Tuesday 20 March 2018. Cherry Red Records Premier Challenge Cup, Semi-Final.
Walton & Hersham 1 Knaphill 2.
With their promotion hopes already as good as over, Swans’ last chance of ending the season on some sort of high disappeared in controversial circumstances. Leading 1-0 with just over a quarter of an hour remaining, they had goalkeeper Brendan Norris sent off for retaliation and a penalty awarded for the same offence. With Swans reduced to ten men and defender Julian Hornby in goal, Knaphill duly equalised from the spot, and then scored the winning goal in the third minute of stoppage-time. Norris, having successfully caught the ball from a corner-kick, was clearly fouled, and then lashed out at the visiting player. There was no doubt that Norris deserved to be sent off for his retaliation, but having firstly been fouled, the question remains should not there have been a free-kick awarded to Swans, and not a penalty to Knaphill. The incident undoubtedly changed the whole complexion of the game, swinging it enormously in favour of the visitors, and had Swans not conceded the late goal they would still have faced a further 30 minutes of extra-time with ten men, and then a possible penalty shoot-out with a novice in goal.
There was a surprise return to Swans’ starting line-up of Abdeen Abdul after the striker had been unavailable since mid-January, and he certainly added pace and heading ability to their attack. But unavailability of other players meant a reshuffle, with Jim Fenlon moving into central defence, and the qualification restrictions of the Challenge Cup resulted in only two substitutes being named.
Swans had a chance after just two minutes, but Athan Smith-Joseph put the ball wide at the far-post when TJ Nkoma crossed from the left. Nkoma then drove the ball low across the box after Abdul had put him down the left, and Chris Onoufriou put a snap-shot over when he was found by a good ball forward from Jesse Kewley-Graham.
Swans had started well, and with a quarter of an hour played went close to taking the lead. Taurean Roberts played a left-side corner short to Kewley-Graham, and after getting the ball back, he cut inside to drive it onto the bar and over via a deflection. Nkoma was soon getting in a dangerous cross from the left that was just prevented from picking out Jamie Thoroughgood at the far-post by a defender heading behind.
Knaphill’s first threat came after 18 minutes when James Norman put a good strike over from 30 yards. They were then awarded a free-kick five yards outside the box on the left, and when Norman’s strike took a deflection Norris made a fine save, diving to push the ball round his right-post.
Swans responded with Roberts getting in a terrific shot from 25 yards that found Knaphill keeper Max Roffey well-placed to beat down. As the half entered the final ten minutes an excellent piece of build-up play ended with Nkoma sending a shot over from 30 yards.
At the other end Norris had to make a good save from a fine 35 yard strike by Knaphill.
Swans had played well however, and deserved the lead they took with four minutes of normal-time left of the half. Smith-Joseph sent a high cross over from the right, and Roberts was at the far-post to head past Roffey from ten yards.
Roberts had the chance to double Swans’ lead and give them a grip on a place in the Final just four minutes into the second-half. Nkoma made a run on the left to pick him out unmarked on the edge of the box at the far-post with a low cross, but he struck a first-time volley just wide.
Knaphill began to come more into the game, and Norman put a header over at the far-post following a free-kick from deep on the right. Jack Collins then drove the ball in from the left, and when Danny Taylor got a touch at the near-post, Norris made a terrific, instinctive save to deflect it over.
Roberts was just denied for Swans when Nkoma made a run down the middle before playing him through into the box, Roffey being quickly out to take the ball off his feet. Twenty minutes into the half Roberts swung a corner over from the left, and with Roffey beaten the ball clipped the far-post.
Knaphill had looked more threatening in the second-half, but the odds were on Swans to hold on for a win. That changed however with Norris’s sending-off and the award of the penalty-kick. With Hornby donning the goalkeeping gloves, Norman made no mistake from the spot.
Swans now faced an uphill task, and Hornby did well to push the ball away when Knaphill got in a shot from 20 yards out on the right. But they went close to winning the tie with a minute of stoppage time played when the ball broke to Abdul 30 yards out, only for his great strike to dip just inches over the crossbar.
Instead it was the visitors who were to get the winner. They were awarded a free-kick on the halfway line, and when Collins sent the ball into the box Hornby could not get it away, and following a scramble Norman drove it in.
There was one last chance for Swans to force extra-time when they themselves were awarded a free-kick on the halfway line. With Hornby also going up, Roberts sent the ball in, but the only outcome was Cameron Gyeabour, who had only been on for three minutes as a substitute, being sent off for a dangerous challenge, reducing Swans to nine men for the final seconds.
Swans’ Team: Brendan Norris, Julian Hornby, Howard Newton (Cameron Gyeabour 90+3’), Chris Onoufriou, Jim Fenlon, Jamie Thoroughgood, TJ Nkoma, Jesse Kewley-Graham, Abdeen Abdul, Taurean Roberts, Athan Smith-Joseph (Sam Shaban 84’). Scorer: Roberts (41’). Cautions: Kewley-Graham, Roberts. Dismissals: Norris, Gyeabour.
Knaphill Team: Roffey, Blanchard, Muir, Allen, Parrot, Collins, Close, Norman, D. Taylor, Kersley, Rapley. Subs. not used: T. Taylor, Harris, Whiddett. Scorer: Norman (74’ [pen.] & 90+3’). Cautions: Allen, Close.