FA Cup 1st Round Replay
Woking 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 2 (aet, 1-1 at full time, Woking lost 3-0 on penalties)
NOT since Woking’s third-round replay in this competition against Coventry City in 1997 has Kingfield rocked in such a way as on Tuesday night.
Amid a crackling atmosphere in a near full house, Woking showed a worldwide TV audience just what is meant by the magic of the FA Cup with a simply stunning performance against a side 85 places above them in the football ladder.
In a week when Audley Harrison did a disservice to heavyweight boxing, the Cards more than punched above their weight against Gus Poyet’s side, the former Spurs and Chelsea star unable to believe what he was seeing from the dugout.
Just how cruel football can be was highlighted by the nature of Brighton’s knockout blow inflicted on the hosts in a one-sided penalty shootout.
Barely able to lift his tired limbs, Elvis Hammond saw his penalty – Woking’s third – saved, while substitutes Ola Sogbanmu had earlier hit the post and the normally nerveless Craig Faulconbridge had fired over the top. Brighton scored three of their four.
A superhuman effort from the Cards over 210 minutes of a compelling First Round tie, climaxed in heartache after three disappointing spot kicks.
That will matter little for a younger generation of Cards’ fans who may never have experienced a night like this.
They – along with Poyet and his players – will not forget how close Woking came to causing a huge upset.
Graham Baker’s tactics of allowing Brighton to have the ball while they strung two banks of players across the pitch, with Hammond up front, once again worked a treat. But that was because the players carried out the instructions to the letter.
It is hard to remember a time in recent years when every Woking man played his part quite like this.
Hammond was a willing runner and held the ball up superbly. Joe McNerney and Adam Doyle were immense in the heart of a warrior-like defence.
Aswad Thomas and Ricky Anane ran themselves into the ground, Moses Ademola was a huge threat, while Mark Ricketts and Jerome Maledon were simply magnificent in the middle of the park – Maledon’s gazelle-like, indefatigable runs in the second half and during extra time quite spellbinding.
From the moment Jerome Federico missed the game’s first chance, skying a super opportunity at the far post, Woking were energised with belief.
Matt Sparrow poked Brighton in front 12 minutes after the break. But Woking bounced back and Hammond’s low cross was turned into his own net by Gordon Greer.
Sogbanmu nodded over and Hammond side-footed wide in a dramatic ending to the 90 minutes before Sogbanmu’s header from fellow sub Charlie Turnbull’s corner gave Woking the lead at the end of the first half of extra time – only for Elliott Bennett to smash an instant leveller.
Brighton left-back Maurico Taricco was then sent off by card-happy Roger East in his first game in six years and it was the League One leaders who clung on for the final 15 minutes.
Then came Woking’s despair after what had been a thrilling, rollercoaster ride of scintillating, thrill-a-minute football in front of 4,193 fans, although how another 2,000 could have squeezed into the ground is anyone’s guess.
And it’s hard to imagine on this evidence how 6,500 packed into Kingfield to see Woking v Swansea in 1978, when there was no Leslie Gosden Stand and not much Chris Lane ‘terrace’ to speak of.
“I’ve played at Kingfield when it’s packed to the rafters and it’s a great place to play when it’s rocking,” said proud Cards’ assistant boss, Jimmy Dack.
“”If we had kept them at bay and held on to a 2-1 lead in the first half we might have done it but Brighton scored too soon after we went in front. You could see our boys were dead on their feet for the penalties.
“The reason the Brighton boys are pros is because they strike the ball crisper and they see situations a bit better. But I can’t fault our lads and although I haven’t seen Brighton’s games, they probably haven’t had a harder one than that.
“They put their best players in and showed how much they wanted to win this game and we still took them to the well.”
Boss Baker was hugely satisfied with his men and added: “They’ve done me, the club and the fans proud. They were magnificent. It was a classic cup tie that had everything. And the crowd was bouncing, it was a special night. There were so many positives.
“In the end the penalties were too much for us but we had Ola sticking his hand up to take the first one which showed the sort of character we have in the side.
“Now we have to make sure we don’t go out of two cups in a few days, at Dover on Saturday.”