Woking 1 Eastleigh 2
Vanarama National League
7th May 2022
It’s fair to say that Woking’s season has been kinder on its travelling fans than it has to regular attendees at Kingfield. The Cards have averaged barely a point a game at home, taking 24 from 22 – and the defending against Eastleigh, in a sunny clash that smacked of end-of-season inconsequence for long periods, is indicative of why.
Two goals in the second half – a bouncing goal kick through the entire team, and an underhit backpass at the death – were enough to take Eastleigh to the heady heights of 19th. Jack Roles’ superb strike from range had drawn Woking level from the former, but following a straight red card for Jamar Loza, one momentary lapse of concentration was all it took for the visitors to take the three points.
While the game will not live long in the memory for its football, it will be remembered as the opportunity to pay respects to the hugely respected Trevor Baron. Fans from all over the world have taken the time this week to salute a bona fide Woking legend, with over 350 appearances for the Cards – including a goal in the club’s most famous FA Cup run of all time in 1990/91. By all accounts, his ability as a footballer was only outshone by his character, and the minute’s applause was observed immaculately by home and away fans.
It is fair to say that the football in the first half, for both sides, failed to match the easy swagger of Baron in his prime. Indeed, it could barely keep its feet: four players slipped over in the first five minutes, the most notable being Jermaine Anderson when played in on goal by Roles. Tyreke Johnson and Brenna Camp also fell victim to an overzealous watering of the Kingfield pitch.
The slips were about as exciting as the first half an hour got. Barring one Eastleigh effort from range, it was very much a story of Woking dominating possession without being able to penetrate the Spitfires’ back line in any meaningful way. Roles saw a huge amount of the ball, coming deep between the centre halves to collect it and trying to drive the ball forwards, but neither Johnson nor Max Kretschmar were able to put a telling ball into the box.
As the game edged towards half time, a football game did threaten to break out. It might’ve been the shock of a sudden, glaring miss from Ronan Silva, who sliced a header from Tyrone Barnett’s cross wide of the post; after a second sliced miss from Dan Smith, Diarra registered the Cards’ first meaningful effort on goal with a hooked shot onto the Eastleigh post. Kretzschmar would go close shortly after, just failing to control an errant Flitney clearance, before stinging the veteran keeper’s palms minutes later.
Despite their lack of offensive precision, Woking should absolutely have taken the lead just before half time. A huge, hanging ball from deep wasn’t dealt with as it bounced towards the penalty area, and both Camp and Brendan Wilson were rumbled aside by the charging press of Inih Effiong. The striker managed to keep the ball in as it reached the Eastleigh six-yard box, avoiding Flitney with his pass back across goal – only for Anderson’s tap-in to be spectacularly blocked on the line.
While the fare had been disappointing, the Cards had also managed to keep a first-half clean sheet for just the third time in seven games under Darren Sarrl. One would hope that it gave them a platform to build upon in the second half
Half-time: Woking 0 Eastleigh 0
In the opening couple of minutes, it certainly appeared that that was the case. Effiong was right back on Wilson’s case, shrugging the centre-half aside from a long ball before forcing a good save from Flitney at his near post. Roles picked up the loose ball, dancing through four or five challenges in the area before pea-rolling a tricky shot into Flitney’s grateful arms.
From there, chances were again few and far between – barring a shot from Hesketh that went well over the bar, there was little to write home about. Woking’s balls into the box continued to lack quality, and while Eastleigh were only capable of clearing most of them to the edge of their third at best, there was little indication that the Cards could take advantage of that.
On the hour, both sides made changes in search of an opener. Johnson and Anderson made way for Nwaboukei and Loza respectively, while a knock to Hesketh forced him off for Sam Smart.
It worked. The last half-hour had more entertainment, both in terms of quality and calamity, than the first hour in its entirety.
The Cards were very close to taking the lead with their first attack post-subs, with centre-half Andrew Boyce slicing a Loza cross over his own bar. But when the resulting corners allowed Flitney to kick long and clear, it was Eastleigh who would take the lead. Bouncing through the entire Woking team – somehow evading Tom Champion – the kick led to a footrace between Craig Ross and Danny Whitehall. The latter got there first, hooking a dinked side-foot finish over the onrushing keeper to open the scoring.
Given the offensive fare from the home side, you’d be forgiven for worrying that that was it. But, as ever, that’s not how football works. Woking came back with energy, and their first attack – unusually through the middle – gave some space to Jack Roles around twenty-five yards out. His strike for goal completely wrong-footed Flitney, banana-swerving across the keeper and into the top-left corner.
Jack Roles celebrates a wonder strike
The football, suddenly more engaging, ground to a halt in favour of handbags. A foul in midfield was called, after which Brennan Camp steamed into Josh Casey with a nasty tackle, and suddenly twenty outfield players were involved. Both Nwabuokei and Brett Pitman can count themselves lucky that they weren’t dismissed for pushing over opposition players, while Eastleigh as a whole will feel hard done by that they received four bookings – for Flitney, Camp, Smith, and Vincent Harper – while the Cards went, erm, uncarded.
The remainder of the game was then almost entirely dominated by Jamar Loza. With Woking attacks flowing through the left wing, and Eastleigh unable to tackle as firmly with an almost entirely-booked backline, the winger was a great watch. He broke multiple ankles before firing over with his first attempt, volleyed over from the edge of the box minutes after, and then will be frustrated to have tapped a weak finish into Flitney’s arms from inside the area.
At least, one assumes that frustration is the explanation for his subsequent red card. Attempt four saw the winger well-marshalled by the booked Camp, wrestling him to the ground in a challenge for the ball – at which point the Jamaican lashed out a leg, and was rightfully dismissed.
With eight minutes of added time, such a moment always gives you a nervous feeling, and so it proved – with another defensive mistake. Tom Champion was again on the scene – his third mistake leading to a goal in a week, after a really powerful surge in form under Sarrl – nudging a backpass far too short for Ross, and playing Brett Pitman in on goal. The forward was actually almost thwarted by the keeper, only hitting the post with his side-footed strike, but the kind deflection allowed him to cut the ball back to Dan Smith to fire into an empty net.
While the result is ultimately immaterial for both sides – both safe, without hope of climbing the table in a meaningful way – the individual and collective performance is further food for thought for Darren Sarrl. With a large turnover of players expected in the summer, many players from the Cards’ return to full-time football will have played their last minutes at Kingfield. The nature of the defeat, and its similarity to so many home performances over a frustrating campaign, suggests that revolution may be an important step forward for the new regime.
13. Craig Ross; 22. David Longe-King, 4. Tom Champion, 6. Moussa Diarra, 3. Josh Casey; 24. Rohan Ince, 20. Jack Roles, 23. Jermaine Anderson (Jamar Loza 61’); 11. Tyreke Johnson (Solomon Nwabuokei 61’), 9. Inih Effiong, 10. Max Kretschmar (Nicke Kabamba 86’)
1. Mark Smith, 17. Tarryn Allarakhia
Champion 39’, Diarra 77’
1. Ross Flitney; 26. Vincent Harper, 6. Andrew Boyce, 36. Brendan Wilson, 2. Brennan Camp; 17. Danny Whitehall (Simpson 86’), 19. Danny Hollands, 20. Silva; 12. Jake Hesketh (Sam Smart 61’), 10. Tyrone Barnett (Brett Pitman 82’), 9. Dan Smith
Tom Bragg, Seung-woo Yang
Whitehall 65’, Smith 90+8
Smart 64’, Flitney 76’, Camp 76’, Smith 76’, Harper 76’
Man of the Match: Jack Roles
. The midfielder continues to grow into the team after a slow start at Woking due to a lack of fitness, adding to a brave and bustling performance in the midfield with a magnificent strike from range. The manager’s confirmation that he’ll be here next season is indicative of his improvement.
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