Tense battle to secure vital win

John Pearce
12:00am, Tue 14th Feb 2017
Woking 2 Solihull Moors 1
Vanarama National League
14th February 2017

An entertaining game, with plenty of goalmouth action and a spot of ‘handbags’ after the final whistle, eventually saw Woking securing the vital 3 points after a nail-biting end to the game – an invaluable win, given the jostling for positions near the bottom of the table.

On a dry evening – less cold than of late – the untrained eye may have mistaken the smattering of sand for a light snowfall, rather than a reflection on the recent state of the pitch. Given that it was Valentine’s Night, the attendance – exactly 1,000 - was slightly greater than the worst fears had suggested.

Woking took the lead very early on with a headed goal from Terell Thomas – his first for the club. They failed to build on that advantage and were pegged back by a Moors equaliser just before the hour. As the game swung either way, the Cards retook the lead with a fine Saraiva goal in the 73rd minute, and hung on despite away team pressure that appeared to have secured them a point in a dramatic finish.

It would be over-simplistic to claim this as an impressive win as, for much of the game, the Cards appeared lethargic, slow to respond to threatening Solihull moves and lacking in concentration, but this was punctuated by two 5-minute periods – one in each half – where they assumed total control. For their part, the Moors played some impressive passing football, with swift counter-attacks, and generally showed why they have exceeded the expectations of many following their promotion; Regan Charles-Cook was probably their most dangerous player on the night.

There was one change in the Cards starting line-up, with Nathan Ralph returning from injury to replace Chris Arthur on the left; it could be that the latter’s absence from the 16 was less of a mystery to those who watched the away performance at Lincoln than others present. Connor Hall came in for Chike Kandi on the bench.

Solihull kicked off towards the LGS. As early as the 2nd minute, Ralph sent a long ball forward on the left towards Bonne, which was put behind by a Moors defender. Joey Jones knocked the ball across goal from Fabio Saraiva’s corner and Terell Thomas was able to head in from very close range to give Woking the lead.

This encouraging start was not maintained by Woking, and Solihull fought back, with a difficult ball into the box being punched away by Poke in the 5th minute, and a shot from a corner on the right being blocked by a Cards defender. A Saraiva free-kick into the box was glanced wide off Gozie Ugwu’s head but, for a while, Woking did not play with the conviction of a team in the lead, with passes often going astray.

On 22 minutes, Keiran Murtagh was fouled just outside the Moors’ area. Saraiva aimed his kick directly at the goal, but it just missed the top left-hand corner. Shortly after that, Ralph earnt himself a yellow card by flooring Green.

Sterling-James floated in a Solihull free kick to the right of the Woking goal, which Poke was only able to push out. The ball fell to Daly’s feet but he fired it way over the Woking bar from about 30 yards.

The first 5-minute spell of Woking domination began in the 37th minute. Ralph hit a ball into the Solihull area where it was knocked out for a corner on the left. A Boone shot was deflected out for another corner, from which Yakubu raced in and almost headed the ball into the net. Bonne headed on a ball to Ugwu on the left, which he pushed along the ground across the Solihull goal, but there was no Woking player on hand to shoot.

After a left-footed shot from Sterling-James passed Poke’s left post, the latter saved a ball headed down from a Solihull cross. The first half ended quietly after 1 minute was added on.

Half Time: Woking 1 Solihull Moors 0

The Cards made a bright start to the second half and an early shot was saved. Their opponents fought back and Carline was tripped about 25 yards out from the Woking goal in the 54th; a shot from the resulting free kick was blocked and deflected away for a corner. More Solihull pressure ensued, with another scramble in the Woking box when Poke dropped, leading eventually to a goal kick from a wide shot. Poke made another save to his right when the ball was headed down from a free kick.

The Moors were displaying a lot of fluency now, and their equaliser in the 59th minute came as no great surprise. Poke failed to hold a blistering shot from Sterling-James and the ball dropped to Charles-Cook’s feet and he tapped into the net from close range.

Garry Hill made a couple of inspired substitutions after 63 minutes, with Charlie Carter coming on for Ralph and Connor Hall for the hard-working but ineffective Bonne. Four minutes later, Solihull bought on White for Murombedzi, and Byrne for Nortey.

In the 68th minute – probably galvanised by the Solihull equaliser and refreshed by the substitutions – Woking again took complete control of the game. Connor Hall was proving a particular threat, with energetic and incisive runs towards the Moors defence. Following a Caprice/Charles-Cook chase for the ball, a dangerous Saraiva corner on the right was flapped out by Baxter, who then touched a Fabio free kick past his left post. After two more corners, Ugwu turned in the box and fired the ball goalwards, only for it to be tipped over the bar. After a Saraiva header went wide, in the 73rd, Ugwu put in a perfect pass along the ground from the right of the box for Fabio to blast it into the net with characteristic aplomb. 2-1.

The game was end-to-end after that. A couple of Hall runs were thwarted by offside decisions on him and Ugwu. Solihull made a 3rd substitution with Afolayan coming for Maye. Michael Poke pulled off a string of brilliant saves, just tipping the ball past his left post with his foot from a White shot in the 87th and knocking another attempt over the bar for a Moors corner. In the 88th minute, Murtagh ran almost the entire length of the pitch with the ball to the far corner, but no one else appeared to help him.

And on to the dramatic denouement of the game. 90 seconds into the 3 minutes added on, Thomas fouled a Solihull player just outside of the box. Charles-Cook lofted in a dangerous free-kick, and a mad scramble involving many players near the goal line ensued. The outcome was unclear, and there were nervous moments as the referee seemed to point back to the centre spot, but the crowd dispersed to reveal Poke lying on the ground with the ball in his hands. And relax…

After the final whistle, most of those on the pitch got involved in an unseemly ‘brawl’ around Poke. Naughty, naughty. There may have been some Solihull dissatisfaction with the referee not allowing a second equaliser.

So, bags of action and the home supporters will have gone away happy with the outcome. With the pendulum swinging both ways throughout the game, it could be described as a ‘game of many halves’, but the early goal, two periods of complete dominance and some brilliant work between the posts by Michael Poke saw Woking through to a vital win, and hopefully sets them up for more of the same against Southport on Saturday.

Woking: Michael Poke, Jake Caprice, Nathan Ralph (Charlie Carter 63), Ismail Yakubu, Joey Jones, Terell Thomas, Keiran Murtagh ©, Kane Ferdinand, Fabio Saraiva, Gozie Ugwu, Macauley Bonne (Connor Hall 63)

Unused subs: Brandon Hall, Dennon Lewis, Max Kretzschmar

Goals: Thomas 2, Saraiva 73

Yellow Cards: Ralph, Thomas

Solihull Moors: Nathan Baxter, Shepherd Murombedzi (Harry White 67), Liam Daly ©, Joel Kettle, Calum Flanagan, Kristian Green, Simeon Maye (Oladapo Afolayan 84), Omari Sterling-James, George Carline, Nortei Nortey (Jack Byrne 67), Regan Charles-Cook.
Unused subs: Ashley Sammons, Pearson Mwanyongo.

Goals: Charles-Cook 59

Yellow Card: Ginnelly

Sponsors’ (Seafare St. Johns) MOTM: Keiran Murtagh. His customary authoritative performance as Woking’s midfield general, always giving the impression that he had more time on his hands than others on the pitch.

Referee: Scott Oldham

Attendance: 1,000

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