A satisfying afternoon saw Tring Athletic put five goals past a stubborn Harpenden Town as they powered to the top of the table.
Last season Athletic struggled in front of goal, but some quality summer signings has greatly improved the strength and depth of their squad.
They now pack a real punch in front of goal and have scored 24 times in just seven league outings so far this term – nearly 3.5 goals a game and two a match more than last season.
The visitors did the double over Tring last season after an absence from the SSML Premier Division of 12 years and they set their stall out to make life tough for Tring on Saturday by being compact and competitive.
They did have a small window of opportunity when they reduced the deficit to 2-1 in the second-half but Athletic’s quality shone through in the end as they ran out convincing 5-1 winners.
The first quarter was scrappy with neither keeper being called into action. Harpenden had a couple of shots off target while for Athletic Billie Busari shot wide following a good move and Ashton Campbell was denied a goal by a marginal offside decision. Chris Vardy, wearing the captain’s armband, went close with a free-kick that Carl Tasker tipped onto the bar.
But as the period reached the half-way stage Athletic began to warm to the task and started to look dangerous.
Kieran Turner and Vardy linked up well with the latter forcing Tasker to block his shot. From the resulting corner Athletic opened the scoring in the 27th minute with a well-worked training ground routine. Joe Fitzgerald’s finely-struck set piece was flicked on by Campbell and Dave O’Connor converted from close range. It was the big centre-back’s first goal of the season and his 10th for the club from 120 appearances.
Athletic doubled their lead within two minutes. Luke Dunstan won the ball after some pressure on the visitors and found Turner, who produced a great finish.
Campbell forced a good save from ex-Berko stopper Tasker and Joe Fitzgerald put a difficult chance over the top as Athletic ended the half well on top with a two-goal lead.
Some stern words must have been exchanged in the visitors’ dressing room at the break as they showed more intent and purpose from the restart with Athletic slow to get back in their stride.
Harpenden pushed forward but Athletic still looked comfortable until a lapse in concentration saw them concede a needless penalty in the 54th minute. Adam Mead dispatched the spot-kick to reduce the deficit to one goal and give his side some hope of parity.
The visitors grew in confidence but their bubble was burst within 13 minutes when Tring restored their two-goal edge from a free-kick. Turner’s well-flighted delivery was knocked back across goal by Dunstan to Carl Mensah, who crashed the ball high into the net for his debut goal for the club.
With the sting taken out of the game Tring went on to add two further goals, firstly through Turner after he was superbly set up by Alex Campana in the 82nd minute for his eighth goal of the season.
Two minutes later Campana and Campbell combined to pick out Ben Johnson, who headed home from close quarters to make it 5-1. Having played 61 games without scoring, the young defender has now scored in his last two games.
It was an excellent performance from Athletic’s players, with Roy Byron in particular excelling in midfield, against a strong and difficult side. With a number of regulars missing, it also demonstrated the depth and quality of the squad.
Afterwards, boss Ian Richardson said: “I’m really pleased with the response since going out of the FA Cup against Berkhamsted. In the six games since that defeat, we have had five wins and a draw, scoring 24 goals.
“The squad is looking strong and with some tough games coming up I’ll be asking the group for more of the same in the coming weeks.”
Athletic’s next game is a tough trip to sixth-placed Hadley this Saturday in the league.