Saturday 5th August 2023.                         Southern League, Premier Division South.

Winchester City 2    Walton & Hersham 0.   Abandoned after 50 minutes.

Swans’ first match at Step 3 for 16 seasons, and their first ever in the Southern League, was effectively put on hold as their visit to the Hampshire club ended prematurely in elements of farce early in the second-half. The Charters Community Stadium pitch had narrowly passed a pre-match inspection, but persistent torrential rain showers during the match left standing water, and already difficult areas unplayable. With the referee pausing the match five minutes into an already delayed second-half, a large number of home club staff, supporters and players descended onto the pitch, utilising various improvised methods in attempts to clear the puddles. Those efforts were in vain however as more torrential rain led to an inevitable abandonment. The premature termination of the match came with Swans trailing 2-0, and with their 21 game unbeaten run looking in danger of coming to an end. Poor defending from two set-pieces had left them trailing at the end of what was otherwise a fairly even first-half.

There were four alterations to a Swans’ starting line-up that had remained unchanged for the final 11 matches of last season. Mitchal Gough had unfortunately picked up a groin injury in pre-season, and Joe Pratley-Jones moved into his central defensive role. Teo Kurtaran has been playing pre-season at Bristol Rovers, John Gilbert was unavailable, while Jordan Adeyemi had only just re-signed after initially leaving during the summer, and he was named on the bench. Four new signings came into the line-up, Sam Tutt, Stefan Ilic, Jake Frailing and Stan Flaherty.

Swans had a couple of early chances, Joe Hicks heading over from Pratley-Jones’ long throw from the left in the first minute, and Eddie Simon just being denied after being played into the box by Ilic.

It was the home side that took the lead after 11 minutes however, following their first real spell of attacking play. Following a corner on the left Alex Kelly was judged to have fouled Trevor Caborn just outside the box, and Jamie Barron’s shot from the free-kick took a deflection off a Swans’ head for another corner on the right. From Barron’s kick Pip Nolan was totally unmarked at the near-post to put a strong header past Swans’ goalkeeper Liam Allen.

Harry Mills was fouled out on the right, and following Ilic’s free-kick Pratley-Jones made room 22 yards out to get in a shot that took a deflection, and the ball looped into the gloves of home keeper Charlie Philpott.

Winchester immediately broke, and Allen had to make a good save as a shot came in.

Flaherty was fouled out on the right touchline, and his free-kick sent the ball curling wide of the far-post.

Caborn got down the left to drive in a shot for City that Allen took at his near-post.

Swans responded with some clever play by Ilic in the left of the box, but he couldn’t pick out anyone in space. With half an hour played Kelly’s fine ball found Frailing on the left, and he cut inside to drive in a right-foot shot that Philpott kept out with a good save diving to his left.

Allen then had to make a fine save for Swans, tipping over Connor Lynch’s strike from the left.

With ten minutes left of the half Winchester doubled their lead. Nolan sent in a long throw from the right, and when Simba Mlambo knocked the ball on at the near-post, Warren Bentley was in the 6 yard-box to drive it in.

The home side continued to dominate, and in first-half stoppage-time Caborn was found on the left, and drove in a shot that Allen beat down on his line.

Swans almost had the last say however when Flaherty was found outside the right corner of the box and tried to find the far, top corner, but was just wide.

Further heavy rain delayed the start of the second-half, but when it got underway Swans had replaced Ilic and Flaherty with another new signing, Trae Cook-Appiah, and Adeyemi. Just five minutes in however, the referee decided conditions could not allow the match to continue. He initially proposed to allow a 15 minute window to see if the pitch could recover, but it eventually proved fruitless, and a halt was called to proceedings.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Harry Mills, Sam Tutt, Arsen Ujkaj, Joe Pratley-Jones, Joe Hicks, Stefan Ilic (Trae Cook-Appiah 46’), Alex Kelly, Eddie Simon, Jake Frailing, Stan Flaherty (Jordan Adeyemi 46’). Subs. not used: Ollie Allen, Jacob Munting, Anis Nuur. Caution: Pratley-Jones, dissent (14’).

Winchester City Team: Philpott, Baughan, King, Smith, Rose, Nolan, Caborn, Barron, Lynch, Bentley (Jones 46’), Mlambo. Subs. not used: Torniainen, Jamison, Brooks, Wright. Scorers: Nolan (11’), Bentley (35’). Cautions: Rose, foul (12’), Baughan, did not retire (40’).