Oxford City 1 Woking 2
Vanarama National League South
12th March 2019
I could, of course, have gone with the headline â€˜Oxford City 1 Oxford United 2â€™, as it was goals from Armani Little and Harvey Bradbury that represented the difference between the two teams on the night, as the Cards secured a vital win.
Oxford City had taken an early lead through a penalty, which Woking responded to with a lovely free-kick from Little just outside the box. A â€˜last gaspâ€™ goal from Harvey Bradbury â€“ effectively the last meaningful kick of the game, just when Woking fans had resigned themselves to coming away from Marsh Lane with a single point - sealed all 3 and left Woking 3 points clear of the Gulls at the top of table, having played one game more.
On an evening that was dry and cold, with the earlier heavy rain having abated and the strong winds of late mostly subdued, Woking fielded a side with one change from the home game against Chippenham, with Paul Hodges replacing a Jake Hyde whose past unfortunate experience of injuries on 3G pitches had understandably influenced a decision not to play him. This meant Greg Luer started in a lone role up front. Nicky Wheeler, absent in recent weeks, returned to the bench. There was one familiar face in the Oxford squad, with former Woking player Bobson Bawling on the bench.
The game started slowly with both sides cagey and few decisive moves. Little was fouled near the City area in the 4th minute, as was a City defender from the resulting free kick. Another Woking free kick 5 minutes later was put just over the Oxford bar by Kretzschmar.
Then on 13 minutes, a long Oxford ball from the right fell at the feet of prolific striker, No. 9 Kabongo Tshimanga, and his move into the box was brought to an abrupt halt by the Cards keeper, Craig Ross. Tshimanga â€“who, unless my ears deceived me, also appears to answer to the name of â€˜Kevinâ€™, judging by words of encouragement from nearby home fans â€“ fired home the penalty from the spot. 1-0 to City.
A couple of minutes later â€“ with Woking generally being outplayed at this juncture â€“ Oxford forced another corner; Ashbyâ€™s kick was headed out. However, the Cards were awarded a free kick just outside of the area to the right of the goal. Littleâ€™s beautifully placed kick dropped into the top right-hand corner and was only slightly flattered by the slow reaction of King in the Oxford goal. 1-1.
A spot of aggro between Casey and Kyran Wiltshire, when the latter refused to release the ball for a Woking throw-in, prompted some briefs words of admonition from the ref. By now, Woking had started to play with more confidence and fluidity than earlier. However, a series of niggling tackles led to the respective No. 8â€™s, Fleet and Little, finding themselves in the refâ€™s book around the 35th minute. Shortly afterwards, Fleet fired a shot past the right-hand post of Rossâ€™ goal.
The first half petered out, with the Cards being awarded a few free kicks and, by now, taking the majority of the possession of the ball.
Half-time: Oxford City 1 Woking 1
The second half kicked off to Woking chants of â€˜My garden shed is bigger than thisâ€™ behind the Oxford goal.
Duly inspired, the Cards made a strong start to the half. A purposeful run on the left by Luer gave them a corner, taken by Kretzschmar, promptly knocked back to him for another go, and collected by the keeper. Another corner ensued 2 minutes later, which the keeper fumbled but eventually claimed.
The relatively diminutive Jack Cook came on as substitute for Moussa Diarra in the 53rd minute, and Harvey Bradbury replaced Reise Allassani in the 60th â€“ as did Bawling for City.
In the 68th minute, Little made a surging run from left to right, passed a number of Oxford players, and fired in a shot which hit the side netting. At the other end, Ross did well to save a short range shot.
Kretzschmar slipped a ball through to Bradbury on the right, and his attempt to centre was blocked for another corner, which King deflected onto a Woking head and out for a goal kick.
On 74 minutes, Oxfordâ€™s Jack Dielna went down from a tackle and looked like he may have incurred a hamstring injury. He was helped off by the physio and replaced by Albie Hopkins.
Bawling was looking lively on Oxfordâ€™s right and arguably show as many glimpses of his real ability on the night as he had managed in a complete season for Woking (mostly spent out injured).
Collier went on a strong run, and released the ball to Hodges who ran, in characteristic fashion, past a couple of Oxford defenders and gained a corner. From that, a low header by Cook passed the right stanchion of the goal.
With time running out, there was a bit of a flurry of activity from Oxford in the Woking area. In the 41st minute, the ball arrived at the feet of Thomas-Asante immediately in front of the goal but he managed to send it soaring over the bar. Two minutes later, Casey forced a corner on the right at the other end; Littleâ€™s kick fell straight into the keeperâ€™s arms. And soon we were into time added on.
Then came the dramatic denouement as the Cards upped the pressure in the Oxford box in the final moments. Dorojaiye blasted the ball against a City defender, and it ricocheted out a long way out to Casey. He floated it back into the area, where it touched Gerringâ€™s head on the way to Bradburyâ€™s chest, who then slammed it against the underside of the Oxford bar and into the back of the net over the keeperâ€™s head.
Cue delirium from the substantial contingent of travelling Cards fans immediately behind that goal; cue also Bradburyâ€™s shirt come off â€“ an almost understandable reaction given the release of pent-up tension â€“ and the yellow card coming out. There only remained time for the home team to restart from the centre circle, upon which the referee blew his whistle. Proceedings completed with some brief â€˜handbagsâ€™ with the mightily relieved Cards players slightly over-eager with their celebrations in the faces of the dispirited City ones; things soon calmed down.
Harvey Bradbury strikes for the late late Woking winner; pic: David Holmes
In summary, it was a bit of a scrappy, unconvincing performance from the Cards on the night with City matching them most of the way, until those final moments and an outcome that most watching would have by then ruled out as highly unlikely. One could roll out the old clichÃ© about the mark of potential champions being their ability to pull something â€˜out of the bagâ€™ when theyâ€™re having an off day. With a difficult match away to Welling United â€“ often a bogey side in recent years â€“ coming up next, the Cards will need to up their game to come away with points.
1. Craig Ross, 2. Nathan Collier, 3. Josh Casey Â©, 4. Moussa Diarra (Jack Cook 53â€™), 5. Ben Gerring, 6. Olu Durojaiye, 7. Paul Hodges, 8. Armani Little, 9. Greg Luer, 10. Max Kretzschmar, 11. Reise Allassani (Harvey Bradbury 60')
15. Nicky Wheeler, 16. Christian Jolley, 18. Sam Mason
Little 26â€™, Bradbury 90+4â€™
1. Craig King, 2. Eddie Jones, 3. Ryan Case, 18. Joel Dielna (16. Albie Hopkins 74â€™), 6. Joe Oastler Â©, 7. Kyran Wiltshire (Bobson Bawling 60â€™), 8. Reece Fleet, 9. Kabongo Tshimanga, 10. Brandon Thomas-Asante, 11. Jack Self
13.Steven Caro, 14. Owen James, 5. Tarik Moore-Azille
Kabongo Tshimanga 13â€™
Man of the Match: Josh Casey
. While Armani Little was a strong candidate, not least for his well-taken goal, Captain Casey was a pocket dynamo popping up all over the pitch and generally directing proceedings.