Basement battlers end Woking's play-off dream in Midlands stalemate

Malcolm Wyatt
10:06am, Sun 19th Apr 2015
Nuneaton Town 1 Woking 1
Vanarama Conference
April 18th 2015

Gutted Woking’s 2014/15 play-off dream ended with just one week to spare as relegated Nuneaton battled for a point at Liberty Way.

The hosts were largely good value for their draw, New Zealand international 'keeper Max Crocombe’s man of the match performance helping to deny the visitors.

While Woking lacked invention in the first half, they were the better side after the break and on another day might have scored a hatful.

In the end, a lone strike from Kevin Betsy - the veteran midfielder's last away goal for the Cards as he retires at the end of the season - saved the blushes, on a day when results elsewhere sent 'Boro rock bottom.

It all started promisingly for the visitors, the lively Yemi Odubade with an early swerving snapshot following a promising build-up instigated by Chris Arthur.

The next attack saw Boro teeter, Odubade the main threat again from an initial Josh Payne free kick aided by Joey Jones.

Nigerian striker Onome Sodje was on target for Liam Daish’s strugglers with an overhead kick, but his finish lacked power, while Jones and fellow live wire John Goddard caused a stir at the other end, the hosts clearing and Payne’s resultant corner coming to nothing.

An opportunist attack led to Nuneaton’s Robert Ogleby beating Cards' keeper Jake Cole but running out of space, while Sodje had a better chance but mis-kicked on a poor surface, the goal at his mercy.

But the home pressure continued and West Ham loanee Jaanai Gordon-Hutton went one better, unleashing a powerful 20-yard strike for the opener on 18 minutes.

Ogleby was nearly through soon after, while confusion between Joe McNerney and Cole led to a needless corner, the Cards struggling to resettle.

A swift move involving Odubade and Payne led to the latter’s cross, just too deep for top-scorer Scott Rendell, and as Nuneaton countered Arthur got the better of Ogleby.

A Lucas Dawson corner brought a further test for the visitors’ defence, but this time they stood their ground, a promising spell following.

Brian Saah – in a rare wander upfield - let loose with a cracking strike from distance, Oxford United loanee Crocombe doing well to turn the effort on to his post.

Then fellow central defender McNerney, on his 250th Cards performance, headed over Payne’s searching cross, Rendell doing similarly with a glancing finish as Woking finished the half more promisingly.

Half-time: Nuneaton Town 1 Woking 0

The hosts had shown more desire in the first period, a team relegated in mid-week clearly feeling that they had nothing to lose, or at least the players keen to put themselves in the shop window. Yet the Cards upped the ante in the second half, desperate for the victory which would keep alive their play-off dream.

An early Woking attack after the break led to a Payne centre, just too strong, before Crocombe turned the ball around his post from a Rendell header following nice touches from Goddard and Payne.

Goddard’s resultant corner and a further Betsy raid came to nothing, but Jones, Goddard, Odubade and Arthur’s pace was carving up the home defence.

Sodje tested Cole at the other end before Woking‘s equaliser arrived, a swift attack ending with a looping Betsy lob which bounced up and struck the crossbar, the former Fulham man just about beating Rendell to the battle for the rebound, heading home at close quarters on 53 minutes.

Moments later Betsy was nearly in again, but couldn’t quite finish, Rendell also going close after a deep delivery and Jones lay-off.

Another swift move followed, the Cards turning up the heat, with several passes before skipper Mark Ricketts’ volley from distance brought another close call.

Payne was nearly in with the next ball across the goalmouth, while Betsy was deemed offside in the following raid. But Nuneaton weren’t done yet, their sub Adam Walker lobbing over.

Saah had to track back and stop another raid, going on to inspire a counter-attack, and no home marksman could get a clean shot as 'Boro pushed again.

When the visitors hit back, McNerney was checked by Crocombe at the back post after good work by Payne and Rendell. He still managed to cross, but put too much on his delivery.

Garry Hill soon made three changes in a bid to find that winner, with subs Keiran Murtagh and Giuseppe Sole quickly involved, Manny Oyeleke then joining them as a left-wing raid started by Arthur led to a corner, Payne’s first centre put behind and the second caught by the 'keeper.

Sodje still seemed capable of creating a shock home lead, but the Cards remained most likely to succeed, a Payne free kick causing flutters before Sole was kept out at the near post, Crocombe then gathering the following corner.

And after the inspired 'keeper had punched away a Ricketts' danger ball and Payne’s injury-time free kick was headed away, the visitors ran out of time, unable to make capital of five added minutes.

As a result, Woking’s seventh-place league finish - the highest of the Conference’s part-timers - was cemented, irrespective of next weekend’s home finale against Halifax, an impressive position but one perhaps hard to take in the circumstances on the day.

Nuneaton Town: Max Crocombe, Connor Franklin, Gavin Cowan, Gareth Dean ©, Robert Ogleby (Ryan Smith 62), Jaanai Gordon-Hutton (Adam Walker 60), Josh Rees, Elliot Wheeler, Jack Nardiello (George Maris 46), Lucas Dawson, Onome Sodje

Unused subs: Andy Brown, James Wren

Goal: Jaanai Gordon-Hutton 18

Caution: Max Crocombe 86

Woking: Jake Cole, Joey Jones (Keiran Murtagh 75), Brian Saah, Joe McNerney, Chris Arthur, Kevin Betsy, Mark Ricketts ©, Josh Payne, John Goddard (Manny Oyeleke 78), Yemi Odubade (Giuseppe Sole 75), Scott Rendell

Unused subs: Adam Newton, Michael Crowe

Goal: Kevin Betsy 53

Cautions: None

Attendance: 709

My MOTM: Josh Payne. There were a few contenders across the pitch, but Payne was a catalyst for Woking’s second-half fight-back with his set-pieces - in a typically committed performance.

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