Manager Leon Sterling asked his side for an improved performance as the Swans returned to action after their disappointing draw with Reading Town on December 8th, and would have been delighted with the response from his team, as they weathered difficult conditions and a highly motivated Cheltenham Saracens side to gain three precious points and move back to second in the Uhlsport Hellenic Premier League.
After falling behind to a Jamie Hammond opener for the home side, two Dan Holloway strikes put the Swans in the driving seat. Despite Saracens coming back again to level the scores, Captain Marvyn Roberts netted the decider to win the game for the visitors.
Swans Goalkeeper Adam Clatworthy, signed from Fairford Town to replace the departed Dave Evans, was called into action early, when after four minutes, Hammond’s cross nearly drifted under his crossbar, but he was up to the task, and clawed the ball away for a corner. Clatworthy went on to make a very assured debut for his new side.
Saracens made the better start, and with Slimbridge playing against a very strong wind, it was a difficult start for the visitors, not helped by a fussy performance from Referee Nigel Fisher, which stopped the game from being able to flow for either side.
The first period of the game was very scrappy, with the wind and rain. combined with a very heavy pitch, making it very difficult for either side to settle and play any decent football.
However, two goals in quick succession appeared out of nowhere as the game reached the quarter hour mark – Sarries took the lead on 15 minutes, when Jamie Hammond converted a wicked corner which skimmed across the Slimbridge box, and then three minutes later, Dan Holloway’s sweet turn saw him though on goal and he drilled the ball past Sarries’ Keeper Ryan Betteridge with 18 minutes gone to level things up.
Chances continued to come for both sides as the rain pelted down, with Clatworthy making a good save from Ethan Moore as the home side pressed. At the other end, Liam Harding brought a fine stop from Betteridge after a Roberts flick put him though on goal, but Harding couldn’t convert the follow up, and the chance was lost.
After 29 minutes a dangerous looking late tackle on Niall Hallford by Josh Swales saw the Sarries man lucky to escape with just a yellow card, even allowing for the conditions on the pitch. Hallford was forced off with a a very nasty looking ankle injury after lengthy treatment and replaced by Alex Parrott, who moved into midfield. The reshuffle saw Sean Bennett drop into the back four, where he contributed a massive performance for the rest of the game.
Sarries had a good chance to regain the lead on the half hour, when Leigh Rayson and Swales combined well, but a great tackle from Bennett closed the move down successfully.
There were two further opportunities for both sides before the break, with Roberts failing to take advantage of a good position with Liam Harding waiting in the Sarries’ box on 39 minutes, and a superb Tom Speers tackle breaking down a dangerous run and cross from Ethan Moore for the home side leaving the scores level at the half.
Slimbridge started the second period at a far better tempo than they had the first, and nearly regained the lead a minute into the half – Harding shot drifting wide after Holloway’s initial effort had been blocked.
The game was still very much end-to-end, and Clatworthy had to be alert to clear an underhit back pass from Holloway, with Moore chasing down his clearance.
As Clatworthy got further into his debut, he was increasingly called into action, and responded well to the situation – he made a good save on 50 minutes after another break for the home side, this time from Jordan Bryan.
On 54 minutes, Slimbridge regained the lead – a lovely ball from Shane Anson was flicked on by Parrott and Holloway beat his marker for speed, planting the ball firmly past Betteridge in a lovely piece of play from the visitors.
Holloway nearly completed his hat trick a minute later, when his header from Parrott’s free kick was just too high, but Sarries broke back, and two minutes later were back on level terms.
A cross from the left was flicked on by Sarries’ Skipper Mike Rhodes, and Carl Griffiths stopped to head the ball past Clatworthy to make the score 2-2.
However, it only took another seven minutes for Slimbridge to go back in front. With 63 minutes on the clock, Holloway tried his luck from long range, and Betteridge made the save, but couldn’t hang onto the ball in the wet conditions. Marv Roberts was on hand following up to nick the ball away from the Keeper, and put the visitors ahead again.
Sarries responded again, and went close two minutes later, when Griffiths shot wide after a goalmouth scramble following a Swales Free Kick.
Roberts nearly notched his second when his shot-cum-cross forced Betteridge to push the ball behind for a corner, which was eventually cleared.
As the game entered the last ten minutes and conditions worsened again, both sides had opportunities for further goals – Harding was just wide when he clipped the ball over Betteridge after being played in by Dean Barnard. while superb defending by Shane Anson saw off Mike Oliver with the game deep into stoppage time after two lovely saves from Clatworthy, but the Swans hung on to record a hard earned, but very well deserved victory.
Slimbridge travel to Thame on January 5th for their next fixture (3.00), before returning to Wisloe Road for their much delayed GFA Challenge Trophy tie against Hallen on Tuesday January 8th (7.45pm)
Team: Clatworthy, Rutter, Anson, Hallford (Parrott 29), Speers, Bennett, Harding, Ward, Roberts, Cole (Barnard 71), Holloway
Goals: Holloway 18, 54 Roberts 63
Supporters Man Of The Match; Shane Anson