Chester 2 Woking 3
Vanarama National League
17th April 2017
A stoppage time penalty converted by Gozie Ugwu completed a remarkable comeback for Woking and secured a vital three points on the road.
With Woking’s position in the National League looking precarious going into the Easter period, spirits were raised following the single goal victory over Macclesfield on Good Friday, and Woking started this Bank Holiday game in Cheshire in positive mood and on the front foot.
Garry Hill made two changes from the side which defeated the Silkmen, the second half injury sustained by skipper Ismael Yakubu enough to keep him sidelined, his place in the side taken by Fabio Saraiva with Joey Jones dropping into the backline. Keiran Murtagh took over custody of the armband. Up front, Gozie Ugwu was rewarded with a start following his winner in the previous match, with Jamie Lucas dropping to the subs bench.
Chester had come into this game in poor form, having lost their last three matches, albeit with two of those defeats against high flying Lincoln City and Forest Green Rovers. Blues manager Jon McCarthy also made two changes to his lineup in a bid to halt their run of defeats, which had seen them looking over their shoulder to sides below them, not least the Cards, who had the chance to move to within a point with a win at the Deva Stadium.
Woking started this match very brightly, making all of the early running in the opening exchanges. The Cards looked to get their two wing backs, Nathan Ralph and Jake Caprice, forward at every opportunity. This adventure should have been rewarded as early as the third minute when a strong run from Nathan Ralph saw him win a corner down the left hand side. The delivery from Murtagh found Jones, whose goalbound header was cleared off the line by a Chester head, only as far as Brian Saah, whose resultant header was also scrambled clear off the goal line for another corner.
Woking regularly threatened in the first quarter of an hour, the front two of Ugwu and Delano Sam-Yorke linking to good effect and the wing backs providing a regular attacking outlet. Caprice, in particular, looked a constant menace, with the speed to beat his opposing wing back Liam Davies, seemingly at will. Unfortunately the accuracy of the crossing did not quite live up to the approach work, but the threat was there and Woking’s self-assurance was encouraging to see.
The Cards should have scored in the 15th minute. Strong work in midfield by Murtagh saw him win a loose ball and embark on a driving run into the heart of the Chester rearguard. Whilst the skipper got crowded out, a Chester pass back to the keeper fell short, Sam-Yorke latched onto the loose ball, rounded the keeper Lynch but missed the open target with his right foot. The angle was tight, but the striker really should have capitalised on a gilt-edged opportunity.
The concern for Woking at this point was that they were unable to make the most of a dominant spell. Chester were visibly nervous, the home crowd were edgy and a goal during this period may have led to a very different game. As the first half wore on, the home side grew in confidence, starting to control possession in the midfield and get support to their forward players. Whilst the Cards did well to deny any clear-cut goalscoring opportunities, a long range shot from Tom Shaw was deflected wide for a corner, and Ryan Lloyd forced Michael Poke to parry from the edge of the area.
Chester’s best piece of football occurred in the 36th minute, the left wing back Davies, pinned back for most of the half, finally got goal side of Caprice, and his cross fell invitingly onto the head of Lloyd, who could only head straight at Poke from 10 yards out. This piece of play raised the voices of the home support.
The final 15 minutes were largely played in Woking’s half, save for the odd break from the two Woking forwards. Both sides seemed relatively content when the half time whistle blew, and there was little indication of the drama that was to unfold in the second period.
Half-time: Chester 0 Woking 0
Neither manager made any changes at half time. Woking arguably started the second half the stronger, looking to reassert themselves in the game and winning an early corner. Then, in the 53rd minute, the game exploded into life. The ball was worked out to Ralph who showed some fine footwork to draw a foul on the left hand edge of the penalty area. Saraiva swung the ball in, which was met by the head of Hughes in the Chester defence. Hughes was under pressure from several Woking players in the penalty area, and as a result wasn’t able to clear any great distance. The ball fell to Saah who swept home on the half volley from 10 yards out. This was Saah’s second goal of the season, and the celebrations in front of the travelling supporters were joyous.
To say that this joy was short-lived is a huge understatement though, as the home side responded straight from kick off. Whilst a lack of defensive concentration at key times has been an achilles heel for the Cards this season, it is difficult to do anything other than credit a fine goal from the Blues. The ball was swept out to the right hand side to Wade Joyce, who whipped in a fine right foot cross which was headed home superbly by Liam Davies; brother of Everton’s Tom, he marked his home debut for the Blues with a fine header across the face of goal that left Poke wrong-footed and with no chance.
Woking needed to rally and ensure that they kept things tight during a tricky period after the equaliser, with the home crowd increasing the volume and the home side sensing an opportunity to go for a win that would surely end any fear Chester would have of being dragged into the relegation dogfight.
Garry Hill responded by making his first substitution on 60 minutes, Sam-Yorke being replaced upfront by Jamie Lucas. The Bristol Rovers loanee looking to link up with Ugwu from the outset, and hold the ball up for midfield runners and wing backs to join in. Hill made a second change on 68 minutes, Saraiva, who had worked diligently all afternoon in an advanced midfield role, was replaced by Max Kretzschmar, making his first appearance since the draw with Boreham Wood in March.
The home side made their first change in the 70th minute, with Oluwaseun Akintunde replacing Wade Joyce, the home side looking to press for a winner in the final 20 minutes of the game. This nearly came in the 76th minute, when a Davies corner was met by the head of Hughes, who headed fractionally wide of Poke’s left hand post with the keeper scrambling across his line.
There was concern for Woking shortly after when Ugwu stayed down after an aerial challenge with Hughes on the halfway line, the Cards top scorer holding his back and appearing to be winded after falling awkwardly. Thankfully, Ugwu was able to return to his feet.
On 82 minutes Chester struck what at the time felt a massive blow to Woking’s hopes in this match, and, indeed their season. Strong play down the right hand side saw Akintunde break into the box. The forward then appeared to have his run well cut off by Ralph, however the wing back failed to shepherd the ball to safety, allowing Akintunde to centre to the onrushing Elliot Durrell to fire left footed past Poke.
The Woking players appeared initially devastated at what felt a crucial blow, however Garry Hill and Steve Thompson could be seen encouraging the players that they could get back into the contest. In a final throw of the dice, Hill sent on young forward Connor Hall for Caprice in the 84th minute, joining Ugwu and Lucas in an attacking triumvirate for the Cards as they threw caution to the wind in search of a precious equaliser.
Garry Hill has been in the game a long time, and made countless substitutions in his managerial career, however few would have had such an immediate impact as this one. Keiran Murtagh advanced down the right hand side and crossed in low toward the penalty spot, where the teenager Hall was waiting to score with his first touch from around twelve yards out. The delight on the faces of Hall, Woking players and staff were plain for all to see, whilst the travelling fans were sent into raptures.
Having conceded almost immediately after scoring earlier in the match, there were one or two hearts in mouths when the otherwise immaculate Terell Thomas had his pocket–picked on the edge of the box by Alabi, however the Woking centre back recovered to sniff out the danger.
With such an attacking line up on the field, it became clear that attack was the best form of defence for the visitors, In the 90th minute, the outstanding Joey Jones worked a crossing position down the Woking right, with Chester relieved to head behind for a corner. The corner from Kretzschmar was floated in well, and just as a Woking head appeared certain to get on the end of the ball a Chester hand appeared to deflect the ball in mid-air. Cue a huge appeal from players, management staff and Woking fans, and then delight when the referee Mr Rushton pointed to the spot. With Lucas converting at Barrow and Ugwu netting last time out against Macclesfield, there was some debate over who would take what was a huge pressure spot kick. However Ugwu won the right to take the penalty, and he fired his shot to the left of Lynch, who got a hand to it but was unable to keep it out; 20 goals for the season for the Cards hitman, and none more valuable than this one.
This triggered scenes of elation in the corner of the ground housing the Woking fans, whose commitment to supporting the team was rewarded with a crucial late goal. There was still four minutes of stoppage time to see out, however the three centre backs of Jones, Thomas and Saah stood strong in the face of pressure.
There were scenes of relief as the final whistle blew, players and fans celebrating and Garry Hill unable to disguise his delight at this huge result in the fight for survival. Whilst this win is a huge boost to the hopes of avoiding relegation, there remains work to do in the final two games, starting with a huge encounter with York City on Saturday.
Chester: Alex Lynch, Luke George ©, Ryan Astles, Theo Vassell, Sam Hughes, Elliott Durrell, Tom Shaw, Ryan Lloyd, Wade Joyce (Oluwaseun Akintunde 73), Liam Davies, James Alabi.
Subs not used: Liam Roberts, Johnny Hunt, Matty Waters, Lucas Daswon
Goals: Liam Davies (55), Elliott Durrell (82)
Woking: Michael Poke, Jake Caprice (Connor Hall 84), Terell Thomas, Joey Jones, Brian Saah, Keiran Murtagh, Gozie Ugwu, Nathan Ralph, Fabio Saraiva (Max Kretzschmar 69), Delano Sam-Yorke (Jamie Lucas 61), Kane Ferdinand
Subs not used: Brandon Hall, Dennon Lewis
Goals: Brian Saah (53), Connor Hall (85), Gozie Ugwu (90+1)
My MOTM: Terell Thomas. The young centre back continues to show huge promise and a maturity beyond his years. Quick, committed and excellent at reading the game, Thomas was the beating heart of a Woking defence that set the tone for the rest of the teams display in this tricky away game.
Spot on Gozie Seals Comeback Win
Adam Leary - 17th April 2017