Stags dash Swans’ hopes

Saturday 1st April 2024.                             Southern League, Premier Division South.

AFC Totton 3    Walton & Hersham 0.

Swans’ hopes of a play-off spot were effectively ended with defeat to an AFC Totton side that reinforced their own position in the top five. They will feel this was an opportunity wasted to keep those hopes alive, as they conceded three goals despite their goalkeeper Tyla Dickinson hardly seeing any other action throughout the match. In contrast Dickinson’s opposite number Joshua Gould was kept busy most of the afternoon, although the majority of the saves he had to make were pretty standard fare. Although the score-line was somewhat flattering to the hosts, they should be commended for making the most of their limited opportunities, while Swans failed to capitalise on their numerous chances, with doubts being cast on the decision making in the final third. Swans needed to get things off to a solid start, and they were doing so until slack defending resulted in the home side going ahead after just ten minutes following their first attack. They responded well, creating openings and looking capable of getting a positive result, but after conceding a second goal from another set-piece with an hour played, the task always looked beyond them.

There was one change to the starting line-up, and to the shape, with defender Joe Hicks coming in for attacking midfielder Anis Nuur.

Swans went close to taking the lead after just three minutes when Josh Tobin sent a fine long ball over the top from the edge of his own penalty area to find Stan Flaherty on the right. Flaherty cut inside to get into the box and drill in a low, left foot shot that Gould did well to block behind down at his near-post.

The home side had just sent in a long throw from the left that went safely into the hands of Dickinson, before they took the lead. The ball was hooked down the left to send Marcel McIntosh clear, and although Swans tried to close him down he was able to cross to the right of the box to find the unmarked Adam Tomasso. Tomasso laid the ball inside first time to Scott Rendell on the edge of the 6 yard-box, and he tucked it past Dickinson.

Totton were fortunate when Swans sent a ball down the middle and Luke Hallett, under pressure from Johl Powell, headed back to Gould, and the keeper just managed to grasp the ball to prevent it going past him. Swans continued to press, and Mitchal Gough got Eoin Bolger to the left byline to force a corner. Midway through the half Hicks sent a long ball down the middle, and Gould had to come out to the edge of his area to head away and deny Nana Owusu. A foul was immediately committed centrally placed 30 yards out. Owusu has shown his expertise with free-kicks in that position, so he will feel disappointed that his effort lacked power, and Gould was able to knock the ball down comfortably by his right post.

The Stags’ keeper was soon brought into more serious action when Arsen Ujkaj delivered a long ball to find Flaherty on the right. Flaherty teased his marker before sending the ball high over to the far-post, where it was headed away and Bolger found Alex Kelly, who turned on the edge of the box to strike a terrific right foot shot that brought a fine tip over save from the Totton keeper to keep the ball out of his top, left corner. Owusu was soon making a fine drive in on the left byline, but after getting to the near-post he was blocked out, and after going to ground was penalised for handball.

The home side had barely been seen as an attacking force, but with half an hour played, following a throw in on the right, Luke Bennett was able to whip the ball across from close to the corner flag, and the ball glanced off the head of Tony-James Lee at the near-post and flew across the goal-face.

Flaherty was soon making another good run into the right of the box for Swans before finding Tobin 22 yards out, and he drove in a shot that was blocked away.

With ten minutes left of the half Totton’s Juan Luque Prados tried a low shot from 25 yards out that went comfortably straight through to Dickinson on his line. Hicks then had to make a great, blocking tackle at the near-post when Charlie Kennedy got in on the left byline.

Swans continued to have the best of the play however, and with the final five minutes of the half being played they delivered a free-kick into the box from deep on the right. Totton struggled to get the ball away and Flaherty tried a volley from the right of the box, but failed to make clean contact and was off-target. In the final minute another free-kick on the right was played short by Flaherty to Owusu, but his ball in was just too long to find Caelan Avenell at the far-post.

Swans continued on the front foot as the second-half started, and just a minute in they went close to equalising. Tobin played the ball forward to Owusu, and he neatly clipped it through to Powell to send him driving into the right of the box, but with Ben Jefford closing him down he drove the ball a foot wide of the near-post and into the side-netting. A fine move then led to Avenell playing the ball through to Powell on the edge of the box, and he did well to hold off the challenges of Jefford and Kennedy to set up Owusu in the ‘D’, and his shot took a deflection to go wide of the right post and behind for a corner. Flaherty’s kick was met by Gough coming in at the far-post, and he got in a terrific downward header that Gould dived to turn wide of his left post with an excellent save. Gough again got his head to Flaherty’s second kick, but the ball was blocked.

Ujkaj was penalised for a foul, giving Totton a free-kick 30 yards out, but Luque Prados sent the ball straight through to Dickinson.

Ujkaj set up Flaherty on the right, and he again cut inside to strike a loft foot shot that took a deflection off the foot of Bennett, and the ball just cleared the head of Owusu at the far-post before passing just inches wide with Gould beaten.

The home side had hardly threatened Dickinson’s goal, but just before the hour he was beaten again after Bennett had a shot blocked to win a corner on the left. From Luque Prados’s kick Lee was in the 6 yard-box at the near-post to head home.

John Gilbert then came on to replace Tobin for Swans.

Avenell was shown a yellow card for a foul on Totton’s left to concede a free-kick, a header being put over when the ball was delivered to the far-post.

Avenell sent in a speculative shot from 35 yards out that was straight at keeper Gould. With just over twenty minutes remaining Swans went close to reducing the deficit. A good build-up led to Gilbert clipping the ball through to Powell in the right of the box, and he laid it back to Ujkaj on the edge. Ujkaj set up Gilbert to his left, and he sent the ball dipping just over the far, top corner. Gould then just got to the ball when Flaherty took a corner from the left, before Eddie Simon came on for Bolger. With the match entering the final five minutes of added-on time Owusu found Gilbert on the left, and he cut inside past McIntosh on the corner of the box, but his shot went straight into the hands of Gould in his 6 yard-box.

Swans’ challenge then ended as Totton scored a third goal to give the final score an unbalanced look. Gough tried to find Kelly on the right with a ball played across the centre-circle from the left, but Perri Iandolo nipped in to win it, before getting forward. Swans were left exposed as the ball was played through to Ethan Taylor, and he got into the box to find the bottom, right corner.

Swans’ Team: Tyla Dickinson, Caelan Avenell, Eoin Bolger (Eddie Simon 78’), Alex Kelly, Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Stan Flaherty, Johl Powell, Nana Owusu, Josh Tobin (John Gilbert 61’), Joe Hicks. Subs. not used: Anis Nuur, Joe Pratley-Jones, Jake Frailing. Cautions: Avenell (65’), Gilbert (84’), Kelly (89’).

AFC Totton Team: Gould, Kennedy, Hallett, Oastler, Tomasso, Rendell, Luque Prados (Taylor 66’), Jefford, Bennett (Magri 66’), McIntosh, Lee (Iandolo 78’). Subs. not used: Read, Clarke. Scorers: Rendell (10’), Lee (59’), Taylor (88’). Cautions: Luque Prados (38’), Tomasso (86’).