Sometimes it doesn’t pay for a game to have ‘it all’, and this afternoon was no different. Two penalties, five goals and plenty of other drama to keep me writing all night long if I really wanted, when what I actually wanted was few incidents and three points. However, we did get three points.
City ensured that their rivals all needed maximum points to keep up the pressure going into the final third of the season, but at times we were forced to watch with trepidation as a talented Woking side showed why Jake Caprice feels they’ve got enough to stay in this league. On today’s performance, I have to agree with the former City man.
I thought the first ten minutes we looked like we’d record an easy win. It wasn’t entirely surprising when we took the lead as early as the 9th minute, what was surprising was that goal-shy striker Matt Rhead bagged his first since November. To be fair to Rhead he is often the provider rather than the scorer these days, but it was clear how delighted he was to grab a simple back post header.
Uncharacteristically we immediately conceded a really sloppy goal. I imagine part of Danny’s apparent frustration in the post match interview came from how poorly we defended a simple ball into the box. It won’t be panic stations just yet, but the was echoes of the first goal against Barrow. Our defenders didn’t attack the ball and Woking’s leading scorer Gozie Ugwu stole in to level things.
There were chances at either end, firstly for Woking. Ex-Imp Macauley Bonne had a great chance to give them a 15th minute lead, but his finishing was amiss and he poked the ball wide. From being in control for ten minute we started to look shaky, but we soon re-asserted our dominance.
Halfway through the first period we were awarded a penalty as Rhead was manhandled in the box. We’ve seen defenders do it to him every week, but finally an official took a stand and gave us a spot kick. In recent weeks it has been Alan Power and his balls of steel confidently stepping up, but he would struggle to do that from the bench. A decent Dayle Southwell penalty was saved, and a good chance to restore our lead was missed.
The rest of the first half saw us probing and pressing without any real joy. Billy Knott looked really comfortable in the middle of the park, and he will be a massive asset as he regains fitness. His stinging drive six minutes before the interval was superbly saved, but it did demonstrate how cleanly he can strike the ball. More than that he looked industrious and composed, and as he grows into the Cowley Method he will only get better.
Two goals in nine second half minutes looked to have buried Woking. We do seem to have an ability to start both halves strongly, and for fifteen minutes or so after the restart we looked in absolute control. Substitute Josh Ginnelly will feel aggrieved that his deflected shot seems to have gone down as an own goal, whilst Matt Rhead will feel less so about his well crafted third. Billy Knott picked him out with what I would deem to be a ‘footballer’s pass’, the sort of ball those with a true instinct for the game can create. Rhead then provided the footballers finish, calmly shifting from one foot to the other before slotting into the back of the net. The big man has banged four past Woking this season, they’ll be delighted they won’t have to see him again, and we’ll be delighted if they don’t have to see him next season.
From there it should have been a comfortable afternoon, but Woking showed the sort of resilience and tenacity that they’ll need in their battle against the drop. I thought they looked a well organised and talented outfit, they certainly have the necessary tools to finish above the likes of North Ferriby and Southport.
It should have been four shortly after the introduction of Elliott Whitehouse. A free kick from the left was flicked on, but he couldn’t steer his header towards goal. At 4-1 the game would have been over, but instead Woking had that glimmer of hope. The change seemed to break up City’s flow, and despite all his running I thought Whitehouse looked below average. As a midfielder he tended to drop deeper than Southwell, and as he did he pulled the game back with him. Maybe it was Rhead’s tiring legs rather than the former Nuneaton man, but as we fell back, Woking pushed hard.
They had already had a decent penalty shout turned down after Billy Knott tangled with their forward (I confess I’ve no clue which one. Maybe Ugwo, who knows?), and when Whitehouse clipped Max Kretchmar in the box there wasn’t any doubt of the outcome. From my angle it was a penalty all day long, and a well taken kick gave Woking a way back into the game.
Whitehouse then had an effort cleared off the line, but Woking looked anything but relegation fodder as they poured forward in search of precious points. No sooner had I remarked to my mate Dave that I thought ex-Imp Bonne might grab an equaliser, ex-Imp Jake Caprice drilled a super effort just wide of the post. An honest man would say it would have been no more than they deserved, but I will say we should have had the game dead and buried long before the 95th minute of play.
Danny didn’t sound happy after the game, Rheady said we hadn’t played well and won, and yet bar the pressure we invited on ourselves I thought we did okay. Dayle Southwell had a quiet home debut, but he has to get used to playing in and around the big man, even if it is only for another three weeks. After praising Terry Hawkridge this morning, I thought he was anonymous for long periods of the first half, and he had no joy at all when he was on the ball. Josh Ginnelly added pace and a directness, but as we crept back towards Paul Farman he also drifted out of the game.
There were a few irate people who were spotting passes the players weren’t, but often they were long balls and that simply isn’t how we play our football. We retain possession, we build and press and look for quick exchanges and little ‘give and go’ movements. It can be frustrating when a wide player is in acres of space all alone and Woodyard spins on the ball and plays it back to a defender, but fans have to understand that is our game plan. It doesn’t make Alex Woodyard a bad player, it makes him one that carries out the game plan.
One irate fan named ‘Anxious Imp’ took to the radio (via text) to announce Danny Cowley was under pressure, and Alan Power should not have been dropped. There is a pressure on Danny, but he isn’t under it, he is applying it. He is ‘the one who knocks’, it is he who will drill those players Monday through Friday. He’s a nice guy in interviews, a real gentleman with fans but by Christ I bet he is a full on bastard when he wants to be. His side are top of the league, we’re in the FA Cup 5th round for the first time in 130 years and we have an FA Trophy quarter final game to play: how is he under pressure? Comments like that make me laugh and rage at the same time, and if ever there was a person who needed his phone confiscating that it is Anxious Imp. Take some valium pal, and stay away from social media.
Here’s what the record books will show: we won. It won’t show how I watched through my fingers for the last five minutes, or how we invited pressure ourselves. If Woking do go down, the Rothmans 2016-17 won’t have a little star next to their name with ‘looked too good to be relegated at Sincil Bank’. Football is a results game, and you get results by scoring more than the opposition. There’s no points for big attendances, there are no points for fair play (ask Barrow) and there are no points just for spending £2.5m on players. You get points by winning games of football anyway you can (ask Barrow), and today we won a game of football 3-2. Routine win, job done. I would say bring on Burnley, but in my heart of hearts I’m thinking ‘sod Burnley, bring on North Ferriby’.
It’s worth noting we are now 13 points clear of Aldershot who occupy the space just outside the play-offs and we have two games in hand of them. Unless we have a cataclysmic collapse between now and the end of April we will have games to play going into May, and if you’d offered me that at the beginning of the season I would have snatched your hand off, without the FA Cup / Trophy runs taken into consideration.
So for us it’s business as usual, onto our most important game of the season (at North Ferriby) after our moment in the sun at Burnley. As for Woking, they have to figure out a way to make sure the history books don’t have them recorded as being in the bottom four at the end of April. On today’s evidence, they’ll have no problems at all.