Cards off to winning start

Brian Caffarey
11:09pm, Sat 9th Aug 2014
Alfreton Town 1 Woking 3
9 August 2014

Those Woking fans who approached the season in an optimistic frame of mind will have felt vindicated by this convincing opening display from Garry Hill’s side, who thoroughly deserved their three-point haul. Alfreton grabbed an early goal against the run of play but Dean Morgan, looking sharp on his debut, soon levelled the score, with Scott Rendell netting twice after the break to give the Cards a fairly comfortable victory.

Aaron Howe got the vote over Jake Cole in goal; Joey Jones was chosen to partner Joe McNerney in central defence; and John Nutter started at left back in an otherwise predictable starting eleven, given the absence of Kevin Betsy and Mark Ricketts.

On a typically summery opening day of the season, on a pristine pitch, the Cards were quickly into their stride, with three attempts on goal in as many minutes, from Rendell, Jones and Morgan, followed by further efforts from Morgan again and John Goddard, with the latter then crashing a shot off the bar from 25 yards with 10 minutes on the clock.

But, in virtually their first attack, Alfreton struck to take the lead in the 14th minute. Clayton was allowed to smuggle the ball back from the byeline to an unmarked Stevenson, who drilled home inside Howe’s right-hand post.

The worry at this stage was that a muscular, direct Alfreton side might go on to expose further weaknesses in the Cards’ defending. However, although the Reds continued to threaten from set pieces and crosses, the Cards rallied well to regain the initiative.

The next chance fell to the unlikely feet of Adam Newton, played inside his opposite number by Keiran Murtagh, but the defender’s left-footed strike was just wide of the post.

Clayton should have done better with a free header from a corner before, in the 27th minute, Woking grabbed a deserved equaliser. The impressive Theo Lewis, through whom much of Woking’s attacking play flowed, won a corner, which was half-cleared, and there was Morgan to confidently fire home from a few yards out.

Alfreton picked up briefly, forcing a fine punch from Howe and a great tackle from Josh Payne, who was once again a powerful influence in midfield.

On the half-hour mark Lewis fired in a terrific cross which it looked as though Rendell only had to nod in but the ball flew on to Goddard, who did well to hook it back into the mix, with the keeper then making a fine save from Morgan before finally climbing above the same attacker at the far post to end an exciting sequence of play.

In the 40th minute Woking’s offside trap was sprung by Stevenson but his cross resulted in a weak header by Shaw to Howe.

The half ended after McNerney had headed wide from a corner. As the Cards trooped off they probably felt that, on the balance of play, they deserved to be in front.

Half-time: Alfreton Town 1 Woking 1

After an uneventful opening few minutes to the second half, apart from a booking for Jones, Woking’s pressure resumed with a blocked shot from Rendell, leading to claims of handball, with Lewis firing the follow-up into the side-netting. Perhaps the best move of the game followed as Lewis, Morgan and Goddard combined, with the last-named putting in a superb cross, which Rendell surprisingly failed to convert.

But it was only a brief reprieve for the home side as, in the 60th minute, Rendell, looking suspiciously offside in many eyes, latched onto a flicked through ball from Goddard and finished emphatically past the Reds’ keeper.

Mike Cestor then came on for Nutter, who appeared to have hurt his back.

Woking’s third goal quickly followed. Lewis did well to chase down an under-hit back header and then to back-heel it into Rendell’s path. The Cards’ top scorer last season made no mistake as he drew the keeper and fired home again.

Woking now looked well in control as Garry Hill brought on James Clarke, in place of Morgan, to partner McNerney, with Jones moving to a defensive midfield role in front of the back four.

Rendell nearly claimed his hat-trick when, put through by McNerney, he was thwarted by a fine save from the home keeper.

As the game moved into the final ten minutes Alfreton’s attacks became more intense, with Howe having to show safe hands on several occasions as he clutched deep crosses. Some sloppiness set into Woking’s defending as Cestor’s back-header fell short but the Cards’ luck was in as Sheridan blasted the ball against the bar from six yards out. Another good home chance was wasted when McDonald barely connected with Sheridan’s cross. Then Howe was called into action again, tipping Smith’s shot over the bar.

After these anxious moments Woking played out the last few minutes of the game easily enough, with Murtagh retaining possession well and the side nearly profiting from a couple of breaks from midfield.

This was a very encouraging performance from Garry Hill’s side. The quality was plain to see throughout the side, with nearly all the passing football coming from the visitors. As expected, the Cards’ midfield looked strong, with Lewis having a particularly fine debut on the right flank, working tirelessly and always posing a threat with the ball. Jones, too, had a good debut at centre back, winning a number of important headers and appearing assured when moving the ball out of defence. Morgan and Rendell looked a promising partnership up front, with the new man exuding confidence on the ball and looking sharp and eager. Howe punched and handled well in the face of a strong physical challenge from the home side.

No doubt the Cards will face tougher opposition – and there is of course a very long way to go – but this performance and result will reinforce the feeling that Garry has assembled his strongest squad yet and one which ought to be capable of at least matching, if not bettering, last season’s 9th place finish.

Come down to Kingfield on Tuesday evening, if you can, to cheer the side on against Dartford.

Woking: Aaron Howe, Adam Newton, Joe McNerney, Joey Jones, John Nutter (Mike Cestor 62), Theo Lewis, Josh Payne, Keiran Murtagh, John Goddard (Giuseppe Sole 90), Dean Morgan (James Clarke 76), Scott Rendell

Unused subs: Jake Cole, Reece Beckles

Goals: Dean Morgan 27, Scott Rendell 60 and 68

Bookings: Joey Jones

Alfreton Town: Jon Harris-Stewart, Bradley Wood (Nathan Hicks 84), Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Luke Graham, Chris Smith, Lee Stevenson(Massiah McDonald 80), Paul Clayton, Dan Bradley, Anthony Howell, Tom Shaw (Jake Sheridan 66), Dan Gray

Unused subs: Jay McFadzean, Jordan Keane

Goals: Lee Stevenson 14

Bookings: None

My MOTM: Theo Lewis

Attendance: 613

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