Sunday 30th April 2023. 

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

Walton & Hersham 3    Hanworth Villa 1.

For the first time since the 2006-07 season Swans will once again play Step 3 football, clinching their third successive promotion by virtue of a superb second-half performance against their north Thames neighbours. Attendance records were again broken at The Sports Hub as an almost full house created a terrific atmosphere on a sunny Bank Holiday weekend. The crowd of 2,095 that witnessed a fine game was Swans’ biggest home attendance since the 2004-05 season, when just over two and a half thousand were present at Stompond Lane to witness the 4-0 win over AFC Wimbledon. A fifth four figure crowd of the season at the ground, and the fourth in the last five home matches, also saw Swans remain unbeaten in 2023 as they stretched their unbeaten run to twenty one matches. The vast majority of those present would have had some misgivings at half-time, as their favourites trailed 1-0, and had only shown flashes of the exhilarating football that had led to them scoring over a century of goals, and taken them so close to the League title. That one goal deficit could well have been greater, as the visitors, under the guidance of former Swans’ manager Simon Haughney, had also gone close on a couple more occasions, The Villains had registered one of the only two defeats Swans had suffered at home this season, and  looked determined to make it two wins in two visits. Swans however were in no mood to end a magnificent season in disappointment, and from the very start of the second-half came out firing on all cylinders. An equaliser soon came, and after it became 2-1 with an hour played there was only going to be one winner as the visitors’ early confidence drained away. .

A Swans’ side unchanged for the eleventh match in a row had the first opening after just four minutes when John Gilbert was fouled 35 yards out and Teo Kurtaran’s free-kick into the box was headed behind for a corner on the right. From Kurtaran’s kick Alex Kelly was close to the penalty-spot to strike a low first-time shot wide of the right post. Both sides then settled down to play cagey football, with Swans having the bulk of possession and the visitors sitting back. Swans finally stretched the Villa defence when Harry Mills was played through to the right byline, but his low ball in was cleared from the 6 yard-box.

It was Villa who went close to opening the scoring however as a break down the right by Kyron Richards led to him finding Sam Merson unmarked at the far-post, but Mitchal Gough just got between him and the goal to deflect the shot behind. Gough was at the far-post to head away from the corner on the left, but the ball went out for a throw-in on the right, leading to the visitors taking the lead after a quarter of an hour. Tom Bender got in front of Gough at the near-post to meet Merson’s long throw on the edge of the 6 yard-box and head in.

It was soon close to being 2-0 as a stray back-header by Arsen Ujkaj only found Kyen Nicholas, who got past Joe Hicks, but Swans’ goalkeeper Liam Allen came out to block. Nicholas regained possession to get in a shot from the right of the box, only for Gough to head off the line at the far-post. Merson was able to lay the ball back to Ben Geraghty on the edge of the box, but he rather scuffed a left foot shot, and Allen saved comfortably.

Swans began to come more into the game as an attacking force, and midway through the half Eddie Simon made a run to the left byline, but his cross was just too high for Kelly. Jordan Adeyemi was then played into the right of the box, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Joe Pratley-Jones had the first opportunity to use his long throw from the right, and Gough got to the near-post to get in a glancing header, but former Swans’ keeper Gary Ross was able to save on his line. An excellent passage of play led to Swans going their closest so far to getting on the scoresheet. Keeper Allen started the build-up, and Gilbert combined with Kelly to find Mills wide on the right. Mills cut inside to play a neat one-two with Adeyemi, before sending a left foot shot just over from close to the penalty-spot. With half an hour on the watch, more fine play led to Gilbert and Mills combining on the right to send Gilbert driving into the box, but Ross just got out to block with his feet. Kelly was immediately getting in a cross from the right that was just too high for Ujkaj at the far-post.

Villa soon went close to doubling their lead however. Gilbert was shown a yellow card for a foul 40 yards out, and when Merson’s driven free-kick took a deflection the ball came to Theo Crawford in the right of the box, and he crossed to the far-post. Nicholas was there to get in a header that brought a fine point-blank save from Allen, clutching the ball on his line.

With five minutes remaining of the half Kurtaran set up Gilbert 30 yards out to sidestep Geraghty and get in a strong shot that Ross was able to beat down in his 6 yard-box.

The visitors continued to look dangerous, and Richard’s shot was blocked for a corner on the right. Gough received treatment and was off the pitch when the kick was taken, but fortunately for Swans they were able to defend it with ten men. There was still time for Bender to deliver a long throw down the left from inside his own half to find Nicholas, who got past Hicks to open up a clear chance inside the box. Pratley-Jones got across and did just enough to prevent a clean shot, and Allen did well to block with his feet on the edge of the 6 yard-box and concede a corner.

Swans broke from the kick and had an opportunity when Crawford fouled Gilbert on the right byline just outside the box and was shown a yellow card. The free-kick was in a good position, but Kurtaran’s delivery was cleared to beyond the far-post, and the ball was then sent dipping over the goal.

Swans could be somewhat relieved to go in at the break trailing just 1-0, and had it all to do in the second 45 minutes to keep their promotion hopes alive. They needed to up the tempo, and they did that straight from the restart. Gough played a fine pass over the top down the right to pick out the run of Mills, who laid the ball inside. Baboucarr Jarra blocked the ball away on the corner of the 6 yard-box, and Adeyemi followed in on the right to drive a shot just wide of the far-post.

It only took three minutes of the second-half for Swans to pull level The ball fell to Hicks inside his own half, and he instantly sent it long and over the top down the middle to pick out the forward run of Kelly. The midfielder brushed off the challenge of Jarra and got into the box, taking one touch before neatly slipping the ball through the legs of the onrushing Ross.

Simon was soon getting in on the left byline to get in a shot from a tight angle that was blocked by Jarra at the near-post.

The visitors had a free-kick close to the centre-circle, but George Wells’ ball into the box was headed clear by Hicks.

Swans had dominated the opening of the second-half however, looking really sharp. Mills made a strong run forward to play Kurtaran in on the right, and his shot was blocked behind for a second corner in quick succession.

Another corner soon followed when the ball was put behind from Pratley-Jones’ long throw from the left, only for Villa to have a chance to restore the lead when the ball was cleared following the kick. Nicholas was in the centre-circle to interplay with Merson and get him to the left edge of the box, but Adeyemi had done well to track back, and Merson could only guide the ball into the hands of Allen.

This was a rare piece of second-half possession by Villa however, and it was Swans who were to take the lead the lead just before the hour. Adeyemi fed Gilbert on the right, and he forced yet another corner. Former Swan Bruno Tingle had gone down injured, and after receiving treatment he was replaced by Gagandeep Samra before the kick could be taken After some delay Kurtaran delivered the kick, and Hicks was on the edge of the 6 yard-box to thump a header against the bar. The Swans’ skipper was then quick to react to knock the ball over the line.

The visitors soon went close to equalising after they were awarded a free-kick close to the left corner-flag. The ball was headed out to Crawford on the right, and he hooked it back into the box. Gough did well to head clear, but Villa were able to recycle the ball and Wells was found on the right. Wells worked the ball onto his left foot to send in a cross-come-shot that looked to be dipping under the bar, and Allen was forced into a fine tip-over save. The threat ended when Villa fouled following the corner-kick.

Swans continued to build up some fine moves however, Kurtaran just being denied by Ross as he was played in, and Gilbert cutting in from the left to send a shot wide of the far-post. Mills’ run on the right was ended by a foul, but Kurtaran’s free-kick was cleared. Midway through the half Gough headed clear from the edge of Swans’ box, and this started an excellent move that went close to bringing their third goal. Simon, Gilbert and Kelly all combined with a flowing move down the right, with Gilbert driving forward before cleverly dummying Guy Ansah-Palmer and setting up Adeyemi to his left on the edge of the box, but Ross came out to spread himself and make a fine save to concede another corner. Yet another corner came when a fine ball got Adeyemi into the left of the box to be just denied.

Swans’ pressure finally paid off with their third goal with twenty minutes remaining, and it was one of genuine quality. Gough cleverly headed down to Gilbert on the front edge of the centre-circle, and he found Simon on the left, who waited for Gilbert’s drive into the left of the box before slipping the ball through to him. The angle was tight, but Gilbert drove a left-foot shot under Ross and into the far corner.

The visitors looked a beaten side, and Simon drove in on the left byline to force yet another corner. Kurtaran’s kick led to Ross being fouled in his 6 yard-box, and was his last contribution as Swans made their first substitution, with Darryl Siaw coming on. A fine move sent Simon down the left to cut inside and get in a shot that was straight at Ross, the striker’s memorable, record breaking season coming to an end as he was soon replaced by Taurean Roberts.

Villa forced a corner on the left after getting in on the byline, but Allen was fouled following the kick.

Samra fouled Gilbert outside the left edge of the box, giving Swans a free-kick in ideal Mills’ territory, but his shot was blocked.

With the allotted five minutes of stoppage-time being played Siaw was shown a yellow card for a foul on Jordan Ellis just outside the box. The Villa substitute received lengthy treatment before being stretchered off. When play was finally resumed the free-kick was blocked, effectively ending the visitors’ chances of a late comeback, as they were now forced to play out the extended stoppage-time a player short. A corner had resulted on the left, and although Merson’s kick picked out Jarra at the far-post, his header went straight into the gloves of Allen. Adeyemi just ran out of pitch as he made a run into the right of the visitors’ box, and Villa forced one more corner before the referee blew the final whistle, and Swans could celebrate another promotion.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Harry Mills, Joe Pratley-Jones, Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, Teo Kurtaran (Darryl Siaw 75’), Alex Kelly, Eddie Simon (Taurean Roberts 78’), John Gilbert, Jordan Adeyemi Subs. not used: Dominic Ogun, Ollie Twum, Harry Cawdron. Scorers: Kelly (48’), Hicks (59’), Gilbert (70’). Cautions: Gilbert, foul (33’), Siaw, foul (90+1’).

Hanworth Villa Team: Ross, Richards, Bender, Ansah-Palmer, Jarra, Wells, Tingle (Samra 59’), Crawford (Ellis 72’), Nicholas (Williams 72’), Merson, Geraghty. Subs. not used: Taylor, Nunn. Scorer: Bender (15’). Caution: Crawford, foul (45+1’).

Full match highlights of the 3-1 win can be found below