FC Halifax Town 0 Woking 2
Vanarama National League
7th March 2020
Two first half goals proved enough to give Woking an impressive and potentially vital three points as the Cardsâ€™ play-off charge gained momentum in West Yorkshire.
Visiting the second largest stadium in the division - behind Notts Countyâ€™s Meadow Lane - and facing a formidable Halifax side who hadnâ€™t lost at home since 21st December, the Cards were fully aware they would have to be playing at their best to damage Halifaxâ€™s push for the top of the table. They did so, and more, with an early Max Kretzschmar penalty setting the tone for a professional performance before Jake Hydeâ€™s sixteenth league goal of the season assured the travelling fans of three points on the cusp of half-time.
There was just one change to the starting line-up from the side who defeated Maidenhead last time out, with Jake Hyde returning to lead the line in place of Alex Wall. There was no Matt Jarvis in the matchday squad, the midfielder not deemed fit for the game. With Sam Howes moving out on loan to Dorking Wanderers, Christian Paulat-Brigg was the substitute keeper, the 25-year-old returning from his own loan spell with Hampton and Richmond.
On a slightly overcast but mild afternoon, the Cards began the brighter side but couldnâ€™t create any clear-cut chances against the side with the worst defensive record of the clubs currently in the play-off places. They were reminded early on however, of the formidable attack The Shaymen possess, with a Jack Redshaw cross finding Josh Staunton, but the former Woking man headed over from six yards. Following this, a fantastic lofted ball from Charlie Cooper found Devante Rodney, but the on-loan Salford City striker took too heavy a first touch and had his eventual effort well blocked by Ben Gerring.
Having weathered the early Halifax attacks, Kretzschmar found himself in possession wide on the right, linking up well with Hyde- performing excellently despite The Shaymenâ€™s clear attempts to mark the forward out of the game. Having played some nice short passes between each other, Kretzschmar burst into the area looking to get a shot off but was brought down by Nathan Clarke. Referee Joe Hull- officiating his fifteenth National League game of the season- correctly pointed to the spot and Woking had the chance for the perfect start after thirteen minutes. Kretzschmar stepped up in front of an empty North Stand and placed his strike well into the bottom left corner. Standing at 6ft7â€�, Sam Johnson in the Halifax net got a big hand to it but not enough to stop Kretzschmar scoring his second penalty of the season.
Max fires home his penalty; pic: Jerry Lyons of The Onion Bag
The Cards grew in confidence, a Kretzschmar corner missing Ben Dempseyâ€™s head by mere millimetres before Gerring and Moussa Diarra defended well to prevent Rodney getting in behind. Another Redshaw cross - the former Salford man providing a rare spark in the Halifax midfield -again found Staunton, but his header failed to test Craig Ross.
With the home fans silenced by a relatively uninspiring first half display from Halifax, Woking pressed in search of a second. Josh Casey surged forward from the left-back position to set up Hyde, but the strikerâ€™s shot from the edge of the D was straight at Johnson and cleared with ease. This was a warning for the home side of what played out in the 44th minute.
A fairly innocuous free kick on the half-way line was hit long by Gerring - the 29-year-old having one of his finest performances for the Cards - and floated into The Shaymenâ€™s penalty area. Diarra rose highest, playing a header back across goal where Hyde was able to turn and blast a half-volley in from eight yards with Johnson totally helpless. The forward set off in celebration, Gerring lifting his arms above his head on the half-way line as shocked as everyone inside The Shay at the ease of the goal.
Seeing out the four minutes of injury time, the Cards went in at the break two goals ahead for the first time since their travels to Maidenhead in November. However, against a fellow play-off contender, the players knew the result was far from decided.
Half-time: Halifax Town 0 Woking 2
What followed was a performance of the highest professionalism from The Cards, displaying maturity and know-how to see out a game against one of the very top sides. Dowson will be pleased how the players have performed at the biggest grounds in this league - first winning at Stockport before picking up a respectable draw at Notts County.
Peculiarly, given the capacity of The Shay, the crowd was just 1,995 - 300 less than the return fixture at Woking earlier in the season. This seemed to dent Halifax Town, who admittedly were playing their second game of the week as opposed to Woking who had seven days off since beating Maidenhead. The second half started lifelessly, Hydeâ€™s goal before half-time clearly taking the sting out of both the atmosphere and the home sideâ€™s performance.
Woking were content to sit back, invite pressure and catch the home side on the break, the first forage forward seeing Dave Tarpeyâ€™s low cross from the right cleared before it could reach the dangerous Hyde. With the resulting corner cleared, Dempsey hit the ball high into the air hoping to hit the edge of the area. Once it came down, about five minutes later, Diarra attacked it but caught Johnson. The home crowd were incensed and there was a minor scuffle on the field, but referee Hull saw nothing in it and all players came away without a booking.
Halifaxâ€™s greatest chance came just before the hour, a corner dubiously given was swung in by Redshaw. With the Cardsâ€™ defence only able to watch it evade their heads, the ball was headed back across the six-yard box by Clarke. Rodney- playing against Woking for the second time this season having started for Stockport in November- was able to get a decent head on it but the ball cannoned down off the bar. A few shouts that the ball had crossed the line were turned away and after a few chants for VAR in the crowd, Woking heeded the warning that this game was still a contest.
A contest, however, that turned slightly bad tempered. Gerring picked up his second booking from Hull this season - the last coming away to Barnet - for a late challenge on Jeff King. Shortly after, Kane Ferdinand was nearly caught in possession by Rodney, but the Irishman was able to pass the ball back to Ross without too much trouble.
Woking smelled more goals and some good work by Jamar Loza down the left saw the forward burst into the area but he perhaps was a victim of his own pace, as his low cross failed to trouble the Halifax defence - his team mates unable to keep up with the Jamaican international. Just moments later, Dempsey brilliantly played in Hyde, beating the offside trap, but his shot was saved excellently by Johnson on the penalty spot. The ball came back to Hyde, who hand-balled it but sportingly stopped play and admitted to the referee his error - Hull was taking no prisoners and the Woking forward found himself booked.
Halifax tried to get in behind Woking but appeared short of ideas, with only substitute Cameron King looking like producing anything of real quality. Jack Cook, again having one of his best in a season packed with excellent performances, burst forward with ten minutes to go trying to find a shot on his left foot. Having got into the area, the defender was shoved over by captain Matty Browne, but was adjudged to have dived and was booked. It certainly wasnâ€™t a penalty, but there was contact from the Halifax skipper and a yellow seemed harsh.
The final few minutes passed, and the 67 travelling Woking fans were elated at the final whistle knowing this performance takes the Cards tantalisingly close to the play-offs. With a run-in in April against multiple sides at the lower end of the table and some key players hitting top form, the Cards know a place in the top seven is a real possibility.
This was as professional a performance as you are likely to see in the National League, with the Cards winning consecutive league matches for the first time since November. Dowse will be beaming at the high quality of this away victory.
Next up for the Cards is a home game against Barnet - also very much in the hunt for the playoffs - on Tuesday night, the North London side; they have played three games fewer than Woking. As for Halifax, they remain in fifth place and should have enough to finish in the top seven. Will we be seeing them again come May? We can only dream.
Woking (4-3-3) :
13 Craig Ross, 2 Jack Cook, 3 Josh Casey Â©, 5 Ben Gerring, 6. Moussa Diarra, 7 Dave Tarpey (20 Josh Neufville 77â€™), 8 Kane Ferdinand, 9 Jake Hyde (23 Jayden Wareham 80â€™), 10 Max Kretzschmar, 18 Ben Dempsey, 22 Jamar Loza (16 Shaun Donnellan 88â€™)
21 Chris Paulat-Brigg, 12 Nathan Collier
Kretzschmar 14â€™ pen, Hyde 44â€™
Gerring 64â€™, Hyde 70â€™, Cook 77â€™
Halifax Town (4-4-2)
1 Sam Johnson, 4 Nathan Clarke, 5 Matty Brown Â©, 7 Jamie Allen, 14 Josh Staunton ( 6 Liam Nolan 60â€™), 20 Jeff King, 21 Danny Williams, 22 Charlie Cooper, (11 Tobi Sho-Silva 79â€™), 23 Jack Redshaw (10 Cameron King 60â€™), 31 Niall Maher, 35 Devante Rodney
Jerome Binnom-Williams, Will Appleyard
1,995 (67 away)
Man of the Match
: Ben Gerring
. It could have been all eleven, fantastic team performance