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Cheltenham edge out Cards in close contest

Matt Goldsmith - 20th September 2015

Cheltenham edge out Cards in close contest Woking 0 Cheltenham Town 1

The Vanarama National League

September 19th 2015

Woking were left pointless on Saturday as promotion-tipped Cheltenham Town made a maximum withdrawal from their trip to The Laithwaite Community Stadium thanks to a second-half Danny Wright header.

Both teams will have felt like a million dollars going into this top of the table clash after posting superb midweek wins - particularly Garry Hill’s men, who overthrew runaway leaders Forest Green Rovers’ 100% record in Tuesday night’s electric 2-1 win.

Over in Cheltenham it’s been a steadily improving, if unspectacular, start since being relegated after 16-years in The Football League – with three draws and a defeat recorded in their opening 10 matches back in Non-League action.

But make that three wins on the bounce for Gary Johnson’s side now after their narrow win - in a tightly-contested tie at Kingfield – which followed back-to-back wins at Whaddon Road over Dover Athletic (3-2 last Saturday) and Macclesfield Town (2-0 on Tuesday night). This was an evenly matched encounter between an attacking young Cards line-up and the neat, streetwise Robins – the team’s sitting fourth and third in the standings respectively ahead of the game.

Cards’ boss Hill had one change to his starting line-up enforced upon him from his side’s electric 2-1 Tuesday night win over (previously) unbeaten league leaders Forest Green – left-back Chris Arthur’s hamstring tweak meaning yet another new name for Cards’ fans on the team sheet, ex-Cheltenham player, Craig Braham-Barrett the man filling in having been borrowed from Ebbsfleet United on a month’s loan.

Old acquaintances were renewed on Saturday, with the West Country side making their first Non-League trip back to Surrey since their Conference championship-winning season of 1998-99. For manager Johnson it was also a chance to catch up with old mates – including home boss and fellow Garry (two r’s!) who took over from Johnson’s brother Pete as Weymouth manager back in 2006; Pete having worked as a youth coach under Glenn Cockerill at Kingfield.

Another pal is Hill’s trusted right-hand man, Steve Thompson who had previously been Johnson’s sidekick during Yeovil Town’s rise up the Football League ladder; meanwhile Johnson Snr – aka Gary’s dad Ron – also served at Kingfield for many years in the backroom staff.

Back to Saturday’s action and ‘The View From The Hill’ in the boss’s programme notes was that ‘when we’re on our game, we’re a match for any team in this league’. And, buoyed by going toe-to-toe with Forest Green, Woking’s young and exciting team certainly didn’t suffer from any inferiority complex against Cheltenham – attacking their experienced visitors in the early stages of 90 minutes which ebbed and flowed either way.

Seven-goal topscorer John Goddard and forward Dan Holman again looked to link up as they had to devastating effect to open the scoring in midweek, with the former flashing the first of a number of fiendish crosses across the Town penalty box inside 10 minutes.

Sadly for the hosts, there was to be no Woking boot to apply the all-important finishing touch to Goddard’s, Bruno Andrade’s or Jake Caprice’s numerous centres throughout the contest.

Up the other end in front of the Lesley Gosden Stand, the Robins' sage strike pair Amari Morgan-Smith and Danny Wright were combining well – the former almost profiting from a momentary breakdown in communication between Jake Cole and Terell Thomas, before brushing the side-netting with a stab on goal as the half wore on.

A refocused Cole was at full stretch with a one-handed reaction save to keep out a firm header by Town’s tall No 9 once again 10 minutes before the break, while home debutant Braham-Barrett almost capped a fine first 45 minutes in a cardinal and white shirt with a goal against his former employers but his shot on goal lacked a punch.

Half-time: Woking 0 Cheltenham Town 0

Woking looked the more likely to break the deadlock as they came out with their tails up at the start of the second period – Dan Holman twice coming within a whisker of netting from overlapping full-back Caprice’s whipped low deliveries.

But Holman and his team-mates couldn’t press home their territorial advantage against Johnson’s solid looking 3-5-2 unit who, you suspected, where biding their time until they could utilise their height advantage in one of coach Johnson’s infamous set-plays.

Johnson is known for naming his set-piece routines – his rangy midfielder Harry Pell netted from one such move, dubbed ‘the weasel’ in his side’s win over Macclesfield. But when the Robin’s goal came in the 67th minute, it was perhaps as much to do with the Cards’ missing the aerial power of Ismail Yakubu, Mark Ricketts and Scott Rendell, as it was to a foxy, stoaty, set-play.

A corner was hung up to the back post by Jack Munns - who now surpasses Andrade at the top of the assists charts (6) – for Town’s topscorer Danny Wright, who firmly headed home his 5th goal of the campaign having climbed above Cards’ young Charlton Athletic loanee, Thomas.

It was a sucker punch for Thomas and home team-mates, who had more than stood up against strong opponents for over two-thirds of the game – home boss Hill throwing Thomas’ fellow Addick, Kadell Daniel, and Giuseppe Sole from the bench for a final push.

Another lightening quick reaction stop by Cole from Town sub Bill Waters’ side-footed strike inside the box was required to keep hope alive in the terraces for the final five minutes of the 90, plus four minutes of added time.

Incredibly, somehow the match ball entered and exited the Cheltenham penalty area unscathed twice more in stoppage time – firstly both Sole and Keohane couldn’t lunge enough to meet sub Joey Jones’ centre, before Town stopper Dillon Phillips was first to the punch ahead of Holman and Sole from another fine Braham-Barrett attempt.

A slim one-goal defeat against a side who had been operating in the Football League up until last season - to go with the 1-0 opening loss up at Tranmere Rovers – shouldn’t unduly rock manager Hill’s charges. If anything, another competitive display against a promotion favourite should see his young side’s stock rise even further at the top end of the league table – where Woking sit in a highly creditable fifth place, in spite of the ever-lengthening queue to Steve Snelling’s physio room!

It’s another quick turnaround for a Tuesday night game for Garry and the squad who travel to Essex to meet rapidly improving Braintree Town, who won 4-0 at Altrincham to move up to 7th place on Saturday.

Woking: Jake Cole, Craig Braham-Barrett, Terell Thomas, Brian Saah, Jake Caprice (Giuseppe Sole 81), Bruno Andrade, Jimmy Keohane, John Goddard (Kadell Daniel 81), Keiran Murtagh (c), Harry Cardwell (Joey Jones 55), Daniel Holman

Unused subs: Nick Hamman, Godfrey Poku

Cautioned: Dan Holman (33), Keiran Murtagh (87)

Cheltenham Town: Dillon Phillips, Jack Barthram, George McLennan, Aaron Dowes (c), Rob Dickie, Daniel Parslow, Kyle Storer, Harry Pell, Jack Munns (Asa Hall 72), Amari Morgan-Smith, Danny Wright (Bill Waters 82)

Unused subs: Calum Kitscha, James Rowe, Lee Vaughan

Goals: Danny Wright (67)

Cautioned: Kyle Storer (40), Harry Pell (90)

Sponsors’ MOTM: Craig Braham-Barrett – a solid defensive debut and could provide a threat going forward down the left flank in Chris Arthur’s absence.

Attendance: 2,035 (195 away)
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