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Improved Cards come away with three points

Brian Caffarey - 18th August 2018

Improved Cards come away with three points Hemel Hempstead Town 0 Woking 2
Vanarama National League South
18 August 2018

The Cards grabbed a very welcome three points against a Tudors side which reached the play-offs last season and had been unbeaten so far in this campaign. The performance was a considerable improvement on the display at Wealdstone the previous Monday, although there were times early in the second half when a sense of déjà vu began to set in, Woking having failed to make their first half superiority count and the home side showing worrying signs of starting to get onto the front foot. But goals change games and that was certainly true of Max Kretzschmar’s marvellous strike in the 65th minute which put Dowse’s side in front and in a position from which they never really looked back. Duane Ofori-Acheampong added a second ten minutes later and the Cards ought to have added another in in extra time. The win leaves the Cards in third place, a point behind Billericay Town and Concord Rangers, who both gained decisive wins.

It was no surprise to see quite a few changes from Monday’s side. Making a welcome first start was the commanding figure of Jack Cook in central defence, shunting Kiran Khinda-John onto the bench, with Nathan Collier moving to right back in place of Dan Spence, who was not included in the 16 in spite of his suspension apparently not kicking in till next week. There was a debut, too, for new loan signing, Armani Little, who soon had Woking fans purring appreciatively at some classy moves in midfield, where he was joined by Greg Luer out right. As expected, Ofori-Acheampong replaced the injured Jake Hyde, while Paul Hodges dropped to the bench. Reggie Young started in place of Nicky Wheeler.

On a mainly cloudy afternoon, the good turnout of away fans took pleasure in a fast start from the Cards, Reggie Young immediately cutting the ball back dangerously. Little soon caught the eye in central midfield, showing fine control and spraying several telling passes. In the 8th minute he slipped in Luer but the former Hull City man delayed long enough to enable the home keeper to narrow the angle and beat his shot away for a corner. A minute later Young, so often the outlet early in the game, broke from his own half, only to see his attempted cross blocked. Kretzschmar then went close in the 13th minute with a low drive from outside the box, which the keeper tipped round his post for another corner. On 17 minutes, Kane Ferdinand rose well to meet a free-kick but it went straight to the keeper.

Up to that point the home side had barely mounted an attack but the Cards’ defence were given a warning when Clifford turned smartly to take out two opponents and launch an attack which would have been dangerous but for a team mate straying offside.

As was a little reminiscent of Monday’s game, Woking’s fast start seemed to fade somewhat and the home side began to see more of the ball. Berti Shotterl showed safe handling – as he did throughout the game – to hold on cleanly to Prestedge’s low drive, while the defensive wall did its job to thwart a free-kick.

The Cards’ next serious attempt on goal didn’t come till the 33rd minute when Young made a fine break down the left, slipping the ball through to Little, whose shot was blocked by the keeper, with the referee unaccountably signalling a goal kick. Young then tried to make his way through the middle, but was crowded out and his effort also blocked.

The home side responded with a couple of threatening attacks, one of which was foiled only by an excellent interception by Collier. The Cards answered in turn with another fine header by Ferdinand which was, unfortunately, narrowly wide. The stalemate continued till half-time, with Watt shooting just off target for the Tudors and the Cards failing to make anything of two more Kretzschmar free-kicks.

Half-time: Hemel Hempstead Town 0 Woking 0

Once again, after the break, the Cards came quickly out of the blocks, with Young breaking down the left to feed a great ball to Kretzschmar, but his shot was rather scuffed and was deflected beyond the far post. Nor could the Cards force the ball in from the resulting corner.

But it wasn’t long before there were ominous signs of the home side beginning to call the tune, with the Cards’ midfield having to do most of the chasing and harrying as the Tudors began to dictate the play, with Parkes pulling the strings very effectively. Cook made a crucial interception in the 50th minute as Clifford prepared to pull the trigger and then Schotterl was forced to punch clear and field another effort. The home side probably ought to have taken the lead in the 57th minute when several Woking players ‘sold’ themselves, enabling the ball to be played out to Cawley out right. Shotterl was beaten but, fortunately, Cawley’s shot went just wide of the far post.

The home side continued to threaten, especially down the Woking right, where Collier was tested for pace. But the tenor of the game was suddenly changed in the 64th minute when Ofori-Acheampong and Luer put Kretzschmar in a good position on the left of the box. His finish was superb, curling the ball into the far top corner.

The home side came close to equalising a few minutes later when Connolly again made progress down the Woking right, being thwarted only by an interception by Ian Gayle, and then wasted a follow-up with a weak shot to Schotterl. The keeper subsequently flattened his central defender as he punched and kicked clear another home attack.

Another goal again changed the complexion of the game. A long clearance from Cook in the 75th minute caused all sorts of difficulties for former Card lsmail Yakubu, who allowed the ball to swirl over his left shoulder. Ofori-Acheampong took full advantage, roaring on to fire decisively past the keeper’s left hand.

It now looked pretty comfortable for the Cards, although it took a fantastic block by Gayle to prevent what might have been a nervy finale. A minute later the goal difference ought to have widened. Woking broke quickly to find themselves three-on-one but Luer’s attempt to play in one of his team-mates only found the remaining defender. In extra time Ofori-Acheampong sent a great cross in from the right but substitute Wheeler couldn’t quite reach it.

There was warm applause for the team as the referee blew the final whistle – no doubt partly reflecting an improved performance but also some relief at not getting tripped up again.

There were certainly a number of positives from this game, including Jack Cook’s imperious performance in central defence, where he was assisted well by Ian Gayle, and a very promising debut by Armani Little, who impressed greatly early in the game but was perhaps hampered later on by a knock later in the first half. And, of course, there were two excellent strikes from Max Kretschmar and Duane Ofori-Acheampong, together with very competent keeping from Berti Schotterl. One would still liked to have seen the Cards take advantage of their earlier superiority and there was perhaps too much reliance in the first half on trying to get the ball out to Reggie Young, leaving the side looking a bit unbalanced at times.

The Cards will hope to continue their improvement at home to Truro City next Saturday.

Woking: 1. Berti Schotterl, 2. Nathan Collier, 3. Josh Casey, 4. Jack Cook, 5. Ian Gayle, 6. Kane Ferdinand, 7. Greg Luer (Declan Appau 86), 8. Armani Little, 9. Duane Ofori-Acheampong, 10. Max Kretzschmar, 11. Reggie Young (Nicky Wheeler 69)

Unused subs: Sam Mason, Paul Hodges, Kiran Khinda-John

Goals: Max Kretzschmar 65, Duane Ofori-Acheampong 75

Bookings: Josh Casey 31, Duane Ofori-Acheampong 81, Armani Little 86

Hemel Hempstead Town: 1. Laurie Walker, 2. Joe Howe, 3. Kyle Connolly, 4. Jordan Parkes, 5. Tom Hamblin, 6. Ismail Yakubu, 7. Sanchez Watt, 8. Billy Clifford, 9. Karly Oliyide (Charlie Sheringham 60), 10. Stephen Cawley (Phil Roberts 70), 11. Reece Prestedge (Alex Osborn 74)

Unused subs: Alex Osborn, James Kaloczi, Spencer McCall

Bookings: Reece Prestedge 25, Tom Hamblin 40, Billy Clifford 61

Referee: Monty Buonassisi

Attendance: 613

Man of the Match: Jack Cook (pictured) – dominant in central defence on his first appearance of the season.

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