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Combatant Cards outgunned in Wirral thriller

Malcolm Wyatt
12:00am, Sat 24th Sep 2016
Tranmere Rovers 3 Woking 1
Vanarama National League
24th September 2016

An incident-packed encounter at Prenton Park led to Woking’s first defeat in four league matches, hosts Tranmere arresting their own slide with a win that moved them up to fourth in the table.

It’s now six away games without a win for the sixth-from-bottom Cards, but with a little more luck they might have been on to something in late September sunshine on the Wirral.

When Fabio Saraiva scored another cracker midway through the second half there was a feeling that the Surrey visitors might grab at least a point.

But within a minute the hosts made it 3-1, with two missed penalties – one at each end – and a sending off for Nathan Ralph following a professional foul still to come.

With the Whites having sacked Gary Brabin after one win in the previous six matches, there was a concern that the hosts would show more mettle under interim boss Paul Carden. And there was no doubting the spirit shown by a team that had started the season with five wins on the spin.

But Woking were also gaining in confidence, out of the bottom four and on the back of their first league clean sheet of 2016, having claimed three wins and a draw from their last five.

With injured Jake Caprice missing, Charlie Carter had his first start and proved impressive, working hard in midfield. In fact Woking, in all yellow, made the brighter start, Gozie Ugwu shooting just wide of keeper Scott Davies’ right post after being played in by Delano Sam-Yorke.

Dennon Lewis carried on his good form, beating his man on the right before picking out Ralph at the back-post, but his downward header bounced up and over.

At the other end, James Norwood soon proved a handful, Joey Jones going into the book for a foul on the former Exeter and Forest Green striker, the resultant 30-yard free-kick successfully defended.

A promising break started by visitors’ skipper Keiran Murtagh and Lewis led to a Saraiva corner from which Jones headed wide, but the hosts were quick on the counter-surge, pacy Norwood advancing then letting loose, Michael Poke turning around his finish for a corner his defence cleared.

Brian Saah stood his ground to deny the next attack after another quick raid, while the home wall snaffled out a Cards free-kick at the other end.

Carter soon won another, from which Saraiva unleashed from 30 yards, the keeper doing well to see it, while as the play swung again Norwood won another home corner. But again Garry Hill’s battlers defended well.

Rovers’ Andy Cook was coming more into the game, combining with debutant winger Ben Tollitt, on loan from Portsmouth, for a chance put the wrong side of the post by Norwood, the latter then combining with Liam Ridehalgh to further stretch Woking’s defence, calls for a foul just outside the box waved away by the ref.

Important touches from Poke then Connor Essam stopped the next home raid, while Jones headed out for a corner as Norwood threatened again, the home side upping the ante.

Then came Rovers’ breakthrough, Cook played in over the top and controlling well before firing past Poke for a 34th-minute opener, the Cards’ good work undone.

From there until the break it was pretty much all Woking, the first move involving Jones, Sam-Yorke and Murtagh, the hosts standing their ground, while Davies saw off Ugwu as he hovered from a chipped Murtagh free-kick.

Lewis and Carter were also in the thick of it, Davies getting down well to stop the latter‘s finish, while further Murtagh and Saraiva set-pieces followed, Essam getting to one but penalized for a foul, and Murtagh firing wide the last chance of the half.

Half time: Tranmere Rovers 1 Woking 0

Woking’s labours continued after the break, Ralph‘s cross put behind for a corner and Saraiva’s resultant centre headed wide by Essam, before Ralph fired across the face of goal but wide after being played in by the on-loan Eastleigh defender.

But in the 50th minute Tranmere doubled their lead, Cook again on target, teed up by Lois Maynard, the striker steadying himself to make space before firing into the corner, beyond Poke.

The home pressure continued, Saah and Poke with key touches in the following two minutes before Woking regrouped and made inroads again.

A promising break orchestrated by Lewis led to a Saraiva corner, put behind for a quick second, this time with Carter firing wide as the ball came in again.

Ugwu smashed home on 65 minutes after a promising visitors’ raid, but the flag was up for offside, while the home defence absorbed a Murtagh free-kick when the Cards came again.

Then came Saraiva’s goal, following a knockdown from Sam-Yorke, a mighty finish from the edge of the area after a neat spell of Woking approach play.

However, within a minute the visitors regained their two-goal advantage, a snap-raid leading to Ritchie Sutton’s cross and Norwood’s glancing header on 70 minutes.

Woking brushed off their disappointment and had a penalty within three minutes, cumbersome Scott McNulty handling in the area from Carter’s flick, but Davies did well to get down to his left to deny Murtagh, the home crowd ecstatic.

From a deep ball by Saraiva, Woking’s first sub Chike Kandi was not far off, but Tranmere soon turned the screw, Jones doing well to deny sub Darren Stephenson, the Cards’ defence also cutting out from Norwood.

Essam made another important touch, the same defender then denying Cook, eager for his hat-trick, the striker’s next effort no problem for Poke.

Rovers’ pressure continued, Ralph blocking from sub Mitch Duggan, skipper Steven Jennings’ resultant corner headed away by Jones, and Cook heading wide from the next corner.

Much of the possession remained in Woking’s half, and it looked like Rovers had a fourth in added time when Duggan ran through, Ralph stopping him in his tracks. The ref showed him a straight red card, but Poke saved with his feet to deny Norwood’s last-gasp spot-kick.

And despite their disappointment, Woking played their part in a thrilling encounter, and can build on this performance ahead of next weekend’s tricky home clash with Eastleigh.

Tranmere Rovers: Scott Davies, Liam Ridehalgh, Steven Jennings ©, Steve McNulty, Michael Ihiekwe, Andy Cook (Ethan Jones 90), James Norwood, Ritchie Sutton, Louis Almond (Darren Stephenson 58), Ben Tollitt (Mitch Duggan 78), Lois Maynard.

Unused subs: Lee Vaughan, Iain Turner.

Goals: Cook 34, 49, Norwood 69.

Woking: Michael Poke, Joey Jones, Brian Saah, Connor Essam, Nathan Ralph, Keiran Murtagh © (Anthony Edgar 78), Fabio Saraiva, Charlie Carter, Dennon Lewis, Gozie Ugwu (Chike Kandi 70), Sam Delano-Yorke (Zak Ansah 78).

Unused subs: Brandon Hall, Ismail Yakubu.

Goal: Saraiva 68.

Booking: Joey Jones 10.

Sending off: Nathan Ralph 90.

Referee: Tom Nield.

Attendance: 4,214 (43 from Woking)

My MOTM: Dennon Lewis - In an all-round team performance, the darting runs of Dennon Lewis, the hard work of Charlie Carter and the sure touches of Keiran Murtagh gave Woking a platform, and there’s hope for the coming matches if that continues.

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