Sittingbourne 2 Swans 1

Saturday 7 February 2015.                             Ryman League, Division One South.

Sittingbourne 2   Walton & Hersham 1.

Swans find themselves drawn into a relegation struggle as their winless run continued on a quagmire of a pitch on their first visit to Woodstock Park. Trailing 2-0 at the break they almost totally dominated the second-half, forcing Sittingbourne to defend in the last third of the pitch, but having pulled a goal back through the returning Andrew Mensah they could not find another break through a resolute home defence, whose goal led something of a charmed life.

Nathan Daly returned at right-back allowing Harry Mills to move back into central defence, with Louis Clark dropping to left-back in place of Dominic Ogun, who pulled a hamstring against Folkestone Invicta. Mensah returned after a gap of six matches, coming in for Gareth Chendlik, and he showed what Swans have missed as he was a constant threat and always looked the main source of a goal, but unfortunately he had to settle for the one fine strike that got his side back into the game.

Swans started kicking up a pronounced slope and with a bitter wind in their faces, and they fell behind to what is becoming a customary early goal. Only nine minutes had been played when Sittingbourne’s Ollie Bankole got down the right to cross to the far-post, and Miles Cornwell was allowed far too much time and space to pick his spot and drive the ball past goalkeeper Gary Ross.

Swans had an opportunity after a quarter of an hour when they won a free-kick ten yards outside the box, but Tarome Hemmings drove the ball into the defensive wall and it was cleared. Hemmings was soon taking another free-kick from the left, but after a scramble in the box the ball was again got clear.

Swans had settled down after an uncertain start, and with 28 minutes played Mensah made a terrific surging run on the left, leaving Billy French trailing, the Sittingbourne player resorting to hacking Mensah down just as he was getting into the box, earning him a yellow card. A free-kick seemed scant reward as the ball was again got clear from Hemmings’ kick. Mensah was soon putting in a fine cross from the right that James Cottee just failed to get his head on, and when the ball ran loose Hemmings missed his kick.

Having come back into the game well, Swans were hit by a second goal after 33 minutes. Sittingbourne broke on the left and Connor Leon’s low cross-come-shot went across goal and struck the far-post. Ross made a fine save from a follow-up shot, but unfortunately the ball fell to Hicham Akhazzan, who drove it past the Swans’ keeper.

Swans soon went close to getting a goal back as Daly crossed high from the right to the far-post, where Mensah got in a header that was blocked on the line. The visitors’ pressure continued to the break, Hemmings’ crossing from the right of the box, and Cottee just failing to get his head on the ball as he dived in. Following another good attack in first-half stoppage-time Anthony Oaks crossed from the left of the box, but Mensah’s shot was again blocked.

The Swans’ striker suffered the same fate straight after the resumption as Hemmings crossed from the right of the box and the ball was scrambled clear after Mensah’s shot was blocked. Mensah was soon putting in a fine snap shot from 25 yards that Brickies’ keeper Adam Molloy kept out with a dive to his right.

The home side soon broke, and when the ball was crossed from the left Bankole got in a shot from the right of the box, but Ross made the save.

Swans were having little luck in front of goal, and when Daly crossed from the right Cottee dived in to get his head to the ball at the near-post, but it deflected off a defender to go behind.

Pressing high into the home half Swans were always in danger of getting caught on the break, and when Sittingbourne’s Leon got free on the left he drove in a low shot that Ross did well to push away, the keeper then diving full length to push the ball behind to deny the follow-up.

Swans finally got the goal they deserved just before the hour, and it was a typical Mensah effort. He made a superb run into the left of the box before driving in a shot that Molloy saved at his near-post, but Mensah followed up to beat the home keeper with a low shot from a tight angle.

Mensah was soon almost getting in on Oaks’ through ball, but he was just denied by a fine interception from Jono Richardson, who cleared behind for a corner. From Hemmings’ kick from the left Cottee got in a header that clipped the top of the bar and went over.

With just over a quarter of an hour remaining Swans were again unlucky as Hemmings laid the ball back from the line on the left to Mensah, and he drove in a low shot that struck the legs of Molloy, and the ball looped over the crossbar.

With just over five minutes of normal-time remaining, following Hemmings’ corner from the right, the ball ran loose to substitute Chendlik inside the left of the six-yard box, and when he struck a low shot the ball lodged under the body of keeper Molloy. With the ninety minutes up Chendlik almost got Mensah in, but he was again just denied by a tackle.

Four minutes into stoppage-time Swans had a final chance to salvage a deserved draw when they won a free-kick just outside the box on the right, but from Hemmings’ kick Clark put a header just over.

There was still time for Sittingbourne to again hit Swans on the break, but after Ross had made a fine save the ball was put into the net, but the ‘goal’ was ruled out for offside.

Swans’ Team: Gary Ross, Nathan Daly (Daniel Ranger 90+2’), Louis Clark, André Scarlett (Gareth Chendlik 69’), Jahmahl King, Harry Mills, Tarome Hemmings, Vernon Francis, Andrew Mensah, James Cottee, Anthony Oaks (Dylan Cascoe 78’). Subs. not used: Ed Mason, Kadeem Ajeon. Scorer: Mensah (59’). Caution: King, handball (17’).

Sittingbourne Team: Molloy, Brunt, Richardson, French, Crimmen, P. Smith, Bankole, Leon (Lee 65’), H. Smith, Cornwell (Harden 82’), Akhazzan. Subs. not used: Gell, Davis. Scorers: Cornwell (9’), Akhazzan (33’). Caution: French, foul (28’).