Culham Road has long been on my list of grounds to visit but, since Town dropped into the North Berks League, opportunities have been very limited (I am mostly restricted to midweek games and North Berks League doesn't play midweek league games). All the way down the A34 and into Abingdon, the rain continued to come down and it was with some relief that I discovered the floodlights on and the game was going ahead.
Entry this evening was free, so value for money was guaranteed before kick-off. Culham Road stadium belies the current Step 7 position of the club and would certainly not look out of place at Step 3 (the highest that club ever achieved). The main stand, which is opposite the club house, snack bar and changing facilities, will seat around 200 and is flanked on both sides by covered standing areas. The goal at the far end of the ground from the car park and entrance, is also backed by a covered standing area. The car park end has an uncovered, three-tier terrace. Opposite the main stand is another smaller seated stand that can house around about 50, a media centre and covered standing outside the clubhouse and snack bar. All in all, there are covered areas on three sides of the ground which, on a night like Tuesday, was a relief to everyone. It really is a lovely ground (even in atrocious weather) so, for any ground-hoppers reading who haven't been, check it out. I don't think you will be disappointed.
After being informed that kick-off time was 7:30, I was quite surprised to find, at 7:25, both sets of players still out warming up. It clearly wasn't going to start at 7:30. As it happened the game kicked off at 7:40 with an official referee and makeshift assistants, one from each side. It was unclear how this had come about but presumably the two sides had come to an agreement to allow an official from each side to assist the referee in order to get the game on. With the rain still hammering down, you have to admire the dedication of these individuals to volunteer their services and get soaked into the bargain.
For the first half I chose to stand under one of the covered areas alongside the main stand. As I tweeted at the time, standing under a corrugated iron roof, with rain drumming down above your head, is quite exhilarating in a strange way. It certainly emphasised the fact that I was watching grassroots football. Real football. Sharing my corrugated roof in the first half were two gentlemen from Abingdon (one of whom had spent his day draining the pitch of standing water) and a supporter (possibly an official) of away side Letcombe. We don't do segregation at this level.
With the rain still pouring down and the centre of the pitch getting ever more sticky Letcombe continued to apply pressure to the home goal, missing a number of chances along the way. Abingdon's best efforts came when they got the ball out to the flanks, particularly their left, but even then they couldn't force the Letcombe keeper into any serious action.
After 24 minutes Letcombe doubled their advantage. Another straight-forward ball split the home defence allowing Hoskin to run on unchallenged and slip the ball past the keeper for his second of the night.
The big surprise of the half was that it took another 23 minutes for Letcombe to go three up. However, when they did, it was with the best move of the night. An interchange of passes down their right lead to a deep cross. This was collected by the left-sided midfielder who turned his defender inside out before laying the ball back for an onrushing Faircloth to hammer the ball home from 18 yards.
So, at half-time Letcombe were comfortably cruising through to the next round with a 3-0 lead. The only worry they had was the referee deciding that the pitch had become unplayable during the break.
Both teams clearly wanted to get the game played and were out early for the second half which kicked off with just a 10 minute interval.
Noticeably, within the first few minutes, Abingdon had upped their game, or Letcombe had dropped off a little. Either way, it was the home side who were having more of the ball in the opening exchanges, managing to create a couple of half chances.
However it was, once again, the away side who came closest to scoring with Adam Claydon's audacious 40 yard lob. The effort beat the home keeper but stopped in the goalmouth mud before it could cross the line.
However, 9 minutes later it was 4-0. A lovely chip to the far post was controlled by Adam Claydon and slipped past the keeper. If it was game over at 3-0, it certainly was at 4-0.
To be fair to Abingdon though, heads did not drop and they continued to keep battling away, forcing the Letcombe keeper to go full length to maintain his clean sheet. In fact, it could be said that they actually lasted the distance better than Letcombe. Maybe the away team had taken their foot off the pedal a little but for the last 15 minutes it was the home side getting to the ball first.
I did find myself hoping that Abingdon could at least get a consolation but it wasn't to be and the referee brought an end to proceedings with the score still at Abingdon Town 0 Letcombe 4.
A fully deserved win for the away side who go on to play Finchampstead in the quarter finals.
Well done to everyone who worked so hard to get this game played and good luck repairing the pitch after the game. The centre circle especially was a total mess by the end of the game.
Abingdon Town - @abingdontownfc
Letcombe - @letcombefc