Tring Athletic put in a decent performance at Creasey Park but came away empty handed as they went down 2-0 to high-flying AFC Dunstable.
Athletic defended well from open play but were undone by goals from two set pieces in the first half.
After that the visitors were always chasing the game and, although they showed a lot of spirit in the second half, they lacked the fire power to break through a rugged home defence, well marshalled by impressive centre-back Leon Cashman.
On a cold night in front of a sparse crowd of 45, Tring started the game well by putting together a nice move in the fourth minute, with a pass from Chris Mason being flicked on by Chris Blunden to Kieran Turner who cut in from the wing to fire the first shot of the game on target, gathered by home keeper Ricky Perks.
A few minutes later Tring won two corners, with Dave O’Connor finding the net with the second one, but the referee had already blown for the ball being out of play.
Dunstable are a big side and were always going to be a threat from set pieces.
Tring had a warning in the 11th minute when they conceded a free-kick on the right hand edge of the area; that time they were able to clear the danger but two minutes later they were not so fortunate.
This time the free-kick was on the opposite side of the area and AFC left-back Newman Carney struck a super kick that curled beyond Matt Evans to find the top corner of the net.
It was a terrific free-kick but from Tring’s point of view it was a soft one to concede.
It was a blow falling behind so soon, and Tring had to dig in as the home side got the ball forward quickly to their dangerous attackers.
During this period Athletic picked up a couple of yellow cards for Dan Steadman and Sam Joliffe as the heat of the game intensified, and there was a feeling that there was a lack of consistency as other more serious offences appeared to be ignored.
Tring were defending well and hoping to see out the seven remaining minutes of the half without further damage, but then disaster struck and again it was another set piece that undid all their hard work.
It came from Dundstable’s second corner, which Tring failed to clear properly, and when the ball was played back into the area, defender Terry Griffiths was left unmarked and he took full advantage to head home his side’s second goal.
Tring made a change at half time, bringing on Taylor Collins for Seaton and moving to a more attacking 4-4-2 formation.
It took a while for the visitors to get going in the second half and, seven minutes after the restart, Kevin McManus produced a terrific block tackle to deny Brandon Carney a certain goal.
But gradually Athletic started to take the game to their hosts and they produced some nice football. L
uke Dunstan and Collins both had efforts on goal without stretching Parks, although the big keeper could count himself lucky later on when he spilled a ball which ran quite a way before a defender cleared the danger.
The away team were building their attacks nicely but moves tended to break down as soon as they reached the AFC box.
Tring came close midway through the half when they won a free-kick in a good position.
The ball was only cleared to Collins who, from the edge of the area, saw his first shot blocked then his follow up one headed off the line.
Soon afterwards Turner sent a rasping shot just wide of the far post, but despite all their efforts Tring failed to breach the home defence and the hosts ran out 2-0 winners.
The win pushed Dunstable up to second place in the SSML Premier Division table behind London Colney, who have a four-point advantage but have played a game more.
The title challenge is becoming a three-horse race, with Hoddesdon Town able to go top if they win their games in hand.
Tring remain in 12th place and have a tough home fixture on Saturday when they entertain Holmer Green who are on an amazing run of results which has seen them climb up to the heady heights of fifth.
AFC Dunstable: 1 Ricky Perks 2 Courtney Massey 3 Newman Carney 4 Terry Griffiths 5 Leon Cashman 6 Brandon Carney 7 Charlie Gorman 8 Moses Olaleye (Capt) 9 Jeramaine Hall (14 Danny Jones 81) 10 Josh Humbert (15 Ben Darby 79) 11 Nathan Frater (12 BJ Christie 70). Sub not used: 16 Enzo Silvertri.
Tring Athletic: 1 Matt Evans 2 Kevin McManus 3 Chris Mason 4 Jack Seaton (12 Taylor Collins HT) 5 Dan Steadman (Capt) 6 Dave O’Conner 7 Lee Stobbs 8 Sam Joliffe (16 Jack Westlake 70) 9 Chris Blunden 10 Kieran Turner 11 Luke Dunstan (17 Ben Seaton 79). Subs not used: 14 Ryan McMahon 15 Ryan Sturges.