IT was brawn over brains on Saturday afternoon as Woking put their shoulder to the wheel to earn a dour draw at Braintree Town.
Perhaps it was little wonder that the two part-timers cancelled each other out in a game of few clear cut chances. Although given their superior start to the season – with hosts Town languishing in 16th place without a win in seven before kick-off – Cards eyes were no doubt fixed on a three-point return from bogey team Braintree.
Braintree have thrived under boss Alan Devonshire’s back-to-basics stewardship, a change from his flamboyant former guise as ’80s fans favourite at West Ham United.
Former England man Devonshire has guided Woking’s fellow Conference part-timers Town to successive top-half finishes – ending the last campaign just three points outside of the play-off places – since returning to Non-League’s top flight in 2011.
Woking fans don’t like to draw too many comparisons with their pragmatic hosts – given the two side’s distinctly different approaches to the beautiful game – but their paths have undoubtedly cut a similar course in recent times, with the Cards taking the regional title the season following Town’s triumph and both establishing themselves as top-half clubs in the national division.
Both sides came into the game on the back of FA Cup wins, Town seeing off Southern Premier side Weymouth 5-3 in a replay. Despite their cup scoring spree, Braintree have struggled for league goals without forward pair Marks and Sparkes (Sean and Dan).
Cards gaffer Garry Hill paired newly crowned goal centurion Giuseppe Sole with ever-present 12-goal Scott Rendell as the front two of a
4-4-2 for the first time in the league this season: Sole, hoping to leave Essex with fonder memories than his 2013 visit, where he took an early bath for ‘rising to other people’s jibes’, as the firing front man promoted from the bench.
As their ‘the Iron’ nickname suggests, Town’s compact Amlin Stadium has developed something of a wrought iron reputation among Conference visitors. Indeed it would be no small boost to the Essex club’s coffers if they were to earn a pound for every time an opponent described their rather basic Cressing Road facility as a ‘tough place to go’.
A scrappy opening half offered little cause for cheer on the open terraces. Sole came closest to breaking the stalemate but his snap shot in the box was collected comfortably by Iron keeper Nick Hamann, before a left-foot drive whistled by the keeper’s upright from strike partner Rendell’s knock down.
The home side’s most threatening counters were coming via their combative midfield trio of Chez Isaac, Dan Walker and Mitch Brundle, who were looking to supply lively front man Simeon Akinola – the forward stinging the palms of Cards’ loan keeper Ross Worner from a distance.
Back in the side after sitting out the Boreham Wood cup win under the terms of his loan from AFC Wimbledon, Worner was kept the busier of the two stoppers as the home side came out the stronger in the second-half – Worner coming smartly off his line on several occasions to support his back line, with man-of-the-match James Clarke at the heart of the action.
Things threatened to go downhill for Clarke and co in the second-half – literally with Cards kicking down the Cressing Road slope – when Akinola robbed Joe McNerney on the byline, but Clarke helped out his defensive mate by flinging himself in front of forward Jordan Cox’s crisp connection from the pull back.
Hill and assistant Steve Thompson sent on Jack Marriott to test out his fellow Ipswich Town loanee Omar Sowunmi up the other end, although Cards’ jumping Jack flash couldn’t cause a storm on this occasion – Hamann palming away Marriott’s one clear sight of goal from a Kevin Betsy through ball.
One of Hill and Thompson’s other loanees Chris Arthur – the winger filling in at left full-back – got his defensive duties spot-on as, like Clarke earlier, he dived in with a lastditch tackle to cut out Akinola’s dangerous switch to Walker with 10 minutes remaining as Woking withstood some late home pressure.
Despite drawing a blank in front of goal for just the fourth time this season, boss Hill was satisfied with a point that kept his side in the top five.
“I think 0-0 was a fair result,” he said. To come here and get a draw is good; it’s a tough place to come. We’ve still got players coming back who are short of match fitness, there’s no doubt about that. So it’s a good, hard-earned point here at Braintree.”
WOKING: Worner, Newton, McNerney, Clarke, Arthur, Payne, Murtagh (Jones, 67mins), Lewis (Goddard, 81mins), Betsy, Rendell, Sole (Marriott, 54mins).