Wickwar Wanderers play their home games at the Wickwar Playing Fields just to the West of the village. The ground is accessed via a single track road which has very limited passing places. There is a small car park at the ground itself but for bigger games, such as today's match, I guess may will have to do as I did and park in the village, which is a good 5-10 minute walk away. This accounted for me missing the kick-off by a couple of minutes.
There is a small building housing the changing facilities and toilets a kids playground and a very interesting looking small, squat tower behind the far goal. I also noticed on the way out that there is a traditional beacon hidden amongst the trees behind the village end goal. The pitch has a slight slope back towards the village end but is otherwise reasonably flat. All in all, a very pleasant location to watch football especially on a warm Summer's day.
This Semi-Final pitched together the lowest ranked and highest ranked clubs left in the competition. Wickwar, who play in the Stroud League Division One were in tenth spot at the close of play last season. The other Semi-Final will see Step 8 Hatherop take on Chesterton, who play in the same Division as Wickwar but were sitting pretty on top of the league when the season was prematurely ended. Opponents, Malmesbury Victoria Development, play in the Wiltshire Senior League and are the only Step 7 team left in the draw. It's a tough test for the home team, up against a side from 3 leagues higher but after beating Cricklade Town's Reserve side, also of the Wiltshire Senior League, 4-1 in the last round, they'll certainly be up for the challenge. To give some context to this result in regards to today's semi-final, Malmesbury drew 2-2 with Cricklade Town Reserves in the group stage.
As I said, I got to the match a few minutes after kick-off but luckily I was already in position on the far side of the ground when we were treated to a couple of minutes of mayhem at both ends of the pitch
On 11 minutes Wickwar were awarded what looked like quite a soft penalty from my position towards opposite end of the ground. However, a visiting referee, who had a much better view, confirmed at half-time that it was indeed a foul and a good decision from the referee. Rob Haines fired home the spot-kick to give Wanderers the lead. 1-0
They say teams are at their most vulnerable when they have just scored, and this appeared to be the case when, within a minute of the goal going in, home keeper and captain, Lee Bindon, slightly mis-timed his dive at the feet of a Vics striker, bringing the player down and giving the referee no option than to point to the spot again. Kyle Witt took the ball but Bindon made up for his error, diving low to his right to save the kick.
HT Wickwar Wanderers 1 Malmesbury Victoria Development 1. A fascinating game of football. Wanderers took the lead and then seemingly were happy to concede possession and play on the break. Malmesbury had what seemed like at least 80% of the ball but only managed to get one goal. Wickwar, despite playing the majority of the game in their own half, did look dangerous on the odd occasion they managed to get forward.
In terms of possession stats, the second half was nowhere near as one-sided. Maybe the heat had started to take its toll on the Vics players after bossing the first half? Maybe the the Wanderers players, after holding their opponents in the first 45 minutes, sensed a cup shock on the cards and found that little bit extra? Whatever the case, it is testament to Wickwar that the three division gap between the sides was not at all evident.
Just past the hour mark Bindon again got down very sharply to parry a goal bound effort. Tranter was quick to latch on to the rebound, sliding the ball into the net only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
There was a tension in the air as we approached the dying embers of the game. Both sets of players knew that one mistake would probably end their cup run. This, almost inevitably, boiled over on the pitch at one point. I didn't get a clear view of what started the confrontation, but a couple of players got involved on the far side from where I was standing. This was pretty close to the small but very partisan and vociferous local support, which maybe also had a bearing on what happened. The referee, aided by some hands-on local captaincy from Bindon, who physically removed Haines from the melee, calmed matters down quite quickly.
FT Wickwar Wanderers 1 Malmesbury Victoria Development 1. A wonderful game from a neutral's perspective. Two teams fully committed to the game who both gave everything they had despite the very warm conditions. There really was nothing to separate them, especially in the second half. It was actually a shame that anyone had to lose this game.
Penalties, whilst a great spectacle for the crowd (especially neutrals), are a nerve jangling way to decide a football match. You have to admire any player that volunteers to be one of the penalty takers in these situations.
It was Malmesbury who took the first kick, Aaron Sanghera making no mistake. 0-1
Rory Morgan then scored his kick for Wickwar. 1-1
Interesting that he first two penalties were taken by substitutes.
Joe Tranter made it 1-2 for Malmesbury before Haines repeated his first half kick to equalise. 2-2
Malmesbury's Josh Curtis made it 2-3 and Ellis Cox made it six from six. 3-3
Joseph Ogugua, ignoring the stick he was getting from the locals, made it 4-3
Tommy Gilder kept his nerve to make it 4-4
Next up for Malmesbury, Kyle Witt who had missed the first half spot-kick for them. No mistake this time though. 5-4
Another Wickwar substitute, Tom Cranwell, took the next kick but, unfortunately for him and the home team, put it over the bar. Such a hard way to end a game.
Malmesbury go through 5-4 on penalties and will face either Chesterton or Hatherop in the Final.
Wickwar Wanderers: Bindon, Sands, Abbott, Lingham, Leahy, Dix, Gilder, Cox, Haines, Simmons, Aston. Subs: Morgan, Drew, Beale, Cranwell, Howe
Malmesbury Victoria Development: Brown, Witt, Cook(c), Fortune, Lyon, Curtis, Ogugua, Cole, Tranter, H.Archer, J.Archer. Subs: Scull, Laidlaw, Sanghera, Porter
Ground Number: 269