Saturday 28 October 2017. Cherry Red Combined Counties League, Premier Division.
Walton & Hersham 3 Balham 3.
A Swans’ side missing several key players needed an equaliser scored four minutes into stoppage-time to salvage a point against first-time opponents Balham. Poor defending had resulted in them going 2-0 down with less than half an hour played, and after they had hit the goal-frame three times and failed to score from a similar number of clear chances, that deficit was carried into the break. They always looked as if they could get back into the game however, and with just under an hour played it was two goals apiece, but having secured a platform to go on and win the game, they conceded another soft goal to trail again. That looked to have ended their chances as the visitors began to look comfortable, but one last effort finally bore fruit.
Problems started before kick-off with both central defenders, new signing Billy Jeffreys and Jamie Thoroughgood, being unavailable, and strikers Abdeen Abdul and Jamil Okai both injured. Midfielder Elliott Simpson was also unavailable for selection through injury, as was Lea Van Sullivan, who would have been a likely central defensive replacement. Louis Taylor came in for his first league start of the season, while a debut was given to Athan Smith-Joseph, newly signed from Hanworth Villa.
Swans got off to the worst possible start, going behind after just four minutes following a corner on the right. Tomasz Wocial’s kick should not have posed any great problems, but with no-one in Swans’ defence taking responsibility the ball ran loose to Ibz Olutode, who poked it towards goal and Arsen Ujkaj was on the goal line to touch it past goalkeeper Brendan Norris. The goal was allowed despite Ujkaj looking well offside. Things almost got worse two minutes later when Balham built up an attack on the right and Arsen Ujkaj was left with a chance on the edge of the box, but his low shot went just wide of the left post.
Swans went desperately close to equalising just a minute later when TJ Nkoma did well on the left before crossing to the far-post, where Bilal Benali thumped a header against the crossbar and the ball bounced down on the line before being cleared. Swans won a free-kick when the ball was handled outside the left corner of the box, but Jim Fenlon drove the kick into the wall.
The visitors continued to look dangerous with quick breaks down the flanks, and Khalid Savage got to the byline on the right to drive in a low cross that Norris did well to cut out at his near-post.
Swans again went close to levelling when Julian Hornby got the ball in from the right to Flo Bojaj, who turned to hook it just over the goal. Midway through the half Bojaj put a header wide at the far-post from Nkoma’s left-side corner, before Swans were again left ruing their luck. Bilal Benali got past Wocial on the right to get into the box and strike a low shot that rattled the far-post.
But instead of being at least on level terms Swans found themselves 2-0 down after 28 minutes of play. The goal came after Balham took a free-kick from deep on the left and Jake Newton and Norris got in each other’s way, causing the keeper to drop the ball. The outcome was a corner on the right, and again it was not dealt with, and Grant Goodband found space in the left of the 6-yard box to hit a shot that sent the ball rolling slowly inside the far-post past a static Swans’ defence. Norris was soon going down to save another low shot from Tom Fosse, who had got free into the right of the box.
After just 37 minutes Bilal Benali came off, to be replaced by Malachi Thomas, who was making his first appearance for Swans since being injured in mid-August. Thomas was soon getting the ball in from the right to Smith-Joseph, and the goal-frame was struck for the third time as he drove the ball against the near-post.
Jake Newton had to clear the ball behind at the near-post when Balham’s right-back Hamish Frew broke on the right to drive the ball across, but Swans continued to create openings, and when Howard Newton got the ball to Thomas on the left his cross dipped just wide of the far-post. In the final minute of normal-time of the first-half Nkoma played Thomas clean through with just keeper Haydn Read to beat, but his shot was blocked. Nkoma cut in from the left to have a low shot blocked for a corner, and from Thomas’s kick from the left Bojaj put a header wide at the far-post. There was still time for Thomas to pick out Bojaj in front of goal with a cross from the left, but he put his header straight to the keeper.
Balham had the last say of the half with a free-kick 25 yards out, but Anis Nuur drove it wide. Swans attacked straight after the resumption, and inside the first minute Nkoma turned on the left edge of the box to hit a shot that Read took high up at his near-post.
A quick goal was needed, and the breakthrough came just three minutes into the half. The ball was played in from the left, and Smith-Joseph turned on the edge of the box before driving a low, left-foot shot inside the left-post.
Five minutes later Hornby was put down the right by a good pass from Smith-Joseph, and when he played the ball low across Thomas got in a shot that Read just kept out by diving to his right, with no-one there to seize on the rebound.
Just before the hour Swans’ pressure paid off with the equaliser, and it came from the penalty-spot. Following a throw-in by Hornby the ball came to Bojaj in the box, and as he tried to make room he was brought down, with Fenlon driving the spot-kick past Read.
The odds now looked to be in Swans’ favour that they would go on to win the match, and two minutes after they equalised Smith-Joseph got into the right of the box, but after beating his marker and getting to the near-post he drove a left-foot shot over. Midway through the half Nkoma played Smith-Joseph in on the right, and his low ball in found Thomas, but he shot straight at the keeper.
But after looking the likely winners more poor defending by Swans put them behind again with twenty minutes remaining. Olutade was played in on the right, and when his shot took a big deflection off Norris the ball looped over the keeper and into the far corner of the goal. Swans looked deflated, and Nuur was soon being played in on the left to have a shot deflected behind for a corner.
A free-kick awarded 30 yards out gave Swans another opportunity, but Thomas struck the ball straight at keeper Read.
Swans had now lost their momentum, and things could have got worse for them with just under ten minutes remaining. Indecision between Hornby and Norris in the left of the box allowed Olutade to get past both of them, but with just Taylor back on the line the Balham striker put the ball wide of the near-post. It was now the visitors’ turn to hit the goal-frame as Nuur struck a free-kick from 25 yards against the left post.
Swans almost capitalised on the let-off immediately as Bojaj was played in on the left, but his shot was blocked at the near-post by Read.
With the last five minutes of normal-time now being played Swans piled forward and Howard Newton set up another chance for Thomas, but a good, low strike was somehow blocked by the Balham keeper. Two minutes into stoppage-time Jake Newton was played in on the right, but his cross was just blocked.
But just as it looked as if time was running out on them Swans scored the equaliser. A determined attack ended with Bojaj being found in the box, and he made room for himself before passing the ball into the net.
With three goals being conceded in three of their matches at their new ground, Swans will be hoping their move from Stompond Lane will not adversely affect their bid for promotion.
Swans’ Team: Brendan Norris, Julian Hornby, Jim Fenlon, Chris Onoufriou, Jake Newton, Louis Taylor, Bilal Benali (Malachi Thomas 37’), Howard Newton, Flo Bojaj, Athan Smith-Joseph, TJ Nkoma (Sanchez Benali 76’). Sub. not used: Jamil Okai. Scorers: Smith-Joseph (48’), Fenlon, penalty (59’), Bojaj (90+4’). Cautions: Fenlon, S. Benali, Taylor.
Balham Team: Read, Frew, Wocial, Julian Fuller, Goodband, Henry, Savage (Simpson-Last), Ujkaj (Fenlon), Olutade, Fosse, Nuur. Sub. not used: Gallagher. Scorers: Ujkaj (3’), Goodband (28’), Olutade (70’). Cautions: Frew, Nuur.