The last time I was here there were dark skies and slightly chilly temperatures set in during the game. However, today there was none of that. Blue skies and soaring temperatures made for a very pleasant location for the spectators, not so comfortable for the players and officials who must have found it quite hard going at times.
Stratton were on their game from the very first second of this match. Immediately setting about Swindon and seemingly unsettling the Maroons, who maybe didn't expect United to fly at them so early in the game.
Only 5 minutes into the game Joe Brett pulled down a loose ball in the centre circle, took a few strides and then, seeing the keeper out of position tried his luck from all of 45 yard. Although the strike was not as clean as he would have hoped, Will Miller was still trying to make his ground and was beaten by the pace and a wicked bounce. 0-1. What a start to the game!
Paying no heed to the four division gap between the teams, Stratton continued to dominate possession and cause plenty of problems for Swindon. Sylvester Anaisie, leading the line, was keeping the Swindon central defenders fully occupied whilst Joe Brett, starting out on the left, was increasing dropping deeper and conducting play from midfield. The Stratton display put me very much in mind of the way Swindon played at Ludgershall in the Quarter-Final. Very much on the front foot and preventing their opponents from playing by keeping their own tempo high and splaying, as much as possible, in the opponent's half. As I remarked to the assistant referee during the drink break though, could Stratton stay the pace in this heat especially as Swindon seemed to respond very well to being behind or under pressure. Time would tell.
Swindon were back in the game and had suddenly seemed to awake from their early slumbers. Five minutes after going level Swindon were awarded another free-kick in an almost identical position. Nathan Smith was once again behind the ball. Wright lined his defence up and, being aware of where the first effort went, maybe edged along to his right a little. Smith then dug out another peach, curling an effort into the opposite corner this time. 2-1. Two absolute bangers from Smith.
Almost immediately after the goal Stratton were on the attack, looking for a quick equaliser. Brett chased a long bouncing ball as the keeper came out to meet it. The two collided heavily inside the box, with Brett looking to have come off the worse.
Both players were able to continue but, what we didn't know, was that Joe Brett was struggling after the incident (more of that to come). There was more bad news to come for Stratton too. Shortly afterwards Sylvester Anaisie, who had looked very lively all game, limped off with an injury. With rolling subs not in force for this game, that was the end of his Semi-Final.
HT Swindon AFC 2 Stratton United 1. A very strong start from Stratton who were the better team for the first half hour. Swindon sprang into life aided by two superb Nathan Smith free-kicks.
Losing both Anaisie and Brett, the two players I had picked out as potential game winners, certainly took some pace out of the Blues attack but it didn't stop them from being a threat. Jack Jeffries took over leading the forward line and was still capable of keeping the Swindon defence on their toes.
The majority of the second half seemed to pass by very quickly, the sign of an entertaining match. Both sides were pressing for a winner but a combination of solid defending on behalf of both teams, and a a couple of wayward finishes, left both goals intact as we approached the final few minutes. The prospect of penalties loomed. A few of the Stratton supporters near to where I was standing commented that they had taken off four of their possible five penalty takers, but as it happened they need not have worried. Stratton's fantastic efforts were finally finished off in the 87th minute. Swindon won a free kick way out on the left and only just inside the Stratton half. Sam Carter went to swing a ball into the penalty area but didn't quite catch it right, sending the ball in low towards the front post. Tom Whitham was quickest to react to the ball, getting ahead of his marker and poking the ball past Wright. 3-2 with very little time left for Stratton to react. There were still a few minutes of added time to play but the Swindon goal remained relatively unthreatened, and the Maroons were crowned 2021 Trophy Winners.
A hard one for Stratton to take after putting up such a good fight all through the game. If this is what a team who were in the lower half of Division Four last season looks like then all I can say is the Stroud & District League must be one hell of a strong league.
Swindon AFC: Miller, Buckingham, J.Sawyer, Reece Cass(c), Carter, Good, Bradfield, R.Sawyer, C.Street, Whitham, Smith. Subs: B.Wells, C.Wells, Regan Cass, Fisher, A.Street
Stratton United: Wright, Keylock, Corhan, Musa, Lindsay, Brereton(c), Anaisie, Brett, Timbrell, Cook. Subs: Oliver, Clarke, Simmonds, Hemmings, Field
Att: 85 (approx. manual count)