Tring Athletic earned a tough 1-0 win at in-form Baldock Town on Saturday to stay top of the SSML Premier Division.
Sixth-placed Baldock had lost just once in 18 of their previous games, but a superb goal in the 65th minute from Athletic’s leading scorer Ashton Campbell was a worthy winner of any game.
Tring then had to survive a scare when keeper Connor Sansom was sent off with ten minutes to go and a penalty was awarded to Baldock.
But big centre back Carl Mensah was the hero when he went in goal and made a superb save to keep out the spot-kick.
The 10 men of Athletic then held out for the vital win which kept them top of the table.
The match was hardly a classic. The swirling wind, bumpy surface at Baldock’s Hitchin Road ground and the importance of the game contributed to that, but it was fiercely contested with little to choose between the sides.
Athletic started the better with Jon Clements’ fine crossfield pass picking out Campbell, but his left-foot shot from a tight angle went wide.
The visitors produced some promising moves but were let down by the final pass or control all through the game.
Nearly all the action was confined to a highly-contested midfield area with little goal mouth action.
Five minutes before the break, Clements did force home keeper Adam Harpur to make a good save at the near post.
After the break it was more of the same with neither side able to take control, although the capricious wind undoubtedly made life difficult.
In the 65th minute came a rare moment of genuine quality which would decide the match. Kieran Turner did well to slip a pass to James Verney who then clipped the ball into Campbell. The Athletic striker produced a superb turn to lose his marker then smashed the ball past the startled Baldock keeper.
It was Campbell’s 24th goal of the season and may prove to be his most crucial.
After a tense and difficult afternoon, Tring boss Ian Richardson was able to find some humour from the game, saying: “[It was a] performance full of character and belief against a very good Baldock side.
“We scored a great goal, kept a clean sheet, my centre back saves a penalty and three more points.
“Couldn’t ask for any more. The boys were imMensah.”
Results elsewhere in the title race saw presumptive favourites Biggleswade FC win 2-0 against Leverstock Green (see panel, right) as they remained in third place and just three points off the top but with two games in hand.
Second-placed Hadley won 2-1 at Oxhey Jets to stay on the same points as Tring but have played one more game and have a vastly inferior goal difference.
This Saturday Tring have a potentially tricky local derby with a trip to tenth-placed Leighton Town.