Chelmsford City 2, Woking 3
MANAGER Glenn Pennyfather believes the damage was done to Chelmsford City’s season well before the slender home defeat to champions Woking on Saturday which brought down the curtain on the Clarets’ 2011/12 play-off ambitions as Basingstoke Town’s late rally earned them a place in the top five.
Only a City victory and a loss for Basingstoke at Welling United would have been enough for a semi-final against Dartford, and hopes were briefly raised when Cliff Akurang and Jamie Slabber goals overturned an early Jack King effort.
News seeped through that Welling had equalised but Guiseppe Sole levelled in first-half stoppage time before Kieran Murtagh’s strike on 61 minutes finally extinguished all hopes.
Pennyfather reacted: “We played really well today and could easily have won. Last week’s draw at Eastleigh would normally have been an excellent result, and we’ve laid a lot of ghosts like that on our travels during the year with our away form. There’s no doubt that our home results haven’t been good enough this season.”
That said, he was pleased with his team’s efforts on the final day of the campaign against Garry Hill’s side, adding: “In the first half I thought we were excellent. It was as well as we’d played in a long time and possibly how we should have performed in some of our other recent games. The players knew the enormity of the game and wore their hearts on their sleeves, giving everything for a positive result.”
He made three changes to the starting eleven which brought a point back from Eastleigh seven days earlier. Two were enforced due to suspension as Justin Miller replaced Ben Nunn at right-back while winger Ishmael Welsh came in for Ricky Modeste. Striker Slabber was also added ahead of central midfielder Craig Parker.
The City players formed a guard of honour for the champions before kick-off, but there was no question of them rolling over on the pitch despite King nodding Woking in front in the 10th minute. The Cards’ midfielder rose highest to meet Dale Binns’ corner and powered his header into the net beyond goalkeeper Stuart Searle.
Akurang had already glanced an early aerial effort over from a whipped Warren Whitely free kick and, by the time he equalised, he had also seen a close-range prod smothered by ‘keeper Andrew Little after Welsh knocked the ball into his path. On 16 minutes, Slabber neatly controlled Aiden Palmer’s pass and centred for Akurang, who this time clinically fired home his eleventh goal of the season from eight yards out.
City celebrations were premature four minutes later when Slabber glanced in a Palmer free kick - the effort was ruled out for offside - before Akurang was inches away from connecting with a wicked Whitely cross. Then, just before the half-hour, there were chances at both ends as Murtagh stabbed Kevin Betsy’s through ball wide while Max Cornhill struck the base of the post from 25 yards after fashioning some space.
Searle then gathered Alan Inns’ header comfortably and also palmed a King header over but, as the entertainment stakes were ratcheted up another level, it was City who forged ahead. The home supporters were incensed when the referee waved away appeals for a penalty after Cards skipper Adam Newton appeared to handle in the area, and they were further frustrated when Slabber faintly touched Miller’s long-throw goalwards.
Little pushed the ball out, and Akurang’s follow-up careered into Welsh. But Slabber deservedly gave City the lead four minutes before the break when he latched onto Cornhill’s defence-splitting pass, rounded Little and slotted home. Though the Clarets couldn’t retain their lead into the interval as Woking forward Sole angled his 19th of the campaign past Searle from Betsy’s cushioned header to make it 2-2.
Worse was to follow after the break, although the initial signs were good as Cornhill flashed a shot over from 15 yards out in the 57th minute. Instead, the Cards took a decisive lead when Betsy and Murtagh exchanged a one-two. The return, an intelligent pass, released Betsy and, although the winger’s centre was cut out, Murtagh was on hand to thrash in the loose ball.
Pennyfather threw on forwards Alex Osborn and Kezie Ibe from the substitutes’ bench late on in a bid to try and rally his charges to overcome the deficit. But it was to no avail, with Woking’s King the closest to scoring when his 30-yarder clipped the crossbar after good build-up play from Binns.
City Player of the Year Kenny Clark almost set up a grandstand finish when his 84th-minute header was scrambled away from the goal line, whilst Palmer and David Rainford saw contrasting attempts go wide, but even a winner would not have been enough, with Basingstoke picking up the point they required to deny Chelmsford a fourth successive Conference South play-off campaign.
Pennyfather summarised: “We had chance after chance, hit the post and should have had a penalty. But we also didn’t mark players how I wanted us to from a corner for Woking’s first and the other was sloppy when we froze and waited for a free kick to be awarded to us which didn’t happen. We were by far the better side before the break but our mistakes were punished, and that’s why they’re champions.”