Woking 1 Torquay United 0
27th February 2020
Despite the three-hour journey one way down the A303, Woking and Torquay have enjoyed a consistently competitive rivalry during the respective Dowson/Johnson eras. Both managers have taken their sides out of the National South within a year, and enjoyed a number of tight clashes - Woking edging them in the cups, Torquay more consistent in the league.
This game was one of the best of the era. While a superb strike from Jamar Loza would be enough to decide it, it's frankly beyond anyone who watched it how the game ended 1-0 to the hosts. A missed penalty, three strikes of the woodwork, two goal line clearances, multiple missed sitters and a 94th minute equaliser dubiously ruled out for offside only begins to paint the picture.
While Woking were able to name an unchanged side from the team that beat Barnet without really getting out of second gear the previous Saturday, Torquay's XI was as patchwork as it could have been. Injuries to a host of usual starters left Torquay with a bench of just five players, with the Gulls announcing the loan signing of QPR keeper Marcin Brzozowski less than two hours before kick-off.
Despite the threadbare squad, both sides were at it in the early stages, and it's a surprise that neither converted. Moussa Diarra almost opened the scoring from the first corner of the game but for a bicycle kick clearance off the Torquay line, with Ben Gerring's follow-up snapshot straight at Brzozowski. Diarra would then present Torquay with the best chance of the game just five minutes later, felling Conor Lemonheigh-Evans just centimetres inside the box. Asa Hall's resultant penalty was kept out thanks to a superb low save from Craig Ross, who has only dived the wrong way for two penalties this season.
The sparring would continue throughout the half, with high energy from Woking's wingers and fluid breaks from Torquay characterising much of the game. Jamar Loza almost recreated his goal against Barnet with a low drive that Brzozowski did well to palm away, while at the other end Max Sheaf was able to dance around two defenders in the penalty area, only to fail to lift his shot over a diving Ross.
The setup from both sides leant itself to quick, sharp counter attacks. Torquay's compact 4141 would flip into a 3142 in possession, with Jake Andrews tucking into a back three from the left while Whitfield bombed on ahead of him. The Gulls kept an incredibly high line from set pieces, but couldn't eliminate long balls into Jonte Smith and Kane Ferdinand, from which Loza and Malachi Napa were able to run at the visitors.
That strategy would ultimately lead to Woking's opener, and the match winner. After a couple of long balls into the Torquay back line weren't effectively dealt with, the bobbling ball was brought down by Loza in the centre of midfield. The Jamaican international rolled his marker before driving into the box, heading away from goal. Tim Flowers said that Loza "only had a right foot" after his goal last week; the wide man's perfect left-foot finish into the far corner suggests otherwise.
Jamar Loza shoots and scores; pic: David Holmes
It could have been two for Woking had Gerring converted an inswinging Napa cross, but the Cards had to be happy to go in ahead at the break. Having weathered several huge chances from the visitors, Loza's goal was a moment of quality that put pressure on Torquay to come out and play in the second half.
Half time: Woking 1 Torquay United 0
Torquay came out of the blocks the faster after the restart, and were inches from levelling the scoring within a few minutes of the whistle. With Woking struggling to clear their lines in the early stages, a cheap foul on the edge of the area gave three takers an opportunity to shoot at goal. Jake Andrews took on the responsibility, and clattered Ross's post with his dipping effort.
The effort would set the tone for a second half full of chances, mistakes, nearly moments, and intense attacking football. Whitfield was frustrated to see a swinging cross palmed over Ross's bar; at the other end, Diarra's header from a Charlie Cooper corner was hammered onto the post by Ben Gerring.
Woking would enjoy their best spell of the match on the hour mark, and it's still unbelievable that the Cards failed to increase their lead. Loza was involved in every attack, ballooning an effort over after cutting inside of #12, and firing a pass just inches short of Smith to put the striker in on goal. Just two minutes later a mistake in the Torquay midfield allowed Loza a second chance to feed Smith, which he nailed - only for the Bermudan hitman to launch an effort over the KRE from 10 yards out.
At the other end, Torquay would have their turn. A low cross-keeper effort from Waters, on the break from a spate of Woking attacks, forced Ross to push the ball back out into the box - only for Kyron Lofthouse to deny Whitfield's follow-up on the goal line. Whitfield himself would have a second effort from range minutes later, fizzing his shot over the bar.
Torquay's only change, introducing forward Rob Street for a frustrated Matt Buse, would only increase the pressure on the home side. A second low effort from Waters would again go unconverted as it skittered through the box, while a driving run from Lofthouse through the middle of the Torquay lines was the only concerted effort Woking summoned in the closing stages. Jayden Wareham was introduced for Smith in the closing stages, with the teenager a driving force for the press in the final minutes, while Napa made way for Tommy Block, and Charlie Cooper for Ben Dempsey.
The defensive changes were nearly all for naught. With thirty seconds to go, Torquay won a free kick on the Woking left, with every player on the pitch taking a place in the Woking area. Rallying cries of "one ball in, and it's a semi-final!" weren't enough; the in-swinging ball was flicked on and seemed to evade everyone despite the best efforts of Torquay forwards, winding up in the Woking net. For a moment, penalties were inevitable, only for the officials to come to Woking's rescue, and the offside flag to raise. The Torquay players were apoplectic, but the linesman was adamant, and Woking had their reprieve.
The final whistle blew moments later and put and end to what was, for the neutral, perhaps the best game played at the Laithwaite this season. The 1-0 score line misrepresents a game full of incident, opportunity and a real commitment to playing good, offensive football - in other words, a bloody good cup tie.
1. Craig Ross, 26. Kyron Lofthouse, 5. Ben Gerring, 6. Moussa Diarra, 2. Jack Cook, 4. Charlie Cooper (18. Ben Dempsey 71'), 8. Kane Ferdinand, 10. Max Kretschmar, 20. Malachi Napa (21. Tommy Block 86'), 26. Jamar Loza, 9. Jonte Smith (23. Jayden Wareham 82')
3. Josh Casey, 11. Matt Jarvis, 12. Nathan Collier, 31. Mark Smith
1. Marcin Brzozowski. 2. Ben Wynter, 7. Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, 8. Asa Hall, 11. Jake Andrews, 12. Adam Randall, 15. Matt Buse (24. Robert Street 67'), 16. Sam Sherring, 25. Billy Waters, 32. Max Sheaf, 34. Ben Whitfield
17. Jacob Evans, 22. Owen Price, 35. Josh Umerah
Hall 17', Lemonheigh-Evans 81'
Behind Closed Doors
Man of the Match: Jamar Loza
. Dovetailed superbly with Malachi Napa, got through a huge amount of running, was a constant danger in both halves and found that moment of magic to put the Cards one game from Wembley.