Saturday 3rd February 2024.                                 Southern League, Premier Division South.

Walton & Hersham 1    Basingstoke Town 2.

The three matches between the two clubs since meetings resumed last season have all been exhilarating affairs, particularly from Swans’ fans’ perspective, but unfortunately this latest encounter fell far short of being another one. Swans started as if they would blow away their opponents, and could have been a goal or two up in the opening ten minutes, only for slack play to gift the visitors an early lead, Swans equalised with a fine goal, but after more poor defending allowed the Hampshire side to regain the lead early in the second-half, they seldom looked like getting anything from the match. With Basingstoke constantly breaking up play with players being treated on the pitch every few minutes, Swans ran out of ideas and momentum, and a late push failed to bring an equaliser.

Swans had a great chance to take the lead after just three minutes. Alex Kelly brought the ball forward to the front edge of the centre-circle before playing it over the top to pick out the run of John Gilbert. Gilbert, returning from a two-match ban, did well to just keep the ball in play on the left byline before laying it back to Nana Owusu. Owusu clipped the ball to the far-post to pick out Stan Flaherty, but he dived to head just over. Josh Tobin was soon sending Eoin Bolger on a run down the left, and he sent a fine ball low into the box, where Trae Cook-Appiah just failed to get a touch at the near-post, and ‘Stoke goalkeeper Simon Grant went down to save on his line. Johl Powell then got down the right to play the ball low across the 6 yard-box, but could not pick out a teammate. Mitchal Gough was just inside the visitors’ half on the right touchline when he sent the ball high towards goal, and Grant just got back to catch it under his crossbar.

Basingstoke created their first opening when Simon Dunn was found on the left, and his cross led to a far-post header from Ben Cook that home keeper Tyla Dickinson took on his line. They then had an opportunity with a free-kick awarded ten yards outside the left edge of the box, with Billy Upton’s shot being blocked and a corner won on the right.

With just over a quarter of an hour played ‘Stoke were gifted the lead. Gough played a loose ball across from Swans’ right that went straight to Luis Le Paih just outside the box, and when he played it in to Liam Ferdinand ten yards out, he had the simple task of beating Dickinson.

It took just ten minutes for Swans to equalise however. Gough found Powell in the right of the box, and he drove the ball across for Cook-Appiah to knock home from a yard out.

With half an hour played ‘Stoke’s Ferdinand did well to keep the ball in play on the left touchline, and after cutting in on the byline he drove it low across the goal-face, with Dan Rowe just failing to get a touch at the near-post. Kelly was shown a yellow card for a foul deep on the away left, giving Basingstoke a free-kick, but Dickinson made a good catch from Upton’s ball into the box.

Flaherty forced a corner after being sent on a run down the right by Powell, and a free-kick was won deep on the right touchline, but both kicks taken by Flaherty were defended by the visitors. With three minutes left to the break Cook-Appiah took a long throw from the right, and when Gough nodded on at the near-post there was a scramble in the box before the visitors managed to clear.

There was a change for Swans for the second-half, with Joe Pratley-Jones replacing Gough, and he was soon diving in to put a header wide at the far-post when Flaherty swung in a corner-kick from the right. .

Seven minutes into the half Basingstoke restored their lead following more slack play by Swans. Keeper Grant’s long kick down the pitch led to Pratley-Jones getting the ball and passing it forward to Kelly 35 yards out, but Rowe nicked it off him and Michael Atkinson was able to get in a shot from the edge of the box that brought a fine save from Dickinson. However Atkinson followed in to tuck the loose ball into the bottom, left corner.

Swans struggled to create openings, but they went close with twenty minutes remaining. Kelly found Pratley-Jones on the right, and he played the ball inside for Cook-Appiah to neatly back-heel to Powell, who set up Gilbert on the edge of the box. Gilbert got in a shot that was blocked by James Clark, and Flaherty followed up just outside the box to drive in a low, left foot shot that was just wide of the right post. Pratley-Jones was soon playing the ball down the right to Cook-Appiah, and he tricked his way past Upton to get in on the byline. His low ball into the 6 yard-box was cleared away, but Kelly followed up on the right edge of the box to send a shot just over the far, top corner.

With a quarter of an hour of normal-time remaining Eddie Simon came on to replace Owusu. Powell found Flaherty on the right, and he cut inside, but sent a left foot shot from 25 yards well wide of the far-post. Swans continued to press for the equaliser, and with the match entering stoppage-time Gilbert got Bolger down the left, and he drove the ball in low to the near-post, where Grant just denied Cook-Appiah. The ‘Stoke keeper then just managed to fall on the loose ball to deny Simon. Simon was then fouled just outside the left corner of the box to give Swans a free-kick in a great position, but Gilbert sent the ball dipping just inches over.

Cook-Appian was then just wide with a far-post header when Flaherty took a corner from the right. Swans’ last chance came when Simon found Bolger on the left, and he again drove the ball in low to the near-post, but Grant managed to grasp it just before the final whistle blew.

Swans’ Team: Tyla Dickinson, Alex Kelly, Eoin Bolger, Jake Frailing, Mitchal Gough (Joe Pratley-Jones 46’), Josh Tobin, Stan Flaherty, Johl Powell, Nana Owusu, (Eddie Simon 75’), John Gilbert, Trae Cook-Appiah. Subs. not used: Arsen Ujkaj, Maliq Morris, Anis Nuur. Scorer: Cook-Appiah (26’). Cautions: Kelly (31’), Gough (45+2’), Cook-Appiah (70’), Simon (90+1’).

Basingstoke Town Team: Grant, Johnson-Schuster, Winchcombe, Atkinson, Clark, Upton (Hollamby 81’), Cook (Wilson 64’), Dunn (Rowe 19’). Ferdinand, Hodges, Le Paih. Sub. not used: Giamattei. Scorers: Ferdinand (16’), Atkinson (52’). Cautions: Ferdinand (24’), Winchcombe (45+1’), Clark (45+3’), Johnson-Schuster (75’), Hodges (90+6’).