Saturday 25th November 2023.                      Southern League, Premier Division South.

Walton & Hersham 2    Merthyr Town 3.

Swans losing run continued as they were punished for poor defending against close challengers Merthyr Town. Having gone behind to an all too customary early goal they were twice punished by the Welsh club breaking away through an exposed defence to leave them with a two goal deficit. Despite the visitors being reduced to ten men after 43 minutes they were able to withstand all Swans were able to throw at them to try to salvage a result. Although the match ended in another defeat there were many positives to take from the game, and there was certainly no lack of determination or effort to put an end to the sequence of losses, but again there was little luck in the final third.

Swans introduced new signing Ibrahim Olutade, but the former Maidstone United, Leatherhead and Folkestone Invicta striker had few opportunities against a Merthyr defence that defended well to retain their lead.

Straight from the kick-off Merthyr built up an attack, and Tom Handley drove the ball in low from the right, forcing home goalkeeper Liam Allen to save on his line.

Swans had a free-kick deep on the right, but Stan Flaherty’s ball into the box was cleared.

The visitors again got forward and Alex John struck a low shot from 25 yards that took a deflection to go behind for a corner on the left. This led to The Martyrs taking a fifth minute lead. The ball glanced off the head of Jake Frailing, guarding the near-post, and Handley was able to nod it back across goal. The ball was then headed back in from the left, and Lewis Powell was at the near-post to nod past Allen. Handley was soon sending a dangerous ball in from the right that went across goal and wide.

Flaherty was fouled by Ricardo Rees ten yards outside the box on the right giving Swans a free-kick opportunity. Merthyr keeper Jaimie Cogman saved down at his near-post when Flaherty drove the ball in low.

The visitors were almost gifted a second goal when Swans gave the ball away, allowing Rees a chance on the right, but Allen beat the shot down at his near-post.

Swans responded with Alex Kelly and Eddie Simon combining well on the left and Kelly driving into the box, but his low cross was blocked away. Kelly then dummied his way past John as he tried to get forward from his own half, and was cynically pulled back, earning the Merthyr No. 8 the game’s first yellow card.

John was soon sending a free-kick in from deep on the left, leading to Kelly being penalised for a foul just outside the box. The free-kick was in a dangerous position inside the ‘D’, but Handley’s effort was poor as he drove the ball wide of the left post.

Trae Cook-Appiah burst clear down the right from halfway before being brought down by Aneurin Livermore, the Merthyr player picking up his side’s second booking. Swans continued to press for an equaliser, and the visitors conceded another free-kick when Flaherty was fouled on the right. Cook-Appiah then launched a long throw from the right, but Mitchal Gough could not get a firm contact on the ball, and his header looped over. With half an hour played Simon sent Olutade down the left, and he dummied Matt Harris before laying the ball inside to Frailing on the edge of the box, but he clipped a left foot shot wide of the far-post. Simon then got in on the right, and Olutade put the ball over from close in at the near-post.

With two minutes of normal-time remaining of the half Kelly sent Flaherty on a run down the right before he was bundled over by John. The Merthyr player immediately seemed resigned to his fate, and he was shown his second yellow card and was sent off.

Swans had little time to take advantage of their numerical superiority before they found themselves 2-0 down. Following the free-kick Cook-Appiah forced a corner on the right, but from Flaherty’s delivery Merthyr got the ball clear, and Oliver Mehew was able to burst clear from the front edge of the centre-circle and into the right of the box with Harry Mills in pursuit. The Swans’ player lunged in with a tackle, bringing Mehew down. A penalty was awarded and Mills booked. Rees made no mistake with the kick, finding the bottom, left corner.

Swans were able to set the platform for a potential second-half comeback by pulling a goal back straight from the restart in stoppage-time. Cook-Appiah did well to keep the ball in play on the right byeline following Frailing’s fine diagonal ball. Gough was then able to cross the ball into the box for Kelly to lay off to Simon on the left corner of the 6 yard-box, and he drove the ball low inside the near-post.

Straight from the resumption for the second-half Simon made a run on the left, and his low ball-in led to a scramble in the 6 yard-box. Cook-Appiah followed in on the right to get in a close-in shot that Cogman blocked at his near-post. Swans struggled to create further openings, but just past the hour a patient build-up led to Mills crossing into the box from the left, but Kelly’s downward header bounced into the gloves of Cogman. Cook-Appiah then laid the ball back to Gough on the right, but he clipped it over the far, top corner. Another fine move led to Kelly laying the ball off to Flaherty outside the left edge of the box, and he drove a low shot just wide of the far-post.

It was the visitors who restored their two goal lead however midway through the second-half with their first attack, and again it came from a breakaway. Keeper Cogman cleared to the halfway line, and Frazer Thomas clipped the ball down the right to Mehew, whose run got him the other side of Pointing and Mills and into the right of the box to send a low shot into the far-corner.

Swans won a corner on the left, and after Flaherty took the kick the ball came back to him. Flaherty laid the ball back to Kelly in the ‘D’, but his shot was well over. John Gilbert then came on for Frailing, followed by Anis Nuur replacing Mills. Kelly found Gilbert on the right, and he crossed a fine ball to the far-post, where Cogman punched it off the head of Simon. Flaherty was on the left to lay back to Nuur just outside the box, and he drove a low shot just wide of the near-post. With just under ten minutes of normal-time remaining Gilbert’s ball in from the right was put behind at the near-post for a corner. Flaherty swung the kick from the right to the far-post, where Gough came in to power home a header and give Swans renewed hope. Gough’s fine cross-field pass from deep on the right found Flaherty on the left, and he laid the ball forward to the overlapping Nuur, who crossed into the box. Cogman failed to get to the ball, but the keeper made a great save when Cook-Appiah followed up with a shot from the right. The ball was recycled by Swans to Gough outside the box, but it fell to his weaker left foot, and he sent a shot well over.

Swans were almost caught out by a rare Merthyr attack, but they scrambled the ball away in their box and conceded a corner.

Inside the final five minutes of normal-time Gilbert’s ball in from the right was blocked behind at the near-post, but following Flaherty’s corner-kick the referee blew up for a Swans’ foul in the box. Three minutes into stoppage-time Swans went desperately close to making it 3-3. Cook-Appiah took a long throw from the left and this led to yet another corner. From Gilbert’s left-side kick the ball was headed off the line at the near-post. Flaherty was on the left-edge of the box to strike a terrific, left foot half-volley that rattled the crossbar.

 A shot from inside the box was deflected over, and Swans last chance came when Gough crossed from the left, and Pointing was by the penalty-spot to get in a glancing header that was unfortunately straight at keeper Cogman.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Harry Pointing, Harry Mills (Anis Nuur 74’), Jake Frailing (John Gilbert 70’), Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, Trae Cook-Appiah, Alex Kelly, Ibrahim Olutade, Stan Flaherty, Eddie Simon. Subs. not used: Sam Tutt, Arsen Ujkaj, Olly Allen. Scorers: Simon (45+4’), Gough (79’). Cautions: Flaherty, foul (37’), Mills, foul (45+1’), Hicks, dissent (end of game), Gough, dissent (end of game).

Merthyr Team: Cogman, Ryan-Phillips, Handley, Livermore (Thomas 32’), John, Powell (Woodlwiss 46’), Rees, Mehew (Hill 85’), Smerdon, Harris, Rhodes. Subs. not used: Fuller, Evans. Scorers: Powell (5’), Rees, penalty (45+1’), Mehew (68’). Cautions: Livermore, foul (23’), Cogman, dissent (90+2’). Dismissal: John, 2 cautions for fouls (17’ & 43’).