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Two Wins in Two for Resurgent Cards

Ben Musgrove - 10th February 2018

Two Wins in Two for Resurgent Cards Woking 1 Chester FC 0
Vanarama National League
10th February 2018

In difficult conditions, Woking were narrow winners in a touch-and-go victory over relegation-threatened Chester. Despite absences through injury and the controversial dismissal of Matt Young on the hour mark, a scrambled finish from centre-back Josh Staunton was enough to make the difference for the Cards, who have managed two victories in a row in the league for the first time in four months.

Despite the two-week break, Woking were forced into changes after a battling 1-0 over Fylde a fortnight ago. Louis Ramsay remained absent after a first-half injury in that game, and Lazar Stojsavljevic wasn’t risked following a shocking aerial challenge from Luke Burke at the end of the same fixture that necessitated an overnight stay in hospital.

The Cards did welcome back Nathan Ralph from a combination of transfer interest and niggling injuries, and handed a first start to Damon Lathrope in central midfield. Chester also made changes, with four fresh faces introduced following a hard-fought 1-1 draw with Hartlepool, handing a debut to local lad Gary Roberts in central midfield.

The windswept haze of rain beating down upon kick-off certainly had an effect on the match, with both sides finding it difficult to get going in the early stages of the game. Chester looked to bypass their midfield and go long into a front two of Harry White and Jordan Archer, but found that the ball refused to drop kindly for them on the slick turf. Woking, meanwhile, were faced with breaking down a deep defensive line and two banks of four, and struggled to maintain a high tempo passing game in such difficult conditions. A deflected shot from Anthony Cook skittering through to an offside Reece Grego-Cox was the most excitement that either side saw in the first twenty minutes, alongside a goalmouth scramble from a Chester corner that eventually came to nothing.

But after to getting to grips with the opposition and the terrain, Woking did begin to have more control of the ball, and were able to switch the ball from one wing to another with more purpose and pace. Chester were forced to drop deeper and deeper to cope, with Lathrope in particular finding impressive long range passes from one side of the pitch to another, and this movement saw Woking fire the first real warning shot of the game. Slick movement across the midfield released Anthony Cook down the right to zip in a low cross, which was met by Grego-Cox and fired in low past Hornby… only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.

Chester didn’t react quickly enough to the warning; just a few minutes later, Woking did have their lead. A corner, again from Cook, was fired in to the near post, only for Grego-Cox’s onrushing run to be completely blocked off by his marker. The collision allowed the ball to drop in the area, and from the resulting scramble, Josh Staunton was first on the scene to stab the ball in low, and give Woking a deserved lead.

After this, Woking continued to press for a second, but struggled to maintain the quality of the play in spite of their obvious hard work. Charlie Carter had an effort headed straight at Hornby from a fantastic cross by Matt Young, and Nathan Ralph went for a goal-of-the-season contender with a looping free kick from thirty yards, but the efforts were speculative rather than truly dangerous. A tame effort from Harry White, again headed straight at Baxter, was the only noticeable response the visitors could muster.

A 50-50 challenge between Grego-Cox and Firth in goal would see the half splutter to a close, with a break in play and a subsequent yellow for the Woking forward. With little in the way of explicit chances, 1-0 seemed fair to both sides, and gave the sense that if either could raise their game, the match was there for the taking.

Half time: Woking 1 Chester FC 0

The second half saw Woking emerge with good energy and purpose, and the first five minutes were spent in the Chester third thanks to bustling runs from Cook and Grego-Cox. With both sides sticking to their systems and personnel, Woking continued to dominate possession without creating anything clear-cut. Chester were again limited to speculative efforts, with Roberts’s ambitious attempts at a long-range debut goal the only shots that the Seals could muster prior to the hour mark.

That hour mark did see a major change in the balance of the game, with Matt Young putting in a late but innocuous sliding challenge on James Akintude to quell a Chester breakaway. Neither players nor fans for either side expected anything other than a free-kick for the visitors, and so the surprise when referee Chris O’Donnell immediately produced a straight red for the Woking right back was palpable. Anthony Limbrick declared that “it was quite clear and obvious that it wasn’t a red card” in his post-match interview, but Woking were suddenly faced with the prospect of defending a previously comfortable lead with 10 men.

To counter their lost man, Woking switched to a 4-4-1 formation with Grego-Cox operating high up the field ahead of two banks of four, with Jason Banton taken off to allow Joey Jones to slot in at right-back. Whilst this solidified Woking, it gave Chester much more time and space on the ball, and made it difficult for the Cards to dominate possession and press as they had done.

As such, Chester suddenly found themselves with a route back into the game, and the next fifteen minutes saw both sides sparring for possession and chances as Chester looked to break against an increasingly deep Woking line. Further harsh bookings for Cook, Staunton, Archer and Dawson only served to increase the tension, with both home and away fans making their feelings on O’Connell’s oddly card-happy performance very clear.

Such a tense atmosphere could have meant a huge moral shift if either side took advantage of it, and both had clear-cut chances as time began to tick down to change the game completely. First Grego-Cox gave the home side a golden opportunity, bursting down the right wing before cutting back to an unmarked Anthony Cook on the edge of the box, only for the on-loan winger’s effort to swing too far back across the keeper and drift just wide. Chester then had arguably the best chance of the game thanks to a wonderful chipped through-ball from Hobson, dinking the ball over the defence to Hannah rushing through on goal. With the ball bouncing awkwardly and Baxter rushing out to close the gap, Hannah could only loop the ball onto the bar of an open goal, to the delight of those huddled in the Kingfield Road End.

Chester continued to press, forcing a smart stop from Baxter in response to a low and deflected Dawson free-kick as they looked to push their advantage. Anthony Limbrick’s decision to bring on fresh legs in the middle of the park, replacing the excellent Lathrope with Chez Isaac, suggested that Woking were feeling the pressure and needed more energy and time on the ball.

As the 5 minutes of stoppage time were displayed on the board, the game went through its defining phase. A Chester corner looped over to the far post dropped perfectly for a Chester boot to volley at goal, only for a monumental low save from Nathan Baxter to keep the ball out of the net. Responding quickly, the ball was cleared into the right channel for Grego-Cox to chase, and the ex-QPR youngster suddenly found himself bursting into the Chester box at a tight angle. Rather than try and dink the keeper he went for power in the finish, only to see his effort smash the woodwork with Hornby well-beaten.

Neither side could create another clear-cut chance in the short time left, and the final whistle was met with noticeable relief from the home fans who had feared a vital win could slip out from underneath them. With mid-table rivals dropping points across the country, Woking held on to drag themselves up into 13th place, and are currently closer to the playoff places than they are to the relegation zone. The result is part of a positive upturn in results after a grim run of form during the winter period, and is the first time that Woking have managed consecutive wins since the reverse fixture, when the Cards beat Chester and Dagenham in the first week of October.

Woking: Nathan Baxter; Nathan Ralph, Josh Staunton, Richard Orlu, Matt Young; Damon Lathrope (Chez Isaac 85), Kane Ferdinand, Charlie Carter, Jason Banton (Joey Jones 71), Anthony Cook; Reece Grego-Cox

Unused subs: Sam Mason, Declan Appau, Jonny Edwards

Goals: Own Goal (Hobson) 23

Bookings: Grego-Cox 42, Cook 73, Staunton 81, Ralph 84

Red Cards: Young 60

Chester: Sam Hornby; Lathaniel Rowe-Tunner, Ryan Astles, Shaun Hobson, Shepherd Murombedzi; James Akintude, Kingsley James (Lucas Dawson 78), Gary Roberts, Craig Mahon (Ross Hannah 64); Harry White, Jordan Archer

Unused subs: Andrew Firth, Matty Waters, Tom Crawford

Bookings: White 56, Archer 74, Dawson 86

Referee: Chris O’Donnell

Attendance: 1,367

Man of the Match: Josh Staunton. The central defender was imperious in much of his work at the back, made several crucial blocks and challenges, and got the vital touch that would end up winning the game for the Cards.
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