Saturday 11th February 2023.                               Isthmian League, South-Central Division.

Walton & Hersham 3    Ashford Town (Mx.) 1.

Swans registered their second double of the season in as many games as they came back from an early goal down to beat the team they had defeated 5- 0 away in October, reinforcing their second spot in the table. Eddie Simon had scored a hat-trick in that earlier game, and he had the chances to repeat that feat, but Swans’ top-scorer had to settle for two goals, taking his total to five against Ashford over the two matches. The visitors looked a much improved side from that which had succumbed to Swans previously, and they had picked up three wins in their last four matches. Once Swans went ahead however they always looked comfortably in control, until a late spell of pressure threatened them.

Harry Mills was still not fit enough to return, while Mitchal Gough’s injury picked up at Westfield prevented him from starting, and he was named amongst the substitutes, Joe Pratley-Jones partnering Joe Hicks at centre-back. Jordan Adeyemi also returned to the starting line-up, with Palace Francis dropping to the bench.

The visitors posed an early threat, but it was Swans who should have taken the lead after just four minutes. Hicks played a good ball down the left to put Dominic Ogun clear, and he laid the ball back to John Gilbert, but he side-footed a great chance wide of the left post.

Simon was played into the box to have a shot blocked for a corner, but it was Ashford who took the lead after seven minutes. Their goalkeeper Fred Chapman sent a free-kick from deep on the left down the pitch, and the ball bounced over both Ogun and Ashford’s Lindell Stewart. Swans’ keeper Liam Allen came out to the edge of the box, but the ball fell to Ricky Johnson, who cut to the right of the box before getting in an angled shot that Hicks just failed to keep out at the near-post.

Swans quickly had a chance to draw level when fine play by Adeyemi by the right corner flag led to him sending a terrific cross to the far-post, where Simon got between Matt Kellett-Smith and Dale Burnham, but sent his header over. Adeyemi then went close himself following a corner taken by Gilbert from the right. The ball was scrambled clear to Adeyemi on the edge of the ‘D’, and he struck a great, left foot volley that Chapman just got a touch on, diving to his left to deflect wide. With a quarter of an hour played Swans were awarded a free-kick on the left that Alex Kelly played short to Gilbert. Gilbert played Kelly to the byline, and he sent over a fine cross that Ashford just got a head on close to the goal-line to clear the ball for a corner on the right.

Swans’ pressure paid off after twenty minutes when Ogun sent a long ball over the top to pick out the run of Simon.  Burnham headed back to Chapman, but despite having the ball in his gloves the keeper stuck out his right leg to deliberately bring down the Swans’ striker. A penalty was awarded and Chapman shown a yellow card. With regular penalty taker Mills not playing Simon took responsibility, and neatly found the bottom, left corner.

The visitors had a chance to regain the lead when they were awarded a free-kick just outside the right corner of the box. Wayne Ridgley took the kick, and when the ball came to Javid Dougan on the left he neatly got inside Taurean Roberts and Darryl Siaw, but shot over the far, top corner.

Swans then forced two successive corners. Pratley-Jones had the opportunity to utilise his long throw from the right, and Isy Nzelo had to head behind for a corner. Gilbert’s kick from the right was cleared behind for another corner on the left, but this time Nzelo was able to head clear.

Just before the half hour Swans had another great chance to take the lead. Pratley-Jones played a long pass down the right and Chapman was quickly out to kick clear, but the ball only reached Roberts deep on the right. Roberts made a great run past both Nzelo and Clyde Ikpo Ondo before laying the ball across to Simon by the penalty-spot, but after moving the ball onto his left foot he shot wide of the right post.

There was a moment of controversy when Hicks sent a free-kick long from deep and the ball bounced through to Simon outside the left edge of the box. Chapman rushed out of his box to clatter into Simon without getting a touch on the ball, which fell to Adeyemi, who sent a first-time, low shot just wide of the near-post. With the Ashford keeper already on a yellow card he seemed fortunate not be shown another, and surprisingly no free-kick was awarded.

Swans soon took the lead however after 36 minutes. Arsen Ujkaj played a free-kick from the centre-circle over the top to pick out the run of Gilbert into the left of the box, and when he clipped the ball past Chapman, Nzelo was unable to prevent it crossing the line under pressure from Simon.

In the final minute of the half Ashford created a chance to equalise. Chapman sent a kick from his own box down the left, and when Dougan got the ball he was allowed to cut across the edge of the box, but he finished with a shot wide of the right post.

There was still time for Roberts to almost get through for Swans and the ball to be cleared to Kelly 40 yards out, but his attempt to lob the keeper was too long.

The visitors had an opportunity to create something early in the second-half when Roberts’ foul gave them a free-kick 25 yards out on the right, but Ridgley’s delivery was over-hit and wide of the far-post. Ashford’s Burnham was injured trying to get on the end of the kick, and the game was held up for several minutes as he was treated. There was immediately a further delay when keeper Chapman went down with cramp.

Swans went close to extending their lead when Gilbert’s through pass got Adeyemi down the right, and although he initially lost the ball to Ikpo Ondo, he then showed great determination to win it back off Nzelo and Prince Mbengui in the right of the box, make a great turn and get in a shot that Chapman blocked at the near-post. Swans then brought on new signing Teo Kurtaran in midfield in place of Ujkaj, and twenty minutes into the half he won the ball on the right and fed Gilbert, who found Roberts on the left. Roberts cleverly side-stepped Kellett-Smith in the box before driving in a shot that clipped the outside of the near-post. A fine move on the right led to Siaw getting to the byline and forcing a corner when his cross was headed behind. Keeper Chapman failed to cut out Gilbert’s kick from the right, and Hicks was at the far-post to get in a downward header that bounced over the goal.

Swans made it 3-1 with just over twenty minutes remaining with a superb team goal. A terrific move started on the left with several players involved led to Roberts sending an excellent cross-field ball over to the right of the box. Adeyemi then did superbly to keep the ball from running over the byline, before cutting back and slipping it through to Siaw. Siaw sent a great cross to the edge of the 6 yard-box for Simon to head home.

Francis came on for Roberts as Swans continued to dominate, putting together some fine moves. With just over a quarter of an hour remaining some terrific interplay between Gilbert and Kelly down the left got Gilbert in on the byline, but the ball was cleared. Immediately a foul by Ikpo Ondo just outside the right corner of the box earned the Ashford player a yellow card and Swans a free-kick, but Kurtaran’s delivery was too long and wide of the far-post.

The visitors were twice awarded free-kicks on the left for obscure offences, but neither taken by Ridgley posed a threat. Ashford did begin to create chances however, and with five minutes of normal-time remaining Kellett-Smith crossed from the right, and when the ball came out to Johnson on the edge of the box his fine shot brought an excellent save from Allen, who beat the ball away from his line before collecting it. A build up on the left then set up Abdou Doukoure on the edge of the box, and his shot struck the outside of the left post, with the referee surprisingly awarding a corner.

Stoppage-time saw Swans pushing for a fourth goal however, winning a free-kick just outside the box, and Simon almost getting through for a hat-trick.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Darryl Siaw (Jonathan Gjoshe 78’), Dominic Ogun, Arsen Ujkaj (Teo Kurtaran 62’), Joe Pratley-Jones, Joe Hicks, Jordan Adeyemi, Alex Kelly, Eddie Simon, John Gilbert, Taurean Roberts (Palace Francis 71’). Subs. not used: Mitchal Gough, Brian Garzon. Scorers: Simon (21’ [pen.] & 69’), Gilbert (36’).

Ashford Town (Mx.) Team: Chapman, Kellett-Smith, Nzelo, Goulter, Burnham, Ikpo Ondo, Stewart (Doukoure 84’), Mbengui (Henao Enamorado 76’), Johnson, Ridgley, Dougan. Sub. not used: McCarthy. Scorer: Johnson (7’). Cautions: Chapman, foul (20’), Ikpo Ondo, foul (74’), Henao Enamorado, foul (90+1’).