LOUGHBOROUGH DYNAMO (Nanpantan Sports Ground)

Back on the road to Wembley today and today's destination was Leicestershire. The game was not exactly my choice today, as I had the luxury of being chauffeured so the driver got to pick, but the game was on my list I threw into the hat and it ticked all the boxes of what I look for in a cup tie, different league v different league, different 'steps' playing each other and therefore potential for an upset.

As I was the passenger today, that afforded me the chance to partake in a few pre-match ales and today's choice of public house was the superb Paget Arms in Loughborough, a mere 8 minutes drive from the ground. This is the home to the Steamin' Billy Brewing Company and their 'Tipsy Fisherman' and 'Skydiver' were in fine fettle.

Loughborough Dynamo are members of the Northern Premier League Division One South (step 4) and today they were up against United Counties Premier League (step 5) side Daventry United. Daventry had a great result in the last round, beating Coalville Town, who are just above Loughbourough in the league, so this tie looked a bit of a banana skin for the homesters.

Dynamo, who were named after the touring Moscow Dynamo side of the 1950's, play at the Nanpantan Sports Ground along with Loughborough University (Midland Alliance) and FC Dynamo (Leicester Senior League) which is on the outskirts of Loughborough, but very near to the M1 motorway, so it's pretty straightforward to get to. The ground is a tidy little set-up.

After the first 15 minutes of this cup tie it looked like the upset was on the cards as Daventry made all the early running. After a couple of minutes Tom Lorraine sprang the offside trap and was one-on-one with the 'keeper but he fluffed his chance and shot wide. A few moments later Will Briscoe found himself in the box with only the goalie to beat but his tame effort was easily saved by Kahil Mann-Kler.

This really was as good as it was got for Daventry, as Loughborough settled down and found their rhythm. After having a few decent efforts at goal, the breakthrough came after half hour, when the ever dangerous Ash Way broke clear and put it on a plate for Scott Mooney to fire home. Five minutes later it was a repeat performance as Way set up Mooney for number two.

The chances were coming thick and fast for the homesters and they really should have put the game beyond the reach of Daventry before half-time, indeed Way could've bagged himself a hat-trick, but the Visitors rode their luck and were not completely out of it at the interval.

Unfortunately for Daventry, the second half continued as the first half ended and eventually Way got the goal his performance deserved when he broke through and lobbed the 'keeper on the hour mark. After this the game fizzled out, but Daventry did grab themselves a consolation in stoppage time when Briscoe tapped home.

Saturday 17th September 2011
FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round
Loughborough Dynamo 3-1 Daventry United
Attendance: 103

WITTON ALBION (Wincham Park)

Today was my third visit to Wincham Park, this season re-named the "Help For Heroes" stadium, but this was the first time i'd seen the actual 'home' side, Witton Albion.

The first occasion was in 2002 when Northwich Victoria were the tennants and the second time was in 2008 when Runcorn Linnets played at the ground.

The ground hasn't changed that much in the intervening years and looks exactly what it is, a functional new-build ground, despite being in use for over two decades, having opened in 1989.

Witton have had a decent start to the season, losing their only game of the season thus far in their last league outing versus Lancaster. Today's opponents, Clitheroe, on the other hand have had a wretched start winning just one game out of the opening six.

The game was won by Clitheroe when they scored with their only shot of the entire game after just 11 minutes. Eddie Stanford hit a long range effort which bobbled and bounced, deceived the 'keeper, and nestled in the bottom corner.

Witton, who should have scored at least twice in the opening few minutes, dominated possession and created all the chances. However the Clitheroe defence, marshalled superbly by ex-Blackburn and Blackpool player Marlon Broomes, withstood everything thrown at them.

The second half became more and more turgid as the minutes ticked by as Witton never looked like breaking down the resolute Clitheroe defence, no matter what combination of attack they tried, and the game just fizzled out as the homesters ran out of ideas.

Saturday 10th September 2011
Northern Premier League Division One North
Witton Albion 0-1 Clitheroe
Attendance: 249


Bishop's Stortford, Stansted & Braintree Town

Today was billed as non-league day and a campaign was launched to encourage people to get out and support grassroots football. To coincide with this, The Conference had arranged for three games across their three leagues to have staggered kick offs so supporters could 'hop' from one match to the next, and complete a rare hat-trick of a game from each of the Conferences' divisions.

As luck would have it, I needed a visit to two out of the three grounds on the hop (having previously visited Chelmsford City some years back) but, as a further act of kindness, the FA Cup draw had thrown up a cup tie within 6 miles of the first game, so I could get in an alternative game inbetween. It was therefore in the direction of Hertfordshire and Essex I pointed the car full of happy hoppers...

12.30pm Saturday 3rd September 2011
Conference North
Bishop's Stortford 0-1 Boston United
Attendance: 661

Due to Rushden & Diamonds going into liquidation, and the reprieve of Southport, the geography of Bishop's Stortford (the furthest north of the southern clubs!) meant that this season they would be plying their trade in the Conference North.

Woodside Park, 2 minutes drive from J8 of the M11,  was opened as recently as 1999 and is what you would expect from a new-ish ground as this level, with covered terraces behind each goal, a large main stand on one side of the pitch and another smaller seated stand on the other side. There was a bonus though of a guest ale in the clubhouse and the St Austell Trelawny was very well received!

The game was the usual dross tight affair that i've come to expect from watching Step 2 football. The game was petering out into the inevitable goalless draw when Boston's  Marc Newsham scored the winner in the 4th minute of stoppage time.

Stortford probably had the better chances, they missed two one-on-ones, and they played the last 20 minutes with 10 men when Phil Anderson was shown a red card for violent conduct.

Boston's Mickey Stone heads for goal

3pm Saturday 3rd September 2011
FA Cup Preliminary Round
Stansted 4-0 London APSA
Attendance: 90

It was a quick dash up the road to the village of Stansted Mountfitchet and to Hargrave Park, the home of Stansted FC.

Stansted won the Essex Senior League in 2010, and, but for a points deduction, would have won it again in 2011. They were denied promotion to the Isthmian League due to issues with the ground, mainly the fact that it can't be enclosed as it is shared with the cricket pitch. However, these issues aside, I thought it was a tidy little set-up and the small woooden stand looked very picturesque in the late summer sunshine.

Todays FA Cup tie was against fellow Essex Senior League side London APSA and it turned out to be a very comfortable afternoon for the home side. Andy Reed gave them the lead after 10 minutes with a low shot into the corner, and this remained the score until the break. In truth though Stansted should've been well out of sight with the chances they created.

In the second half they began to convert them and the tie was over within 8 minutes of the re-start. Tyrone White side-footed a low cross on 51 minutes then, two minutes later, Scott Forbes scored the goal of the game when he finished off a superb passing move. Graeme Turner completed the scoring in the 73rd minute when he tapped in after a shot was spilled by goalkeeper.

The teams get ready to enter the arena...

...and oblige with the customary handshakes

The committee room

7.00pm Saturday 3rd September 2011
Conference Premier
Braintree Town 1- 0 Lincoln City
Attendance: 1,182

The final game of the day was a "top flight" game between the respective new boys, promoted (as champions) Braintree and relegated Lincoln City.

The game was not a good advert for this level of football. The only moment of true quality was when The Irons' Andy Yiadom fired home the winner from 25 yards after 31 minutes. Braintree were solid and their two strikers caused Lincoln lots of problems and the home side should really have extended their lead, especially early in the second half, when Ben Wright hit the bar and the re-bound was put wide.

On this evidence it is going to be a tough season for The Imps and I imagine they will find it tough to bounce straight back up, as they did in 1988. This result drops them into the bottom four and even at this stage of the season that has to be worrying.

No need for the old sign now the ground is sponsored