FC Halifax Town 2 Woking 1
Vanarama National League
9th April 2022
A Matt Warburton double ultimately consigned the Cards to a narrow defeat in an incident-packed afternoon at high-flying Halifax.
The scoreline fails to tell the full story of a genuinely impressive away performance from Darren Sarll’s men, with the second half in particular seeing them create a wealth of chances to not only draw level, but win the game comfortably. The long journey home from West Yorkshire will afford plenty of time to reflect on what might have been, as a combination of bad luck, wayward finishing and an inspired goalkeeping display limited the Cards to a single goal from a spot kick.
Darren Sarll made just a single, enforced change from his first game in charge, the win at Boreham Wood. Jermaine Anderson returned to the side following an extended absence (last featuring at Edgeley Park in the narrow loss in February)
, in place of the suspended Rohan Ince. As at Boreham Wood, the new boss opted to line Woking up in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation. Craig Ross’ goal protected by the much-improved partnership of Tom Champion and Joe McNerney, and David Longe-King and Josh Casey at full back. Solomon Nwabuokei partnered Anderson in the heart of midfield, and Tyreke Johnson and Max Kretzschmar played wide, swapping flanks regularly throughout. George Oakley partnered Inih Effiong in attack.
Halifax – having an excellent season under the management of Pete Wild - third in the table and keen to stay in the top three in the table in order to secure home advantage in the play-offs, were relatively slow to start and Woking begun brightly in contrast. A promising break saw Johnson get in in the inside left position, whereupon he looked to play in Kretzschmar, delayed, and then, rather comically, missed his kick to the amusement of the home fans.
Eight minutes into the game, the Shaymen were, quite literally handed an advantage. A long throw into the visitors’ box was allowed to bounce dangerously, before McNerney headed it wide of goal to safety. Nwabuokei chased the ball, unopposed, looking to clear, and the ball took an unfortunate bounce up towards the midfielder’s midriff. The home side appealed for a penalty, and the referee, on the advice of his assistant, pointed to the spot. Matt Warburton stepped up to send Ross the wrong way from the spot, to put the home side in front
. Debate between the Woking players and the officials raged, however what was clear, was that the pitch, which was bearing the scars of the local Panthers Rugby League team, displayed some uneven bounce throughout the match.
Woking came closest to equalising in the first half when a long ball forward saw George Oakley wrestled to the ground on the edge of the box. After what seemed an age, with the referee dealing with the home side encroaching, Kretzschmar struck the top of the crossbar with the keeper at full stretch from the resulting free kick.
The Cards had a couple of other half-chances in the first half, with Oakley just unable to reach Johnson’s cross at full stretch, and after some promising link-up play between Casey and Kretzschmar, Anderson had a fierce shot blocked for a corner.
After two minutes of injury time, the referee decided to call a halt to proceedings, and the Cards were left to reflect on an encouraging first 45 minutes where they more than held their own against the high-flying hosts.
Half-time: FC Halifax Town 1 Woking 0
Woking emerged early for the second half, with a spring in their step and a positive approach that they took into the early exchanges after the interval. Snapping into tackles in midfield, Nwabuokei and Anderson showed the way, and others were in on the act soon after. A driving run from Kretzschmar was bought to an end by a foul by Debrah, which earned him a booking.
Roared on by the travelling support, Woking forced a plethora of corners in the second half, and from one of them McNerney stung the palms of Johnson, and the Cards had an appeal for a handball penalty award of their own waved away by the official soon after.
Sarll made the first change of the match on 58 minutes, with Nicke Kabamba bought on to replace Oakley up front. Unfortunately, the visitors doubled the lead, in what felt at the time to be a killer blow, just after the hour. The impressive Billy Waters, playing on the right, picked up a loose ball in midfield and played a superb through ball to Warburton, who had picked up an intelligent position between the two Woking centre backs. Advancing towards goal, the former Northampton man calmly slotted past Ross, to the delight of the terrace behind the goal.
Rather than feel sorry for themselves, the Cards picked up where they had left off – on the front foot. Johnson was denied by his goalkeeping namesake who parried a fierce shot, and then on 64 minutes the home keeper made a stunning reflex save to deny Effiong. Woking forced more pressure from corners, and Wild made some changes in a bid to change the momentum of the game and protect the scoreline. The Woking manager himself replaced Johnson with Jamar Loza, who really impressed on the left flank.
On 72 minutes, the Cards made a further positive change. Jack Roles bought some real creativity and class into the Woking midfield, replacing the industrious Anderson who performed well after such a long time out of action.
With 15 minutes to go, the Cards did break through. Effiong, a physical handful throughout, was felled in the penalty box by Luke Summerfield. As he did at Meadow Park, Kretzschmar stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way from the spot, immediately picking the ball out of the net himself in a clear indication that the Cards fancied their chances of an equaliser.
Loza carved out a superb cross from the left which found the head of Kabamba, who, could only steer his header wide when it looked easier to score. On 83 minutes, Woods flew into to a strong challenge on Roles in the middle of the park. After some pushing and shoving from players on both sides, referee Aaron Jackson, to the chagrin of the increasingly frustrated home support, pulled out a red card.
Further pressure from Woking saw more corners, the best opening from which saw McNerney head over the bar. As a result of a lot of incidents, some injury stoppages and plenty of fractious play from both sides, seven minutes of stoppage time were indicated by the fourth official. And for Woking, this was seven minutes of ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at the home side.
Action in the Halifax goalmouth
The opportunities fashioned in stoppage time are almost too many to document here, but amongst the chances were an excellent save from a Longe-King strike, a McNerney header deflected wide for corner, a Kabamba header from another Loza cross, and then, most remarkably, a header over the bar from Kretzschmar from close range after fine work from Loza, Kabamba and Nwabuokei in the build-up. A golden chance to equalise spurned from Woking’s in-form talisman.
Even after that the visitors continued to press, another corner in the final minute of stoppage time with Craig Ross adding to the attacking numbers. Johnson, on the day very much the Cards nemesis, made two fine stops, one of which a superman-style save from a Casey header. The final whistle saw both sides slump to the ground, the hosts, through relief at having seen out a second half onslaught to secure a vital three points in their promotion bid, and the Cards, simply stunned that such a positive display bore no points return.
On Grand National day, the Cards could not quite get over that final hurdle, although took the hosts over course and distance. This season has seen the Cards lose by the odd goal away to all of the current top three, which suggests, that whilst the table doesn’t lie, in one-off games the Cards can give the best sides in the division a run for their money.
Whilst defeated, Darren Sarll would have surely found plenty to be encouraged by in the embryonic stages of his managerial tenure. Genuinely positive play, chances created, defensive solidity in general and substitutes who had a positive influence on the match, all bode well for the rest of the campaign. Play like this at home to Torquay on Good Friday, and the Kingfield natives will likely have a happy Easter.
13 Craig Ross, 3 Josh Casey ©, 4 Tom Champion, 5 Joe McNerney, 22 David Longe-King, 11 Tyreke Johnson (7 Jamar Loza 67’), 10 Max Kretzschmar, 23 Jermaine Anderson (30 Jack Roles 72’), 8 Solomon Nwabuokei, 9 Inih Effiong, 14 George Oakley (18 Nicke Kabamba 58’)
16 Louie Annesley, 1 Mark Smith
Kretzschmar 75’ (pen)
FC Halifax Town
1 Sam Johnson, 31 Niall Maher ©, 21 Tyrell Warren, 18 Javid Swaby-Nevin, 8 Kieran Green (4 Luke Summerfield 67’), 17 Kian Spence (26 Martin Woods ’72), 20 Harvey Gilmour, 11 Billy Waters, 10 Matthew Warburton, 15 Gerry McDonagh (28 Pierce Bird 87’), 5 Jesse Debrah
25 Jordan Slew, 27 Zak Dearnley
Warburton 10’ (pen), 62’
1,763 (102 from Woking)
Man of the Match: Max Kretzschmar
– All action display that continued his excellent form this season, full of endeavour, industry and creativity.