Saturday 7th May 2022.    Cherry Red Records Premier Challenge Cup, Final (At Windsor FC).

Southall 1    Walton & Hersham 2.

Apart from a few wins in the Southern Combination Challenge Cup, the last of those outright being in the 2000-01 season, Swans had not picked up a major piece of silverware since 1972-73, during the Club’s glory years under the management of Allen Batsford. So there were great celebrations at Windsor FC’s Stag Meadow as they added to their promotion with a thoroughly deserved win over Premier Division North runners-up Southall, to lift the Cherry Red Records Premier Challenge Cup. On top of the League Cup they now leave the Combined Counties League after six seasons with back to back promotions and a club record unbeaten run that now stands at 18 matches.

Swans impressed themselves on the game from the first whistle, dominating an opening ten minutes during which they could have scored at least a couple of goals, the breakthrough finally coming after twenty five. Southall had several spells when they looked threatening, particularly straight after the break when they equalised, but after Swans regained the lead ten minutes into the second-half they always looked like the side that would eventually lift the trophy.

With Max Hustwick joining the list of players unavailable or not eligible, Swans’ selection possibilities were down to the basic squad of sixteen. Darryl Siaw reverted to right-back, with Joe Pratley-Jones moving to central defence, while Eddie Simon was happily fit enough to return to the starting line-up.

On an excellent pitch, Swans settled immediately into their neat passing game, and their first chance came when Siaw sent a long pass down the right and the ball glanced off the head of Southall’s Frankie Taylor and Simon got through to the byline. He laid the ball inside to Taurean Roberts on the right edge of the 6 yard-box, but his shot was blocked by Louis Dailey. Roberts was able to continue the move, and some clever play on the right led to him hooking the ball over, but Carl Pearce headed away at the near-post. A great diagonal pass from his own half by Maliq Morris picked out Harry Mills on the right, and he breezed past Jack Bennett to play the ball low into the box, but Simon was stretching at the near-post and just failed to get a touch. Ben Krauhaus was fouled by Ryan Hope deep on the left, and Morris’s free-kick into the box forced Pearce to head behind for a corner on the right. Morris played the kick short to Roberts, but the ball was cleared for a throw-in on the right. Louis Collins won the ball off Bennett, allowing Roberts to show more tricky skills as he dummied defenders to get him inside the left corner of the box and drive in a low, left-foot shot that was just wide of the near-post. Swans had made a terrific start, dominating possession and creating openings, and with ten minutes played Simon cleverly flicked the ball through from halfway to Roberts, and he again tricked his was past defenders to get to the edge of the box and strike a left-foot shot just over. A superb ball from Mills inside his own half picked out Roberts on the left, and when he played the ball into the 6 yard-box Southall were just able to clear and deny Simon. Alex Kelly drove into the left of the box, supported by Simon, but Southall goalkeeper Koju Abayomi was able to collect.

It was twelve minutes in before Southall posed their first threat. They built up a good move on the right, and when a dangerous cross came in Swans’ keeper Liam Allen had to stretch at the far-post to fingertip the ball away and Mills to clear for a throw-in on the left. Krauhaus was soon fouling Bennett just outside the box on the left, giving Southall a free-kick in a good position, but Luke Henneghan sent the ball dipping harmlessly wide of the far-post. Another free-kick was conceded when Collins fouled Romey Eccles-Meoded deep on the right, but Siaw was able to head the ball clear on the edge of the box when Louis Stead delivered it in. Southall had begun to get into the game after being fortunate to come unscathed through Swans’ early period of domination, and they were awarded another free-kick out by the right corner-flag when Roberts was harshly judged to have fouled Eccles-Meoded. Taylor sent the kick into the box, but the ball was headed away on the edge of the 6 yard-box by Mills. Nathan Dennis then found space in the left of the box, but it was again the excellent Mills who cleared the threat, making a superbly timed tackle to put the ball behind for a corner, the kick being well-defended by Pratley-Jones.

Pratley-Jones was then able to employ one of his long throw-ins from the right, forcing Pearce to head the ball away from the edge of the 6 yard-box. A patient build-up resulted in Roberts getting into the left of the box, supported by Krauhaus to his right, and his shot was blocked, but a corner was won on the left. Collins quickly played the kick short to Morris, whose ball into the box was headed away by Dailey. Swans retained possession, and Kelly did well on the right before playing the ball inside to Krauhaus, who then set up Morris to his left. Stead lunged in to foul Morris and give Swans a free-kick just outside the box to the right of the ’D’. Morris was then treated, and was off the pitch when Mills stepped up for the kick, which he struck superbly into the top, right corner to give Swans a highly deserved lead with 25 minutes played.

Mills and Krauhaus played a one-two on the right for Mills to thread a superb pass through and send Krauhaus racing clear. Krauhaus laid the ball inside to Simon in the box, but some fine defending by Taylor and Dailey denied him and the ball went behind for a goal-kick.

With half an hour played Southall had an opportunity when Pratley-Jones slipped and Kenny Farhall was able to sidestep Joe Hicks on the edge of the box and drive in a low shot, but Allen saved comfortably on his line.

Pratley-Jones soon had an opportunity to send in another long throw from the right, and this almost led to a second Swans’ goal when Siaw got his head to the ball at the near-post, but fortunately for Southall keeper Abayomi it went straight into his gloves on the line. Siaw took a knock in the process and had to receive treatment, the referee taking the opportunity for a drinks break in the hot conditions.

Morris picked up Swans’ first yellow card of the afternoon for a lunging tackle on Farhall, conceding a free-kick just inside his own half, but Stead’s delivery was headed clear by Collins. Stead then knocked the ball forward to find Dennis in space in the box, and he got in a shot that clipped the outside of the right post, but he was already being flagged offside.

With five minutes of normal-time left of the half Farhall made a late tackle on Siaw, giving Swans a free-kick by the right touchline inside their own half. Pratley-Jones’ ball into the box was nodded on by Mills to find Roberts close in at the near-post, but he was also ruled offside. Southall’s Eccles-Meoded tried a speculative effort from 25 yards, but cleared the goal by some distance. Hicks made a terrific tackle to win the ball off Dennis before driving forward to the centre-circle and delivering a fine ball out to Roberts, clear on the left, but again the flag went up for offside, a decision that looked highly dubious.

Hicks was soon defending out on Swans’ left touchline, and was harshly penalised with a free-kick when Dennis went down. Henneghan delivered the ball to the far-post, but Pratley-Jones was fouled and a free-kick awarded to Swans.

Southall made a double substitution for the second-half, and the change in personnel and shape seemed to have the desired affect for them. They looked determined straight from the resumption, and one of the replacements, Lewis Putman, was soon doing well on the right before cutting inside to the corner of the box and getting in a low shot that Allen had to push wide of his near-post. This led to the equaliser just two minutes into the second-half, and it came from a well-worked move. The corner-kick from the right was over-hit, but the ball went out to the left, where Taylor was able to cross it back in. Pratley-Jones got his head to the ball, but it fell to Henneghan on the right edge of the box, and he laid it to Stead on his left. Stead slipped a neat ball through to put Eccles-Meoded in on the right, and when Pratley-Jones could only block his cross on the edge of the 6 yard-box Pearce drove the ball into the top of the net. Southall continued to look dangerous, and only good covering by Siaw prevented Farhall getting though on the end of Henneghan’s pass.

Swans responded with Kelly playing Simon into the left of the box, where he was just closed out by Southall substitute Darreon Mark, who seemed to get away with a tug on the striker. Allen had to come to the edge of his area, and was at full stretch to catch the ball and deny Farhall when it was knocked forward, but Swans regained the lead ten minutes into the second-half. Kelly picked the ball up in his own half before finding Simon in the centre-circle, and he played a fine through ball to get Mills into the right of the box, where he was brought down by Bennett. The referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty, and Mills made no mistake in finding the bottom, right corner.

Southall tried to hit back, and Putman got to the left edge of the box before laying the ball back to Bennett, who got in a low shot that Allen saved on his line.

Just before the hour Swans made their first substitution, with Reece Brewster coming on for Morris, who had just been treated following a heavy tackle. A kick-out by Allen was nodded on by Mills on the right to Simon, who laid the ball inside to Krauhaus, and he was just closed out by Mark after getting into the box. The ball came out for Mills to drive a low shot just wide of the right post. Southall responded with Mark trying a speculative effort from 30 yards out that was wide of the left post.

Krauhaus was fouled out on the right touchline to give Swans a free-kick. Brewster delivered the ball to the edge of the box, where Mills nodded through for Hicks to get in a volley, but it was only half-hit and straight at keeper Abayomi. Henneghan then picked up Southall’s first booking for a foul on Kelly, followed by Swans’ second when Collins pulled Mark down.

After their good opening to the second-half Southall had gradually begun to look less of a threat, but they went close when Stead struck a fine shot from 30 yards that just cleared the top, right corner.

With Collins on a yellow card Swans brought on Dominic Ogun to replace him with a quarter of an hour remaining. Pratley-Jones had been waiting to launch a long throw from the right, and when he did Abeyomi did well to get across his area and fall on the ball. Southall had a free-kick deep on the left, but again the threat was snuffed out as Ogun was first to the ball to head away when Stead sent it into the box. Swans were soon attacking again as Brewster did well to get forward and into the left of the box, and when the ball broke to Krauhaus he got in a low, left foot shot that Abayomi saved on his line.

Swans now looked to have the game well under control, getting forward at every opportunity as their opponents began to look jaded and lacking in ideas. Simon met Allen’s goal-kick on halfway with a clever header down to Ogun on the left, and he sent an excellent ball over the top to pick out Roberts’ run to the edge of the box. A superb first touch by Roberts was followed by him setting-up Krauhaus to his right, and he drove in a low, left foot shot that did not have the power to beat Abayomi, who dived to his right to push the ball away. Then a neat one-two between Brewster and Kelly got Brewster into the box, and when the ball ran to Mills he clipped it wide of the left post as Abeyomi dived at his feet and brought him down, with claims for a penalty being denied.

Swans continued to create chances, and when Roberts went down just outside the box after looking to be fouled by Mark, Simon got in on the left to force Abayomi into a save at his near-post. A fine lay inside from the left by Roberts again set up s chance for Simon in the box, and he turned Taylor, but again shot straight at the keeper.

Putman had looked Southall’s main threat after coming on for the second-half, and he was played into the left of the box to turn outside Siaw and get in a shot, but the angle was too tight to trouble Allen, who saved comfortably at his near-post. Mark was then shown the second yellow card for Southall for a foul spotted by the referee as Swans built up another attack.

Southall made a double substitution, and just two minutes after coming on Joe Clifton needlessly followed through on Allen, who was lying on the pitch with the ball in his grasp, and he was somewhat fortunate when the card shown was just yellow. In the final minute of normal-time Roberts displayed superb skills on the left, clipping the ball over the head of Pearce before flicking it through to get Simon clear. Simon beat Mark before playing the ball low into the 6 yard-box, where it was cleared away to deny Krauhaus. Brewster then made a good run into the left of the box, getting in on the byline, but his low ball in was again cleared on the edge of the 6 yard-box.

Southall had become increasingly more physical as the second-half had progressed, and in stoppage-time things threatened to boil over. Coping with Roberts’ clever ball play had been a problem for the Southall defenders all match, and their frustration began to show. Simon got the ball to Roberts on the left touchline, and Taylor came in with a lunging tackle to take him down. With Roberts on the ground the Southall left-back carried on his aggression as the Swans’ player showed his anger at his treatment. Taylor looked to be fortunate to be only shown a yellow card, while more surprisingly Roberts suffered the same fate and a free-kick was awarded to Southall. The final whistle soon came however, and Swans could celebrate with their supporters at the end of a successful and memorable season.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Darryl Siaw, Louis Collins (Dominic Ogun 75’), Alex Kelly, Joe Pratley-Jones, Joe Hicks, Harry Mills, Maliq Morris (Reece Brewster 59’), Eddie Simon, Ben Krauhaus, Taurean Roberts. Subs. not used: Will Kouadio, Flynn Bolton, Harry Pointing. Scorer: Mills (25’ & 55’ [pen.]). Cautions: Morris, foul (36’), Collins, foul (70’), Roberts, foul (90+2’.).

Southall Team: Abayomi, Bennett (Nolan 85’), Taylor, Stead, Pearce, Dailey (Mark 45’), Hope, Eccles-Meoded (Woods 68’). Dennis (Putman 45’), Henneghan (Clifton 85’). Farhall. Scorer: Pearce (47’). Cautions: Henneghan, foul (64’), Mark, foul (84’), Clifton, foul (87’), Taylor, foul (90+2’).