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Gritty Cards turn tables on high-flying Hatters

Phil Batts - 1st January 2013

Gritty Cards turn tables on high-flying Hatters
Woking 3 Luton Town 1
Blue Square Bet Premier
1st January 2013


A determined Woking side rode their luck at times to pull off a creditable victory against an impressive Luton team, who are clearly one of the stronger outfits in the Conference Premier and one with a genuine chance of a return to the Football League. On a pitch which was clearly not conducive to good football, having taken a fearful battering from the recent inclement weather, Woking's early lead was quickly cancelled out by the Hatters who, as the game wore on, looked the team most likely to break the deadlock. The Cards dug deep, however, and a brace of goals at the business end of the match was enough to see them over the line and secure three valuable points.

Garry Hill sprang a surprise at the start of the match by employing an adventurous 4-4-2 system, using Joe McNerney in partnership with Loick Pires up front. The back four comprised Newton, Parkinson, Doyle and Nutter, with a midfield of Ricketts in the holding role, Betsy, Knott and Bubb breaking forward whenever possible to make it a three-pronged attack. This represented two changes from the Boxing Day team, Pires replacing Stockley and Bubb back from suspension in place of McCallum. Lee Sawyer was still missing, having failed to recover from the injury which he sustained at Lincoln.

Garry's positive approach paid immediate dividends. In the second minute, the Cards won a corner on the left, which was taken short and Billy Knott drove an unstoppable shot high into the net to give Woking a dream start. Notwithstanding the boggy midfield area, the Cards were doing their best to play some neat football and the Hatters appeared taken aback by the way their opponents were taking the game to them. Out of nowhere, however, Luton were back on level terms just five minutes later. Alex Lawless chipped the ball over a slightly square and static defence and Andre Gray, the Hatters' main threat for much of the game, raced through to slam an excellent equaliser high to Howe's left. One-all and barely time to draw breath.

The equaliser clearly had a settling effect on the visitors, who began to look much more purposeful as both sides did their best to play attractive football whilst at the same time employing, understandably in the circumstances, a route-one approach more often than would normally be the case. On twenty-five minutes, Woking should have taken the lead. McNerney released Bubb with a clever pass inside the left back. The home side's top scorer, however, should have done much better from inside the penalty area as he dragged his shot wide without troubling the 'keeper.

This proved a wake-up call for the Hatters, who grew stronger as the half drew to a close. With a minute remaining, they might easily have grabbed the lead. Andre Gray's cross from the right was not cleared and it fell to Jon Shaw twelve yards out, who slammed his shot against the bar. Luton continued to press for the final few minutes and the Cards were relieved to go in at the break on level terms at the end of a high-octane first half.

Half-time: Woking 1 Luton Town 1

Buoyed by their pressure on the Woking goal at the end of the first half, Luton started the second half on the front foot and might have taken the lead early on when Scott Rendell should have done better with a header from a left-wing cross which failed to bring Aaron Howe into action.

The game was now starting to open up and become stretched, with Luton looking the stronger team. One wondered if their full-time status might prove to be the difference as Woking legs began to tire in the energy-sapping conditions. The game-defining moment then arrived on the hour mark. The excellent Ronnie Henry crossed from the right flank to an unmarked Jon Shaw who, from only a couple of yards out, managed to hit the underside of the bar when it appeared harder to miss. The ball was scrambled to safety and the Cards faithful heaved a sigh of relief.

In typical Garry Hill fashion, the manager then took immediate and decisive action, replacing McNerney and Pires with Gavin McCallum and Jayden Stockley. This quickly brought fresh energy to the team, with Stockley in particular showing up well with his selfless running and good hold-up play.

The game continued to remain in the balance as the time ticked away. On sixty-eight minutes, Woking had a great chance to take the lead when the energetic Knott released McCallum with a defence-splitting pass. Although the 'keeper did well to quickly rush from his line to narrow the angle, the Woking player lifted his shot onto the top of the bar when he might have done better. The Cards were not to be denied, however, and it was fitting that they should take the lead five minutes later courtesy of 'man of the match' Billy Knott. Jon Shaw gave the ball away to McCallum, who rounded Ronnie Henry. The resultant shot was parried by the 'keeper but only into the path of the onrushing Knott, who gleefully slid the ball home to give the home side what, in all honesty, was a slightly flattering lead.

The only question now was could the Cards hold on to their lead in the remaining fifteen minutes. The answer was an emphatic "yes" as they notched a third goal four minutes later with an excellent header from Stockley from a McCallum cross.

These two goals had clearly taken the wind out of the Hatters' sails and Kevin Betsy almost added insult to injury with a fourth goal deep into stoppage time with a great shot from the edge of the area which the 'keeper did well to tip over the bar.

What a strange game this had been. Midway through the second half it seemed as though the visitors were odds-on to take the three points, but having missed their gilt-edged chance on the hour, the Cards seemed to rediscover their belief and with the aid of two excellent substitutions went on to complete a victory which should do wonders for their confidence as they push closer to Garry's "safety" target of fifty points. There is no league match now until January 13th, which should give the team time to recharge its battery and hopefully see the return of Lee Sawyer to full fitness.

Woking: Aaron Howe, Adam Newton, John Nutter, Joe McNerney (Gavin McCallum 63), Adam Doyle, Mark Ricketts, Jack Parkinson, Billy Knott (Dean Sinclair 90), Bradley Bubb, Kevin Betsy, Loick Pires (Jayden Stockley 63)

Unused subs: Andy Little, Mike Cestor

Goals: Knott (2 + 74), Stockley (78)

Cautions: Pires (38), Ricketts (58)

Luton Town: Mark Tyler, Janos Kovacs, Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw (Stuart Fleetwood 79), Scott Rendell, Jake Howells (Lathaniel Rowe-Turner 90), Simon Ainge, Scott Neilson, Arnaud Mendy (Jonathan Smith 79), Ronnie Henry, Andre Gray

Unused subs: J.J. O'Donnell, Dean Brill

Goals: Gray (8)

Cautions: Neilson (52), Mendy (69), Rowe-Turner (90)

Attendance: 2961

MOTM: Billy Knott. An excellent all-round performance capped with two important goals
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