By Jacob Greenwood
Woking return to FA Trophy action this weekend as the competition’s two highest ranked sides come head-to-head when Dover Athletic visit Kingfield.
The last time The Whites travelled to Kingfield they were brushed aside in an impressive 6-1 victory for The Cards.
Scott Rendell, who scored four in the demolition of Dover, made a cameo appearance against Bristol Rovers and could play a larger impact this afternoon as he returns from injury. He may have to as well, with Woking losing Jack Marriott and most recently Dean Morgan from their squad in January. It is likely loan striker Ross Lafayette may feature from the off.
The return of wide-player Charles Banya is something that is likely to excite the home fans. The ex-Fulham player had a short loan spell at Kingfield last season and put in some impressive performances.
With both sides just one step from the quarter finals, we talked to Dover Athletic fan and The Non-League Paper reporter Jack O’Sullivan to find out more about his sides impressive form.
Q. Dover are on a brilliant run of form at the moment after a difficult start. Why have things turned out so well at Crabble this season?
We knew this season was going to be tough, but I think we underestimated it to begin with. Losing eight of our first eleven matches – including the 6-1 against Woking back in August – was tough to take but thankfully we have turned it around. A lot of credit has to go to Chris Kinnear for realising the changes that were needed and strengthening the side accordingly – goalkeeper Andy Rafferty was an inspired signing, and the backline was bolstered with the key signings of Connor Essam and Tom Bonner.
It is interesting to note that if the season had started 20 games ago then we would be top of the table, and that is testament to just how much Kinnear has moulded this into a very good Conference Premier side.
It is also important to note that the board and the majority of fans have been very patient with our management team – even when things were looking grim, they received our Chairman’s full support and now we are seeing the reward. A lot of clubs are too hasty in wielding the axe but at times you have to ride out the rough times and enjoy the success that can come after.
Q. Relegation is surely now out of the picture. Are the play-offs a dream or a reality?
The longer our exceptional run of form continues, the more I feel that we could – just maybe – challenge for a play-off place. I’m constantly hearing people say that we can’t finish in the play-offs, but am yet to hear a strong reason why. Sure, it would be a major upset and beyond all expectations but this is a fantastic period of time for the club so who knows. I’d still be more than happy with a mid-table finish, anything other than that would be a bonus.
Yes, relegation now seems to be out of the picture and that was the ultimate aim at the start of the season. No-one at the club is really expecting us to finish in the top five but the league table doesn’t live and as it stands, we’re only four points away from fourth place.
Q. You also had a good run in the FA Cup, how was that experience?
It was very memorable, and a great experience for the club. Traditionally we have struggled in the FA Cup but hats off to Chris Kinnear again, he has seemingly resolved those issues. Last season we made the Second Round and lost narrowly away at MK Dons, and this season we of course made the Third Round for only the second time in our history and hosted Premier League side Crystal Palace.
Yes, we were soundly and deservedly beaten but that was to be expected. To play in front of a capacity crowd – including a few thousand absolutely superb Palace supporters – was a dream come true, and the national coverage we received was great. Everything ran so smoothly off the pitch, considering it was the biggest event in our history and logistically there were a million and one things to organise – regardless of what happened on the pitch, we came away with our heads held very high.
Q.Dover lost 6-1 at Kingfield earlier in the season, that won’t happen again on Saturday, will it?
Surely not! As previously inferred, you caught us at a time when we were struggling to adapt to the higher division and you fully deserved both the victory and the margin you won by. I’m certain Saturday will be a completely different story, though. Looking back at the eleven who started the 1-6, there will probably one be three of them starting this weekend – Richard Orlu, Tyrone Sterling and Stefan Payne.
We are undoubtedly a much stronger side now than back then, so you can’t read too much – if anything – into that result. Garry Hill was at our 2-0 win over Wrexham in midweek and I’m sure he very quickly realised we are a much better side now.
Q.Who will Woking have to watch out for on Saturday?
We have developed into a side who arguably don’t have any standout individuals, more a team who has matured and developed together in a short space of time. Going forward, Stefan Payne is our top scorer but is on a slightly barren spell, so Tom Murphy becomes the danger man for me. He’s scored six in his last five in the league, including a couple of crackers. In midfield, Nicky Deverdics is incredibly creative with a great eye for goal so I expect the two of them to offer a lot on Saturday.
At the back, Andy Rafferty was an inspired signing in goal following Mitch Walker’s injury and he is one of the best goalkeepers in the division – his record at the club already speaks for itself. Watch out for defender Connor Essam too – our captain, who is very hard to beat and can also deliver a great ball into the box.
Q.Finally, what do you think the result will be?
Eternally the optimistic, I think we can go to Kingfield and fully avenge the defeat earlier on in the season. I don’t think that’s being overly biased, either – we are the form team in the division and, interestingly, if you look at the league table over the past 20 games then we would be top!
This is such a superb time to be a Dover Athletic supporter. We’ve lost only once in our last 20 games – astonishing at any level of football – and that was to Palace in the FA Cup. I certainly don’t see us losing on Saturday, and will plump for a 2-0 away win – goals from Tom Murphy and Barry Cogan.
Photo by David Holmes. A full set can be viewed at wokingfc.co.uk