Monday 2nd January 2023.                        Isthmian League, South-Central Division.

Merstham 3    Walton & Hersham 3.

Swans were left ruing the loss of two points, as they were twice pulled back from winning positions to be held to their first draw in the League by a determined Merstham side, whose performance belied their lowly position in the League. The home side have shown great improvement recently, now losing just once in their last six outings, and the point gained moved them off bottom spot. With Swans leading 2-0 as the first-half moved into stoppage-time they looked well set for the win, but a fine strike gave The Moatsiders renewed belief that they could mount a comeback. That comeback was complete just three minutes after the resumption when the referee awarded an extremely soft penalty, that was converted to make the score 2-2. A superbly worked goal put Swans back in the lead, but they were again pulled level, before they were just inches away from scoring a winner in the dying minutes.

For their first match of 2023 two changes were made to the line-up that had started against Leatherhead, with Joe Pratley-Jones and Jonathan Gjoshe, recently signed from Chipstead, coming in for Mitchal Gough and Maliq Morris.

Swans dominated the early possession, but it was their goalkeeper Liam Allen who was brought into action as the home side put together their first attack after ten minutes. Lorenzo Lewis was played down the right, and his driven low cross was taken by Allen at his near-post. Merstham soon had another opportunity when, following a move on the right, Bryan Zepo was blocked by Pratley-Jones in the box. The ball fell to Adam Allen, who put a shot over the top, left corner.

Swans continued to look impressive coming forward however, and Harry Mills was brought down ten yards outside the right edge of the box, but his free-kick was blocked. Clever play by Eddie Simon on the left led to him driving the ball low across, but he couldn’t find Jordan Adeyemi in the middle. With twenty minutes played Pratley-Jones picked up the ball in the centre-circle, before driving forward to the left byline and sending over a fine high cross. Debutant home keeper Conor Beattie could only knock the ball down into the box, for Simon to turn and get in a left-foot shot that just deflected off the leg of Luke Read and the ball to go behind for a corner. Mills’ kick from the left was hit too long and cleared the far-post. Another fine move led to John Gilbert finding Arsen Ujkaj on the right, and another corner was forced as he drove the ball low across. Mills’ kick from the right reached Pratley-Jones beyond the far-post, but the referee blew up for a free-kick, apparently for an offence by Joe Hicks, that was obscure to say the least. Swans continued to dominate play, and when Ukaj picked up a clearance he got forward to turn 35 yards out and strike a good right-foot shot just wide of the right-post.

Swans took a deserved lead after 32 minutes. A move started by Alex Kelly and Gilbert deep on the right led to Gilbert’s through ball finding Simon on the edge of the box. Simon laid the ball off to his right to Gilbert, and when it broke further right to Adeyemi, he drove it past keeper Beattie.

It only took a further three minutes for Swans to double their lead. Gilbert won the ball off Merstham player/manager Peter Adeyini before finding Dominic Ogun on the left, and he clipped it over for Simon in the right of the box to chest down and drive home.

Ogun was soon making a great tackle at the other end, getting across to deny Zepo, who had been played through by Garfield Wilson after Swans had failed to clear on the left.

A fine cross-field ball by Ujkaj found Ogun on the left, but his low ball in failed to find a teammate.

Swans’ hopes of taking their 2-0 lead into the break were dashed three minutes into stoppage-time. Merstham’s skipper Read switched the ball from the left to pick out Abdul Sankoh on the right. Sankoh cut inside, but was still a good 25 yards out when he sent a left-foot shot curling inside the far-post.

Not unexpectedly the home side came out for the second-half lifted, and immediately Lewis got Allen free on the left, and he sent a low shot just wide of the far-post, but the flag was already up for offside.

The equaliser soon came however in controversial fashion. Adeniyi played a ball from halfway to get substitute Adam Adam down the right, where he was tracked by Ogun. After getting just inside the right edge of the box Adam went down very easily when challenged by the Swans’ defender, the referee awarding a penalty. Lewis sent the spot-kick to Allen’s right, with the Swans’ keeper going the other way. The referee then did little to endear himself to Swans’ players and supporters by awarding an extremely soft free-kick 25 yards out, but Wilson drove the ball into the wall.

.Swans had a chance to regain the lead when a good build-up led to Mills laying the ball back from the edge of the box to Gilbert, but he shot well over. Former Swan Aaron Goode became the fifth player to be booked for fouling Gilbert 35 yards out. Mills sent the free-kick agonisingly just wide of the left-post. Just past the hour Swans went close again as Kelly laid the ball over from the left to Gilbert on the edge of the box. He slipped the ball through to Adeyemi, whose shot just deflected off the boot of Goode and went over the goal. From Mills’ right-side corner the ball came to Pratley-Jones in the left of the box, but he shot well over.

Home keeper Beattie then joined the list of bookings for continuous time-wasting.

Merstham had a great chance to go ahead for the first time when Swans lost the ball in midfield and Wilson played it through to Zepo on the edge of the box, but his shot cleared the bar.

It was Swans however who regained the lead after 66 minutes with a terrific goal. The move was started by Mills, who drove forward before finding Gjoshe on the right. The Swans’ debutant laid the ball in to Simon, who found Gilbert on the edge of the box. The midfielder cleverly lifted the ball forward to Adeyemi, who nodded it back for Gilbert to volley home.

Swans were guilty of relaxing, as straight from the restart Wilson was played through into the left of the box to get in a shot that Allen beat down at his near-post. Adam then drove the ball in from the right for Zepo to just fail to make contact with a diving header close in at the far-post.

Swans went close to making the game safe when Simon’s great long ball over the top and down the left found Adeyemi. Adeyemi got past Read and into the box before laying the ball across to Simon, who got in a left-foot shot that Beattie saved well, high to his right. Gilbert followed up, but the flag went up for offside.

It was the home side however who were to score next after they had a free-kick out by the right corner-flag. Sankoh drove the kick in to the near-post, where Allen did well to punch away. The ball came to Roman Charles-Cook deep on the right, and he swung it high into the box. Allen could not clear under pressure from Goode, and when the ball fell to Wilson by the right corner of the 6 yard-box, he drove home a first-time shot.

With five minutes of normal-time remaining Swans went desperately close to getting the win. Kelly’s excellent pass down the left found Gilbert, who drove to the edge of the box before laying the ball across to Adeyemi coming in at the far-post, but he just failed to get a touch.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Harry Mills, Dominic Ogun, Arsen Ujkaj, Joe Pratley-Jones, Joe Hicks, Jonathan Gjoshe (Jude Molloy 72’), Alex Kelly, Eddie Simon, John Gilbert, Jordan Adeyemi. Subs. not used: Mitchal Gough, Maliq Morris, Brian Garzon. Scorers: Adeyemi (32’), Simon (35’), Gilbert (66’). Cautions: Kelly (27’), Ogun (45+2’), Hicks (49’), Simon (71’), Pratley-Jones (90+2’).

Merstham Team: Beattie, Charles-Cook, Goode, Read, Sankoh, Allen, Wilson, Adeniyi (Aziaya 77’), Lewis, Zepo (Quiassaca 83’), Sterling-Parker (Adam 46’). Subs. not used: Bello, Kamara. Scorers: Sankoh (45+3’), Lewis (48’ [pen]), Wilson (76’). Cautions: Zepo (41’), Goode (58’), Beattie (63’), Lewis (79’).