Despite getting up at 5:30 (daily habits don't stop at weekends), the morning passed quickly and it was time to head to my chosen game, Leighton Town v 1874 Northwich. Just before I got to Leighton Buzzard I felt my phone buzz in my pocket and, after finding a suitable parking spot, I discovered that it was a message from Andy Oakes, editor of the brilliant 1874 Northwich programme, Ever Glorious, who I had arranged to meet up with before the game. Andy and I had exchanged many an email and he has very kindly reproduced a couple of my articles in his programme. So, it was great to finally meet him in person, put a face to the name and chew the footballing cud for a while.
Judging by the amount of green around the stadium, even 30 minutes before kick-off, I presume that the predicted 4 coach loads of 1874 supporters was correct. By the time we go to kick-off, I would say that the crowd was pretty much split 50-50 between red and green.
The Leighton pitch was looking in much better shape than it did when I picked my ticket up last Sunday. Maybe the postponement of their midweek league game with Welwyn Garden City saved the day? There was no sign of the early morning frost that I had seen 25 miles North, and we looked all set for a good game. Would Leighton's midweek postponement mean they had slightly fresher legs? Northwich had not had the luxury of a week off and had, in fact, travelled to league leaders Runcorn Linnets on Tuesday evening. A game that they had eventually lost 2-1.
The game kicked off with a Leighton player slicing a ball wildly into the air. This was followed, almost immediately, by a Northwich player also mis-kicking. There was certainly an air of nervousness around both teams. Maybe the occasion had got to them? Maybe the atmosphere generated by the large and vociferous crowd was causing a few jitters?
It took around 10 minutes, but gradually both sides looked to have settled into the game and we were treated to a period of tit-for-tat attacking, with both teams looking to get that decisive opener.
With about fifteen minutes gone and with the Northwich fans behind the far goal in full voice, some locals decided it was time to head down that end of the ground and make some noise for the home side. I must admit to having a grin to myself, for the second time, as they passed by singing 'When the Town go steaming in'. Looking at the average age of the group, I can only assume that the steaming in question was a reference to Thomas the Tank Engine. Still, they added to the atmosphere of the game and gave the Northwich fans a target to aim their chants at.
The accumulated Reds almost had a something to cheer about after 20 minutes when Alex O'Brien tried his luck with a viciously dipping drive for all of 30 yards. The effort was definitely dropping under the bar until Hall managed to scramble backwards and get a fingertip to it, pushing it over for a corner.
As it transpired, that effort may have been the wake-up call that Northwich required because four minutes later, they won themselves a penalty. A swift break saw Parker break into the box and get tripped by a Leighton defender. the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Scott McGowan stepped up and drove the ball low to Wyant's right hand and into the net. 0-1.
The remainder of the first half was an evenly contested battle, fought mainly in the midfield area. Neither keeper was stretched to any great extent with both defences doing well to contain the opposing attackers.
HT Leighton Town 0 1874 Northwich 1. A fairly even first half with the sides separated by McGowans penalty.
On the pitch, Northwich started the second-half fairly brightly but then, quite rapidly, found themselves getting deeper and deeper, isolating McGowan up front. The striker ran his socks off but couldn't prevent the Leighton defence from mopping up the majority of attacks and setting up wave upon wave of Leighton pressure.
The more possession the home side got, the deeper the ranks of green fell back. Leighton were getting closer and closer to an equaliser and it really looked like it they had to get a break at some point. However, time and again, attacks broke down, the final ball wasn't good enough or just the ball didn't run for them.
Leighton huffed and puffed, Northwich defended well but, I thought, were starting to tire visibly towards the latter part of the half. Tackles were still flying in, with both sides leaving a bit in there on one or two occasions, although it never boiled over into anything more.
By the time we got into an extended added time period Leighton were laying siege to the Northwich goal. There was plenty of nail-biting from the travelling fans in the last five minutes, but the green defence held firm.
FT Leighton Town 0 1874 Northwich 1. A scrappy second half in which Northwich had their backs to the wall for long periods. Leighton cannot be faulted for effort. They pushed their visitors back time and time again in the second period but it just wasn't to be.
Leighton Town: Wyant, Towell, Hall, Tappin, Guiney (c), Murphy, Marsala, O'Brien, Hatch, Coulter, McBride. Subs: Boland, Smith, Fryer, Bryant, Kirkwood
1874 Northwich: Hall, Connor, Mitchell, Pritchard, Russell, Jones, Hind, Woolley, McGowan, Parker, Kinnerley. Subs: Meadowcroft, Fallon, Whitlock, Riley, Woods
Ground Number: Not a new ground