Saturday 4th March 2023.                          Isthmian League, South-Central Division.

Walton & Hersham 4    South Park (Reigate) 0.

Swans kept up their challenge for top spot, recording their tenth consecutive win with a clinical display against a good South Park (Reigate) side. They had never beaten their opponents in seven previous meetings, and had lost the earlier away game 2-0, and the visitors looked determined to preserve that record. The Reigate side made a fine start, playing a close passing game and going close to taking the lead on a couple of occasions. However, once Swans took the lead just before the half hour they continued to mount the pressure on the visitors’ defence, restricting them as an attacking force. That opening goal was scored by Eddie Simon, who went on to register his second hat-trick of the season, continuing his rich vein of scoring form as he made it twelve goals for him in eight matches.

The Sparks had an opportunity after just five minutes when Sam Tutt put Finlay Johnson down the left, and then got forward into the box to receive the return pass, but he drove the ball over the goal. The visitors continued to threaten and forced a corner on the left after ten minutes. Ben Jordan’s kick was met by a strong header at the far-post by Joe Bell, but Joe Pratley-Jones was well-placed on the goal-line to head away. Jordan crossed back in from the left, and this led to a scramble before Swans’ goalkeeper Liam Allen fell on the ball in the 6 yard-box.

Pratley-Jones had a first opportunity to use his long throw from the right, and this led to Jordan Adeyemi having a volley from just inside the box blocked. Swans built-up a good move on the left, and this led to John Gilbert  being fouled by Jordan five yards outside the left edge of the box to concede a free-kick in ideal Harry Mills’ territory. Mills struck the ball well, but it was just wide of the left post. Gilbert then fed Teo Kurtaran in the centre circle, and he drove forward to the edge of the ‘D’ to strike a low shot just wide of the left post.

Johnson made a clever run into the left of the box for South Park to force the ball off Joe Hicks and win a corner on the left. Pratley-Jones headed away from Jordan’s kick, and when Craig McGee crossed back in from the right Mitchal Gough was at the far-post to get his head to the ball. Brendan Murphy-McVey was on the edge of the box, and the former Swan struck a terrific left foot volley that Allen kept out with a great save, sticking up his right arm to keep the ball out and Gough to hook clear.

Pratley-Jones and Mills had switched flanks for Swans, and this led to more fluency in their play and the visitors looking far less comfortable in defence. The lead was taken just before the half hour with a superbly worked goal that had all the hallmarks of the training ground. Hicks fed Kurtaran on the left, and he cut across the pitch to the front edge of the centre-circle before playing a fine reverse pass to pick out the run of Mills to the edge of the ‘D’. Mills slipped the ball through to Simon just inside the box to his left, and he stroked it first-time into the bottom right corner to register Swans’ 100th goal of the season in all competitions.

Swans had seen off the early visitors’ attacks and now dominated, pressing them into their final third. Gilbert had a shot blocked for a corner, and Kurtaran made another good run before crossing a fine ball from the right into the 6 yard-box that forced South Park to head behind. Swans then played keep-ball, constantly switching the play probing for an opening, the move only breaking down when Gilbert just failed to keep the ball from going over the left byline. Another fine build-up then led to Mills forcing a corner on the right.

It only took three minutes of the second-half for Swans to double their lead. Mills played a terrific ball over the top from the halfway line on the right to pick out the run of Simon past Ryan Healy and into the box, and he chested the ball down before passing it into the far corner.

Swans soon went close to making it 3-0 with what would have been another exceptional goal. A fine move led to Mills, Gilbert and Kurtaran combining to send Pratley-Jones down the left before laying the ball inside to Gilbert on the corner of the 6 yard box. Gilbert switched the ball onto his right foot to get in a shot that former Swans’ U18 keeper Zack Basey just got a glove on, and Tutt was behind him to make a terrific header off the goal-line.

The visitors still continued to play some good football, and fine play by Tutt on the left led to him driving the ball low across the 6 yard-box, with Johnson just failing to get a touch. A good move ended with a shot being blocked for a corner on the right, and from the kick a far-post header went across goal and wide. A free-kick from the right by Murphy-McVey was headed away by Arsen Ujkaj, but South Park retained possession. Murphy-McVey delivered a fine ball from the centre-circle into the left of the box, where it was headed back across, but Johnson was stretching at the far-post and put a first-time shot over.

Ujkaj broke up a visitors’ attack and played a fine ball for Simon to make a good run on the left. After getting into the box Simon’s cross was blocked, and when getting the ball back he was just closed out.

Allen was brought into action at the other end, superbly cutting the ball out on the corner of his 6 yard-box when Tutt drove it in low from the left. Pratley-Jones slipped on Swans’ right, allowing Sam King to get past him and lay the ball across to the edge of the box to James McElligott, but he drove a first-time shot over. Allen then made a good take at his near-post when Murphy-McVey delivered a corner from the left, but he was fouled anyway.

Palace Francis had replaced Alex Kelly for Swans, and he won the ball off McElligott on the left to play Simon into the box, but after he opened up the shot he was just closed out by keeper Basey and Healy.

South Park continued to try to get back into the game, and Allen fell on the ball when King played McGee into the right of the box to get in a low, first-time shot.

Swans however effectively made the win safe with ten minutes of normal-time remaining. Kurtaran was fouled by King out by the left corner-flag. Before the free-kick could be taken Adeyemi was replaced by Ollie Twum, who made a welcome return after being out injured since October. Kurtaran then delivered the ball to the far-post, where Gough headed down for Simon to chest the ball over the line to complete his hat-trick.

Good play by Francis on the left took him to the byline to cross low across goal, but Twum just failed to get a touch at the far-post. With a minute left of normal-time Simon had a chance to add to his hat-trick when Gilbert played him into the box, but he dwelt too long on the ball and was closed out.

It was soon 4-0 however when a foul gave Swans a free-kick in the ‘D’ just outside the box, and Kurtaran drove the ball round the wall and into the bottom, right corner to give him his first goal for the club.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Joe Pratley-Jones, Harry Mills, Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough (Jonathan Gjoshe 83’), Joe Hicks, Teo Kurtaran, Alex Kelly (Palace Francis 62’), Eddie Simon, John Gilbert, Jordan Adeyemi (Ollie Twum 78’). Subs. not used: Darryl Siaw, Taurean Roberts. Scorers: Simon (28’, 48’ & 80’), Kurtaran (90’). Caution: Adeyemi, kicked ball away (72’).

South Park Team: Basey, McElligott (Massango 80’), Tutt, Healy, Drinkwater, Bell, McGee, King, Johnson, Murphy-McVey, Jordan (Anderson 64’). Subs. not used: Faithorn, Ford, Dembele.