Tunbridge Wells 1 Swans 0

Saturday 20th November 2021.                                             FA Vase, 2nd Round.

Tunbridge Wells 1    Walton & Hersham 0.

Following their fine run in last season’s competition, Swans made a disappointing exit at their first attempt at the FA Vase this time around, going out to a side they had already beaten in the FA Cup back in August. They will look back at the tie as an opportunity missed as they had numerous chances, hit the goal-frame twice, and failed yet again from the penalty-spot. If they had capitalised on an opening quarter of an hour that they totally dominated they could well have gone on to win, but the home side withstood that early threat and gradually came into the game, scoring what proved to be the decisive goal after 34 minutes. That goal came from a number of swift breaks that the Kent side began to make, breaking that early Swans’ dominance. They then defended resolutely in the second half, at times with a fair amount of good fortune, withstanding all that Swans threw at them.

Swans went into the tie missing a whole raft of key players and were only able to nominate three substitutes, with one of those being Jude Brumpton from the U18s’ side. Captain Joe Hicks was serving a one match suspension, while new striker Eddie Simon was cup-tied, having played for his previous club in earlier rounds. Harry Pointing came in for Hicks, and Simon was replaced by Tom Cursons, who had performed well in a couple of matches earlier in the season before going to University. There were numerous other absentees however, all unavailable for various reasons. As well as Reece Brewster, Darryl Siaw and Stuart Baldwin all still recovering from troublesome injuries, Alec Fiddes, Zach Dainkeh and Onur Bakici were added to the unavailable list. Harry Mills was able to return however, with Darren Simpson also starting.

Swans made a good start, settling straight away into their neat passing, close possession game, and Cursons soon forced a corner after being put down the left by Palace Francis. Mills was then fouled out by the left corner of the pitch, and when he sent the resultant free-kick into the box there were a couple of close calls for possible fouls by the home side. Swans’ first chance came when a good build-up resulted in Jacob Munting’s fine ball getting Simpson into the right of the box, but the angle was tight, and home goalkeeper Aaron Lee-Wharton was able save a low shot at his near-post. Pointing’s long ball down the right found Cursons, who was then fouled after getting to the byline, but Mills’ free-kick was cleared away. Simpson forced another corner, Swans’ third so far, on the left, and this led to them going desperately close to taking the lead following Mills’ kick. Alex Kelly struck a superb shot from outside the left corner of the box, and the ball rattled the inside of the near-post before spinning clear.

The home side had barely left their own half in the first quarter of an hour, leading to shouts of frustration from their supporters massed behind Swans’ goal, but they were almost given something to cheer with their first attack of the match. Regan Corke showed his pace on the right to get in on the byline and play a dangerous cross into the box, and the ball was cleared away by Pointing amid some half-hearted claims for a penalty. Kyron Lightfoot then played Johnny Phillips into a lot of space on the left, and he got into the box to give Liam Allen his first taste of action with a low shot that the Swans’ keeper took comfortably on his line. The home side had really come into the game, with Corke on the right an outlet, and another pacey run by him forced a corner. A free-kick was then won on the right, and Lightfoot’s delivery was just too long for Ryan Cheek, coming in at the far-post.

Swans responded with Joe Pratley-Jones winning the ball off Robbie Bissett on the right and playing Cursons into the box, but his cross to the far-post was over-hit. Francis was able to get possession on the left, but drove low into the side-netting.

Corke was proving a real threat on the right for Tunbridge Wells, and his pace almost got him in again, but he lost control and the ball ran through to Allen. Kelly was then judged to have fouled Lightfoot a couple of yards outside the corner of the box on the left, giving the home side a free-kick in a dangerous position, but Lightfoot’s delivery could only pick out the gloves of Allen.

Pratley-Jones was able to utilise his long throw for Swans for the first time, launching one from close to the right corner flag. The ball fell to Francis just inside the box, but he drove his shot over. A terrific move then led to Munting playing Simpson clear into the box, but Lee-Wharton just denied him, coming out to save at his feet.

But it was the home side that took the lead after 34 minutes. Swans had not solved the problem of Corke’s pace on the right, and when he made another run that took him past Louis Collins, a low cross was swept in at the near-post by Lightfoot.

After a dominant start Swans had lost a fair degree of momentum as the half progressed, and in the final minute of normal-time they almost conceded again. A long ball sent Matt Gething through the middle, and Allen was drawn out to the edge of his area to close him down. The ball ran loose, and it took some time before it was eventually scrambled clear. This led to successive corners on the right, the second of which was well cut out by Allen’s confident catch.

Tunbridge Wells threatened straight after the resumption with Lightfoot breaking on the left and having his cross blocked for a corner on the right, Lightfoot’s kick being headed clear by Cursons.

Swans soon went close to equalising when Pratley-Jones found Cursons on the right, and he drove the ball in to the near-post, where it was just beaten clear by Lee-Wharton. Mills was able to follow up in the left of the box, but his shot was again blocked by the home keeper. Mills headed the ball away from Lightfoot’s delivery when Corke forced a corner on the right for Tunbridge Wells, just before Swans twice went close to equalising in the space of a minute. Francis made a clever run in on the left byline, and when the ball was driven against the underside of the crossbar it appeared to cross the line before being cleared. Mills was immediately bursting past home left-back James Nurden on the right before laying a great ball across and setting up a clear chance for Simpson, but he screwed the ball wide of the far-post. Francis had started to have success on the home side’s right, and following Mills’ free-kick from out on the right touchline he again got in on the left byline, but was just closed out. Kelly made a terrific run forward before feeding Francis on the left, and he cut inside to have a shot blocked away by keeper Lee-Wharton.

Allen cut the ball out as Corke continued to be the Kent side’s main weapon, driving down the right to get in a low cross, but Swans had built up a head of steam, and Mills was just closed out as he made a great run into the box. Munting then got Cursons in on the left byline, but again the low ball in was cleared.

With just over 25 minutes remaining Cursons was replaced by Dominic Ogun, who made a welcome return to Swans’ squad after missing the last ten games, and he was soon involved in the move that gave them an opportunity to equalise. Ogun got into the box to have a shot blocked, leading to Francis making a run in on the left before being brought down for a penalty. After four successive failures from the spot, Pratley-Jones had converted the pressure one against Jersey Bulls, so there was confidence when he stepped up, but it seemed like an eternity before he was allowed to take the kick. The home side took the opportunity for a player to have lengthy treatment on the pitch, and then delayed the kick further with more apparent gamesmanship. The referee, seemingly oblivious to this, then held up the taking of the penalty still further. Several minutes had passed before Pratley-Jones took the kick, and when he did his effort lacked power, the keeper diving to his right to make a fairly straightforward save. Pratley-Jones was soon taking a long throw from the left to pick out Ogun at the near-post, but his header could only find the side-netting.

Swans were then grateful to Max Hustwick for keeping them in the tie. Tunbridge Wells broke on the left and Allen dashed across to try to cut out the threat, but the ball was played past him and towards the goal. Hustwick did superbly well to get back and just hook the ball away as it was about to cross the goal-line.

But the home side were mainly pressed back as Swans pushed for what would have been a deserved equaliser, which they again went desperately close to getting with five minutes of normal-time remaining. Kelly got into the right of the 6 yard-box to drive in a shot that struck a defender on the line, and the ball flew across the goal-face before going wide of the far-post.

Swans’ hopes of taking the tie to a penalty shoot-out took a further blow when Pratley-Jones was sent off with two minutes of normal-time remaining, picking up a second caution after having been booked earlier.

There was one last chance for Swans two minutes into stoppage-time when Kelly drove to the right byline before hooking the ball over. With Ogun preparing to nod home from virtually under the crossbar, the ball was just headed away from him.

Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Joe Pratley-Jones, Louis Collins, Jacob Munting, Max Hustwick,  Harry Pointing, Harry Mills, Darren Simpson (Will Kouadio 87’), Tom Cursons (Dominic Ogun 64’), Alex Kelly, Palace Francis. Sub. not used: Jude Brumpton. Cautions: Francis, foul (81’), Munting, foul (89’). Dismissal: Pratley-Jones, 2 cautions for fouls (76’ & 88’).

Tunbridge Wells’ Team: Lee-Wharton, Hudson, Nurden, Pring, Cheek, Bissett, Corke, Wells, Gething, Phillips (Sahadow 90+2’), Lightfoot (Griffin 73’). Subs. not used: Hope, Wolvey, Cornwell, De Castro, Leonard. Scorer: Lightfoot (34’). Caution: Wells, foul (45+1’).

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