Another one of those fairly rare chances to watch a game on a Saturday. With the Mighty Glassboys at home to Nantwich in a game that would decide home advantage in the play-offs, it was tempting to go to the Midlands. However, I really needed to be back home as early as possible, so I decided to stay local. In the end it boiled down to a choice of a new ground, Grendon Rangers, or a local derby between Bicester Town and Ardley United. As Grendon do not have floodlights my chances to watch them, being a bit of a midweek hopper, are limited. So, Grendon it was.
Grendon Underwood is a picturesque village about midway between Bicester and Aylesbury. The local club, Grendon Rangers, play on a pitch just behind the village hall. This is Step 7 of the pyramid. A world away from the Premier League, even half a world away from the likes of Stourbridge. The facilities are basic. There is no fencing, no entry fee and only one very small covered area which sits just behind the dugouts on the far side from the car park and village hall (which is where the changing facilities and snack bar are situated). However there are two things that Grendon has that many other clubs cannot match. They have a really good kids play area, which I am sure my seven year old would have loved ad she not been off dancing, and, even better than this, they have a top grounds-person in Robin Taylor. Mr Taylor has just been awarded Grounds-person of the Year for Step 7 and below, you can see why when you get a look at the playing surface. I spoke to a couple of locals during the game and both were full of praise for the amount of work that their grounds-person puts in. So, congratulations Mr Taylor. Nice to see one of the, largely unsung, heroes of non-league getting some recognition.
The game kicked off in glorious sunshine. Still a cool breeze, but a lovely day for watching football especially in such a picturesque setting. The opening encounters were pretty even. Loughton, kicking down the slight slope, probably just edged it on possession and their forwards looked quite lively.
It was 18 minutes before either side forged a clear cut opportunity. When it arrived, it fell to the away side. After a foray down the left and a dangerous looking cross, the ball was only half cleared. It dropped into the path of Manor's number 11 inside the box but he could only blaze his strike over the bar.
Just before the half hour mark we had the opening goal. A free-kick from the Loughton right flank was glanced across the goal by number 8. The ball beat the keeper and went in off the far post. 0-1.
The home side were not behind for too long though. Some three minutes later they also won a free-kick, this time on their left hand side. The ball was delivered deep and headed back across goal by their centre-half directly into the path of Jason Riddell who was left to nod the ball home. 1-1
Despite conceding, Loughton continued to look the more dangerous side and, just before half-time, they got their noses back in front. Some good work again on their right wing led to a driven ball being played across the six yard line. The ball found number 9, unmarked, who had an easy finish. 1-2
HT Grendon Rangers 1 Loughton Manor 2. The away side looked the sharper of the two. Maybe the exploits of Wednesday evening has taken it out of Grendon. I also heard that they have a few players missing today but, having said that, I also believe Manor had a few out with injury as well.
Ten minutes in they called the Grendon keeper into action. First of all the keeper was quick to react in a one on one situation, saving well with his legs. Then a few seconds later he through himself in front of a goal-bound effort to deflect it over the bar. The heroics were all in vain though. When the corner came over, 10 was left unmarked in the six yard box to power in a header. 1-3.
Loughton continued to control the game, allowing Grendon few opportunities to get back into the game. The home side did bring the Loughton keeper into action once or twice, but overall they were second best on the day.
A few seconds after the referee had responded to an enquiry regarding the time left, to which he answered 15, Loughton got their fourth. A left wing corner was cleared by Grendon but, as the players came out of the box, the ball was lofted over the defence and Loughton's 11 ran through to beat the keeper to the bouncing ball and head into the net. 1-4.
On 84 minutes an increasingly tired Grendon side allowed a Loughton player to make headway down the right. His driven, low cross was turned in by 10 to make it 1-5.
There was still time for Loughton to almost make it six when an effort from outside the box clipped the woodwork with the keeper beaten.
FT Grendon Rangers 1 Loughton Manor 5. Tough afternoon for the home side, who looked tired, against a Loughton side that had quite a bit of pace up front.
A wonderful place to watch football on a bright, sunny Spring afternoon. Well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area.
To make things even better for me, Stourbridge came from a goal down at half-time to win 4-2 and secure a home play-off tie. So, that is Monday evening's entertainment sorted. Stourbridge v Workington under the lights at The War Memorial. Can't wait.
Grendon Rangers - @grendon_rangers
Loughton Manor - @loughtonmanorfc
Apologies for the lack of player names in the blog. If I can get them, I will edit the report later.