Saturday 22nd April 2023.                          Isthmian League, South-Central Division.

Thatcham Town 2    Walton & Hersham 2.

With the final minute of normal-time being played Swans were set to celebrate winning their first major league title for over half a century, but their hopes, and those of the hundreds of their fans who had made the trip into West Berkshire were dashed when the home side scored a late equaliser. With Basingstoke Town winning their final game, the Championship, and with it automatic promotion, went to the Hampshire club instead. This came after Swans had fought back from going a goal down early in the second-half to lead 2-1. They were then well on top and had opportunities to kill the game off, so it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow when the title was snatched from them. Swans’ hopes of a third successive promotion and Premier Division football next season now rest on a successful passage through the Play-Offs, the Semi-Final being at home against Northwood.

A side unchanged for the ninth match in a row started well, and created their first opening after six minutes. Alex Kelly stole the ball off Thatcham’s Callum Willmoth in the centre-circle, allowing John Gilbert to drive into the left of the box. Kelly then took over to set him up on the right, but he was off balance, and scuffed his shot into the gloves of debutant home goalkeeper John O’Sullivan. Joe Hicks made a good run forward before finding Jordan Adeyemi on the right, and he cut inside past Ramarni Medford-Smith and across the edge of the box to get in a low, left foot shot that O’Sullivan saved down at his near-post. Harry Mills was then fouled, giving Swans a free-kick deep in a central position. Teo Kurtaran delivered the ball into the box, and when it came out to Adeyemi he could nor set himself, and his left foot hook shot was well over.

The home side posed their first threat with just over a quarter of an hour played when Cameron Rohart-Brown forced Mitchal Gough to concede a corner on the left. From the kick the ball came off the head of Joe Pratley-Jones, and Issiaga Kaba was on the edge of the 6 yard-box to get in a header, but it was straight at Swans’ keeper Liam Allen. Medford-Smith then sent a shot wide of Allen’s left post after the ball was cleared to him outside the box.

Adeyemi was played through to the right corner of the 6 yard-box, but O’Sullivan just got to the ball to deny him. Swans’ best effort so far came when Pratley-Jones delivered a long throw from the left, and Kelly was just outside the 6 yard-box to get in a strong, downward header that O’Sullivan kept out with a fine save low down at his right-post, turning the ball round. Eddie Simon forced a corner off Thatcham’s Levi Heholt, and from Kurtaran’s kick from the right Hicks glanced a header wide when well-placed.

Adeyemi picked up the game’s first yellow card for stopping a home attack with a foul, conceding a free-kick deep on the right, but Willmoth’s ball into the box was headed clear by Mills.

Swans continued to dominate however, and Arsen Ujkaj picked the ball up to get in a terrific strike from 35 yards out that O’Sullivan somehow prevented from going inside his right post as the ball struck him on the shoulder and bounced clear. Gilbert played Mills into the right of the box to drive the ball low across, but O’Sullivan again just kept the ball out at his near-post. Simon made a run into the left of the box, but was just closed out, and Pratley-Jones got to the left corner of the 6 yard-box to have a shot blocked behind for a corner. Simon again got into the left of the box, but his shot lacked power and O’Sullivan made a comfortable save.Heholt fouled Simon out on the left touchline and was duly booked, but Kurtaran’s free-kick was just too long to pick out Gough at the far-post.

With five minutes remaining of the half Thatcham were awarded a soft free-kick deep on the left, and Willmoth’s ball into the box led to a couple of shots being blocked at the far-post before Gough was able to hook clear.

Swans continued to dominate however, and a good build-up led to Mills crossing from the right, but O’Sullivan again just got to the ball.

Swans had been in almost total control, without managing to make the breakthrough, so it was against the run of play when Thatcham took the lead just two minutes after the resumption for the second-half. An attack was built-up on the right, leading to Hicks bringing down Simeon Weekes just outside the box, and Rohart-Brown gave Allen little chance as he curled the free-kick into the very top, left corner.

Swans were soon applying pressure again, and Gilbert’s excellent through ball sent Simon through into the box, but O’Sullivan was out to just block away with his feet. The ball spun towards goal, but Heholt got back to clear off the line. Pratley-Jones played a neat one-two with Kelly to drive to the left byline and cross low into the box. The ball was cleared at the near-post and came out to Kurtaran on the edge of the box, but after opening up the chance he drove a right foot shot over.

The equaliser quickly followed however after 58 minutes. O’Sullivan’s goal-kick only reached Kelly, and he headed the ball back to send Simon clear into the left of the box. Simon laid the ball inside to Adeyemi by the penalty-spot, and his low shot took a deflection before striking the inside of the right post, and the ball crept just over the goal-line.

Swans soon went close to taking the lead. Mills sent Gilbert on a run down the left, and after getting to the corner-flag he laid the ball back to Simon. Simon cut past Willmoth and into the corner of the box to get in a shot that took a deflection to go just wide of the far-post. Gough got in a downward header from Kurtaran’s right side corner that O’Sullivan held on his line.

Swans’ pressure paid off after 65 minutes as they took the lead. Pratley-Jones launched another long throw from the left, and Gough was at the near-post to guide a header over the line.

It should have been 3-1 when Gilbert and Adeyemi combined to force a corner on the right. From Kurtaran’s kick the ball came to Pratley-Jones on the left, and he made a superb run past two defenders that took him in on the byline to drive in a cross. Simon was in the 6 yard-box, but the ball struck him on the shoulder and went over the crossbar. Adeyemi then made a fine run in on the left, but Joshua Edwards was on the corner of the 6 yard-box to make a good block. With just under a quarter of an hour remaining Kelly was played clear down the right, but his cross was cut out by O’Sullivan with Simon in the middle.

Another great chance to seal the win came and went when Kurtaran played a ball over the top to pick out the run of Adeyemi, who got past Heholt and to the left byline. The build-up continued, leading to Kurtaran and Gilbert combining superbly to set up Simon unmarked ten yards out, but he placed the ball wide of the left post.

Gilbert then picked the ball up on the left to get to the corner of the box, before cutting inside past several defenders, but his shot dipped just over. Kurtaran’s cross from the left edge of the box was just too long to pick out Gough at the far-post, and when Gilbert laid the ball off to Simon in the left of the box his low shot was straight at keeper O’Sullivan.

Swans were to pay for their missed opportunities to kill off the game in the final minute of normal-time. From Allen’s goal-kick the ball was headed back into Swans’ half, leading to Jordan Alves being found on the right. Faced by Pratley-Jones, Alves was able to lay the ball back to Thatcham substitute Ashley Howell, and he cut inside to strike a fine left foot shot into the top, left corner.

A deflated Swans were unable to create any further opportunities in stoppage-time as their title hopes were dashed.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Harry Mills, Joe Pratley-Jones, Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, Teo Kurtaran, Alex Kelly, Eddie Simon, John Gilbert, Jordan Adeyemi. Subs. not used: Darryl Siaw, Taurean Roberts, Dominic Ogun, Jacob Munting, Ollie Twum. Scorers: Adeyemi (58’), Gough (65’). Cautions: Adeyemi, foul (25’), Hicks, foul (50’).

Thatcham Team: O’Sullivan, Kaba, Medford-Smith, Willmoth, Edwards, Heholt, Alves, Jones, Weekes, Smith (Shehu 80’), Rohart-Brown (Howell 67’). Subs. not used: Bourne, Gwavava, Gates. Scorers: Rohart-Brown (47’), Howell (90’). Caution: Heholt, foul (38’).