One goal not enough when 3 is the impressive Rovers' return
12:00am, Tue 8th Aug 2017
Tranmere Rovers 3 Woking 1
Vanarama National League
8th August 2017
Tranmere Rovers lived up to their billing as favourites to win the National League with a strong display which saw Woking slump to their first defeat of the season in Wirral. Charlie Carter’s header towards the end of the first half looked to have given the Cards a lifeline back into the contest, but a header from former Scotland International Jay McEveley midway through the second half ensured victory for the home side.
Anthony Limbrick made just one change from the opening day win over Gateshead, with Charlie Carter replacing the injured Fabio Saraiva, whom he came on for during the second half at Kingfield. Jordan Wynter was added to the bench.
Tranmere, who went into the season following a 2016/17 double whammy of runners up spots - to Lincoln City in the league and then Forest Green Rovers in the Wembley play off final, have made no secret of their desire to go one better this season. Rovers boss Mickey Mellon made three changes from the side which earned a goalless draw at Torquay on Saturday. Two enforced changes, with Ritchie Sutton and Andy Cook replacing Steve McNulty and Oliver Norwood, who both saw red in the season opener. Elsewhere, Jack Dunn, formerly of Liverpool, came in for James Alabi, who Cards fans will remember lining up against them for Chester last season.
The first effort of the game came from the home side, with Connor Jennings shooting sharply from distance and forcing Baxter into a smart save, given the slick playing surface caused by pre match drizzle. This effort notwithstanding, Woking started this match brightly, looking to implement a high pressing game with an attacking midfield triumvirate of Joe Ward, Charlie Carter and Bobson Bawling all looking to press the Rovers backline into errors. Louis Ramsey also showed some encouraging signs of being able to burst forward well from right back.
At the other end, Nathan Baxter was called into action when a long diagonal ball came into the box from Ridehalgh, aiming for Andy Cook - so prolific last season. Baxter judged the cross well, meeting the ball with a firm fist under pressure from the former Barrow front man. Woking had their first attempt on goal in the 15th minute, Bawling linking up well with Carter, who let fly from the edge of the box. Unfortunately, the shot went high into the Bebington Kop behind the goal.
After 16 minutes, Tranmere nearly took the lead. Cook and Dunn linked up well, and just as Dunn looked set to shoot Nathan Ralph made a fine last ditch tackle. The loose ball fell to Cook, who was then denied by a sturdy block from Orlu.
2 minutes later, Rovers did take the lead, and Woking will be desperately disappointed with the way the goal came about. An innocuous ball down the Woking right saw first Josh Staunton, and then Richard Orlu, fail to deal with a bouncing ball under pressure from the combative Cook. The Tranmere striker advanced into the box, dummied to shoot leaving Baxter grounded, and then slotted home past the goalkeeper and despairing lunge from Ralph. Orlu and Staunton protested to the referee about a handball in the build up, but the official waved away the protests. The new central defensive pairing for Woking will feel they should have dealt with the threat, regardless of any perceived infringement.
The goal rocked the visitors and boosted the home side, who started moving the ball with increased confidence. Woking struggled to get the ball up to Inih Effiong whilst Chez Isaac and Joey Jones struggled with the pressure applied by the Rovers midfield.
After 30 minutes the home side doubled their lead. Ollie Norburn cut in from the right hand side and unleashed a fierce low drive from outside the box. Baxter, diving to his left, got a hand to the ball but could only divert it in off the post.
It was important for the Cards to avoid the concession of a third goal in the remaining minutes of the half. Just when they seemed to settle for capping their ambitions accordingly, they fashioned some attacking pressure of their own. Ward showed some good skill to beat Buxton on the left flank, the winger appearing to be fouled, however the referee Mr. Evans decided not to award a free kick. Rather than sulk, Ward opted to channel his frustration to fine effect, fashioning a yard of space and whipping in a teasing right foot cross from the left. The cross was met by a perfectly-timed run from Charlie Carter, who burst into the box and headed the ball superbly past the outstretched left arm of Scott Davies. A fine header, finishing a fine cross after 42 minutes.
The timing of the goal would have likely changed the tone of Anthony Limbrick’s half time team talk, as to that point Woking had largely been second best.
Half-time: Tranmere Rovers 2 Woking 1
Neither manager made any changes at half time. Woking started the half on the back foot and in the 49th minute were given a let-off from the referee. Staunton, who had a difficult night, hesitated again and failed to collect a loose ball just inside the Woking half. The ball was seized upon by Cook who ran towards goal. Staunton lunged for the ball but missed it, cleaning out the Rovers striker. The official reached for his pocket and elected to show Staunton a yellow card, to the chagrin of the home support.
In the 59th minute Limbrick made the first Woking change, with Kane Ferdinand replacing Chez Isaac, who struggled with the fluency and movement in the Tranmere midfield. A minute after the substitution, the Cards conceded a corner. The ball was delivered by Dunn and met by the head of Jay McEveley who had evaded the Woking markers to plant his header into the net.
Woking made a second substitution shortly after, Jamie Philpot replacing the goalscorer Carter, and taking up his position just behind Effiong. The Millwall loanee looked bright and made a difference to the Cards attack, linking up well with Bawling after a quick free kick. Bawling’s deep cross was kept alive at the far post by Ralph, who looked to square for Effiong who was then penalised for a high foot.
Bawling forced Davies into a decent save when he cut in from the right and fired a left foot shot across the face of goal, the resultant ball back in from Ward fell to Philpot, who couldn’t fashion a shot at goal.
As Woking tried to find a way back into the contest, there were inevitably opportunities for Tranmere to create chances of their own. On 74 minutes a fine move from the home side, involving the impressive left back Ridehalgh, saw a firm cross headed wide from Cook from 10 yards. The home side then made a couple of changes, underlining the attacking options at the disposal of Mickey Mellon, with James Alabi and Andy Mangan introduced.
Woking did their best to create some openings and apply pressure, asking Bawling and Ward to switch flanks. A few crosses into the box from Ward and Ralph offered hope, but in truth it was Tranmere who posed the greater threat. Mangan forced a fine save from Baxter following a right foot volley, and Ridehalgh, excellent on the night for the home team, fired wide after an excellent one-two with Mangan.
Three minutes of stoppage time offered little of note other than a late booking for Louis Ramsey, before the referee drew the match to a close. Tranmere, on this form, will take some beating in the National League this season. For Woking, they will take comfort in putting a tough fixture behind what is still a young team finding its feet in the company of top National League opposition.
Tranmere Rovers: Scott Davies, Adam Buxton, Liam Ridehalgh, Ritchie Sutton, Jay McEveley, Jay Harris, Andy Cook (James Alabi 75), Connor Jennings, Ollie Norburn, Jack Dunn (Andrew Mangan 75), Jeff Hughes ©
Subs not used: George Waring, Evan Gumbs, Luke Pilling
Goals: Cook (18), Norburn (31), McEveley (60)
Woking: Nathan Baxter, Louis Ramsay, Nathan Ralph, Joey Jones, Josh Staunton, Richard Orlu, Bobson Bawling, Chez Isaac (Kane Ferdinand 58), Inih Effiong, Charlie Carter (Jamie Philpot 62), Joe Ward
Subs not used: Jordan Wynter, Sam Mason, Matt Young
Goals: Charlie Carter (43)
Bookings: Staunton, Philpot, Ramsey
My MOTM: Nathan Baxter. Whilst the young stopper will be disappointed at failing to stop Norburn’s strike, he generally coped well with the physical threat posed by Cook and made some good stops which kept Woking in the game in the second half.