Guildford City 1 Swans 1 (2-4 on pens.)

Saturday 10th April 2021.                                                        FA Vase, 3rd Round.

Guildford City 1    Walton & Hersham 1 (2-4 on pens.).

Swans progressed through to the 4th Round of the FA Vase for the first time, and will now visit Leighton Town of the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division next Saturday. They won that right by converting all their spot-kicks in exemplary fashion in a penalty shoot-out after drawing 1-1 with their Premier Division opponents. The home side had already won two of their previous four ties in this season’s competition on penalty-kicks, so had form on their side, but two failures from four kicks put an end to their run.

Swans will feel they should not have been faced with the tie being decided with spot-kicks, as despite not firing on all cylinders, they were the better of the two sides during the ninety minutes and clearly deserved to progress. After gifting the home side an early goal with slack defending, and failing with a first-half spot-kick that would have got them back into the game, they twice struck the goal-frame and went close on several other occasions, but had to settle for Sean McCormack’s 57th minute equaliser.

With the tie having been postponed after originally being scheduled for the 19th of December, and the Covid-19 lockdown then kicking in, both sides were playing their first games for almost four months, so it was unrealistic to expect either of them to hit the ground running. City manager Chris Balchin had resigned just prior to the original date for the tie, and Paul Barnes was then brought in from Staines Town as his replacement, so there was some level of disruption to the team they could field, but they pushed Swans all the way.

Swans gave a senior debut to Louis Collins from the Academy U19 side, and the son of former favourite Liam Collins had a highly competent first outing. Joe Pratley-Jones was beginning a suspension, but Max Hustwick had completed a three match ban and was able to return.

With no spectators allowed due to Covid restrictions the match kicked-off in front of just a small number of club officials and permitted attendees. The home side had an early opportunity with a free-kick two yards outside the corner of the box on the right, but Mike Coppinger’s delivery to the far-post was easily taken by goalkeeper Liam Allen.

Swans soon threatened with Dan Taylor crossing into the box from the right, but the ball was scrambled clear with Dominic Ogun ready to capitalise.

Due to the imbalance of fixtures before lockdown, Swans were playing just their fourth game on a grass pitch this season, the last being against Westside at the beginning of October, and this was possibly a factor in them going behind after nine minutes. City’s Eli Ogunseye did well on the right and was able to cross into the box. Swans appeared to have the situation covered, but in trying to overplay on a somewhat bobbly surface the ball was given away to Andre Smith ten yards out, and he was able to set himself and drive a shot inside the right post.

With a quarter of an hour played Ogun did well 30 yards out to strike a left-foot shot that took a slight deflection to clear the bar for a corner on the left. Harry Mills’ kick was just too high to find the head of Ogun, coming in at the far-post. Taylor then sent Mills bursting clear down the right, before he was unceremoniously brought down, but McCormack’s free-kick from out by the right corner-flag was overstruck and cleared everyone in the box. Another corner was won on the left, and following Mills’ kick Alex Kelly had a shot blocked in the box.

Swans had begun to dominate, without creating any clear opportunities, but they should have equalised with half an hour played. Collins played a clever ball inside from the left to send McCormack on a clear run into the box, but as he was about to shoot he was brought down by David Burton. There will be debate as to whether the City central defender had denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity, but the referee settled for the spot-kick. McCormack took the penalty himself, but with some time elapsing before the kick could be taken, he failed to strike the ball with much power, and keeper Stuart Norman was able to make a comfortable save low down to his left.

Collins was soon breaking clear before being brought down just outside the box, but with the ball running to Ogun, who drove a shot wide, the referee seemed to decide advantage played and gave a goal-kick.

A poor clearance went straight to City’s Ogunseye on the right edge of the box, but faced with a clear run on goal his touch let him down, and Allen was quickly out to claim the ball.

A fine ball by Ogun got McCormack free on the left for Swans, and when he got the cross in Ogun was just denied a header in the box. Swans continued to press for the equaliser, and with five minutes left to the break McCormack’s long ball almost got Collins clear into the left of the box, but keeper Norman was able to come out and save at his feet. A free-kick was won just outside the right corner of the box, and when Mills put the ball in Kelly was at the near-post to send a header looping just wide. Swans were desperately unlucky when Collins sent a superb cross over from the left for Zach Dainkeh to come in at the far-post and thump a terrific volley against the underside of the crossbar. The ball was just scrambled clear following a Mills’ left-side corner, and in the final minute of normal-time Ogun drove the ball inside the near-post from the left of the 6 yard-box, but was judged offside, the decision looking extremely marginal.

The home side had a rare opening when Coppinger got in a low shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at keeper Allen.

Swans posed one more threat before the break when Taylor got clear on the right to drive the ball low into the 6 yard-box, but it was cleared away.

The home side were grateful to Norman for keeping them ahead just three minutes after the restart. Kelly got Mills through into the right of the box, and he thumped in a shot that the keeper did superbly to keep out of his near, top corner as he deflected the ball onto the angle of the goal-frame and behind.

City had a free-kick opportunity just outside the box, but Coppinger tried to play the ball off, and the move came to nothing.

Swans finally got the equaliser they had been striving for and deserved after 57 minutes. Mills left his marker trailing with a burst down the left before driving the ball low across the 6 yard-box for McCormack to score at the far-post.

Just past the hour mark City’s Burton went into the referee’s notebook for a crude tackle on Mills. Kelly sent the free-kick from the left to the far-post, and when the ball was nodded back across to McCormack, he struck it over the bar on the half-volley. Kelly was sent down the right by a fine pass from Hustwick, and when he played the ball low across Ogun couldn’t quite turn it in.

Swans should have taken the lead with just under a quarter of the game left. Mills’ right-side corner led to a scramble in the box, and Dainkeh was left with a clear chance as the ball came to him ten yards out, but he shot over the bar.

Ogun put a header over from another Mill’s right-side corner, and McCormack made a good run on the right before finding Mills in the left of the box, but his volley was saved by Norman on his line. The City keeper again went down on his line to save when Collins played the ball in from the left for Mills to get in a low shot from the edge of the box.

With ten minutes of normal-time remaining City’s Coppinger sent a free-kick into Swans’ box from deep on the left, but Allen confidently punched the ball clear.

Ogun immediately had an opportunity at the other end when the ball came to him in the 6 yard-box, but an awkward bounce led to it finding the gloves of Norman before he could get a foot on it. Swans had one last opportunity to forge an opening and prevent a penalty shoot-out when they had a corner on the right in the fifth minute of added-on time, but Mills’ kick that went disappointingly behind proved to be the last of the match.

The home side had the opportunity to put the pressure on Swans’ penalty takers as they had the first kick, but their skipper Jamie Higgins cleared the crossbar by some distance. Coppinger and Burton were both successful with City’s next two kicks, but with Hustwick, Mills and Darren Simpson all scoring unerringly in reply, they trailed 2-3 going into their fourth attempt. Smith was the taker, and Allen kept his effort out with a fine save. And so it was left to Kelly to see Swans through, and he made no mistake in triggering the celebrations from his teammates.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Dan Taylor, Louis Collins, Reece Brewster (Tom Henzi 89’), Max Hustwick, Joe Hicks, Harry Mills, Zach Dainkeh (Darren Simpson 71’), Dominic Ogun, Alex Kelly, Sean McCormack. Subs. not used: Jamie Byatt, Max Lohmeier, Stuart Baldwin, Will Kouadio, Sonny Stiller. Scorer: McCormack (57’). Caution: Mills, foul (56’).     

GCFC Team: Norman, Mason, Nzelo, Everard (Ferrari 82’), Burton, Higgins, Byrne, Ogunseye (Smith-Joseph 53’), Smith, Coppinger, Williams (Kirk 72’). Subs. not used: Maher, Ocansey, Nicholas, Allen. Scorer: Smith (9’). Cautions: Burton, foul (61’), Nzelo, foul (64’), Higgins, foul (90+3’).

GCFC penalty-kicks: Higgins, missed (0-0), Coppinger, scored (1-1), Burton, scored (2-2), Smith, saved (2-3). 

Swans’ penalty-kicks: Hustwick, scored (0-1), Mills, scored (1-2), Simpson, scored (2-3), Kelly, scored (2-4).