Having never been to Hatherop before I did my usual bit of research to scope out the area and the ground. Hatherop is a small village just to the North-East of Cirencester and not a million miles away from Fairford, home of the air show and, of course, Fairford Town who I saw clinch the Hellenic Division One West title in 2017 (Champions!).
It's quite possible that Hatherop FC represent the smallest community I have ever seen play. The population of the village (as of 2011) was just 192, or around 10 squads in football parlance.
Hatherop play their home games right in the centre of Hatherop Village, on playing fields adjacent to Saint Nicholas Church and only a stone's throw from Hatherop Castle, which dates back to the 16th or 17th Century. It's a lovely, picturesque location for a football ground which, I am sure, is even more pleasant on a warmer Spring evening than we had this Wednesday. The ground is tucked away off Hatherop Road and, if you haven't been before, is not that easy to find (unless you check out Maps beforehand, as I did). There is no parking at the ground but plenty of on-street parking available around the village, especially on Hatherop Road. Entrance to the ground is through an arch and down an alleyway signposted To The Church. For some reason it put me in mind of Kenilworth Road although, of course, the entrance there is between houses rather than following church signs. I have to say, it is one of the most unique ground entrances I have ever come across. The ground also has dugouts on the far side, something of a rarity at a lot of grassroots games I have been visiting lately. With open countryside behind, cows in a field at one end and a church at the other end, it really is a picturesque venue. The pitch, I noted, looked to be in excellent condition too. All in all, a really nice place to watch a game of football, despite the rain and rapidly dropping temperature.
Both of these sides grace the Swindon & District Premier League. At the close of play last season Redhouse had the upper hand, sitting in fourth spot with 17 points from their 7 games. Hatherop were in 7th spot having amassed 12 points from their 7 games. They had met in the league once, at Purton, where they had shared the points in 1-1 draw. Richard Crocker scoring for The Rop and Sean O'Brien for Redhouse. The sides also recently drew 1-1 in a Your Swindon Cup Group C encounter, an unsurprising score when you look at the group table. The sides are only split by goal difference, with Hatherop edging it, and both are unbeaten in five games.
In the Cricklade Supreme Trophy & Shield competition, of which this game was a knockout stage match, Hatherop had progressed by means of finishing second in Group E. Redhouse, who #BotP saw defeat Swindon AFC a couple of weeks back (Swindon Resistance Torpedoed By Subs), topped Group F with a 100% record.
Both sides looked lively straight from kick-off. Hatherop's Alex Anderson looked to have the pace to cause a lot of problems for the Redhouse defence and Sean O'Brien's bustling style up front for Redhouse looked as if it would be a constant thorn in the side of the Rop backline. After a fairly even opening to the game, it was the away side who started to stamp their authority on the game. Led by the midfield work rate of captain Rob Curtis and the almost continuous cajolement of fellow central midfielder Lenny Khan, the Purton-based side created plenty of opportunities but struggled to find the composure at the crucial moments. O'Brien, in particular, was proving to be a handful. He's the sort of striker that most defenders hate to play against, strong, deceptively quick and certainly not frightened to put himself about.
Having said that, it was not all Redhouse. Hatherop still looked more than capable of causing damage when they broke out of defence, but they couldn't muster any significant efforts on the Redhouse goal.
HT Hatherop 0 Redhouse 0. Redhouse certainly saw more of the ball than their hosts, and created the clearer chances, but Hatherop defended well and looked lively when they got on the ball. All square at the break and definitely all to play for.
Hatherop's defence showed just how much they wanted to keep the clean sheet, last ditch tackles, a couple of great blocks, and some very good goalkeeping from Richard Fleming, all stopped promising Redhouse attacks. One almighty scramble in particular summed up the game. Redhouse had several chances to put the ball away from close range but a combination of defensive determination, brave blocks, and some wayward finishing kept the score at 0-0.
Hatherop also missed a couple of good chances, blazing one well over from inside the penalty area and having another chalked off for a clear offside.
There was some cause for concern towards the end when, Anderson, chasing a long ball came off second best after colliding with Redhouse keeper Jamie Mingard. Anderson was helped from the pitch after a little treatment but it didn't look to be too bad an injury.
With the game in it's final throes, it was clear that a single goal would decide it. However, despite great effort from both sides, neither team could find a winner.
FT Hatherop 0 Redhouse 0. No goals, but no shortage of entertainment or incident. A really competitive game between two well-matched sides, played in exactly the right spirit. A credit to the Swindon and District League. With no extra-time required in the competition, we moved straight into a penalty shootout.
The penalty shootout was as tense and close as the 90 minutes had been.
Both sides scored their first two spot kicks to make it 1-1.
Then Mingard got down well to save Hatherop's second kick. Not to be outdone, however, Fleming repeated the act to save Redhouse's second attempt. Still 1-1 after to kicks each.
Both teams then scored their next spot-kicks to make it 2-2 after 3 penalties each.
Hatherop score again, to make it 3-2 before the two decisive moments.
First Redhouse put their fourth kick wide of the mark leaving the score at 3-2 after 4 attempts each.
Up stepped Richie Crocker to win it. 4-2
Hatherop progress to face the winner of the Chesterton v Purton game in the Quarter-Final stage.
Hatherop: Fleming, Stewart, Legg, Saunders, Weaven, Anderson, Crane, Bird, Maskell, Crocker, Waite.Subs: Ockwell, Hall
Redhouse: Mingard, Watson, Culliford, Harper, Khan, Valters, D.Axford, Cutler, R.Curtis(c), J.Axford, O'Brien. Subs: Cullen, Ricketts, K.Curtis, Butler
Ground Number: 261