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Williams pen 14
ON a thrilling Easter Monday at Plainmoor, United recorded a huge win in the bid for survival and a thoroughly deserved three points from a performance full of energy, quality and commitment.
The opening goal came from a Brett Williams penalty and United could see the gap to survival closing until were hit by a sucker-punch from Reece Grego-Cox on 65 minutes.
The Gulls sucked up that disappointment and came back with the winning goal moments later, and what a goal it was. Connor Lemonheigh-Evans grafted tirelessly in midfield all day and his moment of magic was pure class, drilling a sensational winner into the top corner from distance.
United boss Gary Owers made just one change from the side that defeated Chester 2-0 on Good Friday and that came on the bench, where Jon-Paul Pittman was preferred to Ruairi Keating.
Woking arrived at Plainmoor on the back of a heartbreaking last-minute defeat at home to leaders Macclesfield to kick-off their Easter weekend. Both sides had to deal with the uncertainty of a pitch inspection before referee Adrian Quelch gave the game a green light.
The visitors made the brighter start, throwing in a succession of crosses that were dealt with in assured fashion by the defensive trio of Josh Gowling, Conrad Balatoni and Sean McGinty.
United were grateful to a deflection on Anthony Cook’s low drive from 22 yards to take the ball narrowly wide of Vincent Dorel’s far post. The response came from Lemonheigh-Evans winning a corner at the other end and the delivery from Luke Young was bizarrely handled by Josh Staunton for a blatant penalty.
It was a strange incident from a Woking perspective and the most obvious spot-kick you could wish to see. Amid the pressure of a massive occasion, Williams calmly sent goalkeeper Nathan Baxter the wrong way for a vital United lead.
The tension around TQ1 remained palpable and it needed a calm head from McGinty to shepherd away the danger after a probing ball over the top from Woking, who continued to look a threat when going forward.
A long throw from Liam Davis then picked out Gowling for a flick-on to the back-post but there was no yellow shirt in sight, allowing Woking to launch a dangerous counter that culminated in Regan Charles-Cook running into the left channel for a low shot on goal, which Dorel did brilliantly to block with his legs.
The game descended into a midfield scrap toward the end of the first period and United were certainly up for the battle, with Gowling typifying the commitment required by bravely stooping for a headed clearance among the flying studs.
United emerged from the mini-scrap to enjoy some mild pressure at the end of the half, with Williams heading just over and Rhys Healey asking some awkward questions in his role behind the front pairing.
Attacking the Family Stand in the second half, United were a side playing with genuine purpose and thrust, with Healey and Elliott Romain combining for a bustling run through the middle. Woking conceded a free-kick under heavy pressure but Young’s delivery was headed over by Balatoni.
Woking responded with a terrific chance, as a dinked cross to the far post picked out the unchecked run of Charles-Cook, who should have done better with a volley steered wide off the post.
The next twist in an entertaining start to the second period was a dancing run inside from the left by Young and his eventual shot from 18 yards forced Baxter into a flying save. The young goalkeeper on loan from Chelsea also did well to block a McGinty glancing header from the subsequent corner.
Both managers decided the time was right for a change on the hour, with Owers introducing Jamie Reid for Williams and Woking removed Chez Isaac for the fresh legs of Louie Theophanous.
The final act for Williams, who was carrying a knock from the Chester win, was to thread a lovely pass inside the full-back for Healey but his left-foot shot was well blocked by Baxter. Reid soon got involved in the action with a dangerous low cross that Staunton sliced over his own bar.
From nowhere, Woking were level and it was down to an innocuous looped pass over the top of United’s defence. Grego-Cox was quickest to react and he guided a clever finish past the onrushing Dorel and into the far corner.
The lead was restored within three minutes and it was a stunner from Lemonheigh-Evans, picking up the ball from Young, weaving past one challenge and then rifling a bullet shot into the top corner from 20 yards.
A fantastic strike from the young midfielder on loan from Bristol City, although the celebrations possibly went on too long, as United were almost caught out from the restart, with Dorel bravely diving at the feet of Woking’s attack to stifle the danger.
Plainmoor was bouncing and a terrific Bank Holiday game. The next goal was crucial and United were turning the screw with a series of excellent set-piece crosses from Young forcing the visitors into some desperate defending.
Former Plymouth Argyle winger Jason Banton replaced Louis Ramsay for the final 10 minutes, as Woking sought a second equaliser with United flying into tackles all over the park, the best of which was an outstanding clearance from under his own bar by Davis.
The Gulls then had to clear off the line twice from the resultant corner. United survived the siege and entered the final five minutes with huge apprehension, and everyone inside the ground very much aware of the importance of three points.
The fourth official rose his board to announce three excruciating minutes of added time and the tireless Romain should have relieved the tension when sent through on goal, but his scuffed effort was comfortable for Baxter.
It was one minor blip on a superb display from the centre-forward, who runs all day for the United cause. It was an exemplary attitude shared by everyone in a yellow shirt, as Dorel was sent full stretch to turn a dipping shot around the post in Woking’s last chance of a dramatic afternoon.
We move on to Dover next Saturday but a final word of congratulations to head groundsman Chris Ralph and his assistant Julian Gouldthorpe. Without their dedication and professionalism, our Easter Monday would have been spent nervously watching all the other results. Instead, we got to enjoy a super game and three massive points.
United (3-4-3): 30 Vincent Dorel; 26 Conrad Balatoni, 6 Josh Gowling, 5 Sean McGinty (capt); 21 Aaron Barnes, 8 Luke Young, 29 Connor Lemonheigh-Evans, 3 Liam Davis; 22 Elliott Romain, 28 Rhys Healey, 39 Brett Williams (19 Jamie Reid 61). Substitutes (not used): 1 Ryan Clarke (GK), 2 Michee Efete, 9 Jon-Paul Pittman, 18 Yan Klukowski.
Booked: McGinty 11, Barnes 79, Young 82
Woking (4-5-1): 1 Nathan Baxter; 2 Louis Ramsay (10 Jason Banton 81), 5 Josh Staunton, 4 Joey Jones (capt), 15 Jordan Wynter; 23 Anthony Cook, 22 Kane Ferdinand, 8 Chez Isaac (9 Louie Theophanous 60), 12 Charlie Carter, 11 Regan Charles-Cook; 20 Reece Grego-Cox. Substitutes (not used): 14 Fabio Saraiva, 18 Sam Mason (GK), 21 Matt Young.
Booked: Isaac 35, Carter 71, Ramsay 77
Referee: Adrian Quelch
Attendance: 1,837 (95 away)