Saturday 20th January 2024.                                 Southern League, Premier Division South.

Walton & Hersham 3    Winchester City 1.

Swans picked up their first win of 2024 in remarkable fashion, with all their three goals coming in a spell of six minutes in the second-half. The visitors will undoubtedly feel hard done by as the goals came from Swans’ only shots on target of the match, whereas they themselves created numerous opportunities, They either spurned those chances however, or were denied by the excellent goalkeeping of Tyla Dickinson. As in the previous two matches Swans put on a low key first-half display, struggling to make inroads into the opposition’s final third, with the Hampshire side dominating play. Again they improved considerably in the second-half, but there was little to indicate the match-winning turnaround that would come with a quarter of the game remaining.

Three players, Josh Tobin, Nana Owusu and Johl Powell, were all making their home debuts, with Owusu and Powell both marking it with their first goals for the club. Swans were without the services of John Gilbert however, who was starting a two-match suspension for accumulation of yellow cards.

City had an early opportunity when a long throw from the left led to Eoin Bolger putting the ball behind at the far-post. From the corner on the right Patrick Nolan was at the far-post to get above Mitchal Gough, but his header was over the near, top corner. Max Smith then got in on the right byline to drive the ball across and Dickinson to do well to block it away at his near-post. The ball came out to Dan Jones on the edge of the box, and he struck a half-volley that hit the foot of Harry Mills on the edge of the 6 yard-box, and the ball clipped the top of the crossbar to go over for a corner.

It was twelve minutes in before Swans posed any sort of a threat, Owusu almost getting Powell in, but he was closed out in the box.

City continued to dominate however, pinning Swans in their own half. Gough had to head away from under the bar from a right-side corner, and Dickinson clutched the ball on his line when it deflected to him following a run in on the left byline. With half an hour played the ball was lost and Olly Balmer got free on the left, but could only find the side-netting. Dickinson then had to go down to save on his line when Josh McCormick got in a shot from the right edge of the box.

Swans at last made some inroads, with Stan Flaherty making a fine run down the right to the corner flag, but the ball was put out for a throw in. In the meantime Alex Kelly had gone down injured, and Joe Hicks came on to replace him.

Gough had to head behind at the near-post to give Winchester another corner on the left, but the kick was hit too long and the ball went harmlessly behind. The visitors had a great chance after 38 minutes when a cross-field ball from deep on the right picked out Balmer on the left, and he hit a first-time cross to the near-post, where Jones got in a glancing header, but the ball went across goal and wide. A minute later City had a free-kick out on the right touchline, and when the ball was swung in Trevor Caborn was eight yards out to get in a header that Dickinson did well to tip over his crossbar.

Swans’ attacks meanwhile had been few, but Eddie Simon did force a corner on the right. Flaherty played the kick short to Owusu, but the cross was cleared.

They were grateful to Dickinson however in the final minute of normal-time, the keeper pulling off another fine save. Balmer took a throw-in on the left to Ollie Griggs, and he sent an excellent ball to the far-post, where Devon Arnold got in a close-in volley that Dickinson superbly saved down to his left, the keeper then just preventing the ball from spinning over the line.

With stoppage-time being played Swans brought on Jake Frailing, with Maliq Morris coming off.

Swans immediately forced a corner after the resumption when Flaherty made a run on the right. Flaherty then got to the right byline after being found by a good ball by Gough, but his low cross was cut out by City keeper Luke Cairney.

The visitors were soon going close again however when a free-kick was swung in from the left touchline, and Nolan got to the penalty-spot to glance a free header wide of the right post. Max Smith was then played down the right to cross low to the near-post, where Simba Mlambo put another great chance over under pressure from Gough. Mlambo’s cross from the right was then headed away at the far-post, and Jones followed up on the edge of the box to volley wide. City continued to dominate, and Dickinson went down to save a low shot from the left of the box.

With an hour played Swans at last threatened when Tobin was fouled deep on the right. Mills sent the free-kick into the box and the ball was headed behind for a corner on the right, but Flaherty’s kick was headed clear.

The visitors continued to create chances however, and from a corner taken on the left Caborn got in a downward header at the far-post that Dickinson dived to keep out of his bottom right corner.

Swans had barely threatened the City goal, but they took the lead after 67 minutes, the goal being as route one as you could possibly get. Following a long throw taken by Winchester’s Nolan on the right the ball ended up in the gloves of Dickinson. The Swans’ keeper launched a long kick down the pitch and the ball bounced five yards outside the box and was brought under instant control by Owusu, who had burst forward from his own box. Owusu got between the retreating McCormick and Dan King before lobbing the ball superbly over the advancing keeper Cairney and into the top, right corner.

Four minutes later Gough found Mills on the right touchline, and he cut in to play a pass forward to pick out Flaherty on the corner of the box. Flaherty took one touch before turning and driving a terrific left foot shot low inside the near-post to make it 2-0.

Trae Cook-Appiah immediately came on for Simon to make his first appearance for eight games, and with his first involvement he set up Swans’ third goal. Mills won a brave header on the edge of Swans’ box, and Hicks brought the ball forward before picking out the run of Cook-Appiah down the left. Cook-Appiah surged past Stuart Mott and into the box before laying the ball back to Powell just outside the 6 yard-box, and he passed it first-time past Cairney with the inside of his left foot. The game had turned completely on its head in the space of just six minutes.

Winchester tried to get back into the match, winning a free-kick ten yards outside the box that was blocked, and a corner on the right that was cleared. With five minutes of normal-time remaining a patient build-up led to McCormick crossing from the right to the edge of the 6 yard-box, where Mlambo planted a header wide of the right post. Gough then slipped on the left touchline allowing City to drive in on the byline, but the cross was cleared.

As the match went into stoppage-time Caborn drove into the left of the box and was brought down by Gough to concede a clear penalty. Nolan made no mistake from the spot, finding the bottom, right corner.

There was still time left for Swans to have a chance to restore their three goal lead. Flaherty won the ball deep in his own half  and sent it long down the right to pick out the run of Cook-Appiah, who barged aside the challenge of Mott and got into the box, but he shot high and wide.

Swans’ Team: Tyla Dickinson, Harry Mills, Eoin Bolger, Maliq Morris (Jake Frailing 45+3’), Josh Tobin, Mitchal Gough, Stan Flaherty, Alex Kelly (Joe Hicks 32’), Nana Owusu, Johl Powell, Eddie Simon (Trae Cook-Appiah 72’). Subs. not used: Anis Nuur, Joe Pratley-Jones. Scorers: Owusu (67’), Flaherty (71’), Powell (73’). Cautions: Frailing (61’), Gough (90’).

Winchester City Team: Cairney, McCormick, King, Jones (Wright 70’), Mott, Nolan, Smith, Griggs, Arnold (Mlambo 45’), Caborn, Balmer (Rose 78’). Subs. not used: Nevins, Barron. Scorer: Nolan, penalty (90+1’). Caution; King (86’).