Solihull Moors 3-0 Woking (National League)
Mention Woking and the Midlands in my house and in particular, this very weekend, the opening one of the new year which also points to the world renowned FA Cup third round weekend, I'll give you Tim Buzaglo and a 4-2 win at West Brom in 1991. Etched into the memories of anyone old enough to love football in the country that gave the modern game it's birth.
Woking haven't made it so far this year. Knocked out by Ramsgate in round one they have more pressing issues like staying in the National League to think about.
Fifth bottom in the division they are in their fifth season at the level. Whilst Solihull Moors gunning for promotion at the opposite end, have had eight successive years in the fifth flight. They are trying to get out, the right way.
I've seen neither previously play so today will be a first. The sun belting down, drying the sodden surfaces of the flooded fields I pass, down the M42, I'm pulling up on a housing estate in Solihull opposite a Jaguar Land Rover factory as I'm told parking isn't brilliant at the ground.
The Armco Arena, or Damson Park to most who know it locally, appears behind the huge factories of Jaguar on the Damson Parkway and sits almost at the end of the runway of Birmingham International Airport. It's all very modern industrial, a lot of metal as you cross beneath a huge covered walkway that connects different parts of JLR.
I've walked through the small car park to a ticket collection point where I'm given a wristband, before walking through the gate and past a steward who I flash my arm to. It's little before 1:30pm and I've a touchline view of the green but muddy surface as I walk around the perimeter. Pitch holding up well as I speak to a club official who commends the ground staff for what they've done over the last week to get this game on.
It's a homely little venue. One side has three small temporary open air seated stands like the sort you see erected at a major golf event. Behind each goal has low roofed terraced areas but the main stand is quirky, all metal, corrugated and propped up it has two tiers with corporate bits and bobs upstairs and downstairs a blue seated covered view of the pitch which is set back a good width to the touchline.
I'm sat behind the away team dugout in the press area which is busier than expected, a few foreign nationals typing away on work experience, Woking in red and white halves as Solihull are yellow and navy so no clash of kit for my poor eyesight.
The visitors have been managed by former Coventry City midfielder Michael Doyle since December, they've started well and cracked an outside of the post as the home team who are clear favourites struggle to get any kind of passing rhythm together.
I expected more from Andy Whing's side, he played total football at Banbury United last season to get a crack at this job but Solihull is a completely different bunch of players. It soon becomes apparent though as the game clicks into gear, there's a gulf in class as the home side have some authority on their visitors.
On 42 James Clarke on loan from Mansfield heads home a corner and the better team lead by the break. A deft touch at the near post a timely intervention, it had been coming.
Solihull push immediately after the interval as a long throw in just a few minutes into the second half falls to the feet of Callum Maycock, he sets himself and buries home from inside the eighteen yard box on the half volley. Woking soon after make three instant subs as I watch the two remaining members of the bench trudge down the tunnel beside me. It seems a lonely place for Doyle on his own in the technical area, who's side by now are getting a real lesson in football. Josh Kelly goes close whilst Maycock again forces a save from Andre.
The tall and awkward number nine Mark Beck does round things off on 74 after a bit of a scramble inside the six yard box, he's there to poach like good strikers do. Woking have a go and are unlucky not to pull one back as an attempt is cleared off the line late on. Nick Hayes goal is unbreeched as he also makes a good save from Browne but it's his opposite number who's been far busier on the day. A solitary away fan makes for an early exit and shouts as he walks by the back of the dugout 'sort your life's out Woking' as Doyle hears, but looks down to refuse to acknowledge.
Josh Kelly was a real livewire up front and should of had a goal if not two. The much travelled shaven headed Mark Beck besides him physically strong, tall and dominant against defenders who lacked his size.
I liked the technique of young left back Kade Craig whilst his forward running had his defence potentially exposed on occasion, another talented footballer who sometimes frustrated was Jon Benton in midfield who’s a neat progressive passer of the ball.
For Woking, not much to cheer about. Goalkeeper Alexis Andre their best player on the day which explains a lot. Substitutes Reece Grego-Cox and Dennon Lewis both gave a lively injection in attack. I'll be surprised if both aren't selected for their next game at home to Gateshead on Saturday, from the start.
The PA man at the ground who had a fair few in chuckles with his camp pronunciations also stated out loud, “2024, this could be our year” for a club of Solihull’s size and stature it's astounding to comprehend that they really do have of pushing themselves into the football league. Testament to how well ran the side has been in recent years, front to back.
With Woking, you need to give young Michael Doyle time, a man in his first managerial job and a good personable human being. I have no doubt he has a long future in the game as a coach or number one, he just needs to initially install some lacking identity in this current Woking team, if he's going to be the man to keep them up.
Solihull Moors: Nick Hayes, James Clarke, Jamey Osborne, Kyle Morrison, Callum Maycock, Mark Beck (Jay Benn 73), Josh Kelly (Jack Stevens 82), Matty Warburton (Joe Sbarra 67), Jon Benton, Kade Craig.
Woking: Alexis Andre, Luke Wilkinson (Timi Odusina 51), Scott Cuthbert, Sam Habergham, Zak Bradshaw, Tunji Akinola, Paul Osew (Reece Grego-Cox 54), Daniel Moss, James Kellerman (Dennon Lewis 53), Stephan Browne, Padraig Among.
3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 6th January 2024, Damson Park, Solihull (att 1,243).