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Cards grind out victory to move up to fourth

Haydn Cobb - 29th November 2014

Cards grind out victory to move up to fourth Woking 1 Braintree Town 0

Vanarama Conference

29th November 2014

Woking jumped up to fourth in the Vanarama Conference after grinding out a hard-fought victory against Braintree Town thanks to John Goddard’s first-half strike, while they earned their first clean sheet in six games.

A man-of-the-match performance from stand-in captain Josh Payne saw him run the game from midfield but the Cards were also ably assisted by on-loan goalkeeper Ross Worner, who produced a series of impressive saves. Goddard’s second goal of the season proved decisive for Woking against a stubborn Braintree team whom Woking had beaten just once in their five previous meetings.

Garry Hill will hope to capitalise on this result next Tuesday when his side host Altrincham after a tricky November fixture list. The Woking boss will be thoroughly pleased with his defence, who kept their first clean sheet in four weeks – a nil-nil draw also against Braintree Town – after they soaked up plenty of pressure in the closing stages.

Hill was forced to name a changed Woking line-up due to injuries to Scott Rendell and Jake Cole, while Joe McNerney was still serving his three-game suspension. Woking’s top scorer Rendell was able to make the bench, however, which surprised many after the striker had to be helped off with a foot injury during the first half against Grimsby Town last Tuesday night.

Woking welcomed back on-loan goalkeeper Worner from AFC Wimbledon and James Clarke partnered Mike Cestor in the heart of the Cards' defence. Keiran Murtagh returned to the starting eleven to partner stand-in captain Payne in the central midfield, with Dean Morgan and Jack Marriott up front.

The Kingfield faithful cheered both teams into the bright wintery sunshine, which mirrored conditions when Woking visited their opponents earlier in November.

In the opening exchanges Braintree Town captain Kenny Davis had two early efforts stopped well by Cards' keeper Worner while at the other end Marriott’s pace created inroads behind the Iron backline.

The best opportunity of the first 15 minutes fell to Kevin Betsy, who broke into the box unmarked but could only steer his header over the crossbar. Murtagh threaded a pass to Marriott in the right channel and his cross was inch-perfect to Betsy but the winger couldn’t provide the finish.

Woking began to find their rhythm as the midfield quartet linked well, with the pacey front two of Marriott and Morgan. The home side worked the ball from left to right and found Marriott in space but the forward’s shot whizzed over Nick Hamann’s goal.

Payne’s range of passing continued to cause the away side problems as the Woking frontline drifted into gaps and passed the ball well but were given little opportunity to threaten the Braintree goalkeeper.

Four weeks ago, the two sides played out an evenly contested goalless draw in Essex which lacked a cutting edge from either side. At Kingfield, Woking had the lion’s share of possession but were once again met with a robust Braintree defence and clear-cut chances were few and far between.

Woking continued to probe but were reminded of the danger Braintree Town possessed by Kenny Davis. The Braintree captain worked himself some space on the edge of the Woking penalty area and hit a right-footed curling effort which was magnificently tipped away by the fingers of Worner.

However, the Cards made their positive start count in the 38th minute thanks to John Goddard’s second goal of the season. A Josh Payne in-swinging free kick wasn’t dealt with by the Braintree defenders and the ball found its way to Goddard on the edge of the box. The midfielder lashed a left-footed effort into the bottom right corner to give Woking the lead.

Alan Devonshire’s Braintree looked desperate to get an equaliser before half-time and went very close through James Mulley’s headed effort. Full-back Mitch Brundle whipped in an early cross from the right which was met by Mulley but his header looped on to the roof of the net. Woking remained firm and saw out the half for a well-deserved advantage.

Half-time: Woking 1 Braintree Town 0

The Woking manager would have wanted his side to grab an early second goal to give the Cards a cushion and Payne was inches away from providing it. In the 47th minute, Morgan earned a free-kick 25 yards out. Payne had scored a beautiful free-kick from a similar distance in September against Lincoln City and looked to repeat the feat. On this occasion, his shot took a heavy deflection off the Iron wall, which sent the ball towards the opposite corner he was aiming for. Braintree ‘keeper Hamann was helpless after diving to his right but the ball curled just past the post.

Two minutes later Morgan also had a good opportunity to grab Woking’s second after smart work from Marriott, which released his strike partner, but Morgan could only fire straight at the Braintree goalkeeper.

Braintree Town manager Devonshire now looked to inject some impetus into his frontline and made an early second half substitution, with Dan Sparkes coming on for Charlie Strutton.

Just past the hour mark Murtagh sustained a painful blow to the head after receiving a knock in the Woking box. The Cards midfielder suffered a cut to his forehead and was unable to continue, with Theo Lewis coming on as his replacement.

Five minutes later substitute Lewis suffered his own head injury, which caused a lengthy stoppage in play, but he was able to continue after receiving treatment.

Giuseppe Sole, who came on for Marriott midway through the second period, went close with a right-footed effort but it was diverted just past the post by Hamann. With 20 minutes remaining, the home side still looked the better team but they never made the game comfortable for the home fans.

The visitors continued to threaten Woking’s slender lead and almost forced an equaliser after a Chez Isaac header flew wide of Worner’s goal.

As the match entered its final stage, the away side’s pressure began to grow while the Cards were looking to play on the counter-attack. Countless crosses and throw-ins were pumped into the Woking penalty box but the defence stood firm and showed real determination to hold on to their clean sheet.

Deep into injury time, Braintree won a free-kick in a threatening position but man-of-the-match Payne met Dan Sparkes’s cross and relieved the tension. The Cards saw out the final few seconds to earn their eleventh victory of the season and bounce back from the disappointment of last Tuesday's defeat at Grimsby.

Woking: Ross Worner, Chris Arthur, Mike Cestor, James Clarke, Joey Jones, John Goddard, Keiran Murtagh (Theo Lewis 64), Josh Payne, Kevin Betsy, Jack Marriott (Giuseppe Sole 67), Dean Morgan (Scott Rendell 85)

Unused substitutes: Andy Little, Adam Newton

Booked: Arthur, Lewis

Goal: Goddard (38)

Braintree Town: Nick Hamann, Mitch Brundle, Alan Massey, Remy Clerima, Sam Habergham, James Mulley, Chez Isaac (Jordan Cox 84), Kenny Davis, Simeon Akinola, Sean Marks, Charlie Strutton (Dan Sparkes 56)

Unused substitutes: Carl Pentney, Matt Paine, Dan Walker

Sponsors’ MOTM: Josh Payne

Attendance: 1,622
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