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Charles-Cook Cracker Charms Conquering Cards

Ben Musgrove
12:00am, Sat 7th Oct 2017
Woking 1 Dagenham & Redbridge 0
Vanarama National League
7th October 2017

The Laithwaite Community Stadium maintained its growing reputation as something of a fortress this afternoon, as Woking played out a hard-fought and unlikely triumph over a dangerous Dagenham & Redbridge. In a fixture that few would have considered a top-of-the-table clash before the season kicked off, a stunning effort from Regan Charles-Cook proved to be enough to push the Cards to just a point from the top of the National League table, and five clear of falling from the playoffs.

Dagenham, without a win on the road since the second week of the season, were looking to put in a strong performance after a run of close shaves. John Still’s side arrived at the Laithwaite determined to end their poor away run, despite the absence of the league’s top scorer, Corey Whitely.

Woking’s superb home form – joint best in the league alongside today’s visitors – was reason for Cards fans to be optimistic, and the consistency of Anthony Limbrick’s team selection suggested a similar confidence. An almost unchanged side from the Cards’ excellent win at Chester on Tuesday took to the field, with the absence of Fabio Saraiva, following an injury sustained in that victory. His absence meant a first Woking start for academy product Lazar Stojsavljevic at left-back, following the teenager’s professional debut during the week.

After tentative sparring in the first few minutes, the away side settled quicker and took firm control of the game in the early stages. Woking were patient with their passing but lacked the creative spark of recent performances, and Dagenham were the first to threaten when Morgan Ferrier broke away from Matt Young down the left channel. His cross went unconverted, but forced a corner, from which Andre Boucard’s goal-bound effort ricocheted away.

This early chance led to a number of corners that went begging for the visitors in the opening stages without creating a clear-cut chance, as the Daggers looked to take on Woking in their own half. Hard work by Isaac and Ferdinand in central areas failed to open up much space out wide, and Dagenham had a number of dangerous runs into the left and right channels thwarted by hard running and strong tackles.

This work ethic managed to gradually stem the flow of chances, with Ferdinand almost dropping in as a third centre-back at times to take possession and start working the ball across the park. Despite nervy periods, regular clearances and direct passing began to give way to the more intricate passing football that Woking fans have been enjoying in recent weeks, and Dagenham began to find themselves losing possession higher up the pitch as the half went on, despite continuing to create.

After the half an hour mark, the game took on a more even complexion, with Woking managing some exciting moments in the attacking third. Shortly after a Bawling shot from the edge of the box was dragged well wide, a Matt Young cross to the back post looked destined for the head of Ferdinand, only for the young midfielder to tangle with his marker. Then, towards the end of the half, Woking went as close as they had come thus far. A ball won high up in the midfield came to Bobson Bawling, who rolled a cultured pass down the right wing into the run of Jamie Philpot. Managing to beat his marker, Philpot’s cross met the head of Joe Ward, whose effort was claimed by Cousins on the goal-line, to the ironic cheers of the away fans.

There was still time to threaten at the other end, as Dagenham looked to make their first-half dominance count. Strong work by left-back Sam Ling found Morgan Ferrier racing down the left channel, and Woking fans held their breath as Ferrier and Wynter battled yard for yard inside the home penalty area. Ferrier chose not to fall to the floor in the 50/50 tussle, and shortly after the resulting corner, the referee blew the whistle for half time. Woking had held on rather than failed to capitalise, but there were signs from both sides that either could be in the lead; nevertheless, 0-0 slightly flattered the home side.

Half-time: Woking 0 Dagenham & Redbridge 0

Looking to build on their dominance of possession of the first half, Dagenham made an early change at half time, bringing on forward Elliott Romain for full-back Sam Ling. Woking remained unchanged, despite having experienced players on the bench.

If Woking fans had hoped for a dominant second half as with Hartlepool last week, they would have been disappointed to see the game resume its pattern as the second half got started. After Ward blazed over from 20 yards following an immediate break down the left, Dagenham came right back at the home side by forcing Baxter into a smart save from Okenabirhie’s raking effort. The Nigerian looked especially threatening down the right-hand side, combining well with Romain to produce some intricate passing and a number of deflected efforts.

Woking were working very hard to maintain their pressing game, and the strain became apparent when Regan Charles-Cook tested the line between yellow and red cards with a very late sliding tackle on Daggers captain Scott Doe. Going in one-footed wasn’t enough to prevent a crunching contact at speed after the ball had gone, and many in the crowd considered Charles-Cook to be fortunate when the referee produced a yellow card. Shortly after this, the most common substitute of this season so far was introduced for Woking, as Philpot gave way to Inih Effiong.

Philpot’s departure meant a change of style for Woking; whereas the Millwall loanee tends to run into the channels and try and play off the back off the defensive line, Effiong gave Woking the opportunity to go long and high, and to utilise crosses all the more effectively. Not more than two minutes after the substitute, excellent pressing from Charles-Cook in midfield gave Bawling the chance to cross from the right-hand side, and Effiong towered over his marker to head the ball goalwards. It took the save of the afternoon from Mark Cousins, at full stretch to his left, to agonisingly tip the ball around the Dagenham post.

Again, as the half-hour mark rolled around, Woking began to grow into the game and win the ball in more dangerous areas. Isaac, Charles-Cook, and Ferdinand worked tirelessly in midfield to harry the Dagenham ball carriers, and special mention should be made for Stojsavljevic, who made several strong challenges and blocks on the Woking left, and whose aerial presence was pivotal in winning several 50/50’s and headers. The youngster only grew into the game as it went on, and should be commended for a promising performance in difficult circumstances.

As the cliché goes, it can take “a moment of genius� to separate two sides in a tight game, and when it came, it took the form of a' goal of the month' contender for the home side. Good pressing in the midfield yet again saw Woking take possession high up the field, with the ball arriving at the feet of Charles-Cook on the edge of the area. The Charlton loanee took two smart touches away from his marker, before unleashing a frankly outrageous strike across goal into the top right-hand corner, with Cousins unable to move. The KRE exploded behind the goal, with a flare and a solo pitch invader high-fiving Chez Isaac, making the scene all the more surreal.

The visitors, spurred into action by the prospect of losing a game they had often threatened to win, suddenly found their shooting boots, and began to register efforts on target with an alarming regularity. The introduction of Bloomfield for the impressive Okenabirhie gave them fresh legs to run at the Woking defence, and both Bloomfield and Romain forced sharp low saves from Nathan Baxter as the final minutes ticked down. The introduction of Richard Orlu on his return from injury gave Woking fresh defensive legs, and Dagenham’s increase of tempo only gave the Cards more opportunities to get possession and work the ball across the park.

Frustrations built as Woking rode their luck when they had to; Ferrier was booked for tripping over the ball and handling it as he broke down the right wing. Then with just 90 seconds remaining, Cards fans held their breath as Romain went down in the penalty area under Staunton’s challenge, only to release it as a cheer when he too was booked for simulation. A brief scuffle following this saw Staunton receive a yellow card, which rules him out of next week’s F.A Cup tie with Concord Rangers.

The decision stood, however, and shortly afterwards Woking fans were able to celebrate a victory that had at many points during the afternoon looked like a defeat. The home fans were deafening in their praise of a team that had demonstrated an ability to fight hard and grind out a result, even when unable to impose their game on impressive opposition. Six games without defeat has fostered a feel-good factor around Kingfield, and with an F.A Cup tie just around the corner, there is much to be excited about.

Woking: Nathan Baxter, Lazar Stojsavljevic, Josh Staunton, Jordan Wynter, Matt Young, Chez Isaac, Kane Ferdinand, Regan Charles-Cook (Richard Orlu 86), Joe Ward, Bobson Bawling, Jamie Philpot (Inih Effiong 63)

Unused subs: Charlie Carter, Sam Mason, Declan Appau

Goals: Charles-Cook 78

Bookings: Isaac 48, Charles-Cook 60, Staunton 90

Dagenham & Redbridge: Mark Cousins, Sam Ling (Elliott Romain 46), Jake Howells, Luke Howell, Scott Doe, Ben Nunn, Craig Robson, Charlee Adams (Matt Robinson 73), Andre Boucard (Mason Bloomfield 81), Fejiri Okenabirhie, Morgan Ferrier

Unused subs: Lewis Moore, Bondz N’Gala

Bookings: Doe 90, Howell 90+3

Referee: Chris O’Donnell

Attendance: 2,509

Man of the Match: Chez Isaac. The Woking captain put in a herculean shift in central midfield, facilitating much of Woking’s wide play and consistently harrying the opposition throughout.

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