Tuesday 3rd May 2022.    Cherry Red Records Premier Challenge Cup, Semi-Final.

Walton & Hersham 3    London Lions 1.

Swans reached their first Final of any competition since 2004-05 as they overcame difficult opponents in their final home match of the season, at the same time taking their unbeaten run to 17 games. The visitors had breezed through a first season in the Combined Counties League to take the Division One Championship by some margin, racking up 100 points and 144 goals. Swans had already played the eventual runners-up, Hilltop FC, in an earlier round, and they had proved to be a fine side, so there was no underestimation of the task before them. Any drop-off in performance would undoubtedly be punished, and that proved to be the case in a first-half during which they lacked their usual sharpness, possibly the result of going over two weeks without a game. Slack defending cost them an early goal, and the visitors seldom looked like surrendering their 1-0 lead before the break. The second-half was a different matter however, as Swans came out looking determined to up their game, and they turned the tie around inside the first quarter of an hour as they went 2-1 up, before a superb third goal effectively saw off the visitors’ challenge.

Swans’ selection possibilities were strictly limited, with players unavailable for various reasons. Jordan Adeyemi, Dean Rule and Isy Nzelo were all cup-tied, while Ollie Twum was injured, seriously limiting the attacking possibilities, particularly as Eddie Simon was still not being risked as a starter. Ben Krauhaus was able to return however after a spell out recovering from concussion, while Louis Collins had served his two match suspension.

The visitors had an early opportunity when Max Kyte was played into the right of the box, but his shot went harmlessly across goal. Swans’ then created their first chance when Harry Mills hooked the ball in high from the left to find Darryl Siaw just inside the box, and he brought it under control before setting up Krauhaus in space to his right, but his shot lacked power and was easily cleared.

But it was the Lions who took an 11th minute lead somewhat against the run of play, and it came as a result of some slack play by Swans. A long ball from deep on the right was nodded on, and when Joe Pratley-Jones failed to bring it under control on the edge of the box, Kyte got through before going to the left of goalkeeper Liam Allen and scoring into an open goal.

Swans continued to dominate possession without seriously threatening the visitors’ goal, and it was just over twenty minutes in before they again went close. Mills found Siaw in space on the right and the ball was put behind for a corner. Maliq Morris’s kick picked out Joe Hicks by the left corner of the 6 yard-box, but his strong header cleared the crossbar.

The Lions had a chance to double their lead when they won the ball in the middle of the pitch and got through to the byline on the right, but when Kyte was set up he shot wide of the right post. Swans then had to scramble the ball clear at their near-post when a throw-in on the right caused problems, but they immediately responded when a terrific long ball from Krauhaus picked out the run of Taurean Roberts. Visiting keeper Josh Samberg dashed out of his box in an attempt to clear, but made no contact with the ball, and Roberts got clear on the left, but his cross was headed away. Max Hustwick had to head behind at the near-post when the Lions’ Jack Mattey crossed from the left, but Allen was able to punch away from Mattey’s corner-kick.

With half an hour played the visitors’ captain Jake Furman picked up the first yellow card of the evening for a foul on Roberts, and his opposing skipper Hicks soon joined him in the referee’s notebook when he brought down Ben Barnett. Jack Mordecai put a free header wide of the near-post when Mattey delivered the free-kick into the box from the right.

Siaw won Swans a corner on the right when Krauhaus laid the ball off to him, and from Morris’s kick Pratley-Jones’ far-post header was blocked. Mills hooked the ball back to Hustwick just outside the box, and he drove in a low, left-foot volley that was blocked away for a corner on the left.

As the half entered the final five minutes the Lions’ Barnett got forward and into the left of the box, but Hustwick and Hicks combined to shut him down. Morris was soon striking a fine diagonal ball to pick out Mills on the right, and he cut in and beat Benji Weinberger to get in a shot, but a defender got across to block. Morris then picked up Swans’ second yellow card for a foul on Austin Lipman. With stoppage-time being played Mills was fouled just outside the left corner of the box by Furman, but Robert’s free-kick into the box was kicked clear.

Swans then went into the break with it all to do to salvage the tie, knowing they needed a step up in intensity.

The visitors had an early free-kick deep on the right when Roberts fouled Furman, but when Mattey delivered the ball beyond the far-post the flag went up for offside. Swans immediately went close to equalising with a terrific piece of play. A fine move led to Alex Kelly playing the ball forward to Mills on the edge of the box, and he immediately picked out Kelly’s run into the left of the 6 yard-box by slipping the ball through to him to get in a low, left-foot shot that was blocked away by keeper Samberg for a corner on the left. From Morris’s kick Hicks was at the far-post to get in a header that Samberg pushed away. The ball came out to Kelly on the edge of the box, and when his first shot was blocked he followed up with another that was cleared off the line. Hicks was immediately playing a terrific ball through to again get Kelly clear into the left of the box, and again Samberg was able to get his body behind the shot, deflecting the ball over his head, and it was headed away at the far-post and then behind for a corner on the left. Swans had come out for the second-half with all guns blazing, and a superb back-heel flick by Roberts got Mills through to the left corner of the box, and he cut in past Mordecai to get in a shot that Samberg saved at his near-post.

The visitors had somehow survived a second-half opening of incessant Swans’ pressure, but   the equaliser finally came six minutes in. Pratley-Jones was deep in his own-half on the right when he struck a terrific long ball to pick out Roberts’ run into space on the left. Roberts was able to look up and lay the ball across into the 6 yard-box for Mills to slot home.

Swans were guilty of losing the ball on their left, and Allen had to fall on it to deny Austin Lipman in the 6 yard-box. Jamie Cohen picked up the visitors’ second yellow card for a foul on Mills in the centre-circle, before Swans took the lead just before the hour. A patient build-up led to Mills laying off to Morris, and he played an excellent ball through to Siaw in the right of the box. Siaw cut inside past Mattey, and was tripped by the Lions’ player. Kelly instantly drove the loose ball in, but the referee decided to award the penalty. Mills however was unerring from the spot, driving the ball into the bottom, left corner.

Pratley-Jones was soon sending a long throw down the right to get Mills to the byline, but his low ball across the 6 yard-box just failed to find Roberts. Swans soon made a couple of substitutions, Reece Brewster replacing Morris, followed shortly by Dominic Ogun making his first appearance for three months as he came on for Collins. Brewster was soon back in his own box, putting the ball behind at the near-post to deny Austin Lipman when Barnett crossed from the right. Weinberger played the corner short, and took the return by Furman to get in on the right, but his shot was weak and straight at Allen. Furman then had a half-chance inside the left of the box, but under pressure he drove the ball across goal and wide.

Hustwick struck a great long pass from deep on the right to pick out Ogun on the left, and he beat Liron Mannie before laying the ball across the edge of the box to Mills. Mills found Roberts to his right, and he struck a shot that was blocked on the line.

A foul by Brewster gave the Lions a free-kick out on the left touchline, but Allen punched away when the ball was delivered into the 6 yard-box. Kelly immediately picked the ball up in his own half and went on a superb surging run down the left that took him past both Mordecai and Mannie to the edge of the visitors’ box, and as the move continued Pratley-Jones forced a corner on the right.

With ten minutes of normal-time remaining Swans went close to sealing the tie. Roberts forced Mannie to concede a corner on the left, and from Brewster’s kick Ogun nodded the ball down for Pratley-Jones to hook it back from the right byline and find Hicks, but he stabbed the chance wide of the left post.

But two minutes later they did make it 3-1 with a terrific goal. Krauhaus won the ball superbly deep in his own half, allowing Kelly to break forward. Kelly found Roberts on the left, and with Mannie slipping as he went in to challenge, he got clear to the edge of the box. Roberts then dummied two defenders in the left of the box, before switching the ball to his left foot and driving a shot low into the far-corner, the double somersault celebration almost matching the excellence of the goal.

The visitors tried to hit back, and following a good build-up on the left Austin Lipman played the ball low into the 6 yard-box, but Ogun was there to clear. This was followed by a rash of substitutions, with Swans bringing on Harry Pointing, Will Kouadio and Simon for Hicks, Krauhaus and Mills, and the Lions making two changes.

In the final minute of normal-time the visitors went close to halving the deficit. Pratley-Jones tried to prevent the ball going behind for a corner off Hustwick, but could only clear to Austin Lipman on the edge of the box, and he drove a shot against the crossbar. A corner was won on the right, but Allen made a confident catch from the kick. A cross from the left was then headed away by Pointing, but only to the edge of the box, where Kelly was judged to have fouled Cohen, giving the Lions a free-kick in a good position. Austin Lipman however could only drive the ball against Siaw in the wall, and it went behind for a corner on the right, but Allen was able to punch clear at his near-post from Adam Arnold’s kick. Deep into stoppage-time the Lions were awarded another free-kick outside the box on the right, with Siaw being shown a yellow card, but Arnold’s ball into the box was again confidently cut out by Allen.

The final whistle signalled Swans’ passage through to a meeting with Premier Division North runners-up Southall at Windsor FC’s Stag Meadow, to see who can embellish their respective promotions with some silverware.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Joe Pratley-Jones, Louis Collins (Dominic Ogun 66’), Alex Kelly, Max Hustwick, Joe Hicks (Harry Pointing 87’), Darryl Siaw, Maliq Morris (Reece Brewster 62’), Harry Mills (Eddie Simon 87’), Ben Krauhaus (Will Kouadio 87’), Taurean Roberts. Scorers: Mills (51’ & 59’ [pen.]), Roberts (82’). Cautions: Hicks, foul (34’), Morris, foul (42’), Siaw, foul (90+4’).

London Lions’ Team: Samberg, S. Goldberg (Mannie 68’), Weinberger, Adam Lipman, Mordecai, J. Cohen, Mattey (Arnold 77’), Furman (Shalom 77’), Kyte (Schindler 87’), Austin Lipman, Barnett (Landesberg 87’). Scorer: Kyte (11’). Cautions: Furman, foul (30’), Cohen, foul (57’).