First Round fire and ice at the Abbey

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The First Round Proper is finally upon us. After six matches and a total of 1120 miles covered in my Astra Elite, I decide to take a less stressful approach to travel by using the national railway network.

Hopping on at Norwich, I travel through Wymondham and Attleborough picking my mates up en route.

Eventually we arrive at Cambridge with high expectations and full bladders, both provided by the copious amounts of beer consumed on the journey.

We make our way north from the station eventually arriving at the entrance of Coldham’s Common, a large open grassy area with the Abbey Stadium situated at the far end.

It’s bloody cold and with the icy wind blowing across from left to right, the path leading to the ground looks a daunting prospect.

We get to the other side, red of face and numb of everything else, and rush to find a pub for warmth and a big screen for the Norwich City vs Paulton Rovers early kick-off.

“You can come in here, there’s cheap beer,” a helpful steward tells us at the entrance to the stadium car park, pointing to the clubhouse at the back of the North Stand.

“And a large...” ...but by the time he got the second sentence out we were already getting the round in.

Norwich square up to Paulton on the clubhouse telly. They'll end up winning 7-0 – who would've thought it?

Well, everyone apart from the pundits, who constantly mention Hereford and Wrexham’s giantkilling acts of 1972 and 1992 respectively.

With 10 minutes to kick-off it's out of the bar and on to the terraces, and a nice-sized crowd is gathering, with only one stand closed and the Ilkeston fans at the far end enjoying the new south stand, built in 2002.

As the sun starts to set behind the Habbin Stand to our right, the wind picks up and the terracing becomes an iced cavern. This is going to be a long game.

The match kicks off and with only five minutes on the clock, Cambridge United’s Chris Holroyd puts the U’s 1-0 up with a close-range poke.

There’s hope that this goal might spark an exciting game, but no further goals come in the first half, despite Cambridge having most of the possession and Ilkeston looking dangerous on the break.

Half-time brings a first for this season: I don’t mind that they’re not selling alcohol. Instead, a pint of Bovril goes down a treat.

The floodlights start to warm up, and with the constant beat from a man possessing both a drum and better rhythm than the Lowestoft madman in the Third Qualifying Round, the atmosphere starts to build.

BLOG: A local affair at Lowestoft

The second half resumes with Cambridge straight on the attack, and really smoking.

Oh no hang on, that's coming from the away end. Maybe it's a bonfire on the allotments behind the south stand or maybe it's the Ilkeston fans burning their match tickets.

Whatever the reason, on 65 minutes Jai Reason puts Cambridge 2-0 up from 25 yards.

Cue the substitutes from both sides and obviously the Blue Square Premier outfit's replacements are of better stock, because the U's double their lead with strikes from Courtney Pitt and Adam Marriott in the 72nd and 86th minutes.

As the game ends the crowd seek a chance to get back home and warm up.

For us, it's back across the Common in total darkness, wondering what delights we may step in along the way...

Previously, on The Long Road To Wembley:
FA1 preview: Enter the big boys
FA4Q: Barked shins, dark toilets & no pies
FA4Q preview: Ploughing through
FA3Q: A local affair at Lowestoft
FA3Q preview: All hail the 4x4ers
FA2Q: Coke, poodle rock & half a fence
FA2Q preview: Let's spend a night together
FA1Q: Lawro, ducks & a care home
FA1Q preview: The preliminaries are over
FAP: Dogs, daughters & dodgy tellies
FAP preview: Preliminary problems
FAEP: Dereham dreams alive and kicking
FAEP preview: The long road starts here More to read...
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