Cards draw but extend lead

Brian Caffarey
8:01pm, Sat 17th Dec 2011
Thurrock 1 Woking 1
17 December 2011

On the face of it, a draw at bottom-of-the-table Thurrock this afternoon looks like two points lost. While you can certainly take that view, the fact is that on the day the Cards had to come from behind to rescue a point and their closest challengers, Welling United, were defeated at Sutton United, extending the Cards’ lead to ten points.

With Mark Ricketts missing with a broken leg, Garry Hill drafted Ben Smith into an advanced central midfield role alongside Jack King and Jay Davies, with Elvis Hammond the lone front man. On a cold afternoon, with probably more away fans present than home supporters, the Cards showed up well for the opening few minutes, with Dale Binns seeing plenty of the ball down the left flank. An early cross was well taken by the Fleet keeper, Craig Holloway, and a nice move led to a Moses Ademola effort, which was similarly comfortably held. There was promise too in some clever play by Hammond in the box before the home side started to string some passes together in midfield and to ask questions of the Woking rearguard. A flowing Thurrock move led to a dangerous cross from their left flank, with Aaron Howe punching clear and then Terry shooting over.

Adam Doyle responded with some adventurous play down Woking’s left before the Fleet ramped up the pressure, with Terry unlucky to see a nice chip come back off the bar. With Thurrock often seemingly able to bypass the Woking midfield with quick interchanges, anxiety grew among the Woking fans and, after Howe had been forced to parry another effort from Cutler, it was no great surprise when the home side took the lead in the 25th minute. The ball pinged around the box, finding Jamie Guy to the right of the area, whose low shot beat Howe.

The Cards certainly knew now – if they hadn’t appreciated it before – that they had a game on their hands. They responded with some clever interplay between Hammond and Smith, with the former’s shot being deflected over the bar. But the momentum still seemed to be with Thurrock as they continued to make good progress through the midfield. Woking, on the other hand, found it hard to gain possession further upfield, with Hammond no match for the Thurrock defenders when high balls were thrown forward.

On the half-hour mark Howe got low to hold another decent effort from Cutler, and Woking added to the pressure on themselves by conceding several free-kicks. One of these led to the woodwork coming to Woking’s rescue again, with Howe just getting a hand to the ball before it clipped the bar. In contrast, Woking’s free-kick just outside the ‘D’, taken by Smith, sailed harmlessly over.

Woking finally seemed to get their act together in the five minutes leading to half-time as they fashioned several promising attacks on both flanks, with Adam Newton getting in an excellent cross which was headed clear, but the equaliser eluded them.

Half-time: Thurrock 1 Woking 0

Garry Hill no doubt had some harsh truths to impart at half-time to his charges and it was soon clear that they would show much more urgency in the second period. First, though, they had to survive another scare when a dangerous cross just missed Drewe Broughton.

The Cards should probably have been back on level terms in the 51st minute when Hammond latched onto a through ball. Holding off defenders as he advanced into the area, he shot – but fractionally too high, as the ball cannoned back off the bar. Jack King, following up, let fly but his shot was deflected over the bar.

The tide had now turned, however, and, apart from a couple of breaks out of defence, the pressure was nearly all one-way as the Cards, with much vocal support, fought desperately to get back on level terms.

Binns, set free by King, put in a tantalising cross, which Holloway did well to snaffle. Alan Inns, frequently popping up in attack now, turned and shot from a corner, only to see his shot deflected to the keeper.

In the 56th minute Garry Hill threw on Wayne Gray and Gez Sole for Moses Ademola and Jay Davies, neither of whom had seemed to be able to make much headway on a heavy pitch. Sole, looking much livelier than on Tuesday at Dartford, was soon in the thick of things, putting in a great cross, which McNerney’s glancing header put just wide. Another Sole cross was intercepted by the keeper. The award of a free-kick raised hopes of a ‘Gez Sole special’ but it wasn’t to be, with the ball flying well over the bar.

With the Woking pressure mounting all the time, attacks now came thick and fast. A loose ball in the box looked inviting but no-one could latch onto it. A header hit the post but the linesman’s flag had already been raised. Inns chipped over the bar from a corner and another testing Sole cross was cleared.

Inevitably, as Woking drove forward, they left themselves open to swift counter-attacks, and they were nearly made to pay for this on a couple of occasions around the 70-minute mark. Osborn made space and drove the ball inches wide of Howe’s post. Then Deen got through and attempted to chip Howe but, fortunately, he applied too much power and the ball flew harmlessly over the bar.

Woking redoubled their efforts, with a fine move seeing the ball whipped off Smith’s toes as he was about to shoot. But Hammond came to the rescue in the 75th minute, with a characteristically ‘classy’ bit of finishing. A Sole corner was headed back across the box. Hammond’s superbly-executed scissor-kick sent it back inside the far post to make it 1-1.

Woking lived dangerously two minutes later as Broughton failed to make the most of a free header, but it was then mainly a question of whether the Cards could go on to grab all three points. A well-struck effort from Sole went straight into Holloway’s midriff. McNerney’s fine ball sent Hammond away down the left but Sole couldn’t get a shot away from his team mate’s cross.

There was a final Thurrock ‘break’ as Doyle just managed to foil Osborn before Garry Hill threw on Ola Sogbanmu for McNerney with five minutes remaining in a last attempt to secure another away win. Another corner saw King’s shot blocked, with Ola losing his bearings with Smith’s resulting chip back into the box. Gray, working hard as always, was then just beaten to a through ball before the referee ended an entertaining game.

If Garry Hill’s side needed a warning that games against bottom-of-the-table sides won’t necessarily be plain sailing, then Thurrock certainly provided a salutary lesson this afternoon. They were good value for their point and might well have made Woking’s task even harder if they had taken another of several presentable chances which fell to them. The Cards seemed to miss the drive and determination of Ricketts in midfield and didn’t really get going till the second half. They will need to do better in the ‘holiday double’ against Farnborough.

Woking: Aaron Howe, Adam Newton, Joe McNerney (Ola Sogbanmu 85), Ben Smith, Alan Inns, Adam Doyle, Jay Davies (Giuseppe Sole 56), Jack King, Moses Ademola (Wayne Gray 56), Dale Binns

Unused subs: Derek Duncan, Andy Little

Booked: Adam Doyle 82, Giuseppe Sole 88

My MOTM: Adam Newton (pictured), narrowly from Elvis Hammond and Alan Inns.

Thurrock: Craig Holloway, Peter Furlonge, Nathan Ashton, Stuart Thurgood, Peter Grant, Luke l’Anson, Paul Terry (Ben Bowditch 73), Sam Cutler (Jamie Davis 90), Jamie Guy (Alex Osborn 63), Drewe Broughton, Ahmed Deen

Unused subs: Sam Holloway, David Hughes

Attendance: 380

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