Rogers, Birchall

Unused subs: Grant, Miller, Marsh, Whitehouse

Sponsor’s MOTM: Craig Faulconbridge

Attendance: 3080
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