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Cards knocked off top spot

Brian Caffarey
8:51pm, Sat 23rd Feb 2019
Dartford 2 Woking 0
Vanarama National League South
23 February 2019

The Cards’ three-match winning run came to an end this afternoon at the hands of a Dartford side who have been in good form themselves recently and who are always a handful on their home turf. Woking fought hard to breach a predictably implacable Darts’ defence but lacked the quality needed in midfield and attack to get anything from the game. The home side took the lead in the 23rd minute when Sutton loanee Darren McQueen produced a fine strike and then made the game safe in the 70th minute in a swift counter-attack. The Cards’ best chance had fallen to Paul Hodges about five minutes earlier but he fired over the bar from a few yards out. Hodges was injured later, with Woking reduced to ten men for the last 15 minutes or so. Today’s defeat, coupled with Torquay’s 5-2 demolition of Dulwich Hamlet, sees the Gulls regain top spot, one point ahead of the Cards, with the same number of games played.

On a gloriously sunny and warm afternoon – more like May than late February – the Cards lined up with the same eleven who began Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Hemel Hempstead, but Max Kretzschmar and Michael Kamara replaced Charlie Hester-Cook and Bradley Hudson-Odoi on the bench.

With good vocal support for both sides, the game started in a fairly steady and even manner, with the only goal attempt in the first 10 minutes being a snap shot from Phil Roberts, which Craig Ross pushed round the post for a corner, which he then claimed immaculately.

Dave Tarpey chased down a short back pass a few minutes later but was just beaten to the ball by the Darts’ keeper, Bailey Vose. On 21 minutes Greg Luer did well to win possession and feed Reise Allassanni but the latter’s shot was blocked.

Suddenly, however, the Darts gained a decisive advantage. Hodges lost the ball out on the Woking right and it was quickly played forward into the path of Darren McQueen, who, in spite of Jack Cook’s attentions, made enough space for himself to shoot clinically across Ross and into the far corner.

Dartford began to get a strong grip on the game, their dominant defence snuffing out Tarpey, Hodges and Allessanni, while Ryan Hayes and Phil Roberts provided useful outlets down the flanks. Ross had to tip a header by Elliot Bradbrook over the bar, but the assistant referee’s flag had been raised for offside anyway. Roberts then scooted past Ben Gerring to put in a dangerous cross, which Cook managed to cut out.

As the half drew nearer to a close the Cards began to get more of a foothold in the game. Dartford had had another reasonable chance on 42 minutes when a free-kick was floated over the Woking defence to Bradbrook, but he shot wide. In the next Woking attack the ball fell to Hodges in the box, who shot narrowly wide with the outside of his left foot. Tarpey then latched onto a Josh Casey pass to fire in an effort but wasn’t able to get enough power to trouble the keeper. And then another darting run by Casey let to a corner, which Vose tipped away to safety. Lee Noble’s third foul on Hodges produced a booking and a free-kick some ten yards outside the box. Tarpey’s effort was well struck but curled wide of the target.

Half-time: Dartford 1 Woking 0

In an attempt to gain more possession up front, Dowse immediately brought on Jake Hyde for Allessanni, who may well still have been suffering from having the ball blasted straight into his face earlier in the game. Luer and Hodges moved more to the flanks. As the half proceeded Hyde’s physicality and ability to hold the ball at close quarters certainly helped the Cards to create more attacking momentum. But it also seemed that the Darts were content to fall back, presumably confident that their resilient defence could snuff out any Cards’ revival.

Woking’s first effort on goal saw the unusual sight of Gerring attempting an overhead kick in the box. Contact was made but the effort was blocked by a defender close by. Ten minutes into the half more Woking pressure produced a great chance to level the scores. Hodges had put in two testing crosses before fine link-up play between Christian Jolley and Luer saw the latter whip in a fine cross. Hodges met it a few yards out from the far post but could only steer it over the bar. Two minutes later Hyde headed over from a corner.

Woking continued to do most of the attacking, with Tarpey firing wide after Jolley had been felled on the edge of the box, the referee allowing play to continue.

But hopes of a Woking come-back were suddenly dashed as Dartford counter-attacked quickly. Roberts – possibly offside – broke through on the right and strode on to plant the ball past Ross to make it 2-0 with 70 minutes played.

Dowse threw on Harvey Bradbury and Max Kretzschmar for Tarpey and Jolley as a final throw of the dice but Woking soon found themselves down to 10 men after Hodges went down – allegedly felled by an elbow on the edge of the box. He went off, with an apparent head/face injury, not to return.

Woking fought hard, even so, to get back into the game, but it was relatively easy for the Darts, aided by slowing the game down through substitutions, to see out the 90 minutes plus five added on. Bradbury and Cook both had sights of goal but it was Dartford who came closest to scoring. Another breakaway saw a cross whistling across the Woking goalmouth. A goal looked inevitable but Ian Gayle somehow managed to divert the ball away without putting it into his own net.

Losing at Dartford is no disgrace: only Torquay amongst the top sides have so far managed to avoid defeat at Princes Park. But the game demonstrated again how much the Cards have been missing the contribution in midfield of Toby Edser and Armani Little, the latter serving out the last game today of the three-match suspension incurred in the home game against the Darts. Jolley and Nathan Collier, who had probably his best game in midfield, worked hard but there were too many misplaced passes and not enough guile and energy to unlock a defensively solid Dartford side. Up front, Tarpey received very little service and was well shackled but Luer impressed again when given a chance, and it was noticeable that Hyde made a difference when he came on. The defence were solid enough, with Gayle looking very comfortable at right back.

Let’s hope that the Cards can get back on track on Tuesday night when they make the exceedingly long trip to Truro City.

Dartford: Bailey Vose, Mark Onyemah, Ronnie Vint, Tom Bonner, Ben Greenhalgh, Lee Noble, Darren McQueen (Tom Murphy 84), Phil Roberts (Andre Coker 82), Elliot Bradbrook, Ryan Hayes (Billy Crook 57), Daniel Johnson

Unused subs: Jedd Smith, Max Walsh

Scorers: Darren McQueen 23, Phil Roberts 70

Booked: Lee Noble, Mark Onyemah, Elliot Bradbrook

Woking: Craig Ross, Ian Gayle, Jack Cook, Ben Gerring, Josh Casey, Christian Jolley (Max Kretzschmar 74), Paul Hodges, Nathan Collier, Reise Allassani (Jake Hyde 46), Greg Luer, Dave Tarpey (Harvey Bradbury 74)

Unused subs: Michael Kamara, James Dunn

Booked: Paul Hodges, Josh Casey

My Woking MOTM – no ‘standout’ player but Ian Gayle was very solid throughout the game.

Attendance: 1720

Referee: Mr Scott Jackson

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