Marriott's last-gasp equaliser salvages hard-earned point
10:25am, Fri 2nd Jan 2015
Woking 1 Eastleigh 1
1st January 2015
With virtually the last kick of the game, Jack Marriott fired a hard-earned equaliser to give Woking a welcome share of the points in their New Year’s Day encounter with Conference play-off rivals Eastleigh at a chilly Kingfield. The visiting Spitfires took the lead in the sixty-ninth minute with a header from former Card Craig McAllister. Woking improved as the second half wore on but were unable to create many clear opportunities until a clever reverse ball from Kevin Betsy set Marriott free to blast home with the four minutes of injury time all but up.
The home side came into the game looking to end a poor run of recent results, compounded by the desperately disappointing defeat to local rivals Aldershot four days previously. Looking for a response from his side, Garry Hill made four changes. John Goddard, Keiran Murtagh and Giuseppe Sole all dropped to the bench. Theo Lewis was preferred in an attacking midfield role alongside the returning Kevin Betsy while Joey Jones was moved into central midfield to partner Josh Payne with Adam Newton starting at right back. Meanwhile, despite making a late appearance off the bench against Aldershot, top scorer Scott Rendell failed to make the 16 as his injury battle continued. Jake Cole took Ross Worner’s place in goal as Worner returned to AFC Wimbledon, his loan spell at Kingfield having come to an end.
It was Cole’s goal that would be the first to come under pressure as Eastliegh midfielder Craig Stanley forced a corner inside the first minute with a deflected shot. However, it was Woking who started the brighter in some lively opening exchanges. Kevin Betsy’s shot from the edge of the area was cleared on 2 minutes before the veteran midfielder miscued a cross after working a dangerous opening wide on the left. The first meaningful sight of goal fell to Jack Marriott seven minutes in. Ross Flitney in the Eastleigh goal lost track of a high cross, allowing the ball to fall at the feet of Dean Morgan and, with Flitney stranded, the Woking striker squared for Marriott who was unable to control 10 yards from goal, allowing the move to fizzle out.
Richard Hill’s Eastleigh outfit have become a familiar opposition for Woking fans, with this being the third meeting between the clubs in 19 days after sharing four goals on Boxing day in the reverse Vanarama Conference fixture and a 2-0 FA Trophy success for Woking earlier in December. It was the visitors who began to exert their influence with Woking fading as the half wore on. Craig McAllister set up Michael Green to wildly fire over from the edge of the area on 20 minutes after Josh Payne failed to clear his lines. Six minutes later a long ball fell to the swivelling James Constable 10 yards out. His weak shot deflected off James Clarke into Craig McAllister’s path, who cut back for Stanley to have a shot from the 18-yard line which was blocked.
Eastleigh began to take charge of proceedings. Ben Strevens’ spinning shot from a tight angle was closed down by Joey Jones and James Clarke in the 28th minute, Will Evans headed over from a corner after Cole had punched clear under pressure two minutes later, while McAllister was left with a free header eight yards out on 35 minutes but could only nod narrowly over after a miscommunication between Clarke and Cole had resulted in a corner. Worryingly for Woking, the chances were beginning to stack up for the Spitfires. Amid a succession of corners, McAllister whipped in a near post ball for Strevens to shape a side-foot volley goalward which was sliced over his own crossbar by the backtracking Joe McNerney a minute before half-time. While a few minutes earlier a wicked low cross from Green had fizzed past the onrushing Constable, who was free at the back post.
Woking’s only real chance of the half came ten minutes before the whistle. A rare sortie into Eastleigh territory saw the industrious Betsy switch wings and cut in from the right, his left-footed attempt spooning over off an Eastleigh head. Morgan’s resulting corner was headed up rather than out, allowing Betsy to climb and glance the swirling ball toward goal from close range only for a combination of the recovering Flitney and Jai Reason to block on the goal line.
Half-time: Woking 0 Eastleigh 0
Woking again started the half with the greater impetus. Betsy slipped in Morgan, whose effort from a narrow angle was comfortably pawed round the near post by Flitney, with Jones heading wide from the resulting corner. A raking pass from Payne resulted in a teasing cross from Newton only for Morgan to eventually work a shot from 12 yards that was quickly charged down. Eastleigh responded immediately with a Strevens cut back which found Jai Reason just inside the box, but with considerable time and space the Eastleigh number 10 couldn’t sort his feet out promptly enough and was hurriedly closed down by Newton.
Woking looked to ease into the second period. Jones, who looked far more at ease in the centre of midfield than he did at full back against Aldershot, showed good composure to create space and drift a diagonal ball into the path of Betsy, whose chest control eased him past his man before drilling a powerful cross toward the waiting Marriott. Only a last-ditch sliding interception from Spence denied the waspish Woking forward a simple tap-in. However, just as Woking were looking as if they might take the game to the visitors, Eastleigh took the lead. A deep free-kick from the persistent Green found ex-Woking striker McAllister, who guided an accurate header back across goal and past Cole to open the scoring against his former club with 69 minutes on the clock.
Finally, Garry Hill’s men stirred. Three minutes later, the sponsor's 'man of the match' Kevin Betsy played a slide-rule ball inside the right channel for Marriott, who thumped an angled shot against the post. A Josh Payne header then saw Morgan race through but, under considerable pressure, he could only find the outstretched arms of Flitney. Morgan again came close five minutes later as he flung himself at a Jones cross, although his looping header could only nestle on the roof of the net. Despite the mounting Woking pressure, Eastleigh continued to prove a threat on the counter. A bouncing ball was misjudged by Clarke, allowing Constable to nip in for Eastleigh’s clearest chance of the half but Cole sped sharply from his line to block the shot at close range. Former QPR stopper Cole’s assured performance would no doubt have given Garry Hill confidence following Worner’s departure.
Woking rallied as time looked to be running out. A Jones shot flew just over from the edge of the 'D' before Betsy was beaten to a through ball by an off-limits charge from Flitney. With two of the allotted four minutes of injury time already up, Woking fashioned their clearest chance so far. Morgan’s neat control and deftly weighted pass put Marriott through but Flitney did well to rush from his line and dive at the feet of the Woking forward to smother his shot. With that, it looked as if Woking were finished. Eastleigh even then had the chance to seal the win as a counter-attack left Woking exposed three against two, Constable squaring for substitute Yemi Odubade who, with the goal at his mercy, could only scoop over – a huge let-off for Garry Hill’s men. Reason then had the chance to carry the ball into the corner and see out the last few seconds for his side but instead elected to try and pick out Constable with an ill-advised cross: more good fortune for the Cards.
The ensuing counter afforded Woking a final chance to salvage something from a hard-fought affair. As the four minutes ticked to a close, a quick free-kick from substitute Giuseppe Sole invited Betsy to cut in from the right. Unable to work a shooting chance, he instead picked out the intelligent run of Marriott with a neat reverse ball between a pair of Eastleigh defenders, allowing the spinning Marriott to gleefully clip home the equaliser from a tight angle. With the goal recorded at 93:54 there was barely time for the visitors to re-start and a relieved Woking claimed a deserved point.
Garry Hill will be pleased with the character shown by his side as they fought to the final whistle with the frustration mounting and clear-cut chances repeatedly evading them. On the balance of play, Woking deserved to take something from the encounter and the performances of Jones, Marriott, Cole and, notably, Betsy will provide Hill and Steve Thompson with sufficient encouragement as the Cards head into the New Year. However, Woking are still without a win in their last six league games and their priority in the coming fixtures will be to manufacture a win as soon as possible and look to recreate their performances of earlier in the campaign. The Cards' attention will now turn to the lengthy away trip up to Gateshead next Wednesday as they look to keep their play-off ambitions alive.
Woking: Jake Cole, Adam Newton, Joe McNerney, James Clarke, Josh Payne, Kevin Betsy, Theo Lewis (Giuseppe Sole 79), Jack Marriott, Joey Jones, Dean Morgan, Chris Arthur
Unused Subs: Keiran Murtagh, John Nutter, John Goddard, Andy Little
Goal: Marriott 90+4
Eastleigh: Ross Flitney, Dan Spence, Michael Green, Craig Stanley (James Collins 60), James Constable, Jai Reason (Yemi Odubade 67), Craig McAllister (Stuart Fleetwood 79), Jack Midson, Ben Strevens, Will Evans, Paul Reid
Unused Subs: Lewis Noice, Chris Todd
Booked: Green, Strevens
Goal: McAllister 69
Sponsor's MOTM: Kevin Betsy