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Cards suffer final defeat

Brian Caffarey - 10th May 2010

Cards suffer final defeat Bath City 1 Woking 0
BSS Play-Off Final
9 May 2010

While political leaders sought to make sense of the post-Election vacuum, Bath City and Woking fans massed at a packed Twerton Park to see their two sides engage in a much more straightforward ‘do or die’ encounter to decide which team should join Newport County in the Blue Square Premier next season. At the end it was the home fans who wildly celebrated City’s return to the Conference after a 13 year absence, while Woking supporters reflected on the prospect of at least another season in the Blue Square South. Bath edged the game by virtue of a second half penalty and generally looked the more fluent side, but the Cards probably had the better chances overall but failed to convert one of them.

Graham Baker stuck to the same side that had vanquished Dover Athletic in the semi-final games, so there was no place for Harry Arter. The fact that he wasn’t even on the bench suggested that the explanation for his absence lay elsewhere than his recent stomach bug.

After the kick-off had been delayed by 20 minutes due to congestion at the turnstiles, the home side were first on the attack, winning two early corners, which were effectively dealt with by Tom Hutchinson and Ross Worner. Woking fans then took encouragement from a Giuseppe Sole foray forward. Appeals for a penalty as he hit the deck in the area were waved away, however. The Woking free-kick specialist then lined up an effort from way out. It looked too far even for Gez and so it proved, with the ball sailing way over the bar and the netting and on its way towards the city centre. He was to do much better later, however.

In the 10th minute the Cards came agonisingly close to taking a dramatic lead. Nicky Nicolau fired over a deep cross out right to Moses Ademola, whose fine shot crashed against the inside of the far post and away to safety.

As the game began to settle down, it was clear that the home side would pose a threat down the flanks, especially through Lewis Hogg on the left, whilst the Cards would mainly hope to feed off Craig Faulconbridge’s flick-ons. Both sides continued to probe, with Woking’s high back line succeeding on several occasions in catching the Bath forwards offside or encouraging over-hit through balls.

After Gez Sole had been harshly booked for a challenge on the Bath keeper, Ryan Robinson, he had a second chance in the 22nd minute to demonstrate his free-kick prowess. From much closer in, to the right of the area, his fierce shot arrowed to the goal but was headed away by a defender on the line.

Woking’s territorial superiority at this stage of the game was rudely interrupted in the 29th mnute as Adie Harris got in front of Jerome Maledon to nod the ball against the outside of Ross Worner’s post.

Woking countered with a few enterprising attacks but Mark Ricketts could only cross into the keeper’s arms and Ademola wasted a quick Sole break out of defence. Worner was untroubled by a shot from Lewis Hogg, which went well over the bar.

In the 39th minute some determined play by Aswad Thomas won another free-kick on the edge of the box. Up stepped Gez again. This time it was the keeper’s flick over the bar which foiled another fine strike. Woking finished the half strongly, with an Ademola’s ambitious effort from distance blocked, with Maledon nearly breaking through the solid Bath back line and the home keeper successfully claiming a deep Ricky Anane cross under heavy challenge

Half-time: Bath City 0 Woking 0

With the Cards having had the better of the first half in a tight game, it looked very much as if the first goal would be decisive. In the opening phase of the second half both sides threatened but without creating a clear-cut opening. Nicolau’s interception allowed him to attack the Bath goal through the middle but the ball ran away from him to Robinson before he could shoot, whilst Worner dealt comfortably with a Bath corner and free-kick. More anxiety was caused by a rising shot by Browning over the bar, quickly matched by a Faulconbridge snap volley after the ball had rebounded to him.

But the home side’s increasing pressure began to tell as Kaid Mohamed broke through tackles by Anane and Hutchinson to fire well over from a good position. And in the 55th minute they made the decisive breakthrough. A Hutchinson slip allowed Darren Edwards to burst through the back line, with Worner only succeeding in bringing him down in the area. It was only a yellow card for the young keeper but Mohamed converted emphatically from the spot to put City ahead.

Sole came close to an immediate response as he latched onto a Faulconbridge flick but he was smothered by Robinson before he could nick the ball over the advancing keeper. With Joe McNerney on for Hutchinson, the Cards pressed forward again, Faulconbridge’s challenge forcing Robinson to drop the ball from a Nicolau cross but the Bath keeper recovered to grab it at the second attempt.

Woking’s attempts to get back into the game were frustrated as they conceded free-kicks in attack and tended to waste good crossing opportunities, the otherwise excellent Thomas being guilty of this on two occasions in the closing stages. At the back, Woking had McNerney to thank for thwarting a Bath break out of defence.

Graham Baker threw Matthew Wright on in the 72nd minute but, while his arrival was welcomed by Woking fans, his replacement of Gez Sole was not well received.

With some fifteen minutes to go, the Cards launched a sustained assault on the Bath goal. A Nicolau corner was cleared only to be lobbed back in by the same player and cleared out to Tony Sinclair, who took sufficiently long to line up his shot to enable a defensive block for another corner. Once more, though, the referee blew up for a foul in the box.

After McNerney and Worner had combined to foil a Bath attack, Woking had a great chance in the 81st minute to take the game into extra time. A long ball was flicked on to Ademola on the edge of the area. He had to react quickly as Robinson advanced but managed to put the ball wide. As heads fell into hands, you felt that this was the key chance wasted and so it proved.

But five minutes later it looked as though those forebodings had been unduly pessimistic as the ball nestled in the Bath net. A Nicolau free-kick was flicked on by Wright to Faulconbridge near the far post. His deliberate header was heading just wide of the far post when a defender diverted it into his own net. But the Woking celebrations were curtailed by the assistant referee’s flag – presumably an offside decision against Faulconbridge.

The Cards continued to push forward. A low Nicolau cross was met by Faulconbridge but his snap shot, leaning back, took the ball high over the bar. Wright connected with an ambitious scissors-kick but the effort went wide. The four minutes of added time produced no last-minute reprieve as Bath successfully kept the ball well away from the danger zone.

So, a season of changing expectations ended with a narrow defeat. In the summer most Woking fans would have been satisfied with a top ten finish after last season’s shambles. But early success brought hopes of a play-off place – which looked there for the taking when the Cards were sitting in second place in January. A dreadful loss of form saw Graham Baker’s side plunge to 13th place by mid-March, only to recover to sneak back into 5th place on the final day after an amazing run which saw them notch eight wins from the last nine games. Dover Athletic were conquered in the semi-finals, with some excellent attacking play in the first leg and some superb ‘backs to the wall’ defending in the second. And so to Twerton Park and, ultimately, disappointment.

In the end the verdict has to be that we were not quite good enough and it may be no bad thing in the long run to spend another season – but only one more, please! – in the BSS. We had problems all season in scoring goals – until the arrival of Craig Faulconbridge, that is – and perhaps then relied too much on hitting long balls to the big front man. We lacked genuine wide men to enable us to beat teams on the flanks and deliver dangerous crosses from the byeline. And a young side lacked the remorseless consistency which championship-winning teams like Newport County and (dare we mention them) Stevenage Borough have shown this season. But it’s been a much more enjoyable season than any we’ve experienced for a long time and, if Graham Baker can keep a good core of the present squad and fill the gaps, there is no reason why next season shouldn’t be even better.

Have a great summer, everyone, and get those season ticket applications in for the next campaign!

Woking: Ross Worner, Ricky Anane, Aswad Thomas, Mark Ricketts, Tom Hutchinson (Joe McNerney 58), Tony Sinclair, Moses Ademola, Jerome Maledon, Craig Faulconbridge, Giuseppe Sole (Matthew Wright 72), Nicky Nicolau

Unused subs: Jon Boardman, Charlie Moone, Matt Pegler

Booked: Giuseppe Sole, Ross Worner

Bath City: Robinson, Jombati, Rollo, Jones, Holland, Harris, Simpson, Connolly (Browning 4 (Barlett 87)), Edwards, Mohamed (Mackie 84), Hogg.
Unused subs: Coupe, Evans.

My MOTM: Mark Ricketts (pictured) for another tireless display in midfield

Attendance: tba
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