Saturday 9th September 2023.                Southern League, Premier Division South.

Salisbury 1    Walton & Hersham 0.

Swans’ first visit to Salisbury ended in disappointment as a late goal terminated their proud record of going unbeaten in league matches in 2023. It also denied them at least a share of the points, which on the balance of play and opportunities would have been fully deserved. Both sides should be commended for a fine game played out on the hottest day of the year. Swans were certainly not helped by a number of traffic problems encountered on the lengthy trip down to Wiltshire that led to several late arrivals and a truncated pre-match preparation. It was certainly not ideal preparation for players to have spent several hours travelling in baking hot conditions, so all credit is due to Swans for a good performance.

Three changes were made to the starting line-up. Arsen Ujkaj returned in place of Ollie Allen, while Trae Cook-Appiah also dropped to the bench as Anis Nuur made a first start, and had an impressive game. John Gilbert was a late arrival, so could only be named amongst the substitutes, with Stefan Ilic coming in.

The home side mounted an early attack, getting into the left of the box, but Ujkaj was able to play the ball off a home player and behind for a goal-kick. Swans threatened with Mitchal Gough’s long ball almost getting Eddie Simon clear, and Ilic got possession on the left to force a corner. Salisbury’s Charlie Gunson tried a speculative effort from 35 yards, but was well over.

Swans’ had the first chance of note with twenty minutes played when Ilic stole the ball on the left and laid it inside to Stan Flaherty by the penalty-spot, and his low shot almost went through the legs of home goalkeeper Josh Gould on his line.

Salisbury put together a good build-up that was finished by Gunson sending a low shot wide of the left post from 5 yards outside the box. The home side had a good opportunity just past the half hour when Ujkaj fouled Noah Coppin just outside the box, conceding a free-kick on the edge of the ‘D’, but Gunson again failed to find the target, driving the ball well over the goal. Joe Pratley-Jones picked up a yellow card for a foul on Jamar Smith out on the left touchline, but Joe Hicks headed away when Gunson sent the free-kick into the box. Aaron Simpson was found in space on the right and crossed to the left of the box to pick out Gunson, but his attempted header carried little power, and the ball bounced harmlessly through to Swans’ keeper Liam Allen.

With five minutes remaining of the half Hicks’ good long ball found Ilic on the left, and he forced a corner. Salisbury won a corner of their own on the right when Joshua Hedges played the ball behind off Sam Tutt.

The first-half had been very even, with few chances for either side, but Pratley-Jones’ diagonal ball from the right almost got Ilic in on the left. A throw-in resulted, and from Pratley-Jones’ long delivery Gough put a near-post header behind. Deep into stoppage-time Swans almost created an opening when Flaherty crossed low from the right, and Nuur was just denied at the near-post.

Early in the second-half Salisbury played a short corner on the left leading to Simpson crossing from the right, and Gunson was at the far-post to get in a downward header that Allen saved comfortably. Dan Fitchett needlessly followed through on the Swans’ keeper, and was fortunate not to be shown a yellow card. Gunson stole the ball off Gough 30 yards out to open up a chance for the home side, but he shot wide of the right post when he had more time. Gilbert had replaced Simon for Swans, and he was judged to have pushed Joshua Sommerton by the left touchline, but Gunson’s free-kick was too long and the ball went behind. Some excellent covering by Hicks then stopped a through ball reaching Fitchett, well placed in the box. Salisbury had done a fair degree of attacking, but had rarely troubled Allen in Swans’ goal. The keeper took the ball at his near-post when a build-up around the edge of the box led to Coppin getting in a shot from the left.

Twenty minutes into the half Cook-Appiah, who had come on for Jake Frailing, was found on the left by Ilic, and he cut into the box to have a shot blocked. Gilbert and Flaherty then combined well, and Gilbert’s low ball in from the right just failed to find Cook-Appiah at the far-post. Gilbert was beginning to have an influence, and he almost put Swans ahead. After winning the ball on the front edge of the centre-circle he made a great run forward that took him into the right of the box, but his low shot was just inches wide of the far-post. Gilbert then had a shot from the edge of the box blocked following a good build-up.

There was immediately a mix up at the other end between Gough and Allen that resulted in the Swans’ keeper’s clearance rebounding off Fitchett, and the ball ran just wide of the right post.

Cook-Appiah won a corner on the left for Swans, and when Gilbert and Ilic played it short the ball came to Nuur outside the box, but his shot was well over. More good covering by Hicks prevented Salisbury’s Coppin getting clear on the left, but Swans were having a good spell, and they had a corner after Gilbert had been denied when Nuur played him in at the right post.

Following Flaherty’s kick from the right Ilic battled well on the left, allowing Nuur to set up Gough 35 yards out, and he got in a good strike that keeper Gould got behind on his line.

Swans immediately had a great chance to take the lead when the home side’s Sommerton passed the ball straight at Cook-Appiah just outside the box. The ball bounced off Cook-Appiah to Gilbert, who drove into the box, but his shot was blocked by last man Sido Jombati on the edge of the 6 yard-box.

Salisbury’s Devon Arnold got in on the left byeline to drive the ball low across goal, just before his side went close to taking the lead. Keeper Gould came out to head away when Ilic’s long ball almost got Cook-Appiah clear down the middle, and this led to Smith being played down the left. When he played the ball in Theo Lewis went down when he was clearly not touched by Gough, and Ryan Penny drove the loose ball against the left post, Hicks then clearing behind. A second corner followed on the right, and from Simpson’s kick Arnold got in front of Nuur to send a header over.

The home side had hit a good spell, and they broke the deadlock with seven minutes of normal-time remaining. When a Swans’ attack down the left was broken up by Simpson they were caught exposed at the back. Simpson drove down his side’s right before playing a one-two with Arnold and sweeping the ball into the far corner.

Jordan Adeyemi replaced Tutt, and he was at the far-post when Swans built up a good move leading to Flaherty crossing from the right byeline, but keeper Gould cut the ball out.

Gough had to make a fine tackle to deny Coppin and prevent a second goal when Salisbury broke down the left.

Swans had one last opportunity to create an equaliser with a Pratley-Jones’ long throw from the left, but it came to nothing.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Joe Pratley-Jones, Sam Tutt (Jordan Adeyemi 84’), Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, Stan Flaherty, Jake Frailing (Trae Cook-Appiah 60’), Eddie Simon (John Gilbert 51’), Stefan Ilic, Anis Nuur. Sub. not used: Ollie Allen. Cautions: Pratley-Jones, foul (37’), Nuur, foul (90+4’).

Salisbury Team: Gould, Simpson, Sommerton, Leggett, Jombati, Hedges (Arnold 69’), Gunson (Lewis 78’), Penny, Smith, McCreadie (Fitchett 46’), Coppin. Subs. not used: Bragg, Osei. Scorer: Simpson (83’).