Cards slip to second successive defeat

Glen Harrington
8:23am, Wed 29th Aug 2012
Woking 1 Braintree Town 4
Blue Square Premier
28th August 2012

An efficient and organised Braintree Town side condemned the Cards to their second defeat in four days, as their unbeaten start to the season at Kingfield came to a spectacular end.

It was a difficult night for Woking as, despite playing some good football at times, they were undone by a combination of needless mistakes and quality finishing.

Danny Holman gave the visitors an early lead, taking advantage of a slip from Mike Cestor (pictured) by thumping a long-range effort into the bottom right-hand corner.

Brett Williams levelled things for the hosts shortly before the half-time interval, but a Cestor own goal and further wonder-strikes from Nicky Symons and Holman deservedly won their side three points.

Following Saturday’s last-minute heartbreak at promotion-chasing Forest Green, Garry Hill’s side reverted to the 4-4-2 formation that had served them so well in the wins against Dartford and Barrow. This meant a return to the team for Williams at the expense of Jack Parkinson, who dropped to the bench.

Meanwhile the Iron, whose first choice striker Sean Marks was only fit enough for the bench, paired new signings Michael Gash (on loan from Cambridge United) and Holman up front. The latter joined from Blue Square North side Histon at the weekend, having scored an impressive 29 goals last season.

Just sixteen minutes in, and it became very clear why manager Alan Devonshire had been so excited about his new man, as Holman quickly side-stepped the fallen Cestor and unleashed an unstoppable drive past Aaron Howe.

This after the Cards had enjoyed the better of the opening stages – coming close through a Joe McNerney header, that had to be smartly tipped round the post by Danny Naisbitt following Bradley Bubb’s long throw.

Before this encounter Woking had never so much as managed a goal against Braintree in five previous meetings, four of which had ended in defeat. A second goal for the visitors would therefore have put them in firm control, and they should have had it mere moments after their first, as Brad Quinton picked up possession from a stray McNerney pass and squared for Gash, who somehow failed to deliver the vital touch when in space six yards out.

Woking responded well to falling behind and looked dangerous in possession, especially when the class of Kevin Betsy and Lee Sawyer was involved in the play. Nonetheless, while Mark Ricketts came close to testing Naisbitt with a back-post drive which flew narrowly wide, clear-cut chances were few and far between.

Unfortunately, the Cards looked far less comfortable when their visitors stormed forward. McNerney, who had been widely complimented on his excellent start to the season, was having a particularly challenging evening, and it was his defensive header that went straight to Braintree midfielder Kenny Davis, who lashed a volley back goalwards, only to see the ball cannon back off a post.

Enter stoppage time and it was time for an error at the other end: a long and hopeful ball up-field from Brett Johnson caught Braintree’s centre-halves slacking and allowed Williams to steal possession off their toes. The Reading loanee raced clear and coolly slotted home his first Woking goal.

Half-time: Woking 1 Braintree Town 1

Arguably, the game’s defining moment came just three minutes after half-time, with the goal that so nearly was. The visitors again failed to deal with Bubb’s long throw and Pires’ flicked header might have crept in, were it not for a spectacular goal-line clearance from the Iron’s defender.

Five minutes later, and the game was all but over. With Howe having just made an excellent stop to deny Gash, who had beaten the offside trap to go through one-on-one, the Cards back-line dallied too long over clearing the ball and was quickly robbed of possession.

Braintree were not to miss a second time: Danny Sparkes's cross from the left turned in from close-range by the head of an unlucky Cestor, who could have done little else with Gash lurking behind him ready to tap home.

Having understandably been unable to do anything about the first two, Howe was at fault for Braintree’s third. His poor clearing kick, which he had taken from the edge of his penalty area, flew straight to an unmarked Symons, who gleefully executed an unbelievable strike from just inside the Woking half, that the Cards keeper could only watch fly back over his head and into the net.

Everything appeared to be going the way of the visitors, while the hosts certainly seemed to be short of a little luck. The home side might have struck back quickly, but McNerney’s header only flicked the top of the crossbar, while Williams narrowly failed to connect with a potential close-range effort of his own.

Soon it was four, and the score-line was suddenly very harsh on the Cards. It was route-one stuff from Braintree this time as Holman out-muscled McNerney under the dropping long-ball, and unleashed yet another stunning effort that left a despairing Howe as nothing more than a spectator.

A stream of changes followed from both sides, with Woking bringing on Jack Parkinson, Gavin McCallum and Adam Doyle, but with the visitors content to defend what they had won, it was an unenviable task for those coming into the game in a red and white shirt to try and make something happen.

Williams continued to have the best of the Cards chances. However, he found Naisbitt in inspired form, the Braintree stopper sprawling at the striker’s feet to deny him once, while tipping another goal-bound effort spectacularly over the bar. When the forward did belatedly find a way through, he was still denied, this time by the offside flag.

While this will go down as a bad night for Woking, who stretch their miserable winless streak against Braintree to six games, it is a score-line that does not tell the whole story: with two evenly-matched teams separated by a couple of sloppy errors, and a pair of exquisite finishes from Holman.

It is a harsh lesson that, unlike in Blue Square South, mistakes at this level will not go unpunished, and opposition sides will be far more ruthless.

On a more positive note, Brett Williams had easily his best game for Woking so far, while the Cards' passing and general attacking play were good. It’s perhaps only that clinical cutting-edge effect –provided by the likes of the departed Paris Cowan-Hall, Keiran Murtagh and the currently injured Giuseppe Sole last season – that still remains to be found. Prior to today, Garry Hill’s side have looked solid defensively, and despite a bad night, wholesale changes are surely unlikely and unnecessary.

It will be interesting to discover whether any more new faces join the Club before the closing of the transfer window, which comes a day before an away trip to Mansfield Town.

Woking: Aaron Howe, Adam Newton, Mike Cestor, Joe McNerney (Adam Doyle 73), Brett Johnson, Mark Ricketts (Jack Parkinson 68), Lee Sawyer, Bradley Bubb, Kevin Betsy, Loick Pires (Gavin McCallum 68), Brett Williams

Unused Subs: Sam Beasant, Dean Sinclair

Goal(s): Williams 45

Booked: McNerney 70, Bubb 72, Newton 90

Braintree Town: Danny Naisbitt, Ryan Peters, Adam Bailey-Dennis, Dean Wells, Samuel Habergham, Daniel Sparkes (James Mulley 89), Nicky Symons, Kenny Davis (Matthew Paine 89), Bradley Quinton, Michael Gash, Dan Holman (Josh Dawkin 82)

Unused Subs: Nathan McDonald, Sean Marks

Goal(s): Holman 16 & 64, Cestor o.g. 51, Symons 54.
Booked: Holman 42

MOTM: Mike Cestor – Had an uncomfortable night, as did the majority of his teammates in a defensive sense, but his surging runs down the left were a regular threat.

Attendance: 1,588

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