Woking lie in 17th place in the table, and only the bottom three have a worse defensive record. With just nine points separating them and the relegation zone, with all the bottom four sides having played fewer games, Woking are looking over their shoulders after a promising start to the season.
Woking’s form has dipped dramatically since October. They followed up their defeat at The Racecourse in late August by winning seven out of nine games, to leave them in play-off contention. Since then, they’ve won just 4 matches out of 29, losing 15.
At the end of January and start of February, they won back-to-back home games against Chester and Fylde, keeping a clean sheet in each. These results are their only wins in the last 19 matches, and the only other clean sheet they managed in that time was in a recent goalless home draw against Borehamwood. The point they picked up in that match was the only one they’ve won out of fifteen since beating Fylde.
However, last Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Halifax was their first home loss in four matches. They’ve scored more home goals than Macclesfield, Borehamwood and Dover, and have taken points from promotion contenders at home. Apart from drawing with Borehamwood and beating Fylde (over whom they managed a double) they’ve also beaten Sutton and Dagenham when they were flying high.
Woking play a 4-2-3-1 system with a lop-sided look to the central midfielders. One of them, Joey Jones in their last match, will sit deeper, protecting the central defenders, while the other, Kane Ferdinand, has more scope to roam further forwards. That means there’s a danger of being outnumbered in the middle of the pitch as the more advanced central midfielder chases without support and therefore cannot press effectively, while his deeper partner sits in front of the back four and waits to repel attacks. To counter this, the player in the hole, Regan Charles-Cook, will sometimes drop deep to support Ferdinand and make the shape come closer to a 4-3-3.
Woking appear to be missing the injured Chez Isaac, who tends to show real discipline in the holding role, although obviously the injuries they have suffered in that area during matches has been a major issue as well.
However, Woking have suffered horrible misfortune with midfield injuries in their last two home matches, forcing them to reshuffle their side. Damon Lathrope suffered an horrendous injury against Borehamwood, which ended his career, and Jones went off after seven minutes against Halifax with a head injury. While it was not such a serious injury, it forced Woking into a very early reshuffle, with his replacement Charlie Carter being a more forward-minded midfielder. Ferdinand had to fill the deeper role which Jones occupied,
This would play a role in both Halifax’s first two goals. For the first, Ferdinand and Carter were both pushed high up the pitch and when Carter failed to win a midfield header, the defence was exposed without midfield cover. As Ferdinand rushed back he found himself on the wrong side of Matt Kosylo, and as he tried to intervene was very harshly judged to have fouled him in the penalty area.
Kosylo scored the penalty and got a brilliant second after the break, although he received the ball after Ferdinand, again looking uncomfortable with his more defensive responsibilities, let him run in behind him.
Woking like to play the ball out from the back if possible, as you might expect from a team which consistently has one of the best playing surfaces in the division. When they get their passing rhythm together, moving up the pitch in neat triangles, it can be very pleasing on the eye.
At goal kicks the centre backs will split and offer the short ball: when Halifax cut off that option, Reece Grego-Cox was the aerial target and, although he battles well for the ball in the air, he is not a natural target man and would not be expected to trouble a strong centre back.
Grego-Cox is a combative, willing runner who makes god diagonal runs for the central defenders when they want to play longer balls forward.
These runs open up spaces for the second line players to get into the box: Charles-Cook is eager to do this, and from central areas, and both wide players are predominantly right-footed, so Jason Banton looks to cut inside naturally.
When we played them earlier in the season, Woking appeared to be vulnerable to overloads on the flanks, and that still appears to be the case, which perhaps explains why left back Nathan Ralph seems less eager to overlap than he was at the start of the season, although another explanation could be the early loss of their holding midfielder.
Louie Theophanous was unavailable for the Halifax game as his partner was giving birth. A tall, broad target man, he would offer the opportunity for Woking to go longer in their approach. When available, Woking are likely to play in a formation closer to a 4-4-2, with Grego-Cox working off the target man.
Right-sided corners tend to be taken by the left-footed Nathan Ralph, who varies between an orthodox near post delivery and looking to float the ball under the bar for the centre backs to attack – sometimes blockers try to clear a path for Richard Orlu. However, Ralph’s delivery was not particularly accurate against Halifax.
On the left, Ralph took one late away swinger, but generally it was the right-footed Anthony Cook to took the corners until he was substituted. There was a lot of movement from the penalty spot by the big targets for his corners, but again his delivery was not particularly accurate.
Regan Charles-Cook took a corner deep into added time from the left, but it appeared to be more of a hurried attempt to put the ball into the box than something which had been worked on as, unlike all previous corners, he merely lifted a high ball beyond the far post.
In the first half Woking tried a quick, surprise free kick in an advanced position on the left flank. Cook appeared set to deliver into the box, as he already had done previously from a similar position. However, the left back Ralph arrived unexpectedly on the overlap, and Cook played him in to change the angle of the cross.
Defensively, they were caught out by Halifax looking to play a short corner.