Pools winners as Woking’s Travel Sickness Continues

Adam Leary
12:00am, Sat 17th Feb 2018
Hartlepool United 3 Woking 2
Vanarama National League
17th February 2018

Woking fell to another defeat on the road on their first ever visit to Victoria Park in an unusual match, with a three goal half time deficit proving too much to overcome.

A combination of defensive mistakes from the visitors and clinical finishing from the home side saw Hartlepool take all three points on a fresh, sunny afternoon on the North Sea coast.

Devante Rodney’s fine strike to give the home side the lead was built on by a further goal from Jake Cassidy, both goals arguably coming against the run of play. A controversial goal from Rhys Oates, who appeared to impede Nathan Baxter in challenging for the ball, compounded the Cards first half misery.

Woking had the luxury of being able to name an unchanged team from the one which beat Chester last time out, due, in no small part, to the successful appeal against Matt Young’s controversial red card. The home side, who had not played since 27th January, had made 4 changes from their last outing. Off the field uncertainty has been dogging Pools of late, and manager Craig Harrison would have come into today’s game no doubt looking forward to concentrating on matters within the white lines.

The Cards had a very early scare in the first minute of the match when a long, bouncing ball was caught by Baxter under pressure from Cassidy right on the very edge of the penalty box. The officials waved away protests, largely from the home fans housed on the terraces, that Baxter had encroached out of his box.

In the first five minutes United set the tone for their performance, a very strong late tackle from Louis Laing on Kane Ferdinand was punished only with a yellow card, when other officials may have considered stronger action. Hartlepool were certainly unafraid to deploy plenty of physicality throughout the match, and the officials generally afforded them considerable leeway, with a number of robust challenges going unpunished.

Woking generally started the brighter in the opening exchanges, Anthony Cook and Jason Banton looking to get on the ball at every opportunity, forcing a couple of corners. However, after 18 minutes, the home side took the lead. Uncertainty in the Woking defence in dealing with a regulation long ball saw the usually reliable Josh Staunton miss-control a bouncing ball, allowing Rodney to nip in, skip round Staunton and fire a superb left foot shot into the net. Whilst it was a clear error from Staunton, Rodney had a lot of work to do to capitalise on the mistake, and unfortunately for the Cards he did this ruthlessly.

The visitors immediately set about getting back into the game, with Grego-Cox, Cook and Banton all having efforts from the edge of the box deflected wide for corners, which did not amount to much from a Woking perspective. Damon Lathrope and Ferdinand were generally winning the midfield battle, with the home side more direct in terms of their approach to attacking. This tactic perhaps made sense given the playing surface, which looked dry and with some uneven bounce in places, contributing to some loss of control and wayward passes. Woking won a succession of first half corners, but didn’t really create any clear cut chances despite enjoying the majority of possession.

Hartlepool made Woking pay for this lack of penetration with a second goal after 33 minutes. A free kick was given on the right hand side of the Woking penalty area, swung in by Michael Woods. Woking cleared the ball unconvincingly, only as far as Cassidy who fired home a right foot shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.

A big turning point came on 42 minutes when Woking squandered a clear chance to halve the deficit. Grego-Cox, full of running all match, kept alive a seemingly lost cause of a ball down the right hand side, played a great ball into the box to the feet of the onrushing Ferdinand, who could only blaze over the bar from inside the area. This was arguably the clearest chance of the half for either side, and at the time felt like a critical moment.

This feeling was confirmed just a minute later, when Hartlepool added a third goal in slightly surreal circumstances after 43 minutes. Woking cleared a ball into their box only as far as Woods, who chipped the ball into the penalty area to the audible groans of the home support, who suspected the ball was too close to Baxter. The Cards keeper though was challenged strongly by Rhys Oates, who got his body to the keeper and his head to the ball, looping it into the empty net. Baxter certainly felt he was impeded unfairly, and it was a challenge that typically results in a free kick to the defending team. Not on this occasion though, and the Cards were 3 down.

After this, Woking went up the other end of the field and created a further good chance. A free kick whipped in low from Ralph got a slight touch from the stretching Ferdinand, forcing a decent save from Loach.

The half time whistle blew soon after and Woking had been left stunned after a remarkable half of football. They could, with some justification, point to being the superior team in general play through the first 45 minutes. A combination of a couple of careless defensive lapses, poor finishing and some unhelpful officiating saw them well and truly up against it at the break.

Hartlepool United 3 Woking 0

With such a big deficit to overcome, one was curious to know how Anthony Limbrick would send his team out for the second half. Would the Cards boss go for it and risk the concession of further goals? Or would they seek to ease their way into the back into the match and perhaps look to ‘win the second half’?

The opening exchanges in the second period suggested that the visitors fancied launching a remarkable comeback. Charlie Carter and the indefatigable Grego-Cox looked to play with urgency on the front foot. Jason Banton did well to evade a couple of challenges and work space for a shot, which went just wide of Loach’s right hand post. On 52 minutes, Carter did well down the left hand side and floated a good ball into the area, however Grego-Cox could only head wide from just outside the six-yard box.

However, the Cards were lucky not to fall further behind in the next few minutes. A long ball down the left hand side was misjudged by Richard Orlu, who lost the flight of the ball and allowed Jake Cassidy a shot on goal from 25 yards, which Baxter did well to tip over the bar. Minutes later, Rodney found himself through on goal, but lacked the composure he showed for his first half goal.

Anthony Limbrick made his first change after 56 minutes, with Joey Jones replacing Lathrope. It initially looked as though Jones would be forming part of a three-man backline alongside Staunton and Orlu, with Woking looking to advance the full backs Ralph and Young, however later in the half it became apparent that Jones was playing in midfield.

Jason Banton was somewhat on the periphery of the match in the second half, however was subject to some rough house treatment from the home side when he did get the ball. On 65 minutes he was replaced by Jonny Edwards, with Limbrick looking to provide Grego-Cox with some more orthodox forward support.

The second half looked in danger of petering out, the home side taking every opportunity to halt any prospect of Woking attacking momentum by breaking the game up with tactical fouls. In general, the home side were very streetwise in their game management, and as the minutes passed it looked increasingly difficult to see Woking finding a goal to get themselves back into the contest. Chez Isaac came on to replace Kane Ferdinand, who, like Banton, was on the receiving end of a number of strong challenges throughout.

After 84 minutes the Cards did grab what appeared a deserved consolation goal. A free kick from the left hand side from Anthony Cook was cleared as far as Isaac, who did well to cross into the box from the right to pick out Grego-Cox, who fired into the net.

Home supporters nerves were jangling when Woking grabbed a second goal in stoppage time. Ralph had ventured forward from left back and was bought down near the corner flag. His free kick was floated towards the back post, headed back well by Jones, towards the opposite post where Edwards and Grego-Cox sprinted to meet the ball, the former bundling into the net. Unfortunately, the Cards were unable to mount any further meaningful attacks before the referee drew proceedings to a close.

This was a strange game, with a spirited second half fightback from Woking unable to climb the mountain set for them at half time, and unable to improve upon their poor away record this season. They have a chance, at Ebbsfleet United on Tuesday, to rectify that.

Hartlepool United: Scott Loach ©, Luke George (Lewis Hawkins 85), Scott Harrison, Louis Laing, Blair Adams, Nicky Featherstone, Michael Woods, Conor Newton, Devante Rodney, Jake Cassidy, Rhys Oates (Josh Hawkes 90+2)

Subs not used: Liam Pritchard, Ryan Catterick, Jacob Owen

Goals: Rodney (19), Cassidy (34), Oates (43)

Bookings: Laing, Featherstone

Woking: Nathan Baxter, Matt Young, Nathan Ralph, Josh Staunton, Richard Orlu, ©, Damon Lathrope (Joey Jones 57), Kane Ferdinand (Chez Isaac 73), Charlie Carter, Jason Banton (Jonny Edwards 66), Anthony Cook, Reece Grego-Cox

Subs: Fabio Saraiva, Declan Appau

Goals: Grego-Cox (85), Edwards (90+4)

Bookings: Cook

Attendance: 3,018 (85 Away)
Referee: S Lucas

My MOTM – Reece Grego-Cox. Never gave up, ran his socks off all match and deserved to get a goal.

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