I have actually been to Northcourt before, way back at the start of BotP and before I prodcued any kind of regular blog. In fact it is the fifth stadium on my Ground Hop list and I have been meaning to re-visit for some time now.
One of the interesting features about The Northcourt is that there is parking within the stadium, so if you are there early enough you can park either in the small car park next to the clubhouse or, as I did on Tuesday, just alongside one of the stands. As you can see from the photo, you could watch a fair part of the game from the warm confines of your car.
The ground has covered stands on both sides, a seating area on one side and a standing area, bounded by the dugouts, on the opposite side. The clubhouse, snack bar and changing areas are all housed in one block which is situated behind the goal on the Northcourt Road end. The service road to the car parking area runs between the clubhouse and the playing surface.
The first thing that I noticed this evening was the playing surface, which looked in extremely good condition. Given the amount of rain we have had recently this is to the great credit of the groundsman.
In what was to become the theme for the entire game, it was Abingdon who just about had the edge on possession but Purton who, when they did have the ball, created the more clear-cut chances. It was immediately clear that the sides were very evenly matched and for the first 15 minutes or so, the game was almost exclusively played in the middle third of the pitch with neither side forcing the opposing keeper into a save.
With around seventeen minutes on the clock it was the home team who produced the games best move so far and opened up the first real goal-scoring opportunity. A lovely flowing move down their left flank involving 3 or 4 players culminated in a low cross onto the edge of the area. It was met by Tom Butler but he couldn't keep his effort down and it went harmlessly over the bar.
There followed another period of midfield battling before Purton on the half-hour mark, and out of the blue, rattled the Abingdon bar with a shot from outside the box. This seemed to inspire the away side and suddenly they had Abingdon on the ropes for a few minutes. Two minutes after hitting the bar they really should have gone in front. Joe Herbert beat Abingdon keeper Jack Griffiths to a ball on the edge of the box but then, admittedly with a couple of defenders blocking his view, lifted his effort over the bar. It was a bit of a let-off for Abingdon but, to their credit, they quickly regained composure and the midfield tussle resumed for the remainder of the half.
HT Abingdon United 0 Purton 0. A very even game with the home side seeing more of the ball but the away side creating the better chances. It has to be pointed out that Purton had also been forced, by injuries, to make two substitutions during the first half.
Two minutes later Abingdon were awarded a penalty much to the annoyance of the Purton team. I had a very clear view of the incident and, to be fair the contact was quite minimal but by the letter of the law it was a penalty in my opinion. Graham Bryan stepped up and fired the hosts into the lead. 1-0.
The Reds were not behind for very long though. Seven minutes after going a goal down they were awarded a penalty of their own. It happened at the opposite end to where I was standing and there were a lot of players between me and the incident, so I could not see why the referee pointed to the sport. However, there was minimal complaint from the home defenders, so I am guessing that it was a clear offence. Whatever the case, first-half substitute Ollie Hunt made no mistake and the visitors were level. 1-1.
The equaliser served to galvanise Abingdon and they immediately set about trying to find a second goal, forcing Max Scholefield into action far more than he was called upon in the first half. It was noticeable that some of the Purton players were getting more and more riled by some, shall we say, quirky refereeing decisions. Nevertheless, there was no doubting the next call that had to be made by the man in black. A Purton through ball was slightly over-hit allowing Griffiths to come off his line and quite easily get to the ball before Reds strike Rory Sproule. However, Sproule still lunged in for the ball and caught the keeper with a very late challenge. From my vantage point I have to say it looked a nailed on red card, and so it proved to be.
With the away side down to 10 men, Abingdon once more pushed forward looking for what would now surely be a winning goal. However, the Purton defence was resolute and, even with a player light, they still looked a threat going forward themselves.Just as the match looked to be drifting towards a draw there came another moment of drama. With the clock already past the 90 minute mark a Purton attack led to a ball into the box and when a rash defensive challenge came in the referee, for the third time, pointed to the spot. Up stepped Hunt to guide the ball into the corner of the net and put The Reds in front. 1-2.
There was barely enough time for Abingdon to restart the game before the referee drew proceedings to a close. In the end it as a harsh result for The U's on the balance of play. A draw would probably have been the fair result on the night but credit to Purton who still tried to push forward even after they lost a player.
FT Abingdon United 1 Purton 2.
Abingdon: Griffiths, Wright, Hawtin, Butler, McCormack, Tabor, Bryan, Moss, Edney (c), Gila, Wharton. Subs: French, Oliviera, Hall, Forbes
Purton: Scholefield, McGunigall, Bearne, Shepherd, Stevens (c), Kent, Dorey, Herbert, Sproule, Bennett, Pocock. Subs: O. Hunt, P.Hunt, Hiscox, Miller
Abingdon United - @abingdonutd
Purton - @purtonfc