Cards claim vital win on Betsy's return

Glen Harrington
10:52pm, Sat 18th Feb 2012
Woking 1 Dartford 0
Blue Square Bet South
18th February 2012

The Woking players punched the air in triumph at the sound of the full-time whistle as Alan Inns’s early header put the Cards within touching distance of the Blue Square South title.

Inns was unmarked at the Dartford back-post as early as the third minute, heading in Keiran Murtagh’s floated corner to give Woking the dream start in the crunch ‘first versus second’ clash.

The Darts responded well to the early goal and enjoyed plenty of possession and territory while lacking the final killer ball – Danny Harris coming closest to finding an equaliser, his finishing letting him down on several occasions.

Woking saw Mike Cestor sent off late on for a second yellow card, but held on through seven added minutes to take a commanding 14-point lead at the top of the table.

Build-up to the game was dominated by the hype surrounding the return of former Kingfield favourite Kevin Betsy, who played over 60 games for the Club before being bought by Kevin Keegan and Fulham in 1998.

The bumper crowd of more than 2500 got their wish as Betsy was handed his first start in Garry Hill’s 4-3-3 formation, playing in midfield alongside Murtagh and Jack King. Moses Ademola, Wayne Gray and Elvis Hammond made up the front three while Paris Cowan-Hall was fit enough for the bench. Meanwhile Aaron Howe, who served his suspension in Monday’s Surrey Senior Cup win, returned in goal.

Betsy was straight into the action, linking up well with Hammond down the left and winning a corner. In almost identical fashion to December’s game at Princes Park, Dartford were left helpless against the aerial prowess of the Woking back-line at set pieces, Inns rising highest of all to nod home.

The visitors came close to striking back immediately when Tom Bonner beat Howe to Jon Wallis’s corner, only for Gray to head the defender’s effort off the line.

Despite the Darts enjoying large spells of pressure it was Woking who should have claimed the game’s second goal. First, a wonderful piece of skill from Hammond as, facing away from goal, he flicked the ball up and over defender Lee Burns before squaring for Ademola. Moses met the ball on the turn and somehow managed to back-heel the ball towards goal, but only into the hands of Darts’ keeper Louis Wells.

Hammond then had a glorious chance of his own after Betsy burst into the Dartford half and fed a neat ball through for the Ghanaian to go one-on-one with Wells. Hammond lashed the ball at the target but, despite beating the keeper, found the crossbar in the way.

Seconds later and it was Dartford’s turn to rattle the frame of the goal, a hopeful long-range effort from Lee Noble swirling in the wind and catching Howe off his line. The Woking stopper was still able to get a despairing touch on the ball and help it onto the bar, but Cards fans had their hearts in their mouths as Harris touched in a simple re-bound. Ten seconds or so into his celebration, Harris noticed the off-side flag – the striker becoming active as soon as the ball bounced back into play.

Half-time: Woking 1 Dartford 0

The second half was a shadow of the free-flowing entertaining display put on by both teams in the first period, Woking defending doggedly as the Darts struggled to create clear opportunities.

However, Harris should have levelled for the visitors on the hour. The Dartford winger found himself clean through on the Woking goal and, having rounded Howe, had the net at his mercy despite the back-tracking Adam Newton and Adam Doyle on the goal-line. The defenders weren’t needed, as Harris sliced his effort embarrassingly wide, falling comically to the floor as he attempted to shoot.

Harris was presented with a golden opportunity to atone for his horrible miss mere moments later – Burns’s long ball finding its way to the back-post and the Dartford winger, only for him to shoot high and wide once more.

The Cards settled into a more defensive mind-set in order to defend what they had won, removing Hammond and Gray and sending on Cowan-Hall and Mo Shariff. Dartford were of course piling on the pressure, as only a win was likely to allow them to keep pace with the league leaders’ points tally.

Twice more the Darts came alarmingly close to equalising, but luck appeared on the Cards’ side as substitute Richard Graham’s cross was deflected onto the bar by Newton, while fellow sub Tony Garrod shot straight at Howe after benefiting from a kind bounce off King.

Woking were sitting deeper and deeper as they held on, lacking an obvious target to aim their clearances, causing Ola Sogbanmu’s arrival in place of Ademola. The striker had a glorious opportunity to wrap up victory in stoppage time with Cowan-Hall screaming for a square ball, free in the Dartford area. But Ola saw his attempted pass blocked by a defender.

Cestor, who had performed exceptionally at left-back for ninety minutes, slightly spoilt the Woking party, reacting angrily to a late tackle and earning himself a second yellow card.

Thankfully, the Cards could not be denied, and held on to claim a deserved win and a dominant lead over today’s opponents at the top of the standings. Woking fans should not get too much ahead of themselves with Dartford’s two games in hand meaning they could conceivably cut that lead to eight points, but with a big fixture back-log, including an FA Trophy replay this coming Tuesday against Wealdstone, the Darts now have a huge task to overturn the Cards.

Today’s victory also sends out a huge statement to the rest of the league, with the Cards overcoming their recent patchy form with a thoroughly professional display. They got their goal early and defended admirably for the remainder of the fixture, with all the back-four on form to restrict the league’s top scorers to only a handful of chances.

The management team will have also been delighted to see the return from injury of Cowan-Hall, with Dale Binns, Jay Davies and Mark Ricketts also nearing comebacks.

Woking’s next league game is at Hampton & Richmond in a week’s time. The Cards have often found it difficult to break down the teams at the foot of the table this season, and need victory to maintain the momentum from today’s excellent performance.

Woking: Aaron Howe, Adam Newton, Mike Cestor, Keiran Murtagh, Alan Inns, Adam Doyle, Wayne Gray (Mo Shariff 80), Jack King, Moses Ademola (Ola Sogbanmu 85), Elvis Hammond (Paris Cowan-Hall 73), Kevin Betsy.

Unused Subs: Andy Little, Joe McNerney.

Goals: Inns 3.

Booked: Cestor 42 & 90, Doyle 72.

Sent-off: Cestor 90.

Dartford: Louis Wells, Lee Burns, Adam Green, Tom Bonner, Paul Goodacre, Tom Champion, Lee Noble (Ryan Hayes 67), Jon Wallis, Jacob Erskine (Tony Garrod 74), James Rogers (Richard Graham 80), Danny Harris.

Unused Subs: Matt Jones, Deren Ibrahim.

Booked: None.

MOTM: Alan Inns (pictured) – Winning goal and a fantastic defensive performance, unbeatable as ever in the air in a faultless all-round display.

Attendance: 2,528

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