The Cards throw it away

Brian Caffarey
6:35am, Wed 29th Jan 2020
Ebbsfleet United 2 Woking 1
Vanarama National League
28 January 2020

This was a game which the Cards ought not to have lost. Having taken the lead shortly after the break through a Jake Hyde penalty after Alex Wall had been pushed to the ground, they conceded an equaliser in the 70th minute when influential substitute Tomi Adeloye glanced in a free-kick. Worse was to follow in the 89th minute as Kane Ferdinand was robbed in midfield and Adeloye was sent through to finish smartly past Craig Ross. All the hard work in a battling performance was undone.

Both sides went into this match on the back of relatively poor recent form but with encouraging performances in their last outing at the weekend. The Cards had lost their last five away games in all competitions, conceding 17 goals in the process, but had produced a superbly committed performance at the Laithwaite Community Stadium to beat Yeovil 1-0. The win had moved them back to within touching distance of the play-off places, with only goal difference separating them from seventh place. The Fleet’s form had improved under Garry Hill’s successor, Kevin Watson, but they had not tasted victory in their last seven outings and still lay 10 points from safety. Nevertheless, a 0-0 draw at Torquay United at the weekend had been a very creditable result.

It was no surprise to see Dowse select virtually the same line-up that had begun against the Glovers, when the back four had barely allowed the visitors a sniff of goal and the midfield had looked much more competitive and dynamic than in recent outings. The only change was up front where Alex Wall started in place of Dave Tarpey. The Fleet were missing former Woking players Jack King and Josh Payne but their line-up included John Goddard, Gozie Ugwu and Frankie Sutherland.

On a cold evening in front of a sparse crowd both sides quickly demonstrated that it was going to be a tough, physical battle on a heavy pitch. There was no lack of commitment, with niggling fouls aplenty, the ball frequently in the air and virtually no flowing, passing football. It was pleasing to see that the Cards were able to stand their ground – which hasn’t always been the case in these clashes – but frustrating that Jayden Harris and Josh Neufville, who both showed flashes of skill and a turn of pace, weren’t able to really show what they could do.

Woking started positively, with Harris having the first attempt on goal as the Fleet keeper, David Gregory, clawed away his left-footed strike. The Cards continued to look the more likely to break through in the opening exchanges, though defences were generally well on top. Most of Woking’s attacking threat came down the left, with Josh Casey seeking out Hyde and Wall with a series of crosses and long balls forward. Goddard’s free-kick in the 18th minute presented the home side with their first chance of the night. His strike was on target but did not have the power to trouble Ross unduly.

Hyde and Neufville combined well to send Wall down the right. He decided to try to beat Gregory with a shot to his near post but the keeper had it covered. Neither side were then able to fashion clear chances. Umerah for the Fleet and Hyde for Woking both connected with headers but neither hit the target, while Harris nearly slipped Hyde through after a smart turn.

The best chance of the half probably fell to Fleet central defender Obileye but his free downward header, from a long ball in, bounced weakly up to Ross. The Cards came nearest to scoring just before half-time when Hyde latched onto Donnellan’s long throw. Turning sharply on a loose ball, he struck straight at Gregory.

Half-time: Ebbsfleet United 0 Woking 0

Having looked marginally the more likely side in the first half, the Cards started the second half at an increased tempo and immediately looked more threatening going forward. First of all, though, Parry had to be at his determined best to hold off Umerah and block his attempted strike. A good break by Hyde was followed by a free-kick won by Neufville. Wall’s vicious, low effort thundered through the area but went narrowly wide. Another promising break saw Neufville’s cross cut out.

In the 52nd minute Wall was bundled to the ground as he tried to get on the end of Casey’s deep cross. Hyde stepped up to take the penalty. Gregory got a hand to the ball but was unable to prevent it from going into the net.

Woking continued to have more of the play at this stage of the game, with Wall heading just wide from another Casey cross. But Ebbsfleet responded with several corners, one of which led to vociferous appeals for a penalty of their own.

A double substitution around the 60th minute saw Tomi Adeloye come on for Goddard – which proved to be decisive – and Kretzschmar replace Harris. Initially, Woking remained on top, with Gregory having to head clear as Hyde chased down a through ball. A fine Kretzschmar cross then saw a defender just foil Hyde as he lined up to head home. Parry nearly bundled the ball in from a corner.

But in the 70th minute the Fleet were awarded a free-kick just outside the box for a handball which they claimed loudly and longly had occurred inside the area. Mekki’s well-flighted ball was glanced in by Adeloye to make the score 1-1.

Woking were clearly stung by this equaliser and sought to regain the lead, with Wall heading just over from another Kretzschmar cross. Tarpey then came on for Wall and Diarra was pushed forward when the Cards were in an attacking position.

But the last ten minutes of normal time saw Ebbsfleet step up the pressure as they gained a succession of corners and pumped in a number of crosses, all stoutly defended. It looked as though the Cards had weathered the storm as Tarpey relieved the pressure, getting behind the Fleet defence with a break down the left. But in the 89th minute Ferdinand, receiving a short ball from Donnellan in midfield, took too long and was robbed. The ball was moved swiftly forward to Adeloye, who, advancing into the right of the area, shot cleanly across Ross and into the far corner to give the Fleet a 2-1 lead.

Woking pressed for an equaliser in the remaining few minutes and there was almost a dramatic finale. With Ross staying up after a corner had been initially repelled, the keeper crossed for Hyde but his header went agonisingly wide, leaving the Cards with nothing to show for all their hard work.

This was a very disappointing result. One felt that a win was there for the taking against a Fleet side which was not at its strongest and, apart from substitute Adeloye, did not offer very much going forward. The main consolation from Woking’s viewpoint lay in another generally solid performance from the back four and further signs that the changed midfield provides a better balance than previous line-ups. But the Cards had passed up a great chance to move firmly back into the play-off race.

Ebbsfleet United: David Gregory, Ayo Obileye, Lawrie Wilson, Gozie Ugwu, John Goddard (Tomi Adeloye 63), Josh Umerah, Jamie Grimes, Frankie Sutherland, Marvel Ekpiteta, Jermaine McGlashan, Adam Mekki

Unused subs: Harry Palmer, Mathew Achuba, Zach Dainkeh, Alfie Egan

Goals: Tomi Adeloye, 70 and 89

Bookings: Jamie Grimes, Tomi Adeloye, Frankie Sutherland

Woking: Craig Ross, Josh Casey, Moussa Diarra, Manny Parry, Shaun Donnellan, Godfrey Poku, Jayden Harris (Max Kretzschmar 62), Kane Ferdinand, Josh Neufville, Jake Hyde, Alex Wall (Dave Tarpey 76)

Unused subs: Sam Howes, Ben Gerring, Nathan Collier

Goals: Jake Hyde 53 (pen)

Bookings: Godfrey Poku, Kane Ferdinand, Jayden Harris

My Woking MOTM: Manny Parry (pictured): another committed, battling display

Attendance: 674

Referee: Ryan Atkin

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