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Woking held by Braintree Town in scoreless draw

Haydn Cobb - 1st November 2014

Woking held by Braintree Town in scoreless draw Braintree Town 0 Woking 0
Vanarama Conference
1st November 2014

Woking were held to a goalless draw against Braintree Town and fell to fifth place in the Vanarama Conference in a game which lacked any clear-cut chances and was dominated by strong defensive work.

The Cards' backline held firm to record their first clean sheet in three games thanks to outstanding displays by centre back pairing James Clarke (pictured) and captain Joe McNerney. Woking were also saved by goalkeeper Ross Worner, who made two impressive saves in each half.

Woking manager Garry Hill will be pleased with the progress his defence has made in recent weeks despite the tough day in attack. Giuseppe Sole and Jack Marriott both saw efforts saved by Braintree Town goalkeeper Nick Hamann while Conference top-scorer Scott Rendell battled valiantly up front.

On reflection, a point was a fair result for both sides and Woking’s performance was an improvement on their last league outing, a 3-1 home defeat to AFC Telford United, two weeks ago.

Woking began the match sticking to a conventional 4-4-2 formation which helped see the Cards overcome Boreham Wood in the FA Cup last week. Sole retained his place up front alongside Rendell while a fully-fit Kevin Betsy started on the left wing.

The team looked energised compared to Braintree Town, who were suffering with a number of injuries and had played extra time during the week in their FA Cup fourth qualifying round replay against Weymouth, which they won 5-3. The Cards looked comfortable in the opening phases with plenty of possession in the middle of the park while Braintree seemed content to soak up the early pressure.

Cressing Road Stadium is somewhat of a bogey ground for Garry Hill’s side as they have never won at Braintree in the league. In the three previous league meetings here, Woking had lost two and drawn the other, scoring just one goal.

In the 12th minute Rendell won a free-kick 30 yards out after being pushed in the back by Alan Massey. Sole whipped in a dangerous ball which the Woking target man ambitiously attempted to bicycle-kick but he mistimed his connection with the ball and it looped up in the air and into the goalkeeper’s arms.

Woking continued to get some joy down the right channel with through balls to the feet of Sole and Rendell but the Iron defence was able to snuff out any opportunities.

The away side maintained their dominant start to the game as Braintree Town were forced backwards. This gave Joe McNerney time to bring the ball forwards and chip an inch-perfect pass to Rendell. The forward nodded the ball back across goal to Sole, who slammed his shot to the left-hand side of Nick Hamann’s goal. The German goalkeeper saved well and parried the ball away as his defence cleared the danger.

The game struggled to spark into life for large periods of the first half but Woking continued to have the upper hand. Keiran Murtagh was again given time and space to pick his pass just inside the final third. On 31 minutes he picked out Rendell, who shifted the ball on to his right foot but he blasted his effort straight at the Braintree goalkeeper.

Hamann immediately pumped the ball forward to ambush the Cards with a quick counter-attack. The ball fell kindly to Simeon Akinola, who attempted to catch Ross Worner off guard and shot with his first touch 20 yards out. The goalkeeper saved smartly down to his right and conceded a corner but the resulting set piece was headed over by Akinola.

Five minutes before the interval Garry Hill tweaked his midfield quartet, with Theo Lewis and Betsy swapping wings and Murtagh was given more freedom to roam forward and link the play with the strikers.

Woking continued to threaten just before half-time with Sole and Rendell combining well. Rendell skipped past a challenge on the right flank and put his strike partner through on goal but the forward’s shot flew just past the near post.

Half-time: Braintree Town 0 Woking 0

Woking continued where they left off after the re-start and threatened the Braintree Town goal. Hill made an early second-half substitution on 53 minutes, taking off last week’s two-goal hero Sole for Jack Marriott. The young forward immediately injected a bit of pace into the Woking frontline and was able to get in behind the Iron defence.

With the introduction of Marriott, it meant a clash of two on-loan Ipswich players as the Woking striker faced up to the home side's towering central defender Omar Sowunmi.

After an hour of play, the home side finally started to show their attacking prowess. A low cross from the left side forced James Clarke to make an outstanding block from Jordan Cox’s vicious shot. Referee Brett Huxtable correctly waved away calls for handball against Clarke after the ball belted off the defender's midriff and the Cards were able to clear.

The Woking manager looked to re-energise central midfield in the 66th minute by taking Murtagh off for Joey Jones.

The home side had begun to grow into the game and push the Cards' defence back. The undoing of Hill’s side in recent weeks has been their frailty when defending set pieces but Clarke and McNerney were equal to everything thrown at them during the match as they both put in commanding performances.

In the 72nd minute Marriott had his first effort on goal, which was saved well by the Braintree goalkeeper as the tension in the stands continued to grow with the game still goalless. Josh Payne threaded an excellent through ball to Betsy, whose pass allowed Marriott to beat the defenders for pace. His shot from just outside the six-yard box rebounded off Hamann but fell to a Braintree defender to clear.

With 15 minutes remaining, the game started to become stretched with both sides having more opportunities to push forward. Woking maintained their pressing game and passed the ball around nicely in the final third but the Braintree defence seemed happy to defend tightly in numbers on the edge of their penalty box.

As the game entered the final five minutes, the Woking manager pushed both full backs forward in an attempt to force a wining goal.

However, the final moment of danger came in the visitors' penalty area in injury time as Worner bravely jumped into a melee of bodies to punch the ball away from a dangerous looking set piece. For his troubles, the Woking goalkeeper went down holding his head, which forced the referee to stop the game for the player to receive treatment. Shortly afterwards, the final whistle blew to bring the match to an end and add another point to the Cards' impressive early-season tally.

Braintree Town: Nick Hamann, Sam Habergham, Omar Sowunmi, Alan Massey, Ryan Peters, James Mulley, Chez Isaac, Mitch Brundle, Dan Walker, Simeon Akinola, Jordan Cox

Unused substitutes: Dan Sparkes, Charlie Strutton, Carl Pentney, Matt Paine, Ryan Case

Cautioned: Chez Isaac

Woking: Ross Worner, Chris Arthur, Joe McNerney, James Clarke, Adam Newton, Theo Lewis (John Goddard 81), Keiran Murtagh (Joey Jones 66), Josh Payne, Kevin Betsy, Scott Rendell, Giuseppe Sole (Jack Marriott 53)

Unused substitutes: Mike Cestor, Jake Cole

Cautioned: Keiran Murtagh, Joey Jones, Josh Payne

My MOTM: James Clarke - a commanding performance at the heart of the Cards' defence

Attendance: 876
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