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Cards aiming for historic Wembley spot in Trophy semi-final

Glen Harrington
8:18am, Sat 27th Mar 2021
Hereford vs Woking
Buildbase FA Trophy
Saturday 27th March 2021

Woking will be looking to reach a Wembley final for the first time in 24 years as they travel to National League North side Hereford on Saturday in the FA Trophy semi-final.

The Cards, who last reached this stage in 2006, have enjoyed a stellar run in this year’s competition, knocking out National League sides Dover Athletic, Bromley, Sutton United and Torquay United, but now face the rare challenge of going into Saturday’s game as slight favourites. Alan Dowson’s side will be boosted by the positive momentum gained from Tuesday’s National League win over Wealdstone when Moussa Diarra’s late goal ended a run of four games without a win. They’ll now be hoping to move one step closer to a fourth FA Trophy win, as well as guaranteeing a first trip to Wembley since 1997.

Hereford FC were formed in 2014 as a phoenix club following the demise of Hereford United. Three straight promotions between 2015 and 2018 saw them reach National League North, where they have so far recorded finishes of 17th and 16th (on PPG). This season, before it was once again cut short, they sat in 12th place, with 20 points from their 13 games and a record of five wins, five draws, and three defeats. In the FA Trophy they have beaten St Neots Town (3-0), Nantwich Town (1-0), Stamford AFC (2-0), and in the quarter-final, Woking’s local rivals Aldershot Town (5-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw). The original Hereford United were twice FA Trophy semi-finalists in 1971 and 2001, whilst the phoenix club were FA Vase runners-up at Wembley in 2016.

Woking – Team News

Dowse will be left to sweat on the fitness of a number of key players, including defender Jack Cook, winger Jamar Loza, and striker Sam Ashford, who all missed Tuesday’s trip to Wealdstone. Paul Hodges is also unavailable as he’s cup-tied. New loan signing Sam Dalby and Hampton & Richmond loanee Nico Muir are both available, however. Tommy Block, a surprise inclusion at right-back on Tuesday, also put his name in the frame for selection with a man-of-the-match performance. He’ll likely be battling Kyran Lofthouse for a place in the back four.

Hereford – The Boss

Hereford are coached by Josh Gowling, who was appointed on a permanent basis in June of last year, having previously served as interim manager since January. He’s the club’s fourth manager, following in the footsteps of Peter Beadle, Marc Richards, and Russell Slade. The 37-year-old started his playing career at West Bromwich Albion before enjoying a career spent predominately in the Football League with the likes of Bournemouth and Gillingham, as well as the National League with Lincoln City, Kidderminster Harriers, Grimsby Town, and Torquay United. He joined Hereford as a player in 2018 before stepping into management.

One to Watch

Hereford have plenty of experience in their squad, including the likes of former Forest Green pair Jared Hodgkiss and Yan Klukowski, and ex-Woking goalkeeper Brandon Hall, however the one to watch is young midfielder Tom Owen-Evans. The 23-year-old former Newport County and Falkirk player scored 10 goals in the 2018/19 season and has scored eight more across the last two shortened campaigns.

Last Time Out

Hereford United 0-2 Woking – National League (5th April 2014)

The Cards have, of course, never played the current incarnation of Hereford, but last played Hereford United in the 2013/14 season when they won all three meetings without conceding – winning 3-0 at Edgar Street in the FA Trophy in November, 3-0 at Kingfield in February, before completing the rout with a 2-0 away win in April. Scott Rendell and a rare Adam Newton goal gave the Cards all three points on the two side’s most recent meeting.

Next Up

The Cards travel to Torquay United on Good Friday, before hosting Notts County on Easter Monday.

Bulls Eye: Cards lose out to impressive Hereford

Ben Musgrove
12:00am, Sat 27th Mar 2021
Hereford United 1 Woking 0
Buildbase FA Trophy, Semi-final
27th March 2021

It was always the intention, at the end of an impressive FA Trophy run, to protect the inimitable legacy of Geoff Chapple and ensure that Cards fans could sing “never lost at Wembley� in full voice when fans return to the Laithwaite Community Stadium. It just wasn’t supposed to be quite like this.

For all of the magic that Cards fans associate with the hallowed Wembley turf, this year will see a new FA Trophy champion crowned. A first-half goal from forward Joey Butlin would end a cup run in which the Cards have seen off four National League Premier competitors in gritty, character-driven performances, only to be bested by their National League North opposition in every department.

The result wasn’t for a lack of offensive intent in the setup, with Woking opting for an attacking switch in the absence of suspended midfielder Ben Dempsey. On-loan Watford striker Sam Dalby led the line ahead of fellow loanee Sam Ashford, Max Kretzschmar and the near-miss Jamar Loza (pictured above), returning from injury after the Cards’ midweek win over Wealdstone.

For all of the attacking talent in the Woking line-up, the early stages were dominated by towering centre-half Moussa Diarra. The Frenchman produced Woking’s first attempt on goal with a looping header that had former Card Brandon Hall scrambling across his line, before a superb sliding tackle denied Kyle Finn a free run at the Woking goal.

Despite a subsequent interception to deny Butlin a tap-in from a Michael Bakare cross, Diarra’s efforts were soon stained by an error that would lead to the match winner. A poor touch in an unusually high area of the pitch gifted the Bulls possession in midfield, with the home side working the ball left to Bakare. Lofthouse failed to block the cross, both centre-backs were left standing by the whipped ball, and the 5’9� Butlin was able to bullet a header past the exposed Craig Ross to open the scoring.

The goal seemed to fire some urgency into the visitors, who began to force chances that merited better finishes than they received. Superb collaboration between Ashford and Kretschmar on the edge of the box saw the former force a strong parry from Hall, only for the latter to blaze over the resulting corner from a routine described as “pitch perfect in training� by media mogul David Holmes.

It’s also fair to say that the Cards saw more than one ‘sliding doors’ moment in the first half that could have turned the tide of the game. From Kretzschmar pinging a through ball into the heels of an onrushing Sam Dalby, to Ashford getting the ball stuck under his feet inside the penalty area, to a Loza mistouch following a powerful run from Josh Casey on the left-hand side, Woking had several chances to level the score that went begging but for the mercy of a ball that wouldn’t quite stick.

A deflected Bakare shot aside, the visitors felt in the ascendancy coming up to half time. With an early goal giving plenty of time for response, the Surrey natives watching on felt fairly optimistic; surely there was time for a real assault in the second half?

Half-time: Hereford United 1 Woking 0

If an early barrage was expected, it was disappointing for Woking fans to see it come from the home side. Empowered by their first half efforts, the Bulls asserted their intent to double the deficit, with centre-half Jamie Grimes proving dangerous from set pieces. At the same time, Hereford’s strategic intent was made manifest by a slightly unjust yellow for Hall after the fifth time-wasting set-piece in the first ten minutes.

Moussa Diarra pressurises the Bulls' keeper; pic: David Holmes

On the hour mark, after feeling their way into the second half, an uncomfortable hour for Woking was forgotten for a few seconds. A free kick in the middle of the Hereford half was driven into the box by Charlie Cooper, and a brave Diarra header – despite a two-fisted punch to the face – picked out Ashford to head into an unguarded net. With Diarra seeming offside on replays, but also taking a powerful blow to the face from a booked Hereford player, and Ashford briefly circling away only to pull up short, Woking fans can be forgiven for a conflicted few minutes.

The remaining half-hour, it has to be admitted, was anything but. While the visitors would have hoped for those in yellow to take heart from such a near miss, the next quarter-hour was dominated entirely by Hereford. A huge block from Diarra was all that denied the impressive Bakare from doubling the deficit, with Chris Camwell firing the rebound wide of the rooted Ross’s post. Three minutes later, Ross did superbly to deny Owen-Evans from close range, relying on the goalkeeping gods to see Finn’s follow-up fired over the bar.

For the final fifteen, changes were made in the hope of forcing a reaction. Ashford and the ineffective Loza made way for Jonte Smith and Malachi Napa, the latter of which was unable to shake a hamstring strain after a ten-minute spell of positivity and intent. Hampton loanee Niko Muir soon followed for Sam Dalby as the Cards looked to play increasingly direct; it wasn’t long before both centre halves were bombing on beyond the subs in order to win long balls in dangerous areas, with both Gerring and Diarra winning flick-ons that ultimately failed to find their teammates.

Ultimately, the Cards would manage two attempts on goal in the last fifteen minutes; the first was blocked from the edge of the area, and the second found the foot of a 6’6 centre-back at full stretch with little hope of hitting the target. Hereford, for their part, would almost certainly have scored a second if Butlin hadn’t been so surprised by an onside call that he took a touch akin to a shot at Ross.

In a season unlike any other, the final whistle was significant for a number of reasons. Primarily it represented the confirmation, at least in part, of the first FA Trophy final without a National League Premier candidate since Grays Athletic took on Hucknall Town in 2005.

It has also heralded the end of a Woking career for several as-yet unknown players that won’t be with the club next season. With manager Alan Dowson adamant that furlough will be needed to protect the finances of the club, and a transition to full-time football necessitating change in the squad, the loss blunts the competitive edge of a season that has already dispensed with the possibility of relegation.

What we know for certain is that, with no threat of relegation and short of a phenomenal playoff run, the Cards have reached the end of a competitive season. Dowson’s comments on “furloughing the entire squad� are not literal, but nor are they without truth; the remainder of the season will see emphasis placed upon the next, in which a substantial budget increase is indicative of the Woking’s intent to look beyond midtable.

Whether that ambition comes to fruition or not, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “times, they are a changin’.� The launch of a five-year season ticket has heralded a new era for the Cards, at the end of a campaign unlike any other. We can only hope that the positives of this season are taken into the new.

Woking: 1. Craig Ross; 16. Kyran Lofthouse, 5. Ben Gerring, 6. Moussa Diarra, 3. Josh Casey; 26. Jamar Loza (67’ Malachi Napa) 4. Charlie Cooper, 8. Kane Ferdinand; 10. Max Kretzschmar, 25. Sam Ashford (67’ Jonte Smith); 30. Sam Dalby (80’ Niko Muir)

Unused subs: 2. Jack Cook, 11. Matt Jarvis, 12. Nathan Collier, 21. Tommy Block, 31. Mark Smith

Goals: N/A

Bookings: Diarra 62’

Hereford United 20. Brandon Hall; 2. Jared Hodgkiss, 3. Luke Haines, 6. Jamie Grimes, 33. Lewis Butroid; 10. Tom Owen-Evans, 17. Ryan Lloyd, 25. Michael Bukare, 11. Kyle Finn (90’ Klukowski), 7. Chris Camwell (83’ Ben Pollock); 8. Joey Butlin (86’ Maziar Kouhyar)

Unused subs: 1/ Paul White, 12. Kennedy Digie, 16. James McQuilkin, 19. Callum Rowe

Goals: Butlin 21’

Bookings: Hall 55’, Bukare 57’, Finn 87’

Referee: TBC

Attendance: TBC

Man of the Match: Sam Ashford. The only Woking player to fire a shot into the net, and the most dangerous of his teammates before injury forced an early departure.
Hereford LINEUP
20Brandon Hall
2Jared Hodgkiss
3Luke Haines
6Jamie Grimes
33Lewis Butroid
17Ryan Lloyd
11Kyle Finn ('90)
10Tom Owen-Evans
7Chris Camwell ('84)
8Joey Butlin ('87)
25Michael Bakare
1Paul White
4Ben Pollock ('84)
12Kennedy Digie
16James McQuilkin
18Yan Klukowski ('90)
19Callum Rowe
34Maziar Kouhyar ('87)
13Craig Ross
16Kyran Lofthouse
3Josh Casey
5Ben Gerring
6Moussa Diarra
10Max Kretzschmar
4Charlie Cooper
8Kane Ferdinand
25Sam Ashford ('70)
26Jamar Loza ('70)
30Sam Dalby ('82)
31Mark Smith
2Jack Cook
21Tommy Block
11Matt Jarvis
20Malachi Napa ('70)
9Jonté Smith ('70)
19Niko Muir ('82)

Hereford 1-0 Woking | Dowse Interview

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