Saturday 12th August 2023.                        Southern League, Premier Division South.

Walton & Hersham 4    Swindon Supermarine 2.

Swans’ finally got their Southern League Premier Division South season underway with a hard fought win over first-time opponents Swindon Supermarine, extending their unbeaten run to 22 matches. For the second time in a week that record looked to be under threat at the break, as they went in trailing. An abandonment helped preserve it at Winchester, and a battling second-half performance kept it going against tough opponents, who were doing their best to bounce back from a big opening day defeat. The match certainly confirmed that there will be no easy matches for Swans as they return to Step 3.

Mitchal Gough made a somewhat surprising, but very welcome, return to the starting line-up following his groin injury, allowing Joe Pratley-Jones to return to left-back. John Gilbert also returned, and put on a display that earned him the Man of the Match award, but Alex Kelly was out with an injury. With Eddie Simon getting married, new signing Trae Cook-Appiah came in and impressed, scoring the winning goal on his debut.

Facing a blustery wind, Swans attacked from the off, with Jake Frailing getting down the left to get a cross into the box that was cleared. Pratley-Jones then sent Jordan Adeyemi on a run down the left, and after beating Sam Turl by the corner flag he made a fine run into the box before playing the ball in to the near-post. Frailing was there to poke the ball against the post before it was cleared behind for a corner, with Cook-Appiah placed behind him for a potential tap in.

The visitors were soon putting the Swans’ goal under pressure, and this led to them taking a 6th minute lead. They had already caused problems with a corner and a long throw into the box, when they forced another corner on the left. From George Dowling’s kick Henty Spalding played one-two on the edge of the box before driving in fine, left-foot shot that home goalkeeper Liam Allen got a hand on, but could not keep out of his right corner.

Swans responded, and Matt Lidiard fouled Cook-Appiah out by the right corner-flag, and Stan Flaherty’s free-kick forced Lidiard to put behind for a corner. Pratley-Jones then had an opportunity to use his long throw from the left, but Gough’s header was straight into Marine keeper Charlie Searle’s hands.

It was the visitors who went close to doubling their lead however when Spalding’s cross from the left picked out Levi Irving on the edge of the 6 yard-box, but his diving header was straight at Allen, and the ball was scrambled behind for a corner by Adeyemi.

Swans began to put pressure on the Marine goal, and they equalised after 25 minutes. Gilbert got forward before sliding a terrific ball through for Cook-Appiah to burst into the box. Searle came sliding out to bring Cook-Appiah down, and the referee immediately pointed to the penalty-spot, at the same time showing some leniency by taking no furtter action against the keeper. Harry Mills was his usual reliable self from the spot, finding the bottom, left-corner.

Cook-Appiah and Gilbert then drove together into the box, but Cook-Appiah’s neat, back-heel attempt to find his teammate just failed to come off.

Swans were then grateful to a fine save from Allen for keeping them level. Some persistent play by Marine led to Irving getting in a snap shot from the edge of the box, but the Swans’ keeper leapt to his left to beat the ball down before collecting it. Allen then had to go down to save a far-post header from Spalding when the ball was crossed from the left.

Swans immediately responded with Cook-Appiah being played into the left of the box by Frailing, but his low shot was saved by Searle.

Marine continued to look threatening, and some clever play by Edward Williams on the left led to him cutting inside before getting in a shot that was judged to have taken a deflection off Arsen Ujkaj to go just wide of the far-post. Following the corner a shot had to be blocked.

With five minutes left of normal-time of the half more clever play by Gilbert led to Adeyemi playing Cook-Appiah in on the right, but his shot from the corner of the 6 yard-box was pushed round his near-post by Searle. Adeyemi then got down the left before laying the ball back to Gilbert, but he shot over from the edge of the box. Gilbert went closer when a patient build-up led to him spinning just outside the box, but his left-foot shot flew just wide of the left-post.

Swans had finished the half well, but they took a blow when the visitors regained the lead deep into stoppage-time. Allen dashed out of his area to try to cut out a long ball down the right by Marine, but he collided with Gough. The ball ran loose to Williams, wide out on the right, and spotting the open goal he lobbed the ball superbly into the far corner.

Swans made a change for the second-half, with Jacob Munting coming on for Frailing.

Pratley-Jones found Gilbert on the left, and he cut inside to the corner of the box to get in a shot, but Searle made a comfortable save to his left. The Marine keeper then had to be quickly out to deny Cook-Appiah.

Allen had to take the ball down at his near-post when it was driven in from the left, but Swans were looking dominant with the wind now in their favour. Searle went down to save another shot from the edge of the box by Gilbert, and when Mills burst forward on the right, Gilbert took over in the corner of the box to cleverly beat James Edge and get in a strike that took a deflection to go just wide of the far-post. A long throw from the left by Pratley-Jones almost brought the equaliser as Joe Hicks got his head to the ball, and Adeyemi was in the 6 yard-box to hook it against the underside of the bar. Flaherty drove into the right of the box and looked to be tripped, but he was judged to have dived and was shown a yellow card.

With just under twenty minutes remaining Cook-Appiah made a fine run in on the left byline, but couldn’t pick out a teammate. A throw in resulted on the left however, but before it could be taken Stefan Ilic came on for Adeyemi. Pratley-Jones’ long throw found Gough, who got the ball back to him Pratley-Jones struck a first-time ball to the far-post, where Ilic was tight in on the byline, but he managed to loop a header over the keeper and over the line, with Cook-Appiah there to make sure if necessary. The substitute had scored the equaliser with his first touch just seconds after coming on.

Ilic soon had a chance to give Swans the lead when a terrific diagonal ball from deep on the right by Mills picked him out in the left of the box, but after making room his shot was deflected wide for a corner.

The lead came however with five minutes of normal-time remaining. Flaherty got forward on the right before finding Gilbert ahead of him, and he drove a superb, first-time ball into the 6 yard-box, where Cook-Appiah came in to drive into the top of the net.

Shkyler Burrowes came on for Flaherty, and immediately went close to extending Swans’ lead. The ball was cleared from a Marine free-kick and was chased down by Cook-Appiah. A back-heel set up Burrowes by the right corner of the box, but his low shot was just wide of the near-post.

The visitors pushed for an equaliser and a header was put wide of the near-post when Turl crossed from the right, and Hicks made a great header away at the near-post when the ball came in from the left.

Deep into stoppage-time Marine were caught on the break for Swans to settle the win. Gough headed away, and Gilbert picked the ball up close to the centre-circle before driving forward to the edge of the box and beating Searle inside his left post.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Harry Mills, Joe Pratley-Jones, Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, Stan Flaherty (Shkyler Burrowes 88’), Jake Frailing (Jacob Munting 46’), Trae Cook-Appiah, John Gilbert, Jordan Adeyemi (Stefan Ilic 71’). Subs. not used: Ollie Allen, Sam Tutt. Scorers: Mills, penalty (25’), Ilic (73’), Cook-Appiah (85’), Gilbert (90+4’). Cautions: Gough, dissent (45+2’), Flaherty, simulation (68’).

Swindon Supermarine Team: Searle, Turl, Campbell, Edge, Lidiard, Cooper, H. Spalding (Liggett 78’), Dowling (Sharpe 61’), Irving, Williams, Kotwica. Subs. not used: Tumelty, Morrison, Fox. Scorers: Spalding (6’), Williams (45+4’). Caution: Turl, time wasting (48’).