Battle-weary Cards fail to press advantage as 10-man Robins finally find their voice

Malcolm Wyatt
12:00am, Tue 2nd Mar 2021
Altrincham 1 Woking 0
Vanarama National League
Tuesday 2nd March 2021

After the elation of Saturday’s FA Trophy quarter-final win came despair in the North West for Alan Dowson’s Cards, the Surrey visitors increasingly bereft of ideas as battling Altrincham pulled off an unlikely win.

Up against a side coming into this league clash on the back of five straight defeats and reduced to 10 men within 35 minutes, Woking looked toothless when it mattered at Moss Lane, lacking the finesse needed to press home their one-man advantage.

The subs who came off the bench at the weekend were rewarded with starts, Ben Dempsey, Tommy Block and Jayden Wareham all looking lively in the opening stages. Yet the hosts seemed more determined as time wore on, and of three home debutant loanees, Australian full-back Regan Ogle - on loan from Accrington - and Grimsby striker Montel Gibson gave the best accounts.

Woking came into this match with two clean sheets, but bookings in the first half-hour for Ben Gerring and Jack Cook did not bode well, the tenacious Tommy Block also in the book by the break.
However, the main incident of the first half was the 34th minute of dismissal of defender Tom Hannigan, one it seemed would turn the match in Woking’s favour. It wasn’t to be though, Phil Parkinson’s side - in their first season at this level in five years – deserving their win.

These teams last met in January 2016, and while that also ended in defeat for the Cards against an Altrincham side who were eventually relegated, Garry Hill’s mid-table finish that term would prove to be a result for Dowson come late May, judging by Woking’s recent league form slide.

There were promising moments in that first half, Kyran Lofthouse and Jamar Loza busy on the left flank, the latter darting left and right in one mazy run after good work by Wareham before a lack-lustre finish that passed home keeper Tony Thompson’s left post.

From a Dempsey free-kick, the ever-imposing Moussa Diarra headed on, but Alty held their ground, while at the other end Gerring was needed to sweep up after a counter-raid.

Woking soon had the upper hand, a Wareham cross from the left next to cause flutters. That said, the home side netted at the midway stage, a searching free-kick from Matty Kosylo fired home from six yards by skipper Jake Moult, on his 400th Robins’ appearance. But the flag was raised for offside.

As the pressure resumed, Card keeper Craig Ross strode forward to fire a looped free-kick into the danger zone, Diarra again head and shoulders above his hosts, and not far off target, while Cook went on a marauding run down the right but went too far, his robust challenge on Hannigan leading to the second caution.
Altrincham hit back, Diarra having to make amends three times in a matter of minutes, Kosylo increasingly more threatening. Three home corners followed, Gerring thankfully on hand for the best effort, clearing at the near post, setting Malachi Napa off on a cross-field run, but with no quality lay-off at the end.

Then came the potential turning point, Wareham grounded after taking advantage of a poor back-pass, referee Andrew Miller deciding the striker – with just the keeper to beat - was tripped by Hannigan, and reaching for his red card. From my vantage point, I wasn’t overly convinced.

Accordingly, the hosts switched things around, unlucky Barcelona-born Yusifu Ceesay sacrificed for Tom Mullarkey. But Dempsey’s resultant free-kick was woeful, seemingly slipping as he struck the ball, which somehow found the lip of the terrace roof above a relieved Thompson.

A period of concerted away pressure followed, Block, Loza, Wareham and Kane Ferdinand knocking at the door, the home defence doing just enough to hang in there, Diarra again on hand when it mattered at the other end, the home side deserving to remain on level terms.

Half time: Altrincham 0 Woking 0

It wasn’t long before the visitors were camped in the opposition half after the break, and it seemed it was just a matter of time before they breached the home defence, the first big moment seeing a Gerring delivery cut out by Thompson, with Wareham lurking.

Cook became instigator-in-chief, his right-wing raids and long throws testing the Robins’ mettle, while Loza looked to make in-roads on the left, Woking pressing for that breakthrough.

However, it was Ross who made the first proper stop, tipping over a wildly-deflected effort by main threat Ryan Colclough, with Gerring and Dempsey soon clearing for another corner.

Cometh the hour, cometh Dowse’s changes, both Max Kretzschmar (for Block) and Jonte Smith (for Wareham) looking lively for most of what ensued, the best chance coming as the latter drilled wide after a swift break, with Altrincham stretched and Thompson seemingly beaten.

But home boss Parkinson had changes of his own up the sleeve, Tom Peers replacing Gibson and within three minutes setting up Kosylo for a fine finish on the counter, Woking caught napping.

The visitors never gave up, but it was a lack of imagination that frustrated as the clock ticked down, umpteen lofted balls into the area looking increasingly unlikely to prove significant, the home game plan working well under pressure.

Thompson got down low to deny Kretzschmar, and after a misplaced ball from Dempsey caused another home raid, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was the Cards rather than Alty who were a man down.

As Gerring delivered again, a spot of head tennis followed, Ferdinand ending up floored, with Mr Miller unmoved.

And rather than put his entire side behind the ball, Parkinson’s hosts continued to stretch the visitors on the break, last sub Connor Hampson in the thick of the action, while Peers – fed by Joel Senior - forced another save from Ross, with Kosylo again going close.

As Cook’s next centre reached the danger zone, it was clear there was no one in a position to make capital, the aerially-dynamic Diarra unable to unlock a spirited defence, for all Woking’s wing service.
Time was running out, the Cards devoid of enough imagination to make their possession count, Alty digging in and Thompson making further assured stops, the hosts surviving five added minutes for a much-needed home victory that saw them up to eighth and the visitors down to 18th.

Woking: Craig Ross ©, Jack Cook, Ben Gerring, Moussa Diarra, Kane Ferdinand, Kyran Lofthouse, Ben Dempsey. Malachi Napa (Matt Jarvis 72), Tommy Block (Max Kretzschmar 60), Jayden Wareham (Jonte Smith 60), Jamar Loza.

Subs not used: Josh Casey, Charlie Cooper.

Yellow card: Gerring 6, Cook 27, Block 45, Dempsey 76.

Altrincham: Tony Thompson, Tom Hannigan, Jake Moult ©, Yusifu Ceesay (Toby Mullarkey 36), Matty Kosylo, Reagan Ogle, Joel Senior, Alistair Smith, Montel Gibson (Tom Peers 66), Ryan Colclough (Connor Hampson 81), Yoan Zouma.

Subs not used: Byron Harrison, James Hardy.

Goals: Kosylo 69.

Yellow card: Colclough 45 + 3’, Senior 86’.

Red Card: Hannigan 34’.

Referee: Andrew Miller.

Star man: Moussa Diarra – Woking lacked invention as the game wore on, but the French centre-back proved busy at both ends, solid at the back, a threat up front, and in charge in the air on several occasions.

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