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A pleasing night's work

Brian Caffarey
11:39am, Wed 22nd Jul 2015
Woking 1 Oxford United 0
Pre-season friendly
21 July 2015

This was an encouraging performance both from the players Garry Hill has already signed and the trialists who came on during the second half. The visitors fielded a strong side but Woking more than matched them throughout the game and won with a headed goal from John Goddard (pictured), one of the night’s best performers, early in the second half.

Garry started off with a line-up that probably isn’t far off his first choice, with Jake Cole in goal, a central defensive trio of Ismail Yakubu, Mark Ricketts and Brian Saah, flanked by Jake Caprice on the right and Chris Arthur on the left; a midfield of Keiran Murtagh, Joey Jones and John Goddard; and a front pair of Scott Rendell and Giuseppe Sole. Only Saah isn’t currently signed on – and fans must hope that will soon be rectified since he, along with Ricketts and Yakubu, looked a solid grouping, giving plenty of protection to Jake Cole and subsequently Nick Hamann.

Wearing their new strip, the Cards got off to a lively start with Arthur, looking much happier in a wing back role, making a strong run, and Goddard’s clever footwork making space for a blocked attempt and several more openings. Woking continued to look the more threatening side in the next quarter of an hour or so, with Murtagh pulling the strings in midfield, ably supported by Jones and Goddard, and Rendell linking well with his team mates, while Caprice and Arthur both looked to get forward whenever possible. Jones produced a fine save from the Oxford keeper, Sam Slocombe, before failing to capitalise on a free header from the resulting corner. The visitors’ best chance fell shortly afterwards to Alex McDonald as he scuffed his shot wide after a cross from the Oxford right had eluded the Woking defence.

The Cards continued to pass the ball around nicely, tending to make more forward progress than the visitors. A fine move in the 25th minute ended with Sole turning the Oxford defence but failing to get enough purchase on his shot to trouble Slocombe. Murtagh then flashed a shot into the side netting, followed not long after by a fierce effort from Arthur which Slocombe did well to parry for a corner. The half ended with a couple of chances for the visitors, with Mickey Collins drilling a shot wide and Ryan Taylor heading over.

Half-time: Woking 0 Oxford United 0

With no changes for either side at the break, Oxford nearly took the lead with only three minutes more played but Danny Hylton’s header produced a fine reaction save from Cole, beating the ball away instinctively. The visitors’ initial urgency seemed to fade quickly as Woking again seemed to gain a measure of control, with efforts from Jones and Sole soon following.

In the 55th minute Woking took the lead. Murtagh fed Caprice on the right and a fine deep cross was met by Goddard, heading back very deliberately across the keeper into the net.

That move was almost matched by Arthur, as he tore down the left, producing a great cross but this time there was no one to apply the finishing touch.

Shortly afterwards it was all change in the Woking ranks as Garry Hill brought on six of his seven substitutes, with Nick Hamann, Charles Banya, Alex Smith, Godfrey Poku, Jordan Brown and Kouassi Evans joining the fray: all trialists except Poku and Hamann. The visitors almost took advantage as a free header was cleared off the line but Rendell responded, scooping over from a cross by Kouassi, who proceeded to produce several good pacy runs and crosses from the right flank.

Alex Smith, with Yeovil last season, then impressed with a snap shot after Rendell had challenged in the box. Slocombe threw his hand up to direct the effort over the bar.

With Reece Beckles also coming on, in place of Rendell, Woking had a distinctly lightweight look about their front line physically, but this was compensated by some admirable chasing down, especially by Poku in midfield, and some real pace on the ball. One might have expected Oxford to have capitalised on all the changes and the disruption but, apart from the closing few minutes, when the visitors exerted some sustained pressure, the Cards continued to match the Us. Saah re-appeared for Jones, who suffered some cramp, and helped the excellent Yakubu amongst others to round off a very pleasing night’s work for Garry Hill’s side.

Obviously, it would be wrong to read too much into one game and one result but there were certainly some encouraging signs, although the squad will clearly need strengthening in certain areas – a quick forward, a wide player and another central defender seem to be the main priorities – and more numbers will be required. But there was much to admire, especially in the solidity of the defence and the creativity and control in midfield areas.

Next up are Portsmouth on Friday evening: don’t forget (a) that it’s Friday, not Saturday and (b) that it’s a 7.30pm kick-off.

Woking: Jake Cole (Nick Hamann 63); Jake Caprice (Kouassi Evans 63), Ismail Yakubu, Mark Ricketts, Brian Saah (Alex Smith 63), Chris Arthur (Jordan Brown 63) Joey Jones (Brian Saah 80), Keiran Murtagh (Godfrey Poku 63), Scott Rendell (Reece Beckles 75), Giuseppe Sole (Charles Banya 63), John Goddard

Oxford United: Sam Slocombe, George Baldock, Joe Skarz, Kemar Roofe, John Mullins, Jake Wright, Liam Sercombe, Mickey Collins, Ryan Taylor, Danny Hylton, Alex McDonald

Unused subs: A J George, Sam Humphries, Robbie Cundy, Josh Ashby, Aiden Hawtin, Wayne Brown

Attendance: 817

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