FA Cup Round One
November 6 2010
If the League One campaign so far has seen an Albion team at full throttle, the cup competitions have seen Gus Poyet's men stalling. In the derided Johnstone's Paint Trophy, at the start of September, they even went into reverse gear, and remnants of that listless performance - losing 2-0 to Leyton Orient - resurfaced for the first time since with a limp, lumbering display in the first round of a competition worth giving far more creedence to.
No-one could have predicted it. In sweeping aside Peterborough and Charlton in successive away trips, Albion were magnificent, too brimming with swagger to be impeded by a Blue Square South side, no matter how spirited. Not so. Woking have had a mediocre start to the season, but their stout defending and hint of pace in attack were sufficient to stifle their hosts. Moses Ademola, a winger and striker whose only experience of league football came in a brief spell at Brentford which saw him loaned out to Welling United and his current club, only denied himself with a sluggish touch when a break from an Albion corner left two Woking forwards with the solitary figure of Lewis Dunk to beat. A youth team product, Dunk was unflappable on his debut against a far tamer class of opposition than he can expect if his prodigious career is to blossom, but Albion's problems were always to do with creativity and guile rather than any risk of the restored Peter Brezovan's goal being breached.
In his typically forthright post-match analysis, Poyet accused too many of his players of failing to make the correct decisions he has urged them to make in possession during his tenure. He was right. Gary Dicker and Matt Sparrow, who had provided the collective mechanism for Albion's tenacious probing at Peterborough last week, were wasteful in their choices to the point of recklessness. Liam Bridcutt, whose contract extension until the end of the season had been announced earlier in the day, looked as if his mind was already concerned with the end of the campaign, deployed at the base of a midfield diamond devoid of the width and speed afforded by the rested Kazenga LuaLua and Elliott Bennett, who watched on from the bench. At the top of the diamond, Cristian Baz earned a start after a threatening second-half appearance at London Road, but his fleet-footed trickery was never incisive enough to repeat that promise, reflected in his withdrawal shortly after halftime.
Backed by a relentlessly noisy away support complete with flares, Woking were never teased or posed enough problems to become flustered. As their belief grew, a sodden Withdean became ever gloomier. Marcos Painter's standing as Albion's most consistent first-half threat spoke volumes about their lack of penetration, and he swapped chances with fellow wing-back Inigo Calderon to send crosses over which Glenn Murray and Ashley Barnes did little with after the interval. Insipid early on, it felt inevitable that Albion would elevate their tempo to force a breakthrough, but the spark never arrived. Jamie Smith and Agustin Battipiedi arrived to foray and tussle on the edge of the box - usually when cutting inside from the left flank - but their conviction failed them at crucial moments, manifested in a handful of wayward shots.
Poyet may not care much for the distractions of a cup run, but no-one wanted a replay at Woking. The only saving grace at Kingfield Road would be the likely presence of television cameras, eager to see an upset Woking will only realise if the complacency which may have made Albion so flat becomes chronic in ten days' time. Albion's heightened urgency in the final five minutes was both overdue and unsuited to their style. Dunk shot wide, and goalkeeper Andy Little just about held on to several crosses in the final few minutes. As his decisions saved his side from an undeserved defeat, Albion's mean their contrary cup exploits go on.