Saturday 9th April 2022. Cherry Red Combined Counties League Premier Division South.
Walton & Hersham 1 Raynes Park Vale 0.
Swans will be back playing at Step 4 after an absence of six seasons as they were guaranteed at least the second promotion spot following a nerve-jangling win over one of their nearest challengers. After sinking to Step 6 for two seasons they have now secured back-to-back promotions for the first time to set them on the road to where they feel they belong in the non-league game. Raynes Park Vale needed the three points themselves to stay in with a realistic chance of securing one of the two top spots, and they showed why they were still in the mix, as they were undoubtedly the better of the two sides on the afternoon and will feel they should have got something from the match. They spurned the normal game-plan of packing the defence adopted by so many visitors to the Sports Hub as they pressed high from the first whistle. They may have reverted to a different mode of play if they had taken the lead, but it was Swans who opened the scoring somewhat against the run of play with less than a quarter of an hour played, and they spent the rest of the match pressing for a result. It may have been the sheer importance of getting a result in front of a record crowd for one of their matches at The Hub of 600 plus, but it was an uncharacteristically nervous performance by a Swans’ side that struggled to find the fluency that has characterised their game over the last two seasons. But they will never be beaten easily, and sheer grit and determination saw them through, particularly for almost half an hour at the end of the match when they were reduced to ten men, and with the visitors throwing everything at them. That situation had come about when Max Hustwick was harshly sent off for the second of two yellow cards picked up in the space of two minutes.
They were happy to welcome Eddie Simon back into the starting line-up after he had missed two matches through illness.
The visitors immediately showed they were determined to take the game to Swans as they won two early free-kicks. The first out by the left corner-flag was sent dipping wide of the far-post by Jordan Gallagher, and the second, conceded when Joe Hicks fouled Gallagher forty yards out on the right, was swung in by Nez Bellikli, but also went behind. Raynes Park continued to dominate the early exchanges, and they played the ball neatly forward through midfield to get Callum Hope clear, but Swans’ goalkeeper Liam Allen was out to the edge of his area to kick clear. Almost immediately Bellikli was played through to the edge of the box, but he spurned a great chance by shooting wide of the left post. With ten minutes played Louie Downey almost caught Allen out with a terrific dipping shot from the near edge of the centre-circle, but the Swans’ keeper just got back to make a fine tip-over save. From Bellikli’s in-swinging corner from the right Allen had to put the ball behind for another kick on the left, and this time Hustwick was able to head clear from the 6 yard-box.
Swans’ first opportunity to pose a threat to the visitors’ goal came when Hicks put Taurean Roberts down the left and he was fouled by Ben Dyson, but Roberts’ free-kick went straight through to keeper Billy Bishop. But, with fourteen minutes played, Swans took the lead against the run of play. A long pass from Joe Pratley-Jones picked out Eddie Simon on the left, and he was judged to have fairly won the ball off Dyson on the edge of the box. Dean Rule took over, getting in front of Dyson and into the box before being tripped by the right-back. Swans have had well over twenty penalty-kicks awarded this season, with a fair number being unsuccessful, but not many were as important as this one. Harry Mills made no mistake however, finding the bottom, right corner, with Bishop diving the wrong way.
The visitors continued to look dangerous, taking the game to Swans with their high pressing game, but Downey fouled Rule deep on the left touchline to concede a free-kick. Hicks and Roberts played the kick short between them, but the move petered out. Rule then robbed Reece Hannigan out on the left touchline before driving into the box, but Bishop was able to claim the ball at his feet.
Raynes Park Vale immediately got to the other end and Jordan Gallagher almost capitalised on a slack back-pass, but he wasted another good chance by putting a low shot just wide of the left post from the edge of the box. Swans’ goal continued to bear something of a charmed life, and when Bellikli got into the right of the box he lobbed the ball over Allen, who had come across to close him down, but Louis Collins did well to read the situation and got back to head clear. Bellikli was immediately swinging the ball in from the right to pick out Jordan Gallagher at the far-post, but he put the ball straight to Allen from the corner of the 6 yard-box. Jake Gallagher then tried to pick out his cousin Jordan in the box with a cross from the right, but Allen made a clean catch.
Swans were finally able to put together a string of passes, started by Simon in his own half and ending with Alex Kelly being fouled by Jake Gallagher 35 yards out from goal, but the free-kick taken by Roberts only led to the ball going out of play on the left. It had taken close to half an hour of play, but Swans had steadied the ship and were beginning to come more into the game as an attacking force. Mills and Ben Krauhaus combined, and when Mills got down the right he laid the ball back to Kelly, who set up Roberts just outside the box to drive in a shot that Bishop kept out high up on his line. Some dazzling ball-play by Roberts out on the left led to Collins whipping in a cross to the right of the box, where Simon evaded the challenge of Hope and got in a shot that Nathan Lewis just got his body in front of to deflect the ball behind for a corner. Pratley-Jones was just inside the box to head wide of the left post from Roberts’ kick from the right.
The visitors’ Hannigan then picked up the first yellow card of the afternoon for fouling Mills close to halfway on the left touchline.
Raynes Park had undoubtedly had the best of the first-half, and inside the final five minutes they won a corner on the left off Hustwick. From the kick Lewis got in a far-post header, and following a scramble Hustwick was able to clear off the goal-line.
Swans made a change for the second-half, with Ollie Twum coming on for Krauhaus.
Raynes Park again started the half pressing Swans, and Hannigan crossed from the right to find Jordan Gallagher in the left of the box, but Hustwick did well to close him down as he prepared to shoot. They then won a soft free-kick deep on the left for a foul on Jordan Gallagher given against Pratley-Jones, and when Seanan McKillop sent the ball into the box Hope got in a header that ran straight through to Allen.
Swans soon had an opportunity for Pratley-Jones to use his long throw, and when he launched the ball from the right to the near-post it was headed behind for a corner. From Roberts’ delivery Pratley-Jones was just inside the box to get in a bicycle kick, but failed to make a clean contact.
Swans were again fortunate when the visitors got down the left to cross into the box, and Jake Gallagher was allowed a free header that again was straight at Allen, but they soon went close themselves. Collins got the ball to Rule on the left, and he made a fine run, beating Dyson and then dummying Hannigan to get into the box, but drove a left foot shot just over the goal. Kelly then played the ball down the left to Roberts, and when his clever flick sent Collins clear he had his first opportunity to drive the ball low across the 6 yard-box, but Twum was just denied in the middle. Twum was sent down the right by Pratley-Jones, and when he got the ball over Mills was on the edge of the 6 yard-box to stoop and put a header over. With an hour played Mills found Rule on the left, and he beat Dyson to get into the box, but the Vale player recovered and closed him out. Twum did well on the right to cut into the box and lay the ball back to Kelly, but he shot well over the goal. A good build-up on the left led to Mills getting Rule away on a tricky run. Eoin Fraser had replaced Dyson for the visitors, and he was then the one to be beaten by Rule as he got into the box, but the angle was tight and a left foot shot was saved comfortably by Bishop.
Swans had begun to look like they could hold on for the win, but things changed with a quarter of the game remaining. Slack play led to Hustwick fouling Jordan Gallagher outside the left corner of the box, and he was shown a yellow card. Jordan Gallagher’s free-kick deflected off Swans’ defensive wall and the ball went behind for a corner on the left. When the kick was sent in there was a scramble before Hustwick was able to get the ball clear. Reece Williams-Bowes then seemed to merely run into Hustwick, and not only was a foul given against the Swans’ central defender, he was also shown a second yellow-card just two minutes after his first and was sent off. The free-kick was in a similar position as the previous one, just outside the left corner of the box, and Jordan Gallagher again failed to beat the wall, with Roberts eventually hooking the ball clear.
It had already been a major task for Swans to hold onto their slender lead against dominant opponents, but they now faced having to do so for over 22 minutes with ten men.
Maliq Morris and Jordan Adeyemi came on for Roberts and Simon, while the visitors also made a double substitution. Swans had to regroup, with Mills dropping to right-back and Pratley-Jones moving inside to reinforce the centre of defence as Raynes Park pushed more men forward.
Jake Gallagher crossed a dangerous ball to Swans’ far-post from the right, but the ball ran off Hope and behind. Dan Moody then sent over another cross from the right, but good defending by Mills at the far-post led to him heading behind for a corner. With just under a quarter of an hour of normal-time remaining Swans failed to get the ball clear and a cross came into the box from the left. Allen made a superb point-blank save from Hannigan, and as the ball ran loose he dived on it at the feet of Hope, taking a blow in the face in the process and winning a free-kick.
Swans had a chance to relieve some of the pressure when Twum was fouled out on the right touchline by Lewis, but Morris’s free-kick into the box was headed clear.
Swans continued to struggle to retain possession, leading to doubts they could hold out for the remaining minutes. A free-kick was given on the right when Collins fouled Brad Sweeney, and when Moody delivered the ball into the box Kelly headed away at the far-post. But the ball was immediately played back in from the left, and Allen made a good take on the edge of his 6 yard-box. Mills headed behind for a corner when Sweeney crossed from the right, and when the kick came in Pratley-Jones headed clear.
With three minutes of normal-time remaining Swans had a chance to get some breathing space when a clearing kick from keeper Bishop was met by Collins in his own half, and he headed the ball powerfully forward down the left to find Adeyemi. He turned Hannigan just outside the box but shot straight at Bishop. There was an even better chance for Adeyemi just a minute later when Rule won the ball in Swans’ half and played it through to him. Adeyemi looked to be winning the race with Hannigan, but the Vale central defender made a perfectly timed tackle right on the edge of the box to slide the ball away for a corner on the right. Adeyemi and Morris won a second corner as they kept the ball, but it was eventually won back by the visitors.
A long ball was played down the left, but Pratley-Jones made a terrific tackle on Raynes Park substitute Aiden Brown. With the match in stoppage-time Fraser crossed from the right into the left of Swans’ box for Allen to make a superb catch. Collins was barged over the touchline on Swans’ left by Sweeney, leading to a both players being shown a yellow card after several players got involved. Swans had done superbly to hang on to their slender lead, but five minutes into stoppage-time they were faced with defending a corner on the left after a ball in from the right was judged to have brushed the head of Pratley-Jones at the far-post before going behind. When Jordan Gallagher delivered the ball in Hicks was in the 6 yard-box to meet it with a terrific header, and the final whistle blew to trigger wild celebrations.
Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Joe Pratley-Jones, Louis Collins, Alex Kelly, Max Hustwick, Joe Hicks, Harry Mills, Taurean Roberts (Maliq Morris 71’), Eddie Simon (Jordan Adeyemi 71’), Ben Krauhaus (Ollie Twum 45’), Dean Rule. Subs. not used: Will Kouadio, Harry Pointing. Scorer: Mills, penalty (14’). Caution: Collins, aggressive attitude, (90+5’). Dismissal: Hustwick, 2 cautions for fouls (66’ & 68’).
Raynes Park Vale Team: Bishop, Dyson (Fraser 62’), Hannigan, Lewis, Hope (Brown 81’), McKillop (Sweeney 70’), Jake Gallagher, Downey, Bellikli (Moody 70’), Jordan Gallagher, Williams-Bowes. Sub. not used: Stepney. Cautions: Hannigan, foul (39’), Sweeney, aggressive attitude (90+5’).