Saturday 7th January 2023.                                   Isthmian League, South-Central Division.

Walton & Hersham 3    Marlow 0.

After a tight first-half between the clubs in second and third spots, separated only by Swans’ superior number of goals scored, this vital match was finally settled by two superb strikes in the space of four minutes with the final quarter of an hour approaching. That first-half had seen Swans take the lead through a Harry Mills’ free-kick and also hit the bar, but it was in the second that they really began to get the better of a good Marlow side that always posed a threat. Those two second half goals were struck from a similar range of 30 plus yards by John Gilbert and Mills, and were of equal excellence, differing only by the elevation of the shot. The visitors showed flashes of why they are in such a strong position in the table, but although they tested Liam Allen with some dangerous crosses into the box, the Swans’ goalkeeper did not have a direct shot to save of note.

Swans were still without the services of Palace Francis and Taurean Roberts, as they both served the final matches of their suspensions, but they were pleased to welcome back Darryl Siaw, who has re-signed from South East Division club Haywards Heath Town.

Back in August, and in the middle of last summer’s heatwave, Marlow had beaten Swans by the odd goal in seven in the opening league game of the season, but the return was played out in vastly contrasting and difficult conditions of wind and rain.

The visitors, with the wind in their favour, put Swans under early pressure, firstly forcing a corner, and then Toby Raggett having a shot blocked by Joe Pratley-Jones after Dawid Rogalski had set up Nawaf Naheer-Omar to drive the ball low across from the right. Raggett then found Naheer-Omar on the right, and he got past Dominic Ogun to drive in a low ball that had to be put behind at the near-post by Joe Hicks for another corner.

Swans were given an opportunity to threaten the Marlow goal when Eddie Simon was fouled deep on the left. Following Mills’ free-kick, Siaw was found on the right, and after getting to the byline he crossed to the far-post, where Simon had a header blocked.

Alex Kelly then played Mills into the left of the box to have a low shot blocked, before Swans took the lead with just over a quarter of an hour played. Gilbert played Simon into clear space on the right, but in doing so was fouled just outside the box, the referee awarding the free-kick. The kick was in ideal Mills’ territory just to the right of the ‘D’, and when he drove the ball in low it deflected off the leg of Elijah Oladunjoye in the wall and down the middle of the goal, with keeper Aaron Watkins having moved to his right.

Oladunjoye had the first opportunity to utilise his long throw from the right for Marlow, and this led to Raggett having another shot blocked for a corner on the left. Junaid Bell played a long ball from his own half inside Ogun to again get Naheer-Omar free on the right, and his low ball in to the near-post brought a fine block from Allen to win another corner for Marlow. A foul by Arsen Ujkaj gave the visitors a free-kick deep on the left, and when Bell delivered the ball into the box it was cleared to Aaron McLeish-White, who miskicked through to Allen. Marlow continued to have a good spell, forcing another corner, and Oladunjoye sending another long throw down the right that Ogun got a head on to send the ball into the gloves of Allen.

Just past the half hour Swans went close to doubling their lead. The move was started by Mitchal Gough and Pratley-Jones combining deep on the right to send Gilbert on a fine run forward to the edge of the box, before laying off to Simon on his left. Simon struck a shot with the outside of his right foot, and keeper Watkins just got a touch to deflect the ball onto the bar and over. Gough and Pratley-Jones again started a move on the right, and this time it was Kelly who made the forward run before playing the ball through to Simon and then being fouled by Oladunjoye. The referee played advantage and Simon got to the byline, but the angle was too tight and he could only find the side-netting.

As the half entered the final five minutes Marlow had a free-kick opportunity in a similar position to that which saw Swans take the lead. Ben Mulley stole the ball off Gilbert in the centre-circle and got forward to just outside the box before being fouled by Ujkaj. Rogalski drove the ball into the net, but the referee had already awarded the free-kick. Marlow keeper Watkins picked up a bizarre yellow card before the kick could be taken by running 80 yards down the pitch to confront the referee. McLeish-White finally took the kick, but drove the ball just over. In stoppage-time more clever play by Naheer-Omar on the right led to him driving in a low cross that Allen took at his near-post.

Early in the second-half another Oladunjoye long throw from the right won Marlow a corner, and from Raggett’s kick a header was put wide at the far-post.

Swans soon responded with Gilbert making a terrific run in on the left byline to have a low cross cleared. With an hour played Mills got Ogun down the left to cross a fine ball into the 6 yard-box, where Simon just failed to get a touch as it went across goal and wide.

Oladunjoye’s long throws continued to be Marlow’s main source of threat, and one from the right into Swans’ 6 yard-box saw the ball rebound off Louis Rogers and into the gloves of Allen on his line.

Mills was fouled giving Swans a free-kick 25 yards out, but he drove the ball into the wall. Pratley-Jones was immediately taking a long throw from the right, leading to the ball being headed behind for a corner. Mills then had a shot blocked in the box after the ball came to him following another Pratley-Jones long throw from the right.

Swans doubled their lead 27 minutes into the half with a sensational goal. Mills laid the ball across from the left to Gilbert 35 yards out, and he took a couple of paces before drilling a terrific right foot shot low into the left corner. Keeper Watkins got a glove on the ball, but the shot carried too much power.

Jordan Adeyemi immediately replaced Simon, and just a minute after coming on he had a chance to make it 3-0. Mills was in the centre-circle to nod the ball through to Adeyemi, who got clear to the edge of the box, but Watkins was quickly out to block the shot with his legs.

Swans did not have to wait long however before scoring their third, and it was another exceptional goal. Allen sent a clearing kick down the middle, and Mills pulled the ball down 30 yards out, before turning and striking a superb, right-foot shot that simply flew inside the left post.

Straight from the restart Mills had an opportunity to complete a hat-trick when Bell fouled Siaw 10 yards outside the box, but he sent the free-kick over the top, right corner. Maliq Morris came on for Kelly, followed shortly by Brian Garzon replacing Mills, and in the dying minutes Morris was found in space 30 yards out on the right, but he shot over.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Joe Pratley-Jones, Dominic Ogun, Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, Harry Mills (Brian Garzon 82’), Alex Kelly (Maliq Morris 80’), Eddie Simon (Jordan Adeyemi 75’), John Gilbert, Darryl Siaw. Subs. not used: Jonathan Gjoshe, Jude Molloy. Scorers: Mills (16’ & 76’), Gilbert (72’). Caution: Pratley-Jones, foul (86’).

Marlow Team: Watkins, Oladunjoye, Chapple, Rogers, Bell, Salmon, Mulley, Raggett (Boorn 71’), Rogalski, McLeish-White, Naheer-Omar. Subs. not used: Campbell, Green, Ehui, Watson. Cautions: Watkins, dissent (41’), Bell, foul (77’).