Saturday 17th February 2024.                               Southern League, Premier Division South.

Walton & Hersham 2    Tiverton Town 0.

Swans made it three wins and three clean sheets on the trot with what was finally a convincing win over their Devon visitors. Following an even and somewhat drab first half, Swans stepped up several gears in the second, and if they had been more clinical in taking their chances and not been on the wrong end of some contentious decisions their winning margin could have been more substantial. The two young defenders recently signed on-loan from Fulham, Caelan Avenell and Stefan Parkes, finally made their debuts, but it turned out to be an unfortunate first appearance for the latter. Parkes had been impressive for the opening 25 minutes when he pulled up after a run on the left. The injury unfortunately appeared to be a recurrence of the hamstring problem that he had only just returned from following a long period of rehabilitation.

Swans had an early opportunity when Eddie Simon laid the ball back to Nana Owusu on the left and he was fouled just outside the edge of the box by a combination of both Dylan Jones and Jevan Wright. With the memory still fresh of Owusu’s outstanding free-kick winner at Hungerford he again stepped up for this one. Owusu again struck the ball well and on target, but Tivvy goalkeeper Zak Baker was able to beat the ball up and away on his line.

The visitors were able to break, with Wright making a fine run down the left before the ball ran to Jack Rice-Lethaby inside the corner of the box, and he brought a good save from home keeper Tyla Dickinson down to his left.

Joe Pratley-Jones found John Gilbert on the right, and he forced a corner. From Stan Flaherty’s kick the ball ran to Arsen Ujkaj by the left corner of the 6 yard-box, but he volleyed it into the pitch and Baker was able to make a comfortable save.

Tiverton immediately won a corner of their own on the right, and from the kick Johl Powell cleared at the near-post. The ball was recycled and crossed back in from the right, and Josh Jones was by the penalty-spot to glance a header across goal and wide.

With a quarter of an hour played Simon found Owusu on the left corner of the box, and he drove a strong, low shot just wide of the near-post.

Midway through a pretty even first-half a long ball down the right by Tiverton’s Matt Britton  was nodded on to find Wright, and when he played it low across to Joe Parker by the penalty-spot his shot was well-blocked by Avenell. The ball ran to Rice-Lethaby, and when he set up River Allen on the edge of the box his low shot took a slight deflection off Powell to go wide of the left post for a corner.

Parkes then made his run on the left that led to his injury. With Parkes off the pitch and Swans playing on with ten men the visitors had another chance. A long ball in behind by Aamir Daniels found Parker, and he got past Alex Kelly and into the left of the box, but he shot weakly straight at Dickinson. Joe Hicks then came on as the replacement for Parkes.

Tiverton had a free-kick deep on the right touchline, and when the ball was delivered into the box Josh Jones was again by the penalty-spot to get in a header, but the ball went straight into the hands of Dickinson on his line.

Avenell played a long ball down the right for Swans, and under pressure Tivvy keeper Baker tried to head clear outside the corner of his area but failed to make clean contact, and the ball went behind for a corner. With ten minutes of normal-time remaining of the half Gilbert was fouled by Rice-Lethaby just outside the right of the box to give Swans a free-kick in a dangerous position. Gilbert back-heeled the ball to Flaherty, and he drove in a low, left foot shot that Baker saved down at his near-post. Simon then played the ball over the top to pick out the run of Flaherty who was left with a chance on the edge of the box when Daniels failed to clear, but he sent a left foot shot over.

Swans made a strong start to the second-half and Ujkaj knocked the ball into the box from the right, but Simon just failed to latch onto it. Flaherty was then fouled 30 yards out on the right. Owusu again stepped up for the free-kick, and this time he sent the ball dipping against the crossbar with another great effort. Powell was then fouled by Daniels out on the right touchline, earning the Tiverton left-back a yellow card, and from Flaherty’s free-kick the ball was headed over by a defender for a corner.

Swans’ pressure paid off eight minutes into the half when they took a deserved lead. Pratley-Jones sent a long throw down the left, and Britton could only knock the ball on to Simon on the byline. Simon did superbly to keep the ball in play before laying it across to the edge of the 6 yard box, where Hicks slid in to poke it past Baker.

Swans were now well on their game, and terrific play by Gilbert won a corner on the left, followed by one being forced on the right after Avenell had found Flaherty.  With an hour played Powell sent Gilbert into the right corner of the box, and he drove in a fine shot that Baker did well to keep out at his near-post.

Swans were then denied the opportunity of making it 2-0. An excellent move that started with Gilbert on the edge of his own penalty area led to the same player getting to the right byline at the other end. Gilbert laid the ball back across the box, where Owusu was clearly pulled down by Dylan Jones, but the referee waved play-on.

25 minutes into the half Swans thought they had doubled their lead when Flaherty played the ball in from the right to pick out Gilbert on the right corner of the 6 yard-box for an excellent finish, but the midfielder was seemingly judged to have handled the ball. Powell made a fine run on the right to force a corner, and from Flaherty’s kick Pratley-Jones put a header wide. Swans should have made it 2-0 when Hicks cleared in his own box and both Gilbert and Flaherty broke forward. This led to Gilbert laying the ball in from the right to Flaherty in space in the box, but after turning to open up the chance he rolled his shot wide of the right post.

Tiverton had to head over their own goal when Pratley-Jones launched a long throw from close to the left corner flag. Pratley-Jones then switched the ball superbly from the left to pick out Flaherty on the right, and he got into the box to force another good save from Baker at his near-post with a left foot strike.

With just over ten minutes of normal-time remaining Swans were again denied a second goal.

Gilbert was found ten yards outside the box, and he played an excellent through ball for Simon to net, but the flag went up for offside, although the Swans’ striker was clearly played on by Dylan Jones to his left.

Another great chance went begging when another sweeping move, started by Avenell’s long ball from deep in Swans’ half, led to Simon playing Powell into the right of the box. Powell set up Ujkaj to his left ten yards out, but he poked the ball wide of the left post. Simon broke on the right to set up Flaherty, but his low ball in was cut out by keeper Baker.

Swans finally made it 2-0 with six minutes of normal-time remaining. Flaherty clipped the ball through to send Simon clear into the right of the box, but his attempt to chip it past Baker was blocked by the keeper, only for Owusu to follow up and drive home.

Trae Cook-Appiah and Jake Frailing came on for Owusu and Avenell, and in stoppage time Cook-Appiah was just denied by Baker when Flaherty played a fine ball into him from the right.

Swans’ Team: Tyla Dickinson, Caelan Avenell (Jake Frailing 87’), Stefan Parkes (Joe Hicks 30’), Alex Kelly, Joe Pratley-Jones, Arsen Ujkaj, Stan Flaherty, Johl Powell, Nana Owusu (Trae Cook-Appiah 87’), John Gilbert, Eddie Simon. Subs. not used: Anis Nuur, Josh Tobin. Scorers: Hicks (53’), Owusu (84’). Cautions: Powell (63’), Gilbert (68’), Ujkaj (74’).

Tiverton Town Team: Baker, D. Jones, Daniels (Gerring 88’), Britton, J. Jones, Allen, Wright (Thompson 64’), Garside (Gleeson 83’), Parker, Santos, Rice-Lethaby. Cautions: Rice-Lethaby (35’), Daniels (51’).