Woking 0 West Bromwich Albion 1
17th July 2021
On a warm, sunny Friday evening, Woking FC took their first steps towards putting the traumatic last few months of the 2020-21 season behind them, with a prestigious pre-season friendly at the Laithwaite Community Stadium against ‘old rivals’ West Bromwich Albion providing an opportunity to ‘run the rule’ over a revamped squad that included new players and returning favourites.
The starting line-up provided a strong insight into Dowse’s early thinking re a preferred XI going into the new season, though it included a trialist on the right wing. There was a welcome return for the imposing figures of Joe McNerney in central defence and Inih Effiong up front, and also for Tyreke Johnson who previously impressed in his sadly curtailed loan spell with the club. Newcomers Tom Champion and Rohan Ince slotted into the midfield; the team was complete with last season regulars including Josh Casey and Max Kretzschmar who had just re-signed.
Allowing for the departure of some big name players following their recent relegation from the Premier League, WBA brought a full strength first team – not to mention some dedicated 200 or so dedicated fans on the CLT. The likes of Jake Livermore, Matt Phillips and Grady Diangana started the game; amongst the many substitutes was Saul Shotton who impressed on loan with the Cards last season.
WBA kicked off towards the KRE. As early as the 2nd minute, Woking won a free kick near Moaners which Johnson drove over the heads of everyone in the box for the keeper to claim. Shortly after, McNerney reminded the crowd of his aerial prowess with a strong clearing header. The early exchanges were fairly evenly matched.
11 minutes in, Johnson was fouled near the corner; Kretzschmar swung his free kick in to no avail. A dangerous WBA attacked finished with Alex Mowatt blasting the ball well over the bar.
Determined battling and excellent footwork by Effiong up against several WBA defenders led to him being fouled; Kretzschmar’s kick was headed clear.
Woking won a number of corners and free kicks near goal during this half; McNerney rose above the defence to one floated by Kretzschmar from Moaners’ Corner in the 25th minute and headed it over.
Not surprisingly, WBA constructed some dangerous attacking moves and put Ross under pressure at times. Diangana broke away and went 1-on-1 with the goalie in the box, putting the ball past him only for it to be cleared on the line by Casey running back.
Shortly before half time, the Woking trialist was floored on the corner of WBA’s area; there were cries for a penalty but to no avail.
The Cards acquitted themselves in an evenly matched first half and will have started to create optimism for the coming season.
Half-time: Woking 0 West Bromwich Albion 0
Woking swapped out their starting XI going into the second half with 3 confirmed squad players – newly re-signed Mark Smith, Leo Hamblin and Solomon Nwabuokei - a number of academy / young players including a couple who came through the trauma of first team action towards the end of last season, and 3 ‘Trialists’, one being Charlie Cooper and the other Nathan Collier.
WBA just made the one change in goal at this point, Alex Palmer coming in for David Button. They restarted strongly; a dangerous-looking cross being dealt with well by Hamblin. On 49 minutes, Phillips collected the ball in the box with his back to goal, then turned brilliantly and struck a sharp shot which hit the opposite post and went out for a corner; the closest we had come to a goal. No one was at hand to respond to an awkward cross by Furlong and it went out for a throw-in.
WBA made 6 substitutions in the 53rd minute, resting many of their big names.
63 minutes in and the diminutive Saied skilfully trapped a cross-field ball and ran to the edge of the WBA box, where his shot was blocked. A nasty collision gave the Cards a free kick near the area, which one of the trialists shot over the bar.
Saied goes on a jinking run
Karlan Grant forced a good save from Mark Smith, and generally caused problems for Woking on the left. 4 more WBA substitutions were made in the 73rd minutes. Quevin Castro, fired a shot in on 76 minutes which hit the side netting.
Sam Evans contested a ball in the WBA area which Alex Palmer seemed to slow pick, and almost created a chance for himself.
With time running up, a challenge by Collier resulted in a WBA penalty. Zohore stepped up and blasted it into the corner. There was barely time to restart; an unfortunate end to a remarkably evenly-contested game.
There was a sense that the very inexperienced looking Cards team of the second half might be cannon fodder for the senior pros of WBA but they coped with everything thrown at them remarkably well. Nwabuokei made an immediate impression with a commanding performance on his debut. Sam Evans was lively up front, and Saied turned his lack of height to an advantage on the left. Hamblin continued to build on the promise at left back shown during his ‘baptism of fire’ in the latter stages of the 2020-21 season.
So plenty of promising signs in this first ‘run out’ for the new look Woking squad, though a handful of contracted players were missing on this occasion. Definitely a solid foundation to build on.
First Half: 13 Craig Ross, 2 Kyran Lofthouse, 5 Joe McNerney, 6 Moussa Diarra, 3 Josh Casey, 4 Tom Champion, 24 Rohan Ince, 10 Max Kretzschmar, 11 Tyreke Johnson, 9 Inih Effiong, Trialist.
Second Half: 1 Mark Smith, Trialist, Trialist, 25 Leo Hamblin, Jake Rumble, Trialist, Louie Evans, 8 Solomon Nwabuokei, Owen Simms, Selim Saied, Sam Evans
Trialist, Callum Backhurst
West Bromwich Albion:
1 David Button (Alex Palmer 46’), 4 Dara O’Shea (Jamie Andrews 73’), 5 Kyle Bartley (Caleb Taylor 73’), 6 Semi Ajayi (Saul Shotton 73’), 2 Darnell Furlong (Taylor Gardner-Hickman 55’), 8 Jake Livermore (Rayhaan 55’), 17 Alex Mowatt (Kenneth Zohore 55’), 3 Conor Townsend (Quevin Castro 55’), 9 Matt Phillips (Cedric Kipre 55’), 7 Karlan Grant (Rico Richards 73’), 11 Grady Diangana (Ethan Ingram 55’)
Man of the Match:
It’s difficult to pick a MotM when an entire team is replaced at half time so it will have to be a ‘Man of Their Half’. I’ll use the further excuse that everyone was inevitably a bit ‘rusty’ on their first appearance since May. Despite that, I am going to pick Solomon Nwabuokei
for a very solid and promising debut performance in midfield in the second half.