Jonny Jones – @Jonny_Jones
I think this was my fourth visit to Kingfield, and I’m yet to see us win… but tonight was one full of positives for the Gulls, as we battled back to claim a point against the National League’s pace setters.
In what was a highly engrossing, yet pretty drab affair, both sides cancelled each other out in the first half. The action was characterised, as you’d expect from this Woking side, with typically robust challenges on pretty much any player who dared touched the ball. Connor Evans, as classy as ever, was the first to need medical attention after a crunching tackle by Poku. CLE played on with a knock for the remainder of the half.
With the Cards shading possession, United looked to hit the channels at every opportunity. Manny Duku in particular was putting himself about with great vigour; something I’ve been waiting to see so far this campaign!
When ex-Woking man Armani Little miscued an effort on the edge of the box, the ball fell to Duku in the penalty area who turned and finished into the net. It looked marginally offside, but with the linesman talking over 20 seconds to put his flag up, I’d already starting hugging Sam J in celebration. Just one of the strange aspects of officiating we’d see in the game – more on that later.
On the half hour mark, Little sent Duku on his bike down the right channel, and with a quite brilliant cross-field pass he picked out Jamie Reid in the box. JR19 then beat his man before curling a right footed effort against the angle of post and bar. It was a fantastic move that deserved a goal, and you felt that it would be the turning point in the match.
Just as Armani was looking bang at it, he too went down injured with a hamstring strain. It was disappointing to hear the Woking mob behind the goal singing to drag him off; quite the way to treat your player of the year last season. Strange bunch. That gave new signing Ben Whitfield a chance to thrust himself into the action. And he looked sharp too, with a few probing runs down the left flank in the later stages. He had one shooting chance, but instead of going across the keeper, he dragged his shot wide.
There was 6 minutes of added time (six!) in which United limited Woking to one half chance. A set-piece caused pinball in the box, but the resulting header didn’t trouble Covalan in goal. Goalless and finely poised at half time.
United were back out for the second half minus Connor Evans, who was unable to fully run off his knock. Jake Andrews would come into the middle of midfield alongside Asa Hall.
Just when I started to think the game was there for the taking, on the 53rd minute we failed to properly deal with a set-piece for the first time. The ball fell to Dave Tarpey on the edge of the area who still had a lot do. He twisted one way and then the other, gaining a half yard on Joe Lewis and Asa Hall, which was enough to bury a right footed effort into the corner. Covalan un-sighted and with no chance. 1-0 Woking.
For the next 20 minutes it looked the wheels were coming off. Bar one flowing move involving Hall and Wynter that teed up Duku to hit the side-netting (he should’ve done better), we were just sinking to Woking’s level. And we’re not as good at that as they are. Ben Gerring and Moussa Diara were winning absolutely everything in the air and the second balls were getting mopped up by the shithouser (and quite good) Poku.
The officials too weren’t exactly helping our cause, falling for every trick in the book, and refusing to give us anything, and I mean anything. Clear handball? Nah. Clear throw-in? Nah. Booking Wynter for a nothing foul? Yep. It was looking like another frustrating away performance at Kingfield alright.
But something happened. We refused to roll over. With the introduction of Kalvin Kalala on the right-hand side, we started to get our foot on the ball. Low and behold, once we stopped aimlessly going long we looked a threat, and an equaliser was to come from an unexpected source.
Ben Wynter flung in a cross from the right that evaded everyone but the debutant, Ben Whitfield at the back post. With what seemed like an eternity, he nodded the ball into the net past the Woking keeper, sending the Yellow Army into raptures. 1-1.
United then had their tails up, out wide Kalala sent Casey halfway to London before pulling the ball back across goal, just missing the run of Reid. He was only on the pitch for 20 minutes, but there were glimpses of the real KLK tonight.
We defended resolutely for the final minutes of the game. In added time, Jake Andrews committed the best professional foul you’ll ever see, hacking down Tarpey on the break with United down on numbers. A deserved, but brilliant booking. They deserved that dose of bullishness.
And that was that, 1-1. A draw probably a fair result, but United would live to rue the missed chance of Reid. Other than their goal, Woking really didn’t create any clear-cut chances, which is a huge testament to our backline.
If Reid puts his chance away, it’s almost the perfect away performance. Tonight, we showed we can battle and play when the going gets tough. If we can make the most of our quality when it matters, we’ll be climbing the table sooner rather than later.
As for Woking, they’re not a bad side by any stretch, but there’s something about them that I really dislike, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Their style of play, their fans, their ground, the fact they seem to think of us as their cup final. I’m not sure what. Although they were top of the table before tonight on merit, I kind of just think they’re irrelevant. Hope they enjoyed winning the league in August.
Lucas Covalan – 7 – I really like him. Calm and collected in the air and on the deck. Had a good game, dealt with everything pretty easily. No chance with the goal.
Liam Davis – 7 – Solid game from Diz. Some really important defending at times, such an important player. Didn’t venture forward too much, but think that was tactical.
Kyle Cameron – 7 – Solid game, no nonsence tonight. Guilty of lumping it forward too much in the second half. Needs to strike the balance of when to play, and when to hit row Z.
Joe Lewis – 8 – Terrific tonight. MoM – see further down.
Ben Wynter – 7 – Better than Saturday, set up the goal, few nice touches in attacking areas. Decent defensively. As a whole, the back four were very good tonight.
Armani Little – 6.5 – Just started to get in the groove before getting injured. Reduced rating.
Asa Hall – 6.5 – Big debate on this one! The positives are that he read dangers and made some important defensive headers, the negatives are he lost the ball on a few occasions and looks a tad pedestrian. Still un-decided on Asa.
Frankie Vincent – 7 – Really rate Frankie. One of only a couple of players who can turn on a six-pence in a crowded central midfield. Put in a real shift in there. Did struggle with the physicality at times, but did enough to start the next game in my opinion.
Connor Evans – 7 – Still gets a 7 despite coming off at half time. Such a terrific all-rounder. Was a big loss in the second half, as we only really got going once Kalvin Kalala came on.
Manny Duku – 7 – Good and frustrating in equal measure. Looked lively and put himself about. Showed his quality on the ball more consistently, but I’d love to see him hold the ball up more consistently. Do the simple things well, and the rest will follow.
Jamie Reid – 7 – Had a tough night, getting tag-teamed constantly up top. First touch second to none, kept running and never gave up. Should’ve scored in the first half.
Ben Whitfield – 7.5 – Looked very lively, decent on the ball and has pace. Terrific header. Need to see more, but could be a good player for us on tonight’s showing.
Jake Andrews – 6.5 – Made himself busy in the centre of the park, but didn’t orchestrate as much as he’d like. Extra half a point for that brilliant take-down of Dave Tarpey!
Kalvin Kalala – 7 – Encouraging signs from Kalvin. Looked at it tonight. Some absolute filth made a chance out of nothing. Back him and watch him flourish.
Man of the Match: Joe Lewis
The young man from Swansea City truly introduced himself to Torquay United tonight with a no-nonsense display and looked very assured at the back alongside Cameron. Won pretty much everything in the air and didn’t look overly threatened by an in-form Jake Hyde. With the signing of Robbie Cundy as well, the centre back position is looking pretty decent tonight.
I spent most of the first half trying to work out our formation! Eventually decided on a midfield diamond, with Asa holding, Armani on the right, CLE on the left, and Frankie at the forward point. It was working pretty well, but with both Armani and Connor going off injured, the shape lost some of its potency. Duku was offering himself as an outlet, attempting to give Reidy space to operate. They were some promising signs and I think we’ll see it again.
We know what Woking are about. And they’re good at what they do. With some quality splattered amongst some no-nonsense grit, it’s not hard to see why they are where they are. Will be battling close to the play-offs this season. I would say I wish them well. But I don’t.
Hopeless. Absolutely bloody awful. Didn’t have many decisions to make, but constantly got them wrong. Missed a clear as day Woking handball in the final moments that could’ve been costly. We had one very decent penalty shout late on, but he obviously wasn’t having it. I did enjoy giving the lino an ear-full at every opportunity though.
Jamie Reid’s chance in the first half. Games swing on fine margins, and this was definitely one of those. If it goes in, we’d have had something to hold onto, and Woking would have to commit more men forward. We were already looking dangerous on the counter, and a goal then would have been a completely changed the game’s flow. Reidy took the ball so well, fashioning space for a shot with ease, and I was just waiting for the net to ripple, but it cannoned off the post.
Player Spotlight: Ben Whitfield
What a way to make your debut! Ben looked lively on the left side of midfield and took his goal really well. Looked to have a decent bit of pace and can beat a man. Not as twinkle-toed as Kalala, but who is!
It also says something about a player that you can be chucked on with minimal preparation away to the league leaders and make a mark on the game. I must give a special shout out to the National Obsession’s John Cadigan, who wrote him off as “distinctly average” after playing for just 10 minutes…! I’ll let you off on that one, John 😉 Promising signs for the 23-year-old and hopefully the start of a successful season with the Gulls.
In my prediction I went for a 3-1 win. Probably a bit optimistic, but I just refuse to think of Woking as a team we should be scared of, despite their merits. On the basis of the 90 minutes, a draw was probably a fair result, however we did create the most chances, and that was despite having arguably our two best midfielders removed by injury. A couple of years ago I saw us lose 4-1 here, and trust me, we’re a million miles away from that. Let’s use tonight as a point to build on. The new signings look like decent ones, and Lewis was impressive at centre back. Onwards and upwards. Up the Gulls.
Harrogate Town (H) – 7th September, 3pm KO – Plainmoor