Cards claim crucial Braintree win
9:32pm, Sat 11th Jan 2014
Woking 1 Braintree Town 0
The Skrill Premier
11th January 2014
Joe McNerney scrambled in the only goal of the game, as Woking deservedly saw off play-off chasing Braintree Town, and ended their miserable run of results against Alan Devonshireâ€™s side.
The result marked a long-awaited success for the Cards, as they recorded their first win over the Iron in eight meetings, dating back to when the two teams first met in the Conference South in 2009.
In their seven previous match-ups, Woking had managed just two points and two goals, making todayâ€™s result all the more significant in the Cards' battle against relegation.
After a run of six league wins in their last eight games, Garry Hillâ€™s side are now eight points clear of the bottom four, while they still maintain multiple games in hand on many of the teams around them.
Hill, and assistant Steve Thompson, made four changes from the team that lost 3-1 at home to Salisbury City on Boxing Day. Scott Rendell, Jack Marriott and Charles Banya, all of whom have finished their loan spells and returned to their parent clubs, dropped out along with Brett Johnson. In their place came Giuseppe Sole, John Goddard, Adam Newton and Mike Cestor.
This meant that the Cards lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Goddard and Kevin Betsy providing wide support for front-man Sole. Mark Ricketts returned to his favoured midfield role alongside Josh Payne and Keiran Murtagh, while Newton and Cestor slotted into the back four alongside McNerney and John Nutter. There were as yet, no new loan signings to speak of, with the substitutes' bench comprising Johnson, Anthony McNamee, academy duo Niall Wright and Reece Beckles, and substitute goalkeeper Andy Little.
Despite the multitude of changes, and the loss of striking duo Rendell and Marriott, who scored 15 league goals between them during their time with the club, the Cards started the game extremely brightly, with their new front trio looking particularly impressive.
Twice the home side came close to opening the scoring inside the first ten minutes. First, Nutterâ€™s free-kick was only half cleared by the Braintree defence, with the ball falling kindly for Payne to strike â€“ the midfielder forcing a decent low save from goalkeeper Nick Hamann, who will have seen the shot late through a crowd of bodies. Moments later, and Betsy found space on the edge of the penalty area, allowing him to tee up Sole for a close-range effort â€“ Hamann again in the right place to push the ball around the post for a corner.
Time after time Woking produced some excellent free-flowing football going forward, with one move in particular catching the eye: Sole showing great strength to hold up a long ball out of defence and laying it off for Goddard, who burst forward before feeding Murtagh. The Mansfield loanee looked set to shoot before he too squared the ball for Betsy, who was unfortunate to see his shot from a tight angle fly narrowly wide.
Both Goddard and Payne forced further saves from Hamman, with his stop from Payne particularly impressive as he palmed the ball away from the top left-hand corner of his goal.
The visitors showed very little in the way of attacking prowess during the first-half, with Dan Holman spurning the best of what was a very limited selection of Braintree chances. In fact, if it were not for the heroics of Hamann, they could well have found themselves down and out by the break.
Half-time: Woking 0 Braintree Town 0
However, this was far from the first time this season that the Cards had had the better of the possession and the chances and not taken advantage, making an early second-half breakthrough all the more vital.
And the hosts almost did just that within two minutes of the re-start, when San Habergham misjudged Sam Beasantâ€™s goal-kick and allowed Betsy to race clear down the right flank. Without opposition, the Cards' experienced winger was able to cut inside and square the ball for Sole, only for a combination of goalkeeper and defender to scramble it clear.
It was practically the same move again ten minutes later as Sole stole the ball off the toe of Habergham and released Betsy, only for Dean Wells to heroically throw himself in front of the shot and send it flying up and over his keeperâ€™s crossbar.
Murtagh was the next to be denied, on the hour mark, as he swivelled and shot in the area, only for the feet of Hamann to again send the ball wide. The Woking midfielder was unlikely to have believed his luck when, from the resulting corner, he found himself free at the heart of the Braintree area, only for his shot to balloon back off the left-hand post. Thankfully for the home side, McNerney was on hand, and despite the despairing dive of the goalkeeper, and several Iron defenders, he was able to force the ball into the net for his fifth goal of the season.
Devonshire responded by bringing on Jordan Cox and Bernard Mensah in place of Holman and Kenny Davis. The former made a noticeable impact for the visitors, as he proved to be a real handful for McNerney and Cestor, who had endured a relatively quiet afternoon prior to his introduction. It came as little surprise when he handed Woking fans their heart-in-mouth moment, as his header found the bottom corner, only to be disallowed for a push on a Woking defender.
James Mulley wasted Braintreeâ€™s only other noteworthy chance. After capitalising on a loose pass from Payne and a slip by Newton, the intended recipient, he found himself clean through on the Woking goal but took too long over his shot, allowing McNerney to recover and force him wide, meaning his shot only required a decent block from Beasant.
In fact, the Cards were unfortunate not to add to their lead. Newtonâ€™s long-range shot required another fine save from Hamann, Betsy saw his effort cleared off the line, Payne curled a shot narrowly wide of the top left-hand corner of the net, and Murtagh could only head wide from Newtonâ€™s cross.
It was a fine all-round display from Woking, and one that deservedly brought about three points against a team who were only four points adrift of the top five prior to kick-off. The front three, despite having netted just five league goals between them this season, led the line well, particularly Sole, who completed his first full 90 minutes of league action in over 18 months. Both Payne and Ricketts had excellent games in midfield, while Murtagh was beginning to look more like the player Cards fans will remember from previous loan spells with the club. McNerney, as well as being the match winner, was once again a commanding presence at the heart of the Woking back four, with Cestor looking pleasingly assured alongside him. Newton meanwhile had arguably his best game of this current season, as he celebrated his return to the starting eleven with an extremely encouraging performance.
No doubt the Woking players, staff and fans alike will be hoping that they continue this form, perhaps aided by one or two fresh faces, when they return to league action in a weekâ€™s time â€“ once again facing an opponent they have traditionally struggled against in recent years â€“ Welling United.
However, the Cards are in action again before next weekend as, weather permitting, they travel to Chipstead for their rearranged Surrey Senior Cup match.
Woking: Sam Beasant, Adam Newton, John Nutter, Joe McNerney, Mike Cestor, Mark Ricketts, Josh Payne, John Goddard (Brett Johnson 90), Keiran Murtagh (Niall Wright 89), Kevin Betsy, Giuseppe Sole.
Unused Subs: Andy Little, Anthony McNamee, Reece Beckles.
Goal: McNerney 60
Booked: Murtagh 87
Braintree Town: Nick Hamann, Ryan Peters, Dean Wells, Alan Massey, Sam Habergham, Chez Isaac (Luke Daley 73), Matt Paine, Kenny Davis (Bernard Mensah 64), James Mulley, Sean Marks, Dan Holman (Jordan Cox 61).
Unused Subs: Nathan McDonald, Exodus Geohaghon.
Booked: Peters 40, Massey 90
Sponsor's MOTM: Josh Payne â€“ An outstanding all-action display as he bossed the midfield, unlucky not to score on several occasions.