Cards succumb to league leaders

Brian Caffarey
7:55am, Sun 30th Jan 2011
Braintree Town 2 Woking 0
29 January 2011

Two goals either side of half-time sank the Cards at top-of-the-table Braintree Town yesterday afternoon in Garry Hill’s first game in charge. Woking matched a tough, hard-working Iron side in the first half only to concede the lead in a breakaway goal in injury time after coming so close to scoring at the other end. What the Cards needed to do then was to avoid going further behind early in the second half but that was exactly what happened as a corner was swung in and somehow crept over the line. After that there was really no way back as the home side exerted an increasingly powerful grip on the game to run out comfortable winners.

With Steve Thompson in the technical area and Garry Hill in the crowd behind the dugout – presumably serving the remainder of his touchline ban from his Rushden days – the Cards lined up in a 3-5-2/5-3-2 formation, with Adam Doyle, Reiss Noel and Joe McNerney at the back, Ricky Anane and Aswad Thomas as the wing backs, Moses Ademola, Mark Ricketts and Jerome Maledon in midfield and Elvis Hammond and Dave Gilroy up front. Ollie Palmer, back from his loan spell at St Albans, was one of the substitutes but didn’t get onto the pitch.

The Cards made a lively start, with Elvis Hammond having an early chance but he delayed his shot and his side-footed effort was cleared. Another mis-hit effort a few minutes later spun out towards the corner flag. The home side too went in search of an early goal and almost benefited in bizarre fashion in the 10th minute. Gilroy’s tackle out on the Woking right saw the ball spin in Andy Little’s direction. As the Woking keeper waited to gather it a Braintree forward nipped in and pushed it between his legs but, fortunately, Noel was covering and was able to clear the ball off the line.

A free-kick conceded by the Cards in a scramble just outside the area looked threatening but the huge Bailey-Dennis skied it to the relief of the sizeable contingent of Woking fans.

The Cards survived some concerted home pressure to create a couple more chances. Thomas’s well-executed volley was blocked before Ademola missed a good chance as Thomas pulled the ball back to him nicely in the area but his left-foot shot on the turn rose well over the bar.

With the Iron’s strikers Sean Marks and Jamie Guy always looking dangerous, Little was forced to come well off his line to punch the ball awkwardly off the head of an Iron forward before it was quickly played back in but a defender was on hand to hack clear.

On the 20-minute mark Hammond demonstrated his clever footwork and close control as he combined well with Anane to win a corner – which was well struck by Ademola, with Gilroy just beaten to the header. But the Cards came even closer to taking the lead a couple of minutes later as Anane slid a fine pass through to Ademola just outside the area. His excellent dipping strike crashed off the bar, with Anane putting the rebound well over.

The attacking momentum shown by both sides was maintained a little longer as Marks, close in, seemed certain to score, only to be foiled by a superb block by Little at point-blank range.

The game entered a quieter phase for ten minutes or so, with Woking’s only serious attack coming as Gilroy tried to let the ball do the work as he attempted to turn Bailey-Dennis but another Iron defender nipped in to avert the danger.

In the 34th minute the Cards came close once more to taking the lead. A lovely through ball to Hammond saw him pull it back to his strike partner on the penalty spot. Gilroy’s shot perhaps lacked sufficient power but the Braintree keeper, Nathan McDonald, pulled off a fine save.

Braintree, always looking dangerous at set pieces, responded with a header over the bar by Matt Paine from a corner and then McNerney had to be alert to sweep up superbly after the lively Guy threatened to burst through the middle of the Woking defence.

With half-time approaching Maledon chested down a Thomas cross in the right of the area, with the ball coming off a defender. Both sides appealed for handball but the referee waved play on. With full-time virtually up, an enterprising and determined run by Doyle gained Woking a corner. Ademola swung the ball in and as it curved in it looked as though it had almost gone in under the bar but it was somehow scrambled away. As the ball was cleared into the middle of the park the Woking defence fatally allowed it to bounce. It was then swung out to Jai Reason on the left. With Noel perhaps paying too much attention to appealing for offside, Raison raced away down the flank, centring for Guy to crash the ball home. A classic sucker-punch.

Half-time: Braintree Town 1 Woking 0

The Cards had at least deserved to be on level terms at the break and there seemed a reasonable chance that they could get back into the game provided they didn’t concede an early second goal: Braintree’s record, especially at home, suggested that clawing two goals back would be a very formidable task.

But, four minutes in, confusion between Ademola and Gilroy enabled the home side to make a quick sortie out of defence, resulting in a corner at the other end. It was hard to see precisely what happened – and the fact that no announcement was made about the goal suggests that the matchday announcer was similarly bemused – but whether it crept straight in, was inadvertently helped over the line by a defender or prodded in by an attacker, the result was the same. It ended up in the corner of the Woking net to put the Cards 2-0 down.

A combination of Woking heads dropping to some extent and the home side gaining confidence led to the game swinging decisively in favour of Braintree, with the Cards now making very little impression as an attacking force. It looked much more likely that Braintree would add to their goal tally as Marks hit a snap shot over the bar and Guy’s shot drifted wide of the far post. In contrast to the home side’s swift forays up field, Woking now found it hard to reach their forwards, with balls too often over-hit and running out of play or through to the home keeper. Guy came close again to adding to the score before, in the 67th minute, Sam Hurrell came on for Ademola.

Hurrell’s arrival seemed to lift the Cards somewhat, with several crosses angled in dangerously in later passages of play. But the attention was focused, first of all, on a wonderful volley from Nicky Symons which flew narrowly wide. Hurrell then worked his way into the opposing area but his right-footed shot was very weak.

The home side continued to shoot on sight, with Raison and Kenny Davis both going close before, around the 75 minute mark, the Cards finally succeeded in creating some sustained attacking momentum. A decent Hurrell cross won a corner. That was poorly struck by Hurrell but he then played in Gilroy, who cleverly made space for a strike, which beat the keeper but was cleared off the line. The Woking pressure continued as the keeper was forced to tip over the bar and then punch clear, while Hammond also saw a shot blocked and shouts for a penalty for handball were waved away. A better shot from Hurrell produced a fumble from the keeper but he recovered before anyone could pounce to stab home.

Craig Faulconbridge came on for Maledon with ten minutes to go but that five-minute spell between the 75th and 80th minutes proved to be the Cards’ final hurrah as the home side, making several substitutions to break up play, comfortably saw out the remainder of the game.

This was a tough first outing for the Cards’ new management team, who will no doubt have seen some pluses and minuses in the performance. In the end, the home side was just too strong in most areas of the pitch, although Woking certainly looked well in the game until that crucial five-minute spell either side of half-time.

Now for Thurrock at Kingfield on Tuesday.

Woking: Andy Little, Ricky Anane, Aswad Thomas, Mark Ricketts, Joe McNerney, Adam Doyle, Moses Ademola (Sam Hurrell 67), Reiss Noel, Dave Gilroy, Elvis Hammond, Jerome Maledon (Craig Faulconbridge 81)

Unused subs: Matt Pegler, Alan Inns, Ollie Palmer

My MOTM: Hard to choose. No one was ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest but Adam Doyle (pictured) was solid as usual.

Attendance: 713

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