By Jacob Greenwood
Woking play their fourth game in seven days when Alfreton Town visit Kingfield on Saturday.
The Cards come into the game off the back of a 3-0 loss to a strong Cambridge United side which seemingly ended their late surge for a play-off spot.
The Reds have had an impressive season and find themselves just one place outside the play-off zone with six games to play. We talked to Alfreton Town reporter Ashley Wilkinson to find out more about the Derbyshire side.
You have looked like strong play-off contenders but just dropped out of the top five with your defeat to Aldershot Town on Tuesday, do you still believe you can go up via the play-offs?
It’s not going to be easy but if this season has proven anything, it’s that Alfreton Town like to upset the odds. Who would have predicted at the start of the season the Reds being in the play-off mix come April 2014?
The Aldershot defeat was worrying in one sense; the performance was one of the worst of the season. The Shots were quicker and stronger in midfield and largely dominated at the Impact Arena, which has truly been a fortress for the Reds this season (they have only lost 3 games at home this campaign).
The lads didn’t come off the pitch necessarily too downbeat, just incredibly angry and frustrated at themselves. They know they are capable of much, much better and if I know this Alfreton team, they’ll be itching to make it right on Saturday.
The playoff race isn’t over yet and although the teams around them have a game in hand, Alfreton’s run-in consists of three teams they have already beaten this season. Saturday will be a tough away trip but the lads know that they still have an excellent chance of finishing in the top 5.
You have surprised quite a few people this season, how much of the credit has to go to Nicky Law for getting this team together on one of the smaller budgets in the league?
Nicky deserves massive credit for his approach to this season. When the reversion to part-time status was announced at the end of last season, Nicky told me that staying in the division would be a huge task. But rather than complain about reduced budgets and tight purse-strings, Nicky has been extremely pragmatic in both the transfer and loan markets. First-teamers Bradley Wood, Chris Westwood, Nick Fenton, John Akinde, Jon Worsnop and Shaun Harrad all joined over the course of the season on free transfers while the likes of Godfrey Poku (Mansfield), Lathaniel Rowe-Turner (Luton) and Michael Hoganson (Derby) have all arrived on loan.
Law let a number of players leave last summer, from Ben Tomlinson’s acrimonious departure to Lincoln to Anton Brown, Leigh Franks and Ashley Worsfold all left to join Skrill North side Harrogate Town. In their place, Law has assembled a squad with greater experience of non-league’s top-flight and that has shown in his side’s performances this season.
Also, don’t believe some of the Twitter rumours you hear about “significant backing” and “sugar daddy’s”. Having spoken at length with both manager and chairman about the club’s finances, it’s clear that Alfreton’s team has been assembled on a lower-table budget. Much lower.
Your ground got approved by the Football League earlier in the week, has that been a moment of realisation that you could be playing in League Two next season?
I think it’s been a realistic goal ever since December. After being thoroughly demolished by Luton 5-0 at the Impact, Alfreton went on a run of five straight wins over Kidderminster, Wrexham (twice), Dartford and Southport. That took us to third and we stayed in the play-offs until the recent 1-1 draw with Nuneaton (with Braintree’s 0-0 with Halifax later on in the week knocking us down to 6th).
The ground approval from the Football League is subject to expansions taking place in the event Alfreton stay in League Two, and the Chairman Wayne Bradley told me that within three years the current ground would be “unrecognisable”. The problem is that, with attendances falling in spite of the great progress made on the pitch, life in League Two may not be financially sustainable.
But that’s not going to deter this squad, who are absolutely determined to take a play-off spot.
John Akinde trailed with Woking in pre-season and Garry Hill was keen on signing him. However, he joined Alfreton and is now your top scorer, what does he bring to your team?
Well so far, 16 goals and a focal point for a potent Conference attack. John is not just an excellent target man but he can finish superbly (if at times a little erratically), capable of turning in near-post crosses and 20-yard worldies in equal measure.
His pace is deceiving for a lad of his size, and when he has the ball at his feet it is damn near impossible to take it off him. He has great awareness of the defenders around him, able to take the ball into those tiny pockets of space and keep the ball away from the defender’s foot. John is absolutely devastating when he’s on form, he can be scary to defend against but he can equally drift out of games when not getting sufficient service.
Who else will Woking have to look out for on Saturday?
Shaun Harrad is a League Two centre-forward currently playing in a Conference side. I was hugely surprised when Bury released him and even more surprised when he signed a contract at the Impact Arena, only because I fully expected a club in the Football League to pick him up. His movement and running off-the-ball is excellent and he’s as capable as Akinde of finishing chances.
Dan Bradley can play across midfield but is most effective on the right-wing, where he can utilise his pace and charge at full-backs. Bradley Wood has converted from solid right-back into extremely solid central midfielder and Jon Worsnop has been outstanding in goal since signing from FC United in December.
Finally, what is your score prediction?
Tough one. At the moment I’m being considered a jinx by some at the club, as the Reds were winning games while I was covering Burton Albion games. Now I’m covering Alfreton again they’ve not won in 4!
If Alfreton can get the ball down in midfield and play, then they can beat any team in this division. But they need to react to their defeat Tuesday night in the right way. I think they will and for that reason, I’m sticking my neck out and saying Alfreton will win 3-0.
You can follow Ashley on Twitter at – @WilkinsonAshley
Photo by David Holmes – A full set can be viewed at wokingfc.co.uk