This was my first visit to Ludgershall but, having previously visited both Andover clubs, Kintbury and Amesbury, I was quite familiar with most of the route down the A34 and through the Wessex Downs. Sports play at the Ludgershall Sports Ground just on the Western side of the village and South of the 11th Century Ludgershall Castle. There is parking available at the ground, alongside the pitch, adjacent to the reasonable sized clubhouse and changing facilities. The pitch is edged on three sides by a fairly new white tubular fence (erected in 2019 if the label on the piece I was standing next to is anything to go by). There are also two very new looking dugouts on the opposite from the clubhouse. The pitch looked to be reasonably flat but, on this day at least, in desperate need of a trim which seemed to be making the ball run inconsistently, something the home side would fall foul of later in the game.
As stated before, there are two league divisions between these sides. Sports play at Step 7 whilst Swindon are currently at Step 9 in the pyramid. However, that does not tell the entire story. At the close of play last season Swindon were sitting seven points clear at the top of Division 1 of the Swindon & District League, unbeaten in 10 after winning 9. Ludgershall, in contrast, were probably glad to see the back of the season, stranded at the bottom of the league with 1 win in 12 and having conceded 62 goals in those games.
In the Cricklade cup group games, Ludgershall had lost 2-0 at Swindon before conceding their other two group matches, leaving them bottom of the table. However, in the last 16 they progressed by beating Quedgeley Wanderers Reserves 4-3 in what was reportedly a very entertaining encounter. Swindon also finished bottom of their group but had shown some very promising performances, almost producing a stunning comeback at Nalgo (Only Ref In Swindon?) and then holding Redhouse for 80 minutes before finally going down to two late goals (Swindon Resistance Torpedoed By Late Subs). In the knockout phase they were awarded a bye in the last 16 after Swindon Centurions pulled out very late on in the day.
Swindon made a very strong start to the game, penning Ludgershall in their own half for the first couple of minutes. Their attacking intent seemed to take the home side by surprise and it took them a while to get their composure. However, they weathered the initial maroon storm and began to play themselves into the game. At this point I thought Swindon may have gone out of the blocks too quickly and would get picked off by the higher placed team. In fact it was Ludgershall who had the first really good chance of the game when their Number 9 (sorry I didn't have a team sheet) latched onto a loose ball and fired narrowly wide from an acute angle.
Ludgershall's brief period of dominance was just that, brief. Swindon soon recovered their composure and began to look the better team again, without unduly worrying the Sports goalkeeper. What they were being very successful at was completely stifling any moves that Ludgershall tried to start. I have no insight into the Swindon game plan but if it was to hold prevent Ludgershall from playing by keeping the ball in the opponents half, it was going exactly to plan.
As we approached the end of the first half the away side launched a very quick break down their right flank setting the speedy Callum Street free. He took his shot quite early, maybe seeing the keeper a little off his line, but his effort sailed just over the bar.
HT Ludgershall Sports 0 Swindon AFC 0. Aside from a short period early in the first half, Swindon were in control of the game, shutting Sports down early and not letting them settle into any kind of rhythm. The difference in league standings was certainly not evident in the first 45 minutes.
The goal seems to unsettle Ludgershall even more and at the same time, gave Swindon an extra boost. Although the home side tried to get themselves back into the tie, they increasingly were misplacing passes a and leaving their front players looking isolated as the ball just kept being returned by the resolute Swindon midfield and back line.
Despite that, we approached the hour mark still at 0-1. Swindon looking more likely to extend their lead than Ludgershall getting back into the game.
Sports were being forced to push more players forward in search of the equaliser and this played into the hands of Swindon. On 65 minutes Tom Whitham rose highest to get a superb flick to a ball downfield. His header was directed perfectly into the path of Sam Bradfield who took a touch, steadied himself and shaped a lovely finish around the keeper. 0-2
With Ludgershall now throwing caution to the wind in terms of positioning, but still not really making too many impressions on the Swindon goal, they were leaving themselves more and more exposed at the back. With 18 minutes remaining, Swindon broke down the right flank, Whitham again latched onto the before playing an in perfect pass into the path of Callum Street who unleashed a fantastic volley past the keeper for 0-3. Six minutes later Street returned the favour, breaking clear on the right before sliding a pass across the box to the unmarked Tom Whitham for a tap-in. 0-4.
Ludgershall were now well and truly demoralised but managed to keep Swindon at bay for the remainder of the game, which unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your view) prevented me from using the blog title Maroon 5.
FT Ludgershall Sports 0 Swindon AFC 4. Not just a cupset but a complete destruction from a team two divisions below their opponents. Nothing at all against Ludgershall. I am sure that they will regroup and come back stronger but, on the day, they were outplayed and out-battled by a Swindon team which grew in confidence throughout the game.
Swindon now go on to face Jovial Monk in the Semi-Final after Monk saw off Siddington in their Quarter-Final (Monks Get Winning Habit). This promises to be an intriguing game between two sides who have seen off higher-ranked opposition already.
Swindon AFC: Miller, Buckingham, Carter, Cass, J.Sawyer, R.Sawyer, Good, Smith, Street, Bradfield, Whitham. Suns: Wells, Hillier
Ground Number: 266