Balham 2 Swans 1

Saturday 6th April 2019.      Cherry Red Combined Counties League, Premier Division.

Balham 2   Walton & Hersham 1.

It may still be mathematically possible for Swans to finish outside of a relegation spot, but a few dramatic seconds of stoppage-time in this match realistically ended any chances they had of doing so. With two minutes of added-on time played, Balham goalkeeper Haydn Read pulled off two superb point-blank saves in succession to prevent Swans from taking a 2-1 lead. The home side immediately broke to the other end to score a goal that gave them the win, and the three points instead. So instead of Swans reducing the gap between them and their opponents to just two points, it was stretched to eight in the space of those few seconds.

After a poor first-half that led to them trailing 1-0 at the break, Swans were much improved in the second and they equalised after 64 minutes, but until those dying moments they did not create much more in the way of clear chances. Although they again went behind early to a really poor goal, and often found themselves open to the possibility of conceding more, they in fact had their best chances in that otherwise disappointing first-half. But at least three gilt-edged chances that could have got them back into the game before half-time were spurned. This match did not in itself define the outcome of Swans’ season, but was symptomatic of it, and they will now look back, not only to the truly dreadful opening two thirds of the campaign, but to the opportunities of picking up vital points that were not taken in recent weeks.

For a match of vital significance Swans were hit by both unavailability and injury. Conor Symon was already unfit, and he was joined on the list of absentees by the influential Pat Kirby, who had picked up a knee injury in training. Sean White was unavailable, while Didi Castanho was sitting-out a one match suspension. New goalkeeper Jordan Johnson was also unavailable, so Kevin Manuel was recalled to take over between the sticks. Tristan Noel, Ryan Smith and Simon Offei all came into the starting line-up, along with Devonte Totesaut, who was making his debut after signing back in January, but had been at Hayes & Yeading United since then.

Swans made a slow start, and suffered an early scare when Balham’s Luke Hedges sent a strong volley wide of the left-post from 25 yards after Regan Mendes had headed the ball away. But they went behind with only five minutes played to a really poor goal. Several opportunities to clear an attack on the right were not taken, and no-one picked up Ekow Owusu-Boakye on the edge of the box as the ball was laid across, and he had time and space to send a shot into the top of the net. Swans continued to look uncertain, and Dan David cut inside from the left drive a shot over from 22 yards.

Despite having looked a distinct second-best, Swans had a great chance to draw level with just over a quarter of an hour played. Tyreke Leslie made a fine run on the right to get clear of his marker, and he laid the ball back and low across to Offei, totally unmarked in the left of the box, but with time to pick his spot he struck a first-time over the bar. Totesaut then did well to win the ball 30 yards out, and he laid the ball off to Seb Osei-Obengo, whose shot forced keeper Read into a diving save.

The home side continued to threaten however, and with half an hour played the ball was blocked behind at the near-post when James Adebayo got in on the right. The resultant corner had to be put behind at the near-post for another kick on the right. Hamish Frew then shot over at the far-post when the ball was sent in low from the right.

Swans immediately went close again when Osei-Obengo got in on the left to strike a left-foot shot just wide of the far-post.

Balham should have doubled their lead when Owusu-Boakye was found in the middle of the box with just Manuel to beat, but the Swans’ keeper made a great block.

With just over five minutes remaining of the first-half Swans had a double chance to make it 1-1. Arif Hattabi‘s fine ball put Smith clear into the box, but with just Read to beat his shot was blocked by the Balham keeper. The ball came to Osei-Obengo unmarked close-in on the right, but the normally reliable striker drove a first-time shot over the bar. Another chance came and went when Offei played a good ball in from the right to set up Osei-Obengo inside the right of the 6 yard-box, but Read made a fine save from a low shot to send the ball wide of his far-post and behind for a corner.

Swans made a double change for the second-half, with Smith and Offei being replaced by Ahmed Elsahib and Erivaldo Felix, the former Staines Town player making his first appearance.

Five minutes after the resumption Hattabi worked the ball to Elsahib on the left, and he sent over a fine cross that was just too high for Osei-Obengo at the far-post.

Balham responded with a corner on the right, and when the ball came to Jack Haire outside the box he sent a volley over. Andre Cruz Rosa then had two bites at a chance inside the right of the box, but after his first effort was blocked he drove his second over the bar.

Swans finally made the breakthrough just under twenty minutes into the half. Felix made a surging run on the right before laying the ball low across the box, and Totesaut was at the far-post to slide it past keeper Read.

Leslie was soon making a fine run on the right before sending the ball low across the box, but just failing to find Totesaut, who had taken up a forward role, in the middle. Manuel had to make a good block when Adebayo got in on the left for Balham, but Felix was soon putting a shot over at the other end after being played in on the right. With just under a quarter of an hour remaining Osei-Obengo was sent down the right for Swans, and when he played the ball in low Totesaut was just denied as it was put behind for a corner on the right. Swans continued to push forward for a crucial winner, and were vulnerable to being caught on the break, and Manuel had to make a fine double block when Jack Robinson got in on the left.

It was almost all over for Swans however with just over five minutes of normal-time remaining when Balham sent in a free-kick from the left touchline, and an overhead kick sent the ball against the crossbar. The ball was put in from the rebound, but the referee had spotted a handball.

Swans won a corner on the left, and from Elsahib’s kick Mendes got in a header at the far-post that was defected behind for another kick on the right. With the match entering stoppage-time another opportunity came with a free-kick, and from Hattabi’s delivery into the box Totesaut got his foot to the ball, but could only direct it over the bar. Elsahib soon had an opening outside the left corner of the box, but he could only send his shot wide of the near-post.

Swans threw everything forward to try to keep their Premier Division survival hopes alive, and as the match entered the second minute of stoppage-time they went desperately close to doing so. They had two great chances in quick succession from close range in the right of the box, but on each occasion keeper Read was able to get his body behind the shots.

Balham immediately broke, catching Swans short of numbers at the back as the ball was sent to the other end, and it was Adebayo who scored the goal to win the match for the home side. Swans players slumped to the ground, and although they were to have one last opportunity with a corner-kick, and keeper Manuel adding to bodies in the box, they could not find another equaliser, that in any case would not have proved sufficient for their needs.

Swans’ Team: Kevin Manuel, Sam Marfo, Jordan Simmons, Tristan Noel (Daniel Pinto 80’), Regan Mendes, Devonte Totesaut, Tyreke Leslie, Arif Hattabi, Seb Osei-Obengo, Ryan Smith (Ahmed Elsahib 45’), Simon Offei (Erivaldo Felix 45’). Subs. not used: Khalid Al Saud, Aaron Bryan. Scorer: Totesaut (64’).

Balham Team: H. Read, Haire, Thompson, David, Julian Fuller, Frew, Cruz Rosa (Robinson 69’), Owusu-Boakye (Benson 62’), Adebayo, Hedges, Wocial. Subs. not used: Ibbeson, Bernard. Scorers: Owusu-Boakye (5’), Adebayo (90+2’).