Ricketts's rocket rumbles Richmond!

Glen Harrington
7:35pm, Wed 16th Mar 2011
Woking 2 Hampton & Richmond Borough 1
Blue Square Bet South
15th March 2011

The Cards left it late for the third match in succession as a Mark Ricketts' thunderbolt, fifteen minutes from time, was enough to deservedly claim all three points. Ricketts’ strike came as welcome relief for those around Kingfield, who had previously seen Moses Ademola’s close-range opener cancelled out by Hampton substitute Dan Thompson.

Garry Hill, looking to make it ten wins from eleven, opted for two surprise changes to the side that overcame both Weston-super-Mare and Thurrock the week before. First, Reiss Noel dropped to the bench and, with Joe McNerney still suspended, skipper Mark Ricketts (pictured) was asked to play alongside Adam Doyle at the back, leaving space for Andy Burgess to make his full debut in midfield. Nathan Koranteng also got his first start down the left in place of the usually right-sided winger Craig Dobson, Moses Ademola switching flanks to accommodate.

The Beavers, in contrast to their hosts, had endured a torrid run of form, winning only three of their previous twenty-two league fixtures in a run stretching back to early October. Despite last week’s shock 3-0 victory over the Cards' play-off rivals Chelmsford, which had briefly shown some signs of revival, Saturday’s home defeat to Weston had left Hampton just seven points clear of the relegation zone and in desperate need of further points.

The game started slowly with Borough obviously eager not to give away an early goal, strikers Ian Hodges and ex-Card Charlie Moone providing the only real attacking outlets as they chased the long ball out of defence. However, it was the Beavers who came closest to opening the scoring, the hosts struggling to clear a goalmouth scramble resulting from a corner.

An early scare for a defence that had only conceded once in its last ten league games seemed to wake the Cards out of their slumber, Ademola jinking into the penalty area and winning a corner of his own. Adam Doyle was also causing immediate problems as the visitors struggled to deal with his physical presence from set pieces, the big defender sending a header straight across goal before Elvis Hammond volleyed over.

Woking soon got their passing game going and it seemed only a matter of time before Borough would crack under the pressure, another ex-Card Francis Quarm becoming the first name in the referee’s note-book for a rash challenge on Koranteng. Hampton were obviously frustrated by their severe lack of possession.

Two minutes later and it was the Cards' turn to almost break the deadlock, Kieran Murtagh producing a wonderful turn on the edge of the area to escape his defender, before hitting his shot straight at keeper Matt Lovett. Murtagh was to come close again moments later, as he was presented with a free-header by Ricky Anane, placing his effort just over.

Just past the half hour mark and the hosts finally got the goal their pressure deserved - Adam Doyle again causing havoc in the Hampton penalty area as he got the first flick to a Kieran Murtagh corner. Following deflections from several bodies the ball finally fell to Moses Ademola, who turned in from six yards.

Half-time: Woking 1 Hampton & Richmond Borough 0

At the break both managers made changes. Garry Hill was unfortunately forced to withdraw Burgess, who had looked impressive with much of his passing before picking up a slight knock. Reiss Noel was brought on in his place. This also meant a welcome return to midfield for Ricketts who, despite an impressive display at centre-half, gave the team a far more familiar look with his half-time switch. Beavers' Manager Alan Devonshire meanwhile opted for a change of forwards, Dan Thompson replacing Hodges.

What a change that would prove to make for the visitors as, just seven minutes past the interval Moone found himself clean through on Andy Little’s goal. Despite Little’s best efforts to smother the first effort he was only able to divert possession into the path of Thompson, who was left the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net. Only the noise of surprise joy from the Hampton staff and supporters broke the stunned silence around Kingfield.

Despite heavy possession and pressure in the ensuing passage of play the Cards struggled to create chances with Hampton looking to protect what they had won. With twenty minutes to go both managers again took action, each looking to win the tie – Ollie Palmer replacing Koranteng for Woking, the Beavers bringing on Laurence Yaku in place of Moone.

Having been on the pitch for just seconds, Yaku almost gave his side a shock lead against the run of play as, closing in on Little, the Hampton substitute looked certain to produce a mirror image of his side’s earlier goal. This time, however, the Woking keeper made no mistake with his interception, diving at the feet of the striker and crucially diverting the ball clear.

It would prove to be the final chance the visitors had to double their account, and one they would deeply regret squandering. Straight up the other end and step forward Mark Ricketts for a moment of magic. Collecting possession thirty yards from goal, the Woking skipper, as always, looked around for the best passing opportunities available to him. There weren’t any. With the likes of Hammond and Palmer tightly marked and without a defender closing him down, Ricketts instead let fly, seeing his effort curve majestically away from Lovett and nestle soundly in the bottom right-hand corner. The teammates, who had already half turned away in disappointment at their captain’s wastefulness, instead howled with delight as assistant boss Steve Thompson only just managed to restrain himself from running onto the pitch and joining in the celebrations.

The home side were now dominant, and even had the confidence to hand another striker, James Walker, his belated debut in place of an injured Jay Davies – Moses Ademola dropping into midfield to keep the 4-3-3 formation. Indeed, the Cards twice came close to doubling their lead in the same move, Hammond’s clever back-heel teeing up Murtagh to smash the ball against the post, before Aswad Thomas's salvaged cross was headed over by Palmer.

With the Beavers unable to string together a significant spell of ball retention, it was the Cards who also had the best chance of three minutes stoppage time, Hammond yet again linking up and exchanging passes with Murtagh, before seeing his effort smartly kept out by Lovett.

So the Cards are fourth following the extension of an unbeaten run to eleven games in which Woking have won ten, kept nine clean sheets, and scored twenty-two times. Thanks to Monday’s 2-2 draw between Dover and Chelmsford and Eastleigh’s goalless draw at Dartford the next night, Garry Hill has now seen his team rise eight places since his late January takeover, losing just once at leaders Braintree and taking 31 points from a possible 36. Not bad at all!

In relation to the sides around them the Cards sit three points adrift of Ebbsfleet and two behind Farnborough, who have one and two games in hand respectively. However, it is worth remembering we travel to both teams in the final week of the season. Chelmsford, in fifth, have now fallen a point behind Woking having also played thirty-three times, Welling a point further back with a game in hand. The other two play-off contenders to watch are Eastleigh, also two points behind, and Dover, a further three, who both have two matches in hand.

As well as the Cards hosting freefalling Bromley, this week’s key fixtures include Welling playing both Eastleigh and Ebbsfleet. With Woking still to play just four games against teams around them, it is vital that points continue to be picked up in every game, however ugly those points may be.

The race for the play-offs looks set to go to the last day of the season. Something that’s starting to become familiar!

Woking: Andrew Little, Ricky Anane, Aswad Thomas, Mark Ricketts, Andy Burgess (Reiss Noel 45), Adam Doyle, Nathan Koranteng (Ollie Palmer 68), Kieran Murtagh, Moses Ademola, Elvis Hammond, Jay Davies (James Walker 77).

Unused Subs: Anson Cousins, Matt Pegler.

Goals: Ademola 34, Ricketts 72.

Bookings: None

Hampton & Richmond Borough: Matt Lovett, Graham Harper, Pat O’Connor, Orlando Jeffrey, Dean Inman, Dean Wells, Francis Quarm (Gustavo Mota 83), James Simmonds, Ian Hodges (Dan Thompson 45), Charlie Moone (Laurence Yaku 70), David Tarpey.

Unused Subs: Kraig Rochester.

Goals: Thompson 52.

Bookings: Quarm 16, O’Connor 31, Harper 90.

MOTM: Mark Ricketts – His match-winning strike alone making him more than worthy of the award. The defensive and organisational side of his game was as strong as always and he adjusted well to being asked to play in defence for the first half. A captain’s performance!

Attendance: 1,037

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