Tuesday 26th December 2023.                                Southern League, Premier Division South.

Bracknell Town 3    Walton & Hersham 0.

Swans continued a poor end to the year as they made it two losses out of two from the Christmas programme, following on from their 4-0 home defeat three days earlier. It was the first time they had failed to find the net in successive league matches since early February 2022. They will never know whether they could have come back from a 1-0 deficit in the second-half to get something from the game, but the prospect was denied them as the home side were allowed to double their lead four minutes from the break when the ball was clearly punched into the net. Coming back from 2-0 down always looked unlikely however, as they struggled to create openings all match, and they conceded a third goal late on.

For the Boxing Day fixture there was one change to the side that had started the previous match against Gosport Borough, with Arsen Ujkaj coming in for Anis Nuur.

Swans were soon awarded a free-kick out by the right corner-flag when John Gilbert was fouled, but Jake Frailing’s ball into the 6 yard-box was cleared away. Eoin Bolger then sent the ball dipping over the far, top corner from 35 yards out on the left.

The home side went close when a long ball into the right of the box led to confusion between Bolger and his goalkeeper Tyla Dickinson, allowing Ashley Lodge to get possession on the byline, and Joe Hicks had to clear off the line at the near-post.

Swans won the ball 30 yards out, and Gilbert was set up outside the box to get in a shot that was deflected for a corner on the right, Gilbert’s kick sending the ball across the 6 yard-box. Fine play by Mitchal Gough led to him finding Gilbert on the right, but his cross was too long and the ball drifted wide of the far-post.

Apart from the early mix-up Bracknell had not threatened, but they took the lead after 13 minutes when a free-kick was awarded for a foul by Ujkaj on the left.  The ball was whipped in by Max Herbert, and when Haydon Vaughan got his head to it at the near-post Dickinson could only help it in.

Swans soon had a chance to equalise when Ujkaj found Bolger on the left, and he crossed first-time to the edge of the 6 yard-box, but Ibrahim Olutade headed a good chance wide of the far-post. A good build-up led to Bolger getting in a terrific high cross from the left byline, and home keeper Michael Eacott did well to tip the ball away.

Bracknell’s Joe Wilson crossed high from the right, and Jordan Esprit was at the far-post to get in a looping header that Dickinson took high up on his line. Herbert twice delivered free-kicks into Swans’ box from the right, but both were cleared away.

Swans looked like going into the break just one goal down, but as the half entered the final five minutes they were on the wrong end of an awful decision. Only a fine tackle denied Esprit as he broke clear, but the ball went behind for a corner on the left. The kick was delivered to the near-post, and the ball was two feet above the head of Esprit as he stretched up his arm to punch it off the gloves of Dickinson and into the net. Despite almost every Swans’ player immediately appealing, and following a discussion with his assistant, the referee awarded a goal.

With stoppage-time being played at the end of the half Frailing sent a free-kick from the front edge of the centre-circle into the box, and when the ball came off the outstretched leg of Bracknell’s George Knight, Eacott just kept it out at his left post. Gilbert won a corner on the right, and from his kick the ball was just kept out at the near-post. Another corner was immediately won on the left, and from Gilbert’s kick Gough got to the near-post to glance a header just over.

Early in the second-half Eddie Simon’s cross from the right was just cleared off the head of Olutade in the 6 yard-box, and the loose ball was almost forced in. Swans soon made a double change, with Harry Mills and Joe Pratley-Jones coming on for Harry Pointing and Bolger. Pratley-Jones was soon launching one of his long throws from the right, and Hicks looked to be pulled down at the near-post, but the referee saw no offence.

The home side were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the ‘D’, and Adam Mekki sent the ball over the wall, but Dickinson was well placed to beat it down. Bracknell then broke down the right, and Herbert had a shot deflected wide when the ball was played in low to him.

Swans struggled to create opportunities, but Frailing got forward to 25 yards out to get in a low shot, but Eacott saved comfortably down to his right. The Robins’ keeper was then quickly out to gather when Olutade almost got in.

The home side made it 3-0 with just over ten minutes remaining. Esprir was allowed to drive in on the right byline, and after initially losing control he neatly back-heeled the ball past Dickinson at the near-post.

In the final minute of normal-time Bracknell drove the ball low across the goal-face from the right. Dickinson then made a fine save down at his near-post when a shot came in from the right corner of the box.

Gilbert tried to get Swans on the scoresheet with some fine play on the right, but after cutting inside his left foot shot was saved high up on his line by Eacott. The final opportunity came with a free-kick after Gilbert was fouled on the left, but Frailing’s ball in was cleared away.

Swans’ Team: Tyla Dickinson, Harry Pointing (Harry Mills 53’), Eoin Bolger (Joe Pratley-Jones 53’), Arsen Ujkaj, Mitchal Gough, Joe Hicks, John Gilbert, Alex Kelly (Olly Allen 62’), Ibrahim Olutade, Jake Frailing, Eddie Simon. Subs. not used: Anis Nuur, Aundé Todd. Cautions: Ujkaj (17’), Gough (48’), Gilbert (53’), Simon (84’), Hicks (87’).

Bracknell Team: Eacott, Wilson (Legg 62’), George, Harrison, Osu, Knight, Mekki, Herbert, Esprit (Harris 80’), Lodge, Vaughan (Grant 59’). Subs. not used: Tack, Richards. Scorers: Vaughan (13’), Esprit (41’ & 79’). Caution: Lodge (45+2’).