Better Late than Nether as Cards Win Away

Adam Leary
12:00am, Sat 21st Apr 2018
Guiseley 1 Woking 2
Vanarama National League
21st April 2018

Woking live to fight another day in the National League after Richard Orlu’s header gave them a deserved three points on a nerve-jangling afternoon at Nethermoor Park.

The prospect of relegation from the top tier of non-league football was looming large, with results elsewhere going against the Cards, and caretaker boss Jason Goodliffe turning, with 5 minutes remaining, to the unlikely figure of Richard Orlu in search of salvation. Not all heroes wear capes: on this occasion, a captain’s armband was the garment in question.

Orlu’s first touch of the ball on being introduced as a late substitute was to head home Nathan Ralph’s corner and send the travelling Woking fans into ecstasy at the end of a somewhat strange match which saw the visitors play like a team with a huge amount at stake against their far more relaxed hosts, who had their relegation confirmed earlier in the week.

Woking came into this match in the relegation zone for the first time this season, on the back of a terrible run of results over the winter months and into early Spring. Last weekend, a dispiriting display and result at home to Bromley left the Cards deflated, and Woking fans could only look on as midweek results exacerbated the perilous situation. Whilst Woking fans would inevitably have one eye on events in other matches, talk of escaping the drop would be academic without three points from their travels.

Jason Goodliffe made two changes to the starting line up. Long-serving Joey Jones, making his 200th appearance for the Cards, came into the base of midfield, with Regan Charles-Cook dropping to the bench. Upfront, Louie Theophanous returned to the starting line up in place of Reece Grego-Cox. The rationale behind these choices from Goodliffe to add physical presence to the Cards lineup, and potentially leave some attacking options in reserve should Woking need to chase a goal in the second half.

Whilst Woking’s recent travails have been well documented, Guiseley have endured a horrendous season, with three changes in the dugout, end-of-season fixture congestion, a bloated playing squad and just 30 points on the board with relegation to National League North confirmed. Indeed, current caretaker boss Sean St Ledger made 10 changes from their last league match, a Thursday night home defeat to Dagenham & Redbridge. Fortunately, the Cards scouting of their opponents had taken place two nights previous, a home defeat to Barrow featuring a more recognisable line up to that which took the field today.

The Cards kicked off and sought to assert themselves early on, looking to play the game in their opponents half and probe for openings in the home defence. The midfield trio of Jones, Kane Ferdinand and Chez Isaac were industrious and composed, looking to get the ball into the feet of Anthony Cook, who looked to threaten with direct running from the right hand side, and Charlie Carter, who appeared to be playing in the number 10 role behind the main central striker Theophanous.

Woking forced a couple of early corners and free kicks, and their approach play was neat and tidy. Despite this, the Cards struggled to create any clear cut openings in the first 15 minutes of the match, except from set pieces, perhaps belying a general lack of confidence in forward areas. The best opportunity of the first 20 minutes came from an Anthony Cook corner, which was met well by Jones, but his header drifted narrowly wide of Joe Green’s post.

It was crucial for Woking to establish a solid platform in this match and not give away anything cheaply to their carefree opponents, and that was the case in the first half, with Guiseley limited to long balls forward which raced away down the pronounced slope on the pitch with little threat.

This was a game that Woking had to win, and they took the lead after 26 mins. Theophanous, who battled gamely up front, found some space and turned the ball into the feet of Cook, who played a delightful reverse pass with the outside of his foot through to the on-rushing Carter, who burst into the box. Carter kept his composure superbly as Green raced out to narrow the angle, and slipped the ball right footed past the keeper, to the delight of the travelling supporters enjoying the spring sunshine.

Woking’s general control of the match to that point meant that the lead was deserved, and the visitors continued to play in a pragmatic, disciplined way through to the half time whistle, with little incident to note save for a few Woking corners which the home defence were able to deal with.

Half-time: Guiseley 0 Woking 1

Expectations in the stands were that St Ledger would be seeking a response to a fairly lacklustre home first half performance, whilst Woking will have been hoping that the second half could see them build on the platform provided through Carter’s goal.

The Woking midfield displayed plenty of industry, and, despite a few passes going astray on a dry, bobbly pitch, looked by far the more technically proficient of the two teams. However, they were dealt a very cruel blow on 62 minutes. A ball into Charlie Carter just inside the Guiseley half was miscontrolled by the Cards top scorer, the ball bobbling onto his shin and breaking to an opposing midfielder. He released Dayle Southwell in the inside right channel, who was able to evade the desperate challenge of Josh Staunton, and fire the ball brilliantly past Baxter from just inside the penalty area. This was a fine strike, the first (and later to prove the only) shot on target from the home side, and felt like a real blow to the Cards who had been in control to that point.

Goodliffe responded to this setback by making his first change on 67 minutes, Reece Grego-Cox coming on to replace Theophanous, who did plenty of selfless work throughout his time on the pitch. Woking sought to re-assert themselves in the game, however in truth the game became increasingly scrappy during this period, as the Cards need for a goal became all the more desperate. A second substitution was made on 75 minutes, with Anthony Cook, who tired in the second half after an excellent opening period, being replaced by brother Regan Charles-Cook.

Charles-Cook was typically bright, looking to get on the ball and cause problems for the home defence with his pace and trickery. It was he who won a corner with 5 minutes to go, turning his marker Holden inside out before having his low cross turned behind. Goodliffe took the opportunity to replace Isaac with Orlu in time for the set piece, looking to add an aerial threat that Woking had lacked, leaving them unable to make the most of a number of corners they had forced during the match. On this occasion though, the corner made its way into the box, Grego-Cox made a nuisance of himself in ensuring the keeper could not come and claim, and Orlu nodded home from 5 yards with his first touch of the ball, and his first goal in what has been an inconsistent campaign for the experienced defender.

Orlu slotted into the centre of midfield, dealing with everything in the air that came his way in that unfamiliar position. Woking showed some of the ‘game management’ that has been lacking for much of this season, seeing the remaining time plus 5 additional minutes of stoppage time without any alarm. Instead, attentions turned to how other results were shaping up, which sees the Cards’ fate out of their hands, relying on other results going their way, even with a win in the final home game of the season against Dover.

The final whistle drew Woking’s away campaign of 2017-2018 to a winning close, with the Cards picking up 3 points on the road for the first time since early October. The Cards form on their travels has been unquestionably below par, and is the primary reason why they are facing the drop. Strangely, there have been some significant highlights away from home this season, including winning at subsequent champions Macclesfield Town, play off chasing AFC Fylde, and, of course that famous FA Cup win at Bury. However, just 16 points taken from 23 away league games, and no wins from an away match further south than Cheshire, tell their own story.

The Cards fans that travelled to Guiseley deserved the spirited display put on by the Woking players today, and the three points that could still prove invaluable come the end of the season. A win has been long overdue, and this was a well-deserved reminder of the feel good factor that comes from winning football matches.

Guiseley: Joe Green, Ash Palmer ©, Will Hatfield, John Rooney, Dayle Southwell, Alex Purver (James Roberts 84), Curtis Morrison, Darren Holden, Rowan Liburd, Harry Flowers, Victor Nirennold

Subs not used: Luke Coddington, Ben Frempah, Kayode Odejayi, Andy Haworth

Goals: Southwell (62)

Bookings: Flowers

Woking: Nathan Baxter, Nathan Ralph, Kane Ferdinand, Josh Staunton, Louis Ramsay, Anthony Cook (Charles-Cook 75), Jordan Wynter, Joey Jones, Charlie Carter, Chez Isaac © (Orlu 84), Louie Theophanous (Grego-Cox 67)

Subs: Matt Young, Sam Mason

Goals: Carter (26), Orlu (85)

Bookings: Staunton, Grego-Cox

Attendance: 552

Referee: Andrew Miller

My MOTM – Joey Jones. Put recent high-profile mistakes behind him with an assured display in the base of Woking’s midfield. Won loose balls, communicated with his team mates and kept things simple, on a landmark appearance for the Cards.

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