Wednesday 26th April 2023. 

Isthmian League, South-Central Division Play-Off Semi-Final.

Walton & Hersham 2    Northwood 1.

Swans showed great character to bounce back from the disappointment of being denied the Championship and automatic promotion by beating a good, well-organised Northwood side in a tense Play-Off Semi-Final. They also had to come back from conceding a goal after just four minutes. This was Swans’ fourth meeting with Northwood this season, and although they have now come out on top on each occasion, all the matches have been tight, with them winning by the odd goal each time. A fourth four figure crowd of the season at the Sports Hub, and the third in the last four home matches, also saw Swans stretch their unbeaten run to twenty.

A side unchanged for the tenth match in a row made a good start, with three attacks in the first three minutes almost leading to a goal on each occasion. The ball was cleared to Alex Kelly 40 yards out, and he got forward, but shot wide of the right post from outside the box. An over the top ball down the right from Harry Mills then almost got Jordan Adeyemi through into the box. An attempted back-pass from Northwood’s Romario Jonas was played straight into the path of Eddie Simon, whose attempt to take the ball round goalkeeper Andy McCorkell was just denied, and Jonas was able to hook clear.

However it was the visitors who took the early lead following their first attack after just four minutes. Mills slipped over as Andy Lomas’s ball down the left got Osaretin Otote clear, and he squared the ball across the box for Josh Hedley to turn and neatly send a low shot into the bottom, right corner.

Arsen Ujkaj fouled Helmore on the halfway line on the left to give Northwood a free-kick, but Teddy Stacey delivered the ball straight through to Swans’ keeper Liam Allen.

With a quarter of an hour played Joe Pratley-Jones had the opportunity to deliver a long throw from close to the right corner-flag. Following the throw Joe Hicks laid the ball back to Adeyemi just outside the box, and he made room to drive in a left foot shot that McCorkell took well on his line. Teo Kurtaran then knocked a neat ball into the box, and Adeyemi nodded it down to Simon by the penalty-spot, and he struck a strong first-time shot that McCorkell was just in the right place to block, the wind being taken out of the Northwood keeper. Mitchal Gough played a terrific long pass to pick out the run of Simon into the right of the box, but after chesting the ball down he hooked a half-volley just inches over the goal.

The visitors looked threatening on the break, and Allen had to take the ball at his near-post when Otote drove it in low from the left. Gough then had to make a fine covering tackle to break up another attack.

Swans continued to press for the equaliser however, and Mills played a fine pass to send Kelly through into the right of the box, but the ball ran away from him and behind. They did not have to wait long to draw level at 1-1, when just before the half hour mark a corner was won on the left. Kurtaran delivered the kick, and Gough got to the penalty-spot to guide a terrific header inside the left post.

A stray pass allowed Northwood to break down the right, and Stacey crossed high to the far-post, but Otote headed a good chance well over.

The remaining quarter of an hour of the first-half passed without major incident, Luke Tingey’s long throws for Northwood posing the only threat to either goal.

The visiting skipper started the second-half with a couple more long throw-ins into Swans’ box. The first, from the right, led to Shane Cojocarel cutting inside to get in a shot that Allen saved comfortably down at his left post. The second, from the other wing, was dealt with by the Swans’ keeper at his near-post.

Swans soon went close to taking the lead after Simon forced James Gurteen to concede a corner on the right. Kurtaran took the kick, and Kelly was by the penalty-spot to glance a fine header against the far angle of bar and post, and Simon was just prevented from scoring from the rebound. A fine ball by John Gilbert put Kelly through into the left of the box, but he shot well wide of the near-post. The Swans’ midfielder soon went much closer to making it 2-1. Gilbert was again the provider with another excellent through ball, this time sending Kelly driving into the right of the box to get in a strong shot that McCorkell did well to turn round his near-post. Swans continued to press for the winner, and Ujkaj won the ball 30 yards out to get in a low shot that was straight at the Northwood keeper. Mills was then found on the right by Gilbert, and when he drove the ball low across the 6 yard-box it was hacked behind for a corner.

It was beginning to look like extra-time, but with ten minutes remaining Pratley-Jones launched a long throw from the right, and when the ball was headed back out to him he set up Gilbert for a low cross into the box. McCorkell could only push the ball away in the 6 yard-box, and as Kurtaran followed in he was brought down by Jonas, the referee immediately pointing to the spot. Mills was his usual reliable and nerveless self with the penalty, drilling the ball into the bottom, left corner.

Even at 1-1 the visitors had mainly defended, getting men behind the ball and making it difficult for Swans to get behind them, but now they had to try and save the game. In the final minute of normal-time they had a free-kick deep on the right, but Micah Jackson’s delivery into the box found the safe hands of Allen. Tingey had the opportunity to deliver another long throw from the left, but the threat was extinguished by a Northwood foul in the box. Two more free-kicks followed. McCorkell’s from halfway on the right was defended, but Jackson’s into the box from 40 yards out forced a corner on the right. Swans had the title snatched from them in the final minute at Thatcham, and they now faced one last threat of a place in the Play-Off Final being denied them. Keeper McCorkell came up for Jackson’s kick, but the ball was headed away from the 6 yard-box and the referee immediately blew his whistle to confirm Swans’ place in the Final, and a winner takes all battle with Hanworth Villa.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Harry Mills, Joe Pratley-Jones, Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, Teo Kurtaran, Alex Kelly (Darryl Siaw 87’), Eddie Simon, John Gilbert, Jordan Adeyemi (Taurean Roberts 75’). Subs. not used: Dominic Ogun, Jacob Munting, Ollie Twum. Scorers: Gough (28’), Mills, penalty (82’). Cautions: Kurtaran (42’), Gilbert (83’).

Northwood Team: McCorkell, Gurteen, Lomas, Alexander-Greenaway, Tingey, Jonas (Chendlik 87’), Cojocarel (Jenkins 89’), Stewart, Helmore, Otote (Jackson 70’), Stacey. Subs. not used: Cole, Gallagher. Scorer: Helmore (4’). Caution: Stacey (82’).