The Cards are staying up

Brian Caffarey
6:23pm, Sat 29th Apr 2017
Dagenham and Redbridge 1 Woking 1
Vanarama National League
29 April 2017

“The Cards are staying up� and “Four more years for Garry Hill� were the cries from exultant Woking fans at the end of this encounter – and they had the added satisfaction of seeing their side escape relegation by dint of the team’s own efforts as they gained the point they needed to stave off the drop. As it turned out, York’s and Guiseley’s failure to win their games would have saved Woking’s bacon anyway, but that was hardly something that could have been relied upon. It was not quite as nerve-wracking an afternoon as it might have been. News that York had conceded an early goal was quickly followed by the Cards taking the lead through a Max Kretzschmar free-kick. But nerves were tested towards the end when the Daggers equalised in the 83rd minute through Scott Heard. However, Woking saw out the game to set the scene for raucous celebrations as Garry Hill went into the Woking crowd, shaking hands all round.

On a bright but cloudy afternoon the Cards lined up with only one change from the side which started the draw against York City last weekend: Kretzschmar replacing Connor Hall. The Daggers, with their play-off place already secure, made a number of changes, which probably helped the Cards gain a good measure of control for much of the game.

After an uneventful opening five minutes the Cards mounted the first serious attack when Jake Caprice, providing his usual attacking outlet down the right flank, got in a good cross, but Gozie Ugwu was penalised as he rose highest.

Another uneventful spell followed before Delano Sam-Yorke, who proved a handful all afternoon with his strong, aggressive running, was fouled out left, about ten yards from the area. Kretzschmar’s free-kick flew over the wall and ended up in the bottom far corner, with keeper Mark Cousins barely moving. There was a suspicion of a deflection but, if there was, it was not very evident.

The Cards continued to look the more threatening side: it wasn’t till the 16th minute that the Daggers managed a shot, albeit weak, on goal. Before then Sam-Yorke and Caprice had combined well down the right and Ugwu outjumped the home defence only to see the ball run on to the keeper before he could capitalise.

Woking’s midfield successfully hassled and harried, preventing the Daggers from putting many moves together, and the central three defenders almost invariably won the ball in the air and swept up anything loose. A Fejiri Okenabirhie charge into the box threatened before sheer numbers crowded him out.

In the 27th minute Caprice and Ugwu worked a nice opening down the right. The latter’s cross was cleared out to Caprice, with his volley flying high and very wide.

There was a scare for the Cards in the 34th minute when Kane Ferdinand was robbed just outside the box. The ball was played through to Luke Howell, who shot narrowly wide. Two minutes later Sam-Yorke went even closer for Garry Hill’s side. A superb whipped cross from Joey Jones, enjoying another excellent game, was met with a fine, flicked header which brushed the roof of the goal.

Keiran Murtagh, as imperious as ever, dallied too long in central midfield in the 35th minute. The ball was chipped into the path of Jake Howells running into the left of the area. He and Michael Poke converged, with the keeper’s presence being enough to force an air shot from Howell, with the ball running away harmlessly for a goal kick.

The Cards ended the first half on the front foot. Terell Thomas’s downward header from a corner was deflected away, with two more corners following in the added extra minute.

Half-time: Dagenham and Redbridge 0 Woking 1

John Still must have given his players instructions to up the tempo for they made a fast start to the second half. A clever reverse free-kick almost opened up the Cards’ defence. More pressure followed as Thomas shanked the ball away for a corner, quickly followed by another.

But the tide turned in the 52nd minute with a characteristically barnstorming run by Sam-Yorke to win a corner. Although the corner was cleared, Sam-Yorke then closed down a defender, only to be denied a blatant foul on the edge of the box. Woking’s offensive continued as Jones showed a clean pair of heels down the right but his cut-back failed to reach a team-mate.

But just as Woking seemed to be firmly in the ascendancy the Daggers created an opportunity from which they ought to have equalised. A cross looped in over Thomas. Elliot Romain, perhaps taken by surprise, headed over from a few yards out much to the relief of the away contingent.

Having survived this “let off�, Woking resumed overall control, keeping possession well as they tried to create a decisive opening and quickly snuffing out any Daggers’ attacking moves.

No doubt partly in recognition of this – but also with the play-offs in mind – John Still made a triple substitution, which included the arrival of the highly experienced striker, Paul Benson. But the changes did not seem to significantly affect the balance of the game. If anything, the Cards benefited from the departure of Luke Guttridge, who had provided a fulcrum in midfield for the home side.

Another Caprice sortie produced a corner, from which Thomas headed down, with Cousins doing well to scramble the ball away. It was Kretzschmar’s turn next as he shot on the turn from a Murtagh pass, but his effort had little power behind it. But his next attempt was much more threatening. Latching onto a Sam-Yorke pass, he took deliberate aim, forcing Cousins to parry the ball round the post.

With the minutes ticking down and news from elsewhere still sounding encouraging, Garry Hill brought on Fabio Saraiva for Kretzschmar in the 76th minute. Another Woking attack saw Ugwu go down too easily in the box. But the cries for a penalty seemed more than justified a moment later as the tall striker’s foray into the area was partly impeded by a defender’s hand. Play carried on as Ugwu’s shot was deflected over the bar. Woking continued to attack as Jones hit a powerful drive from distance, stinging the hands of the keeper, and then Saraiva fired over the bar.

But there was a sting in the tail for Garry Hill’s side. Brian Saah headed a cross out. It fell to substitute Scott Heard, who hit a low drive. The ball bounced in front of Poke, who was only able to help it on its way into the net.

Briefly, the nerves of Woking players and fans jangled, but panic did not ensue as the Cards managed largely successfully to keep the ball down the Dagenham end, with a certain amount of ‘going into the corners’. There was still time, though, for a ‘heart in the mouth’ moment in the last 30 seconds of added time as a free header from a Dagenham corner was scrambled away to safety before the referee blew for time, allowing the celebrations to begin.

This was another very solid performance from Garry Hill’s team. The defence won most of their battles. The midfield was combative, with the busy and under-rated Ferdinand working quietly but effectively, aided by the aggressive Kretzschmar and Murtagh’s ability to work the ball out of trouble. Caprice provided a vital attacking outlet, with the skilful Ralph also getting forward on the other flank. Sam-Yorke and Ugwu, while rarely testing the keeper, kept the Daggers’ defenders on their toes all afternoon.

Huge credit must go to Garry Hill, Steve Thompson and the players for turning things round after the Boxing Day debacle at Aldershot. Garry and Steve have used all their ‘know how’ to develop a more settled, competitive, confident side. In the process it has become clearer that the squad contains some talented players, who perhaps lacked only sufficient experience and on-field leadership to have avoided the early season difficulties, from which the Cards have had to spend the rest of the campaign recovering.

Woking fans have a great chance to show their appreciation of the management team’s and the players’ efforts when the Cards play Merstham in the Final of the Surrey Senior Cup on Wednesday evening (kick-off 7.45pm) at the Laithwaite Community Stadium.

Dagenham and Redbridge: Mark Cousins, Matt Robinson, Luke Howell, Frankie Raymond, Elliot Romain, Luke Guttridge (Paul Benson 63), Fejiri Okenabirhie (Shaun Donnellan 63), Luke Pennell, Sam Ling, Jake Howells (Scott Heard 63), Josh Staunton

Unused substitutes: Elliot Justham, Mason Bloomfield

Scorer: Scott Heard 83

Woking: Michael Poke, Jake Caprice (Dennon Lewis 90), Terell Thomas, Joey Jones, Brian Saah, Nathan Ralph, Kane Ferdinand, Keiran Murtagh, Max Kretzschmar (Fabio Saraiva 76), Delano Sam-Yorke, Gozie Ugwu (Jamie Lucas 87)

Unused substitutes: Brandon Hall, Connor Hall

Goal: Max Kretzschmar 12

My MOTM: Delano Sam-Yorke. His sheer determination, strength and aggression set the tone for the display that the Cards needed this afternoon.

Attendance: 1860 (491 from Woking)

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