Balham 0 Swans 1

Saturday 24 February 2018.     Cherry Red Combined Counties League, Premier Division.

Balham 0   Walton & Hersham 1.

Swans picked up a valuable win with a battling display against a good Balham side that has picked up some fine results in the past few games. The home side showed in the earlier 3-3 draw at Walton that they pass the ball around well and have some good attacking players, and that was again evident in this match, Swans having to defend well to retain the 1-0 lead gained after 15 minutes. The remaining hour and a quarter were always going to be difficult if Swans could not score again, but although they had to withstand periods of pressure from Balham, they were also unfortunate on several occasions not to add to their slender lead.

Jake Newton returned to the side after serving his suspension, and both Leon Solomon and Adam Thompson were again available to be in the starting line-up.

On a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon, and on a pitch at Colliers Wood United that has suffered in the recent poor weather, Swans could have taken the lead after just three minutes. Jim Fenlon got to the goal-line on the left to get in a high cross, but Karl Parker’s close-in header lacked the power to beat home goalkeeper Haydn Read.

Swans continued to dominate the early play, and they took the lead after a quarter of an hour with a superb goal. Athan Smith-Joseph was found on the right, and he cut inside to the corner of the box before striking a terrific left-foot shot into the far, top corner.

Balham began to come more into the game, forcing a corner on the right, but Tomasz Wocial’s kick came to nothing as a free-kick was conceded for a foul in the box. The home side won a couple more corners before they had a great chance to equalise midway through the half. Smith-Joseph had just made a good run on the right to win a corner for Swans, but Balham broke away down the middle through Ibrahim Olutade, who got past Fenlon to leave himself with just keeper Brendan Norris to beat. Norris came out to make a superb block, and then got back on his line to save a follow-up shot from Tom Fosse. Balham had come well into the game and Norris was twice again brought into action, getting behind a 25 yard shot from Wocial, and then saving a shot to his near-post by Olutade, who had been played in on the right.

Swans were to finish the half well however, and with a quarter of an hour remaining Parker’s knock on sent TJ Nkoma away, and after cutting in from the left he drove in a low, right-foot shot from the edge of the box that went just wide of the left-post. James Simmonds was soon laying the ball back from the right of the box to Smith-Joseph, whose strong shot took a deflection before finding the gloves of keeper Read. A neat back-heel by Parker on the left sent Simmonds on a run into the box to have a shot blocked, and when the ball came to Parker on the right his shot dipped over the far, top corner.

With a minute of normal-time of the half remaining Swans went close to doubling their lead when Nkoma got to the goal-line on the right to lay the ball back to Parker on the edge of the box. Swans’ new signing’s left-foot shot was heading for the top, left corner, but a home defender did really well to get his head to the ball on the line and deflect it over the crossbar.

Soon after the resumption Smith-Joseph made a good break forward that got him to the goal-line on the right, but he had no close support as three defenders converged on him. Simmonds and Thompson then combined well in the right of the box to set up a chance for Jake Newton, but his left-foot shot was saved by Read.

Swans had started the second-half well, and eight minutes in they created another fine chance. Nkoma played a good ball from the right into the 6-yard box to find Parker in front of goal, but he only made slight contact with an attempt to half-volley the ball in, and it went well-wide of the far-post. Jamie Thoroughgood then ventured into the box, and was just closed out as he tried to make room for a shot, and Nkoma followed up, but his attempt was blocked.

This led to Swans almost being punished on the break as Balham got in on the right, but Norris saved a shot at his near-post.

With an hour played Chris Onoufriou came on to replace Thompson. Simmonds was soon striking a fine ball to pick out Nkoma on the left, but after cutting inside his low shot went across goal and just wide of the far-post.

The home side had an opportunity when they were awarded a free-kick outside the right corner of the box, but the ball was cleared away at the far-post.

Swans had played well, with everyone contributing to a fine team performance, but their lead was still slender. Nkoma got past home right-back Luke Fenlon on the left to get in a dangerous cross that was deflected behind for a corner as they tried for the second goal that would give them a buffer. They were close to getting that goal with just over twenty minutes remaining when they were awarded a free-kick following a foul just outside the left edge of the box. Solomon struck the ball superbly and it thumped against the far-post. Onoufriou was alert and did well to latch onto the rebound and fire a first-time shot inside the right-post, but the assistant referee’s flag went up for offside. Solomon was soon unfortunate again when Nkoma laid the ball across to him from the left, and his powerfully stuck shot from outside the box was on-target, but struck a defender.

With just under ten minutes remaining Balham’s Arsen Ujkaj was played into the left of the box, and will feel disappointed he put his shot wide of the far-post, and Fosse was soon sending a shot over the bar from the edge of the box.

Sam Shaban had replaced Parker for Swans, and he almost made an instant impact. Simmonds put Smith-Joseph away down the right and his low cross found Shaban in the box, but his shot was blocked. An even better chance came to the Swans’ substitute when a ball into the left of the box found him unmarked, but keeper Read did well to block his shot. With five minutes of normal-time remaining Nkoma beat a home player close to halfway on the left to set off on a run that took him close to goal, but his shot went over.

Balham had an opportunity to get a dangerous ball into the box from a free-kick on the left, but lively substitute Anis Nuur could only find the gloves of Norris.

Just before the match went into stoppage-time Nkoma repeated his run of a few minutes earlier, surging down the left after beating his marker by halfway, and this time he got into the box to have a shot saved by Read at his near-post. Swans continued to hold firm, and after seeing out five minutes of stoppage-time, they were able to celebrate the win.

Swans’ Team: Brendan Norris, Jake Newton, Jim Fenlon, Leon Solomon, Billy Jeffreys, Jamie Thoroughgood, Athan Smith-Joseph (Charlie Holmes 90+1’), Adam Thompson (Chris Onoufriou 60’), Karl Parker (Sam Shaban 81’), James Simmonds, TJ Nkoma. Subs. not used: Jesse Kewley-Graham, Elliott Simpson. Scorer: Smith-Joseph (15’).

Balham Team: Read, Fenlon, Henry, Gallagher (Nuur 62’), Gibbs, Frew, Adebayo, Fosse, Olutade, Ujkaj, Wocial. Subs. not used: James Fuller, Garcia, Neish. Cautions: Frew, foul (56’), Ujkaj, foul (90+4’).

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