Consistency has been an issue for Woking this season, both in terms of their results and their selection. New manager Anthony Limbrick arrives with impeccable coaching credentials, but he has had to work hard in an attempt to create an effective balance within his side, particularly in midfield, where he’s tried five players in three different configurations in the course of the first four games.
Having apparently hit upon a successful balance against Eastleigh, he then saw them fail to contain Leyton Orient in a home loss last Saturday, leaving him a week to ponder whether he needs to alter things again for the match at The Racecourse.
On the opening day of the season they lined up against Gateshead with a 4-1-4-1, and the pace available to them immediately stood out. Louis Ramsey is very fast on the overlap at right back, and his full back partner Nathan Ralph was eagerly up and down the left flank, while in the early stages the lone striker Inih Effiong won a free kick on the edge of the box as he outran the centre back.
Effiong is a strong all-round centre forward, mobile and therefore happy running the channels but also strong in the air when attacking crosses. His best performance so far this season came against Eastleigh, when apart from scoring with a sharp close range finish from a cross, his physical presence and ability to drive into the box set up the decisive own goal.
On the flanks, the right-footed Joe Ward shows real confidence down the left, driving forwards skilfully and showing an eagerness to take on his man and get shots off, while also whipping dangerous set pieces in from the flanks. Bawling has good pedigree on the right, having arrived from Crawley, and drifts inside to allow Staunton to overlap.
Bobson Bawling’s qualities as a right-footed winger on the right were shown to best effect against Eastleigh, as he delivered some good service for Effiong when he stayed wide. He likes to drift inside, but is very one-footed and if he doesn’t simply help the ball on inside, he wants to turn back on himself to get the ball back onto his right foot. However, his pace means he is still able to make space for a cross or shot when he does this.
Occasionally the wide men switch positions, but generally they stick to their allotted flanks, and offer the main source of danger to the opposition.
Joey Jones anchored the centre of midfield, allowing scope for the full backs to go forward, although they don’t tend to take advantage of the extra man at the back to do so simultaneously.
In their subsequent matches Woking struggled to get the full backs forward so effectively, as they followed up that opening day win with two heavy away defeats.
Tranmere’s intense tempo put a strain on Woking at Prenton Park from the outset, forcing them to look for Effiong earlier with longer balls before the second striker could get close to him or the full backs could advance. Effiong is physically equipped to battle on his own, but Limbrick clearly hasn’t set his side up to go direct as a first resort. His midfielders shift the ball laterally on the floor looking for space, and the centre backs split from goal kicks hoping to start passing moves from the back.
In reaction to a 3-1 defeat in which Tranmere carved out plenty of chances, at Barrow Limbrick made the only significant alteration to his team’s shape, pulling the second striker deeper and pushing the wide players higher up the pitch to make the initial shape in possession more like a 4-3-3. However, the approach left the full backs exposed and a 3-0 defeat meant he didn’t return to that formation for the subsequent two homes games.
Woking concede a lot of chances from set pieces and crosses. Their vulnerability on the flanks is perhaps due to the use of the deep-lying midfielder: his presence allows the wide men Bawling and Ward to stay higher up the pitch to start counter-attacks, but by the same token, that means they don’t track back as much and therefore the full backs are more exposed. Barrow, a physical side which likes to deliver into the box from the flanks anyway, easily created overloads on the flanks and were able to put a lot of crosses into the box, which Jordan White fed off to score two goals. The 3-0 scoreline could have been a lot worse for The Cards.
The first of those two home games was the afore-mentioned 2-1 victory over Eastleigh, but Woking rode their luck a little to achieve it. If Eastleigh striker Chris Zebroski had taken one of the many chances he spurned or Eastleigh hadn’t missed a penalty, the outcome would have been different. Having said that, in an open match Woking created fewer chances, but their service into the box meant they could easily have scored more than two goals themselves.
Limbrick named an unchanged side for the next match, but Leyton Orient exposed the issues in the centre of the pitch which he had been looking to address.
There’s something slightly unbalanced in the way Woking set themselves up in the middle of the pitch. The holding midfielder drops off, leaving his central midfield partner to forage and press in the opposing half, but the wide midfielders don’t tend to look to tuck in and support him, and the player in the hole doesn’t drop off consistently. That means there’s a danger of being outnumbered in the middle of the pitch as the more advanced central midfielder chases shadows, while his deeper partner sits in front of the back four and waits to repel attacks.
After the first two games Jones had been replaced in the holding role by Chez Isaac. The latter showed real discipline in the role, rarely stepping up with his central midfield partner Kane Ferdinand, but as runners went past Ferdinand he found it hard to plug the gaps. An indication of his discipline, and the danger of being out-numbered in the middle of the pitch, was illustrated twenty minutes into the game when he stepped up for the first time and was easily by-passed.
Another significant alteration Limbrick made for the last two games was to start Philpot in the hole behind Effiong. He seems a more attacking option than the players who preceded him in that role, Saraiva and Carter, and provided an assist in the Eastleigh game by running beyond Effiong to the by line and pulling in a left-footed cross.
So in conclusion, Woking clearly have potential going forward, with a dangerous striker supported well from the flanks. However, they can be exposed at the back, especially down the flanks. Whether Limbrick has altered the balance in the middle of the pitch after a week on the training ground might tell us whether he has addressed this issue.