Woking battle for hard-earned point
12:00am, Wed 20th Mar 2013
Braintree Town 1 Woking 1
Blue Square Bet Premier
19th March 2013
Woking had to show all their powers of concentration and determination to come away from the Amlin Stadium with a point on a bitterly cold Essex evening. Despite taking the lead against the run of play midway through the first half courtesy of a wonder strike from Jayden Stockley and holding their advantage until late in the game, even the most ardent of Cards' supporters would have been hard-pressed to suggest that the home side deserved anything less than a draw.
There had been some doubt during the day as to whether or not the pitch would be fit for play. In the event, however, although it was well-sanded throughout and became heavier as the game wore on, the surface held up remarkably well, allowing both teams to play with the ball on the ground rather than having to resort to route-one tactics.
The Cards made one change to the team which defeated AFC Telford United on Saturday with Mike Cestor replacing John Nutter at left back, who dropped to the bench. If the Cards were hoping to operate an attacking 4-4-2 system against their in-form opponents, such an approach was immediately shelved as the home team were quickly into their stride forcing the visitors onto the back foot and causing Bradley Budd to augment the numbers in midfield, leaving Jayden Stockley as a lone front-runner.
The Iron had much the better of the opening twenty minutes, seeming to be first to most of the loose balls and making good use of the overlap, Sam Habergham being particularly eye-catching down the left flank. That said, Seb Brown in the Woking goal was largely untroubled as first midfielder and captain Kenny Davis blazed over the bar when well-positioned in the penalty box and then Brett Johnson had to make a timely intervention to break up another promising move. The quick and agile Braintree forwards Dan Holman and Sean Marks were proving a real handful for the Cards' defence and at this point, it looked as though the away team would be in for a long and difficult evening.
Very much out of nowhere and against the run of play, however, the Cards found themselves in the lead on twenty-two minutes. There seemed to be no danger for the home team as the ball dropped about twenty-five yards from their goal. Jayden Stockley had other ideas, though. With an attacker's instinct, the confident young striker hit a tremendous volley into the top left-hand corner of the net before Nathan McDonald, the Braintree 'keeper, had time to move.
Despite this setback, the home team redoubled their efforts and continued to take the game to their opponents. They were looking particularly dangerous from set plays and, from one corner, midfielder Nicky Symons shot over from a good position. The goal had clearly given Woking a huge boost, nevertheless, and finally they started to string together some good passing movements. From one such move, Bradley Bubb blasted over just past the half-hour mark when he might have done better. Deep into stoppage time at the end of the half, Stockley won a free-kick on the edge of the home team's penalty box and Joe McNerney's low drive was palmed away by the home 'keeper to bring the first half to a close.
Although Braintree had had the better of the opening forty-five minutes, the Cards had scored a truly fine goal and had shown great character to keep their noses in front. One sensed, however, that it might be a long second half.
Half-time: Braintree Town 0 Woking 1
As to be expected, the home side started the second half on the front foot and immediately applied early pressure on the Woking goal as they went in search of an equaliser. Joe McNerney was then booked for a challenge in the fifty-fifth minute and from the resultant free-kick, Kenny Davis hit his effort over the bar.
Woking were starting to have some promising moments themselves, however, and might have doubled their lead in the fifty-eighth minute following an excellent move. The increasingly influential Billy Knott played a neat one-two with Jayden Stockley on the edge of the Braintree penalty box and hit a thunderous shot which Nathan McDonald could only parry to the feet of the onrushing Jack Parkinson who gleefully netted. Celebrations were short-lived, however, as the assistant referee had raised his flag for what must have been a very marginal offside decision against the midfielder.
Although the home side continued to look dangerous, as the game wore on one wondered if this might just be the Cards' night. Indeed, with time running out, the visitors had two chances in quick succession to seal victory, both chances instigated by Kevin Betsy. Firstly, a good break from the midfielder in the seventy-fifth minute saw him play in Bradley Bubb, but the striker's heavy first touch allowed the 'keeper to snuff out the danger. Then, five minutes later, the two players were involved again. A superb weaving run from Betsy saw him ghost past a number of defenders before he set up Bubb, whose shot was excellently saved by Nathan McDonald.
As full-time approached, it looked as though the Cards would achieve a creditable victory, particularly when substitute Jordan Cox's effort was ruled out in the eighty-second minute for a foul in the Woking six-yard area. It was not to be, however. Just when it seemed as though the home team might be running out of impetus and ideas, up stepped home striker Dan Holman who, much like Jayden Stockley in the first half, unleashed a fine shot from the edge of the area with barely five minutes remaining to beat the despairing right hand of Seb Brown.
There was still time for one last chance in the match and it fell to the Cards. Jayden Stockley was fouled on the edge of the penalty area but, after taking precise aim, Joe McNerney blasted his shot into the defensive wall and the referee brought the game to an end.
On the face of it, being so close to victory this might have seemed like two points dropped. In reality, however, it was probably a case of one point gained. Although the Cards had a couple of chances to make the game safe late in the game, on the balance of play and opportunities created, a slick and impressive Braintree side deserved a share of the spoils and Garry and Steve will probably be satisfied overall. Another away trip beckons on Saturday, to Nuneaton, as the team hunt down the manager's second target. Having reached Garry's "safety" target of fifty points possibly a little sooner than expected, the new target is twelve points from the remaining eight games to reach sixty-five points, an achievement which Garry feels would surpass winning the Conference South title last season.
Woking: Seb Brown, Adam Newton, Joe McNerney, Brett Johnson, Mike Cestor, Mark Ricketts, Jack Parkinson, Kevin Betsy, Billy Knott (George Frith 85) Bradley Bubb, Jayden Stockley
Unused subs: Elvijs Putnins, John Nutter, Adam Francis, Gavin McCallum,
Goal: Stockley (22)
Cautions: McNerney (55), Stockley (75)
Braintree Town: Nathan McDonald, Ryan Peters, Alan Massey, Dean Wells, Sam Habergham, Luke Daley (Jordan Cox 68), Nicky Symons, Kenny Davis, Dan Sparkes, Dan Holman, Sean Marks
Unused Subs: Danny Naisbitt, Ryan Watts, Aaron Wickham, Jake Turner
Goal: Holman (84)
Cautions: Symons (63), Davis (68)
My MOTM: Billy Knott. Applied himself well, showing his customary flashes of skill but also prepared to roll up his sleeves and work hard for the good of the team.