Fleet-ing Moments of Quality Not Enough for Cards

Ben Musgrove
12:00am, Tue 20th Feb 2018
Ebbsfleet United 2 Woking 1
Vanarama National League
20th February 2018

Bad luck can often be the difference maker between a win and a loss in a league as competitive as the National League, and Woking bore the brunt of that luck as they were defeated 2-1 by a well-organised and dogged Ebbsfleet United side on Tuesday night. The Cards could have been 1-0 up in the early stages, but after Johnny Edwards’ goal bound effort was deflected off the Ebbsfleet line by teammate Kane Ferdinand, an unfortunate penalty and a deflected strike either side of half time from Fleet striker Danny Kedwell were enough to deliver Woking their second consecutive defeat that dangles them 8 points above the drop zone, despite a Charlie Carter strike set up by second-half debutant Louie Theophanus.

Woking made a few changes to the side that failed to rescue a late draw at Hartlepool, with Damon Lathrope replaced by Joey Jones, and Anthony Cook ruled out against his parent club. New signing Theophanus started on the bench and would need to start strongly against a side boasting players with extensive league experience such as Danny Kedwell and Dave Winfield.

The game kicked off under a haze of rain and a vicious crosswind, and between the organisation of their opponents and the conditions, Woking struggled to get into their passing game in the initial stages. Largely restricted to their own third and looking to release runners with long balls splitting the Fleet centre backs and their fullbacks, chances were few and far between against an home side looking to start strongly. Andy Drury was unlucky not to score early on, pinging a low effort past the dive of Baxter and against the base of the post, shortly followed by a good chance sliced high and wide by Corey Whitely. It wasn’t long until the post came to the rescue of Nathan Baxter again, as slick work down the right released Drury inside the Woking box, and his cross was deflected back to Whitely rushing into the area. Josh Staunton threw himself into a brave block, and luck was with the Cards for now; the resulting strike cannoned off the centre-back’s challenge and struck Baxter’s right hand post.

After the opening onslaught, Woking did begin to establish their defensive shape, getting to grips with Ebbsfleet’s avenues of attack on either wing and their overlapping runs. The visitors solidified, largely thanks to the diligent work of a defensive midfield three in Jones, Isaac and Ferdinand, but struggled to show much forward endeavour, and the game entered a lull that gave neither fans much to cheer.

Out of nothing, the deadlock was nearly broken by Woking’s first chance of the game, and it was undoubtedly one of the best of the entire game. A floated free-kick from deep in midfield caught the wind at just the right time and floated in to Staunton lurking at the back post, who poked at goal. The defender beat Nathan Ashmore in the Ebbsfleet goal, but was denied his second goal in three games by the base of the post. Both sides followed in, with Edwards first to the ball, only for his shot to be blocked on the goal-line by the rear of Kane Ferdinand. Despite their shaky start, Woking should have been in the lead.

Such floated crosses were becoming literally hit-and-miss in the poor conditions, with Ebbsfleet at one point putting a corner straight out for a goal kick on the other side of the pitch. In contrast, a lower ball in from Matt Young a few minutes later nearly facilitated a Woking opener, only for Reece Grego-Cox’s resulting strike to force a superb stop from Ashmore, and a panicked Ebbsfleet clearance that nearly saw the ball end up in their net regardless.

On such margins do games fall, and within five minutes, the home side were ahead. Repeated failure to clear their lines saw a desperate Nathan Ralph header dropping from great height back into the Woking box, with Jason Banton under the ball shaping to clear. Banton’s clearance only met thin air instead of the dropping ball, with Whitely stealing the ball from his toes before going down in melodramatic fashion to Banton’s resulting challenge. The referee had no hesitation, and the penalty veteran Danny Kedwell gave Baxter – who dived the right way – absolutely no chance, with a powerful low drive into the bottom right corner.

Kedwell should have doubled the score a few minutes later when picked out inside the box by Jack Payne, but his half-volley was superbly denied by Baxter, who could do little about either goal and can be happy with his evening’s work, if not the result. The half-time whistle followed a few minutes later, and after wasting two great opportunities – and riding their luck themselves – Woking were glad not to be more than one goal down.

Half time: Ebbsfleet United 1 Woking 0

The Cards will have hoped for a strong start and a quick goal to get themselves back on level terms, but within a few minutes were picking the ball out of their own net again. Ebbsfleet, looking to kill the game off with an early intensity directness, dinked a ball from deep in midfield into Woking box and to the feet of Kedwell, 15 yards out with his back to goal. The striker managed to find some space from his marker but did little to threaten, poking a tame shot straight towards Baxter. It looked an easy save but for the unfortunate intervention of Richard Orlu; the captain’s block only saw the ball spin away on the slick turf and wrong foot Baxter, trickling agonisingly over the line.

Recognising that Woking needed changes to stay in the game, Anthony Limbrick brought off the uninspiring Banton to give a debut to striker Louie Theophanus, just a day after his move from Billericay Town was confirmed. Three strikers on the field would have made for an interesting game had it lasted, but Woking’s misfortune was compounded by an injury to the bright Grego-Cox, who was forced off just three minutes later; Charlie Carter took his place.

Whilst it wasn’t the original intention, within ten minutes of these changes, the two combined to put Woking right back in the game. Smart combination play down the left wing between Ralph and Theophanus saw the former create space for the latter to cross, and the new signing floated a perfect ball into the six yard box for an onrushing Carter bullet a header into Ashcroft’s top corner. It was the youngster’s ninth goal of the season, and his emergence as an important player for the club has been one of the bright spots of Woking’s season thus far.

This seemed to set up the game for a grandstand finish, with both sides having wasted multiple chances to kill the game off for themselves earlier on. But between the conditions and the high-intensity of the play to that point, the game instead entered a lull that both sides struggled to shake off. Woking continued to ‘go long’ to their wide forwards and switch the ball from deep, but frequently misplaced easy passes and failed to beat the first man with their long-ball distribution on more than one occasion. Ebbsfleet, in contrast, looked to work short and quick passes down either wing, creating little but finding plenty of space to retain the ball in the middle of the park as a result. Referee Alan Young was generous to keep his cards in his pocket on several occasions, as both sides worked hard to negate the other without creating much themselves.

As the game ticked on, it was the home side that began to create more and more, although their finishing was profligate at times. Centre back Kenny Clark saw a bullet header at the near post hit the side netting, with Jack Powell and Sean Shields also missing chances due to a lack of quality in the final third. Corey Whitely was almost released one-on-one at the death, were it not for an outrageous tackle from Matt Young, who slid in directly behind his man and yet managed to rescue the ball.

But for their profligacy, Ebbsfleet denied the visitors any meaningful effort in the final third, both due to Woking’s approach and to extremely resolute defending. The introduction of Fabio Saraiva for Isaac did little to change the shape of the game. Any chances the Cards did create were from crosses, and they came closest with a driven cross to the near post at the death; Charlie Carter’s run was denied by a superb tackle from Clark, competing with Young for challenge of the match with a powerful block.

The final whistle blew shortly afterwards, and it was fair to say that the better team had edged Woking out, consigning them to a second disappointing performance in just four days. The Cards never did enough to threaten a well-organised and determined Ebbsfleet defence after missing golden opportunities earlier in the game, and conceded through a wicked combination of bad luck and poor judgement at crucial moments. With tough games coming up against playoff contenders in Boreham Wood, Maidenhead United and Sutton United, Woking will need to show marked improvement over the coming weeks to avoid slid
ing towards the wrong end of the table.

Woking: Nathan Baxter, Nathan Ralph, Richard Orlu, Josh Staunton, Matt Young, Chez Isaac (Fabio Saraiva 75), Joey Jones, Kane Ferdinand, Jason Banton (Louie Theophanus 53), Jonathan Edwards, Reece Grego-Cox (Charlie Carter 56)

Unused subs: Declan Appau, Damon Lathrope

Goals: Carter 61
Bookings: Isaac 14, Edwards 29, Carter 66

Ebbsfleet United: Nathan Ashmore, Sam Magri, Kenny Clarke, Jack Payne (Jack Powell 59), Jack Connors, Dave Winfield, Morgan Whitely, Danny Kedwell, Josh Coulson (Sam Shields 79), Andry Drury, Dean Rance

Unused subs: Myles Weston, Jonathan Miles, Chris Bush

Goals: Kedwell 42, 49

Bookings: Rance 9

Referee: Alan Young

Attendance: 1146

Man of the Match: Nathan Baxter. The young keeper guessed the right way for the penalty, could do nothing about the second goal, and made several crucial stops to keep his team in the game at vital moments.

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