Slimbridge's Thornhill Park ground is situated just to the South-East of Slimbridge, between the Bristol Road and the M5. There is a reasonable sized on-site car park, mainly for the use of players and officials. However, there is also plenty of parking in a car park and industrial estate adjacent to the ground. This is where the match-day officials were pointing us when I arrived. Access is via a turnstile that brings you into the ground directly behind one of the goals. Immediately to your right is the clubhouse and snack bar, to your left is a covered terrace directly behind the goal. The main stand runs down the right-hand side, the M5 side, as you enter, with the dugout son the opposite side.
The thing that really struck me when I saw the ground was the pitch. It looked absolutely impeccable. A carpet in fact. Given the amount of rain that we had had recently, which followed a period of almost drought-like conditions, it was in perfect condition. You have to take your hat off to the Slimbridge groundsperson(s) for giving the teams such a great surface to play on.
Although these sides are close neighbours they are currently separated by a division after Yate's promotion through the play-offs last season. Recent league encounters between the sides have tended to go the way of The Bluebells, winning four of the last eight league games with two draws and two wins for Slimbridge - both of which came in the 2016/17 season where The Swans won 2-1 at Yate and 3-1 at home. Last season saw Yate take both games, 3-0 at home and 4-1 at Thornhill Park. The Bluebells went on to beat Moneyfields (5-4 on pens) and then Cinderford Town 3-1 in the play-off Final.
The sides have also met in the FA Cup fairly recently with Slimbridge edging a close encounter 2-1 at Lodge Road in the 2006-07 season.
The game started at a very lively pace with both sides trying to close the ball down quickly all over the pitch. Yate, in particular, were playing a very high press, defending from the front and trying to apply as much pressure as possible to a very young looking Slimbridge side. The Swans clearly like to play the ball out from the back rather than having the keeper launch it (although this would prove to be a useful weapon later) and Yate had clearly done their homework with their forwards working hard to shut down space when the home defenders took possession.
Slimbridge were certainly capable of playing the ball around nicely up until the final third where they seemed to lack some nous when it came to unlocking a very solid and experienced looking Yate defence, led and marshalled by skipper Nicholas Peare.
It was the away side who were looking the more dangerous when they pressed forward and, sure enough, after 26 minutes they broke the deadlock when midfielder Sam Kamara unleashed a superb effort from the edge of the box, dipping over Wright and just under the bar to make it
Yate tried to press home their advantage and nine minutes later Bradley Webb crashed an effort off Wright's right-hand post, almost doubling the Bluebell's lead.
Slimbridge continued to play their football and, as the half wore on, they did mange to get a couple of shots on target but nothing to unduly worry Adam Forster between the Yate sticks.
HT Slimbridge 0 Yate Town 1. The visitors have shown their extra experience and quality at times, managing the game better than Slimbridge. However, the home side are by no means out of it, especially if they could find a way of unpicking the tight Yate defensive line.
Then, on 70 minutes, Yate again demonstrated their extra quality when, after defending a Slimbridge attack, they broke exceptionally quickly and, three or four precision passes later, Bristol City loanee Louis Britton was able to calmly stroke home the second goal. 0-2.
Many people in the ground thought that was game over but Slimbridge clearly had other ideas. Within 3 minutes they were back in the game, and it was a goal scored not by their previous style of playing out from the back it was, in fact, a massive launch from their own goal area that caught out the Yate defence as the ball sailed over their heads. Swans substitute Ethan Dunbar reacted quickly to nip in, control the ball and run on to finish neatly past Forster. 1-2 and game on perhaps?
The goal coming so soon after Yate had gone two up could easily have unsettled the away side. However, they quickly regained their composure and, despite Slimbridge throwing everything they could at them for the remaining minutes, Yate held out to progress to the next round.
FT Slimbridge 1 Yate Town 2. A very spirited second half from the home side but the youngsters couldn't quite match Yate's extra experience. Despite defeat the home side must be very pleased with the number of young players that they have coming through the ranks. The future could well be bright for The Swans. Yate looked to be a very accomplished side and, on that showing, should have no problems retaining their Premier League status.
Slimbridge: Wright, Harper, Waddington, Chambers, C.Turner(c), Pring, Spurrier, Horrell, Bloomfield, M.Turner, Tuodolo. Subs: Giles, D.Turner, King, Dunbar
Yate Town: Forster, Evans, Horton, Peare(c), Ford, Webb, Kamara, Guest, Bryant, Britton, Twyman. Subs: Lee, Price, Mehew, Humphreys, Keightley
Ground Number: 215