Loop Meadow is a fairly frequent destination for me and, as far as I could make out, nothing has changes since my last visit. The ground remains a firm favourite of mine. There is plenty of cover in case of inclement weather, you can get a decent cup of tea for a £1 and usually get to see a good game of football for a reasonable price. Add to that the proximity to home, less than 30 miles, it makes for a good evening out.
This midweek was all about the FA Cup. I could easily have made a trip to a new ground but the lure of the cup and, perhaps more specifically, the possibility of something of a giant-killing, was too much too ignore.
This, of course, was a replay after Didcot had come from a goal down at Top Field on Saturday. The Canaries have been struggling a little in the league this season, only one win so far, so you would expect confidence to be a little low. A trip to Oxfordshire for this replay was probably not top of their current agenda.
The opening 15 minutes were played at breakneck speed but there was vert little actual football being played. Neither team was stringing any passes together. We were seeing a good many aimless punts from both sides as both defences sought to clear their lines as quickly as possible, leaving no chance of a mistake. No-one was putting their foot on the ball or slowing the game down.
It was 17 minutes before we saw the first effort of target. When it did come, it was Didcot's centre-half Luke Carnell who got his head to a cross, looping his header towards goal where it was collected just under the bar by Michael Johnson in the Hitchin goal.
Two minutes later, Morgan Williams turned his defender this way and that out on the left flank, before crashing a shot wide. Didcot were definitely starting to get on top. Their next opportunity came when Seth Humphries burst into the box on 24 minutes. He possibly should have got a shot off but dallied a little and was closed down. The loose ball fell to Aaron Woodley, but his effort was well blocked by a Yellows defender.
We had to wait almost until the half-hour mark before Hitchin mustered a meaningful effort. Front-man Charlie Thake dragging a shot wide of Leigh Bedwell's left-hand post. A few minutes later Treymayne Charles tried his luck from way outside the box. His effort was on target but was comfortably taken by Bedwell.
HT Didcot Town 0 Hitchin Town 0. The Railwaymen were on top for most of the half but couldn't turn their possession into a goal. Hitchin need to find another gear if they intend to stay in this season's competition.
However, depsite having more of thr ball than in the first half, like their opponents in the first period, there was no end product from the away side. In fact it was Didcot who, on 75 minutes, produced the best effort. Humphries once more got free inside the box on the right hand side and unleashed a stinging shot which Johnson did well to stand up to, saving smartly at his near post.
This seemed to spark Hitchin back into life again. Six minutes later they were denied what, from my angle looked like a very clear penalty when Didcot's Cameron McNeil appeared to control the ball with his hand before clearing. The referee, to be fair, was completely unsighted. However, his asistant was looking right at the incident and insisted that a hand was not used.
Back down the other end Didcot got the ball into the Hitchin net but the other assistant had alreayd flagged for an offence before Learoyd's header crossed the line. No goal.
FT Didcot Town 0 Hitch Town 0. The second half was more Hitchin's but Didcot still managed a few decent chances.
Into Extra-time and on 92 minutes we were treated to the best move of the game when Didcot engineered an opportunity down their left. After a nice passing movement, the ball was fe d wide before being cut back across the box, but the on-rushing McNish could only blast his effort wide. A big chance for the home side.
Didcot then had Bedwell to thank as the stopper was called into action to parry an effort from Fraser, who had run from inside his own half. When the ball ran loose only a great saving tackle from a defender prevented Hitchin going 1-0 up.
ET - HT Didcot Town 0 Hitchin Town 0
Four minutes into the second period of extra-time, one of the Hitchin players threw himself to the floor in the Didcot penalty area. The Dicot defenders took exception to his antics and we had some pushing and shoving leading to a small outbreak of 'handbags at dawn'. However, it was soon under control and the Hitchin player got a yellow card for simulation.
The last real action of the extra-time period came when Fraser tried his luck from way, way out on the right. Was it a shot or was it a miscued cross? Whatever the case, the ball came back of Bradwell's bar, the keeper may have got a fingertip to it, before Thake hammered the rebound well over.
ET - FT Didcot Town 0 Hitchin Town 0. Penalty kicks required to separate the teams.
The penalty shoot-out turned into a real rollercoaster ride. Hitchin were to take the first penalty:
Bickerstaff hits the bar. 0-0
McNish scores for Didcot. 0-1
Webb for Hitchin. 1-1
Woodley for Didcot. Saved by Johnson. 1-1
Thake scores for Hitchin. 2-1
Johnson saves from Williams. 2-1
Galliford for Hitchin. 3-1
Barder has to score for Didcot. He does. 3-2
Fraser to in it for Hitchin but Bedwell saves. 3-2
Carnell for Didcot. Saved by Johnson.
Hitchin go through 3-2 on penalties
A somewhat harsh result for the underdogs but they really needed to score when they were on top in the first-half. Hitchin's central defensive pairing of captain Dan Webb and Lewis Farrell, in my opinion, were the difference in the end. They held the Yellows back-line togetehr throughotu a difficult first-half. This allowed them to go in still level at half-time, regroup and, just about, get through the tie. In Didcot's favour, although there is a step difference between the sides, this was certainly not apparent on the night.
Didcot Town: Bedwell, Barder, McNeill, Hayden, Carnell, Learoyd(c), Gardner, McNish, A. Woodley, Humphries, Williams. Subs: Cattell, Thomas, M. Woodley, Isaac, Reid, Crowther
Hitchin Town: Johnson, Fraser, Anderson, Spring, Webb(c), Ferrell, Charles, Bickerstaff, Thake, Belgrove, Green. Subs: Forde, Millinson, Galliford, Talbot, Burns
Ground Number: Not a new ground