Ward pulls the strings in â€œFour Seasonsâ€� victory
12:00am, Sat 5th Aug 2017
Woking 2 Gateshead 1
Vanarama National League
5th August 2017
Anthony Limbrick began his tenure as Woking manager with the perfect start as his new look Cards side defeated Gateshead on the opening day of the season.
In a game played in conditions representing the four seasons of British weather new signings Inih Effiong and Joe Ward scored goals either side of Danny Johnsonâ€™s deflected equaliser that sealed a home win. Despite being on top for large parts of the game Woking also had to remain disciplined until the very end to hold off a spirited Gateshead attack in order to claim the three points.
Limbrick will have been delighted to have witnessed a harmonious team performance, particularly with so many new faces. However special mention must go to Chez Isaac, Nathan Ralph and particularly man of the match Joe Ward in inspiring the home team to victory. The performance will no doubt galvanise the teamâ€™s self-confidence as they embark on a testing run of fixtures.
Woking lined up in their new look formation with Ramsay, Staunton, Orlu and Ralph at the back, Issac and Jones sitting deep in the centre of midfield allowing Bawling, Saraiva and Ward to push forward in support of lone striker Effiong. The visitors having made the long journey down from the North East adopted a more conventional 4-4-2 system.
As the game kicked off the crowd of 1,705 could have been forgiven for questioning whether it really was the opening day of the season. Rain fell so heavily from the dark clouds above that for a short time a repeat abandonment of the Basingstoke pre-season friendly felt like a distinct possibility. This influenced the early exchanges with both sides keen to test their opposing goalkeeper with several hopeful distant strikes hoping to catch them out in the wet and blustery conditions.
Attacking the Leslie Gosden Stand an early free kick by Ward nearly reached Staunton and was only scrambled away by the Heed defence after Montgomery in the visitors goal had fumbled in his attempts to collect. Jones attempted a long shot that was successfully blocked by Kerr. The rebound fell straight to Issac but he failed to get any power on his shot.
Ward gave an indication of what was to come with an early mazy run after he had collected the loose ball in the centre of the pitch. After skipping past two Heed defenders his strike could only be blocked by the legs of the onrushing Montgomery.
After a slow start Gatesheadâ€™s first significant attack came in the 13th minute when a ball was floated into the box and met by McLaughlin. His volley fired high and wide.
However this attack proved to be the exception to the early flow of play as the Cards looked to make their early pressure pay. Bobson Bawling had narrowly come close when he slightly mistimed his jump from a Ward corner. However a minute later in the 18th minute Bawling played in Effiong out wide to the right. After skipping past the left-back the Cards striker shot early which could only be stopped by the legs of Montgomery. The rebound fell kindly back to Effiong and he comfortably rolled the ball into the net to give the Cards a deserved lead.
The goal appeared to galvanise the visitors and the Heed began to show more of their promise. Penn shot from distance across the increasingly greasy pitch. However Baxter remained alert enough to prevent the ball slipping into his far corner.
The match hit an abrupt halt in the 25th minute when Fabio Saraiva stayed down under a heavy tackle. After administering primary treatment Club Physio Prajwal Rai promptly signalled to the bench that the Cards midfielder couldnâ€™t continue. Saraiva limped off to be replaced by Charlie Carter. Given recent experiences of early season injuries Cards fans will be particularly anxious to know of the extent of Saraivaâ€™s condition and how soon he may return.
As the relentless downpour finally began to ease Gateshead continued to apply the pressure. A cross was floated into Danny Johnson who was able to get over the ball and volley downwards. The ball clipped Orlu who was in the line of fire and it took a wicked unfortunate deflection to wrongfoot Baxter. Though the Cards goalkeeper was able to belatedly alter his dive he could only despairingly witness the ball trickle into the inside netting of his goal.
Despite the disappointing setback of conceding the Cards went again and turned their focus back on attacking the visitors. Isaac was able to play a searching ball wide to Ward which was played back inside. As Issac rushed on into space the returned pass got caught under his feet and the shot was high and wide.
However shortly before half time another cross field pass out to Ward was expertly controlled. Exuding all the confidence that he took from his time at title-winning Lincoln last season the Cards winger took a couple of strides towards goal before unleashing an inch-perfect placed shot across the goalkeeper into the far bottom corner of the net. As the sun started to shine for the first time in the afternoon the Cards fans in the Leslie Gosden Stand behind could celebrate the home side having restored their lead.
Half Time: Woking 2-1 Gateshead
In an attempt to get back into the game the visitors made a change at half-time with former North Ferriby United midfielder Robbie Tinkler coming on to replace Fraser Kerr.
Effiong hustled Vassell to win possession in a dangerous area and laid the ball off to Carter. He looked to set up Issac and his quick shot narrowly missed its target with Montgomery stranded.
In the 53rd minute the Cards came agonisingly close in adding to their tally. Ward out on the left beat two men and passed across to Issac. Before he could line his shot up a Gateshead defender scrambled across to tackle but a fierce ricochet off Issac sent the ball goal bound. With Montgomery beaten the ball rebounded out off the far post into the path of Effiong who snatched at the ball to guide it over the bar. Perhaps to his relief he discovered that the linesman would have flagged him offside had he hit the target.
Despite their ventures forward the Cards also had to be aware in defence. Preston found himself in plenty of space as the Heed rushed forward. As it appeared he would be one-on-one with the goalkeeper his hesitation in switching the ball onto the other foot enabled Staunton to charge back and get a last ditch tackle in just as Preston prepared to strike. In another Heed attack soon after a cross through to Johnson was hit first time. This time Orlu sensed the danger and managed to get enough of a block for the ball to rebound away from danger.
Having soaked up some sustained second half pressure Woking showed their supporters that they could also play some attractive football. In a wonderful phase of play late on Jones sprayed a long searching pass out to Ward who skilfully controlled and danced past his opponents. Sensing the onrushing Ralph he played a perfectly weighted pass who allowed Ralph to collect and turn towards goal. With little other option the Gateshead defender was left with little option to foul for a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. Unfortunately the resulting set play failed to reward the enterprise that had come before.
However despite a few further efforts from the visitors to pressurise the Cards held on to take their first three valuable points in what will likely be a hard fought but entertaining season based on this opening showing.
The Cards now turn their attentions to the North West of England with challenging journeys to Tranmere Rovers on Tuesday and Barrow on Saturday as they look to add to this satisfying start.
Nathan Baxter, Louis Ramsay, Nathan Ralph, Josh Staunton, Richard Orlu (c), Joey Jones, Chez Isaac, Bobson Bawling (Jamie Philpot 70), Joe Ward (Kane Ferdinand 90), Fabio Saraiva (Charlie Carter 25), Inih Effiong
Unused subs: Sam Mason, Matt Young
Goals: Inih Effiong (18), Joe Ward (44)
James Montgomery, Theo Vassell, Scott Barrow, Neill Byrne, Jamal Fyfield, Fraser Kerr (Robbie Tinkler 46), Russell Penn (Richard Peniket 72), Paddy McLaughlin, Jordan Preston, Danny Johnson, Jordan Burrow
Goals: Johnson (26)
Joe Ward: What an opening day for the new Cards winger. As well as a coolly taken goal Ward capped off a sensational debut with an exquisite second half Cruyff-turn to cap off a performance of skill, drive and determination
Referee: Adam Bromley