This was my second visit to the Loop in just over a month, so no need for a stadium description. Nothing had changed at all, including the partially built stand behind the railway end goal. What was different, and a pleasant surprise, was the weather. This was the first time that I had visited the Loop outside of monsoon season and the only time that I hadn't been soaked before getting into the ground. Of course, that was all to change later.
Just before kick-off the gathered masses were treated (if that is the right phrase) to the sight of a steam engine chuffing past the ground, smoke billowing into the night sky. Not something that you see every day at a football match although, as I was reminded on Twitter, if you visit Ramsbottom United you can also expect to see steam engines passing on the East Lancs Railway. The reminder of days gone by was sort of fitting on a cup evening with a relative minnow taking on a giant (at least in the context of the FA Trophy). All we needed was the players to emerge wearing knee-length baggy shorts and lace up collars. Alas, that was not to be. The players did, of course, emerge. Didcot in their familiar red shirts and white sleeves, Forest Green in their lime green and black hoops, lime green shorts and lime green and black hooped socks. Not a particularly appealing kit, it has to be said. Certainly a contender for the True Colours article.
It took only 7 minutes for the Conference side to establish a lead but it did take a piece of great vision and skill to break the deadlock. Forest Green striker Parkin and a Didcot defender challenged for a ball just inside the home half of the pitch. as the ball dropped Parkin took a look and, seeing Foster in the Didcot goal off his line, lobbed the ball from 35-40 yards over the keeper and into the net. This was the first of many examples of the speed of thought and execution that was really the difference between the sides. Some plaudits should also be given to the Rovers coaching staff. It seems, from comments around me, that they had noticed on Saturday that Foster likes to come to the edge of his area a lot. This had obviously been drilled into the players and paid dividends on the night. As a professional side, Rovers had probably had at least two training sessions since the first meeting. Didcot had maybe managed a hour or two after work on Monday. Another difference between the sides.
Didcot, to their credit, did not let the early setback dampen their spirits. They set about trying to work their way back into the match, driven forward by Andy Ballard in the centre, they began to see much more of the ball. What they couldn't muster, however, was a meaningful attempt on the Rovers goal. Too often the final pass wasn't quite there or the run wasn't quite timed to perfection.
The more the first half wore on, the more Didcot you could see the belief grow in the home side. Although Forest Green made a couple more chances and, should really have made at least one count, as we approached half time it was still 0-1 and while that was the case Diddy were still in it.
With around 5 minutes to go until the break came the killer blow. A Rovers attack and cross from the right bounced over to the far left of the penalty area. As the ball reared up to head height there was a clash between a Rovers forward and a Didcot defender. The Rovers player went down and the referee pointed to the spot to the disbelief and ire of the local support. To be fair to the referee, as commented to someone at half-time, if that challenge had been made anywhere else on the pitch it would have warranted a free-kick. Therefore, in the box, the referee had little choice but to give a penalty in my opinion. You can see why the home side were aggrieved though. There was little appeal from the Rovers players and it was the sort of collision that is sometimes overlooked but, from my vantage point, I thought the defender jumped into the attacker without making much attempt to win the ball.
Either way, it was a penalty and Parkin duly helped himself to his second of the night, smashing the ball to the keepers left.
2-0 at half-time did not really reflect the endeavour shown by the home team. They could consider themselves a little unlucky to have not gone in just a single goal behind.
At half-time I had the pleasure to chat to a couple of Forest Green and a Reading supporter. It started with me enquiring about the missing Lee Hughes (as a former West Brom season ticket holder I had an interest). For any Albion fans reading this, they love him and reckon he was being rested for the league at the weekend. The conversation then moved to Steve Clarke's appointment at Reading, the penalty decision, the joys of following non-league football and, crucially, the fact that this was the first time I had been to the Loop without getting soaked. The words had not even left my lips when the heavens opened. The entire second half was played in monsoon conditions. So, my apologies to the aforementioned trio, I should have kept my mouth shut. Still, it was great to meet such knowledgeable genuine football lovers.
When the second half started it was clear that Didcot had been reminded that they came from two down on Saturday and there was no reason that they couldn't do it again. Ballard was still driving them on from the midfield whilst the impressive Sam Elkins was having more and more influence pushing forward down the flank.
Again though, as was the case towards the end of the first half, as the home side began to gain some level of control, Forest Green stepped it up and, this time, put the game out of reach. A break down the left and a low cross was met by the darting run and deft finish of Parkin for his and Rovers' third of the night.
A few minutes later, with job done, Parkin was given a well deserved rest to great applause from the travelling support.
Still Didcot heads did not drop. The game was up but they were not going to let Rovers sit back and bask in their victory just yet. Rovers themselves managed to fashion another couple of chances too but could not add to their tally. I, for one, was glad that it didn't go to 4 or 5 which, in my opinion, would have been very harsh on Didcot.
It finished 0-3. In the end fairly comfortable for Forest Green but Didcot certainly can be proud of their efforts. Rovers will now face an all conference tie against either Welling or Ebbsfleet. Didcot will look to push on to promotion from their current position in the play-off places.
Didcot Town - @didcottownfc
Forest Green Rovers - @fgrfc_official