Thursday 28th March 2024.                       Southern League, Premier Division South.

Walton & Hersham 4    Harrow Borough 4.

Swans’ play-off hopes took a blow as they were held by struggling Harrow Borough in a remarkable match. In awful conditions of high wind and rain showers the visitors took full advantage of that wind blowing towards the home goal in the first-half, making defending something of a lottery with the ball acting unpredictably. They benefited with three goals before the break, all scored from set-pieces, to take a 3-2 lead into the second-half, despite Swans dominating and creating chances. Swans never quite utilised the conditions to the same effect in the second-half, and another set-piece goal put them 4-2 down with 25 minutes remaining. They weren’t done however, and after reducing the deficit with seven minutes of normal-time remaining, despite the heroics of Borough goalkeeper Tyler Tobin, they got the equaliser they deserved deep into stoppage-time.

One change was made to the starting line-up, with Anis Nuur, who had performed superbly after coming on at Merthyr, replacing John Gilbert.

Swans were soon putting together a good move on the right, and Johl Powell got forward to get in a cross that sent the ball just past the far-post. Stan Flaherty then made a run on the right to put Arsen Ujkaj to the byline, but his low cross into the 6 yard-box was cleared.

The visitors were awarded a free-kick 40 yards out, that with the strong wind behind it posed a threat, but Jack Tutton’s shot was blocked. Powell again got forward on the right for Swans before sending Flaherty away, and he twice cleverly dummied Nagheeb Ibrahim to get into the corner of the box, but his low shot was taken by keeper Tobin on his line.

Swans had looked threatening coming forward, and they took the lead after 14 minutes. Ujkaj threaded a fine ball through from halfway to pick out the run of Nana Owusu, who got through to the right edge of the box. Tobin came out to close him down, but completely missed his attempt to kick clear, and Owusu got clear to roll the ball into the bottom, left corner.

The lead only lasted a minute however when Harrow had a throw-in close to the left corner-flag. James Gurteen launched a long throw in to the near-post, and Ujkaj could only head away into the wind to the edge of the 6 yard-box, where Reece Yorke nodded the ball down to Ronny Mfinda, who hooked it past keeper Tyla Dickinson.

Swans soon went close to regaining the lead when Mitchal Gough sent a terrific ball over the top from deep in his own half to find Flaherty on the right.

Gurteen was next to be sent one way and then the other as Flaherty opened up a shooting chance in the right corner of the box, and Tobin did well to get down at his near-post to push a low, right foot shot wide for a corner.

Harrow had further opportunities to use the wind and get balls into Swans’ box, but Tutton’s free-kick from deep on the left was struck too long, and two more Gurteen long throws from the left were defended safely. They were more successful just before the half hour however as they took the lead. The ball was driven across from the right, and Caelan Avenell could only deflect it behind for a corner on the left. Tutton sent the kick in on the wind, and the ball glanced off the head of Ujkaj in the 6 yard-box and went in for an own goal.

Swans equalised after 37 minutes when Josh Tobin found Flaherty on the right, and he linked up with Ujkaj. Flaherty then cut inside past Ibrahim on the corner of the box before sending a terrific left foot shot dipping over the Borough keeper and under the crossbar.

Clever play by Owusu by the left corner-flag led to him playing Nuur in on the byline to lay the ball back to Flaherty 7 yards out, but he side-footed it over the bar. With the half entering the final five minutes Flaherty made another run on the right before finding Ukaj on the overlap. Ujkaj drove the ball low across the 6 yard-box, where both Nuur and Alex Kelly somehow failed to make contact as Yorke got a slight touch to deflect wide of the far-post for a corner.

With added-on time being played Swans went desperately close to regaining the lead. Tobin threaded a great ball through to send Flaherty clear down the right, and he cut inside across the edge of the box before laying off to Kelly on his left. Kelly drove in a right foot shot that struck the crossbar, and when the ball dropped to Owusu at the far-post he tried to volley it in with a bicycle kick, but hooked wide. Owusu was immediately getting in on the left byline to drive the ball low into the 6 yard-box, where Flaherty just failed to turn it in.

Swans should have gone into the break with a lead, but it was the visitors who went ahead again against the run of play, and the goal again came from a set-piece. A corner was won on the left, and from Tutton’s kick Yorke headed down at the back-post, and Gurteen was unmarked at the other post to slide the ball over the line.

Two minutes after the resumption for the second-half Swans had an opportunity when Tobin was brought down just outside the box. The free-kick was ideal for Owusu, and he struck the ball well, but the Harrow keeper did well to punch the ball away. The ball was played to Flaherty on the right corner of the box, and he struck a left foot shot that keeper Tobin again beat away. A corner was immediately won on the left when the ball was cleared off the line, but the wind carried Flaherty’s kick behind. Kelly then crossed a diagonal ball from the left to the right of the box for Gough to guide a header across goal and wide. Swans continued to press for the equaliser, and Avenell sent a fine ball from the right deep in his own half to pick out Nuur on the left. Nuur got past Barsa Mirtahmasebi in the left of the box, but drove his shot over the near, top corner.

Swans had been in total control, but just past the hour Harrow increased their lead totally against the run of play. Ujkaj was shown a yellow card for a foul 40 yards out, but Tutton’s free-kick was defended, only for Avenell to also pick up a booking minutes later for another foul. This gave the visitors a free-kick in a more dangerous position on the edge of the ‘D’ Gurteen drove the ball through the wall and Dickinson made a fine save down at his right post. Swans’ defenders were slow to react, and Toby Nnadozie was allowed to follow up and score.

Swans forced consecutive corners before Gilbert came on to replace Nuur, and he was soon making a run on the left to have a low cross into the 6 yard-box cleared. Eddie Simon then came on, with Eoin Bolger going off. Tobin got forward from the centre-circle to drive in a shot from 35 yards that his namesake in the visitors’ goal dived to his right to push wide.

Swans got themselves back in the game after 83 minutes. Owusu forced a corner on the left, and from his kick Tobin had to punch away from his line. The result was another corner taken from the left by Owusu, and when he swung the ball in it came off the head of a defender at the near-post, and Simon was at the back-stick to nod home for his first goal of 2024.

Swans continued to press for the equaliser, and Gough was in the centre-circle to nod the ball through to Powell from keeper Tobin’s clearing kick. Powell drove forward to the edge of the box to drive in a low, left foot shot that Tobin again did well to block with his feet on the edge of his 6 yard-box. Simon followed in, but his shot was half-blocked, and Tobin was able to fall on the ball down at his right post to deny Owusu. In the final minute of normal-time Tobin found Flaherty on the right, and he cut inside to drive in another tremendous left foot shot that brought another superb save from the Borough keeper, diving to deflect the ball wide of his near-post. Flaherty’s corner from the right was cleared in the 6 yard-box.

It was beginning to look like Swans would finish empty handed, but five minutes into added-on time Owusu was fouled five yards outside the edge of the box on the left, earning Tutton a yellow card. Owusu’s free-kick into the box was headed away, but Flaherty was able to collect by the centre-circle and find Simon on the right. Simon drove to the byline, and his cross was headed away to the edge of the box, where Owusu struck a terrific half-volley into the top, left corner.

There was still time for Swans to go close to getting a winner. Tobin switched the ball from the right to Gilbert on the left, and he cut inside 25 yards out to drive in a shot that flew just wide of the far-post.

Swans’ Team: Tyla Dickinson, Caelan Avenell, Eoin Bolger (Eddie Simon 73’), Alex Kelly, Arsen Ujkaj (Joe Pratley-Jones 86’), Mitchal Gough, Stan Flaherty, Johl Powell, Nana Owusu, Josh Tobin, Anis Nuur (John Gilbert 65’). Subs. not used: Joe Hicks, Cameron Thompson. Scorers: Owusu (14’ & 90+5’), Flaherty (37’), Simon (83’). Cautions: Ujkaj, foul (59’), Tobin, foul (61’).

Harrow Borough Team: Tobin, Mirtahmasebi, Gurteen, Tutton, Yorke, Seabrook, Ibrahim, Mfinda (Nnadozie 53’), Muhemba (Cameron 74’), Talla, Mitchell (Lawal 90+2’). Subs. not used: Miskin, Jagdev. Scorers: Mfinda (17’), Own goal [Ujkaj] (29’), Gurteen (45+3’), Nnadozie (65’). Cautions: Tobin, time wasting (53’), Yorke, dissent (53’), Tutton, foul (90+4’).