Saturday 19th September 2020. FA Vase, 1st Qualifying Round.
Walton & Hersham 3 Meridian VP 1.
Swans booked a home tie against K Sports in the next round following a match that ended up rather less comfortable to negotiate than it looked after the first-half, during which they threatened to overrun their Southern Counties League opponents. That opening 45 minutes saw the visitors pack their defence as Swans pressurised their goal throughout, totally dominating possession and passing the ball around at will. Swans will feel their 2-0 half-time lead was rather less than their opportunities warranted, and at that stage even a missed penalty did not look to be crucial. But the SE London side came out for the second-half looking determined to get back into the tie, and they began to create chances of their own. When Swans made it 3-0 after 63 minutes it looked game over, but two incidents made the closing stages trickier to negotiate than expected. A first goal of the season was conceded seven minutes from the end of normal-time, following a complete mix-up in defence, and then Reece Brewster was harshly sent-off three minutes later, giving the visitors a slight glimmer of hope of forcing a penalty shoot-out.
Dominic Ogun’s injury sustained in midweek ruled him out of the tie, but Swans were pleased to welcome back Joe Pratley-Jones, the combative and skilful defender having had a short spell at the club two years ago before returning to Molesey, from whom he re-joins.
Swans dominated from the off, passing the ball around at will, and they went close to going ahead after nine minutes. Michael Cayford was picked out on the left by a fine diagonal pass, and when he crossed into the box Jamie Byatt laid the ball off to his left to Sean McCormack, who drove just wide. McCormack then went even closer, shooting inches wide of the left-post after Darren Simpson had laid back to him from the left of the box. With a quarter of an hour played the ball deflected off Byatt’s head to fall to McCormack inside the 6 yard-box, but Meridian goalkeeper Charlie Martin just managed to deny him.
Swans’ pressure finally bore fruit after twenty minutes, when they went ahead with a fine goal. A neat piece of build-up play ended with Brewster striking a terrific ball from deep on the right to pick out Byatt on the edge of the 6 yard-box, and he dived to head home.
Brewster then switched to the left, before getting in a strong, long-range effort that Martin took on his line.
The visitors made a rare inroad into Swans’ half, and almost got through on the left, but fine tracking-back by Pratley-Jones snuffed out the chance.
Pratley-Jones then crossed high into the box from the left to find Byatt, who sent a looping header onto the top of the crossbar. McCormack’s pass down the left almost got Byatt in, but keeper Martin was out to block. With ten minutes of normal-time remaining of the half a terrific build-up got McCormack through to the left byline, and his cross almost led to the visitors putting the ball into their own goal at the near-post.
Meridian immediately had a rare opportunity, but a shot from outside the box went wide of the left-post.
Another fine diagonal pass from Brewster on the left found Yucef Azzouz on the right, and Martin had to take the ball under his crossbar as a high cross came in. With just under five minutes remaining of the first-half Swans had the chance to double their lead when McCormack was brought down after breaking into the left of the box, but his own penalty was driven over the goal. Brewster’s excellent through ball found Dan Taylor on the right, and he picked out Byatt in the box. Byatt made space in the 6 yard-box before setting-up McCormack, but Martin kept out his low strike with a good block on his line. The Meridian keeper was again well-placed to take a half-volley from Cayford, who had found space in the left of the box. Martin soon had a far more difficult save to make to deny Swans a second goal when McCormack laid the ball back to Alex Kelly from the left of the box. The midfielder made space before getting in a shot that the keeper did superbly to tip over his crossbar.
But the second goal soon came when Azzouz neatly drove the ball low into the far corner from the left of the box.
Swans had a scare straight after the break when Akinwale Akisanmi drove just wide of their far-post after getting into the left of the box. A free-kick from out on the left touchline was then driven wide of their near-post. The ball was nodded wide of the near-post when the visitors’ Zach Beeden took a huge long throw-in from the right. Meridian had made a really positive opening ten minutes of the second-half, with the wind having strengthened and in their favour, and Swans’ keeper Liam Allen did well to punch clear from another long throw into the box from the right by Beeden, but was fouled in the process.
But Swans went a long way to making the game safe after 63 minutes. Pratley-Jones sent a dangerous high cross from the left to the far-post, where Martin and his defenders combined to put the ball into the top of their own net under pressure.
Substitute Jason Kaate put a header wide of the far-post from a free-kick sent in from the left as the visitors continued to have their fair share of the play.
It was then great to see former Swans’ youth graduate Joe Hicks come on for Taylor to play his first football for 19 months following a bad leg-break sustained playing for Walton Casuals.
Allen did well to take the ball on his line when Kaate took a corner from the right for Meridian.
John Foster and Jordy Luvovadio became the second and third players to be booked for the visitors in quick succession, all offences being pretty crude challenges, but their side continued to press for a goal.
Allen had to be quickly off his line to deny Kaate in the right of the box, and the Swans’ keeper then had to make a fine save when Meridian got into the right of the box, the ball then being headed away from the line after it looped up. But with seven minutes of normal-time remaining Swans conceded their first goal of the season, and it was one all of their own making. A complete mix-up between Allen and his defenders allowed the ball to run loose, leaving Ross Obazee with a simple tap-in.
Byatt was set up in the box by substitute Will Kouadio for a chance to restore Swans’ three goal lead, but the ball got stuck under his feet.
With four minutes of normal-time remaining Swans were reduced to ten men. There was a scuffle close to the home side’s left touchline, and although Brewster seemed more sinned against than sinning, it was the Swans’ player who was shown a red card, with Meridian’s Kaate escaping with just a yellow.
The visitors sensed there was still time to salvage a result, and Allen made a fine save, pushing the ball wide of his far-post when Meridian had a chance close-in on the left. Allen then just clutched the ball at the second attempt down at his near-post when Beeden took another long throw from the right. There was one last opportunity for the visitors when Kaate crossed from the right, but Allen was right behind a close-in header from Obazee.
Swans’ Team: Liam Allen, Dan Taylor (Joe Hicks 72’), Michael Cayford (Will Kouadio 45’), Alex Kelly, Joe Pratley-Jones, Stuart Baldwin, Yucef Azzouz, Reece Brewster, Jamie Byatt, Darren Simpson (Max Lohmeier 88’), Sean McCormack. Subs. not used: Joe Sewell, Jigar Kumar, Sonny Stiller. Scorers: Byatt (20’), Azzouz (44’), Own goal (63’). Dismissal: Brewster (86’).
Meridian VP Team: Martin, Berg, Luvovadio, Camara (Pottinger 82’), Samba, Beeden, Reavill (Kaate 63.), J. Foster, Obazee, Vani (Akinte 45’), Akisanmi. Subs. not used: Nwaogwugwu, Ajim, Boothe. Scorer: Obazee (83’). Cautions: Camara (58’), Foster (74’), Luvovadio (75’), Kaate (86’).