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Cards battle through to Final

Brian Caffarey - 2nd May 2010

Cards battle through to Final Dover Athletic 0 Woking 0
BSS Play-off Final, Second Leg
1 May 2010

Some resilient last-ditch defending and a generous share of good fortune ensured that the Cards retained the 2-1 advantage which they had secured at Kingfield. Dover may well feel somewhat ‘hard done by’, given that they came second in the league and had much the better of the Crabble game, but the Cards made their superiority pay in the first leg and in head-to-head encounters won three games and drew one. So, Woking now travel to Bath City next Sunday in a 2pm kick-off for the Play-Off Final.

With Harry Arter still not recovered from his stomach bug, Graham Baker stuck with the side that had started in the first leg. A noisy crowd of nearly 3,000 – with terrific away support - welcomed both sides onto the sloping Crabble pitch, which had been softened by heavy showers.

The Woking defence started a little nervously, with several misplaced passes and some uncertain clearances. Ricky Anane got in the first shot but it was from way out and well off target and Hill’s header over the bar set the pattern of much of the rest of the game as the bigger, more physical, Dover side sought to throw in as many crosses as possible towards Olly Shulz and his colleagues. Before the next assault, though, the Cards managed a promising attacking move as Giuseppe Sole fed Nick Nicolau and the latter’s lobbed cross enabled Craig Faulconbridge to cause some disarray in the home penalty area.

Dover’s aerial assault continued as Welford nodded wide but a free-kick in a central position in the 13th minute flew harmlessly wide to the relief of the massed Woking fans. Moses Ademola, well shackled for most of the match, then fed Nicolau but his deflected shot caused no problems for Dover keeper, Ross Flitney, who barely had a save to make.

The Woking defence seemed to settle down and coped fairly comfortably till midway through the half, although little headway was made at the other end, with Ademola caught offside on the few occasions when it looked as though the Cards might break beyond the Dover backline.

In the 27th minute came the first of several defining moments in the game. A cross from the Dover right was half-intercepted by Aswad Thomas, with his header looping on towards the far post. Ross Worner, heavily challenged, punched clear but was then on the ground as the ball was returned goalwards. Fortunately for the Cards, Mark Ricketts was on the line and managed to stick out a thigh to send the ball to safety.

A few minutes later the Cards created the best move of the game as a flowing break out of defence started by Ricketts and continued by Sole and Nicolau ended with Faulconbridge heading wide.

More typical was the next Dover long throw, with the ball being scrambled away by the Woking defence, followed by an excellent clearing header at the far post by Thomas as two Dover forwards threatened and then Tom Hutchinson heading out the resulting corner. The home side continued to press for the decisive goal which would have levelled the tie. The moment seemed to have arrived in the 41st minute as a superb cross to the far post drew a close-range header. But the ball crashed against the cross bar – touched on, I think, by Worner’s quick reaction – and then down and out. Three minutes later Worner nearly brought about the Cards’ downfall as he dropped a simple ‘take’: this time it was Hutchinson who was forced to clear off the line as a shot arrowed towards the Woking net.

To the relief of Cards fans, there was only one minute of extra time before the referee drew the half to a close.

Half-time: Dover Athletic 0 Woking 0

With both sides now attacking towards their fans, the second half looked set for an exciting finale. It was hard to believe that the Cards defence could continue to hold out but there was also a feeling that the home side had perhaps already had their best chances and had not taken them.

As in the first half, the Cards started with several useful attacks. Ademola managed to find a bit of space on the right but he was too tight to the byeline to manage more than a cross into Flitney’s arms. Ademola also threatened to break clear before he was cynically taken out by Hill. And a Sole free-kick was deflected by the defensive wall for a corner.

With a quarter of an hour or so gone, the ball had spent a good time in the air but the home side had not managed to get in much by way of testing crosses, and the home fans must have been beginning to regret the missed chances towards the end of the first half.

In the 66th minute Worner comfortably fielded a shot along the ground from Birchall. A minute later Graham Baker brought on Matthew Wright for Gez Sole. The scrappy play continued until the Woking woodwork was rattled again by Shulz but the effort wouldn’t have counted since the referee blew up for an infringement. A few minutes later a cross over the head of Anane drew a shot well over the bar.

With the minutes beginning to run down, Dover desperately sought the elusive goal. A quick break from a Woking attack was wasted, though, with the ball being crossed to no one, with Birchall waiting unmarked and frustrated.

With Dover throwing more men forward, the odd opening appeared for the Cards attack. Wright did well to get on the end of a deep Nicolau free-kick, feeding Ademola. The latter’s quick shuffle took him past a Dover defender but Faulconbridge was beaten to the ball by Flitney.

With only a couple of minutes to go, Graham Baker slowed the game down as he brought on Joe McNerney and Charlie Moone for Faulconbridge and Ademola.

There was time for one last moment of drama. A gap appeared in the centre of the Woking defence, with a Dover forward having a good sight of the Woking goal. An excellent shot looped over Worner and hit the bar, with the Cards keeper just managing to grab the rebound. But a free-kick was given so, once again, the effort wouldn’t have counted.

With three minutes of extra time added, the Cards defence had to withstand the umpteenth Dover long throw but the tie was safe. The final whistle drew wild scenes of celebration from the Woking fans and players, while their Dover counterparts had to lick their wounds and ponder how close they had come to achieving a third successive promotion.

Woking: Ross Worner, Ricky Anane, Aswad Thomas, Mark Ricketts, Tom Hutchinson, Tony Sinclair, Giuseppe Sole (Matthew Wright 67), Jerome Maledon, Craig Faulconbridge (Joe McNerney 88), Moses Ademola (Charlie Moone 88), Nicky Nicolau

Unused subs: Matt Pegler, Jon Boardman

Dover Athletic: Flitney, Walder (Moore 68), Hill, Cloke (Leberl 74), Shulz, Tabiri, Southall, Fish, Welford, Rodgers, Birchall

Unused subs: Grant, Marsh, Whitehouse

My MOTM: Mark Ricketts (pictured)

Attendance: 2970
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