A late strike from substitute Elliott Goward powered Tring Athletic to the top of the table after their tight 1-0 win over Colney Heath on Saturday.
Tring were not at their best, but still managed to grind out a home victory to push them to the summit of the SSML Premier table, a point ahead of the chasers Biddgleswade.
With the clock ticking to the 90-minute mark it looked as if Athletic would have to settle for a draw and miss out on the chance to leapfrog Biggleswade.
It would have been a hard-earned point against a strong and organised Colney side who played well and could have justifiably claimed they deserved something from the game.
But Tring dug in and were rewarded for their endeavours with a late winner from Goward.
Jack Read instigated the crucial attack by flicking the ball through to Ashton Campbell, who avoided the keeper before picking out Goward. From just inside the area, he managed to squeeze his low shot past five defenders and the keeper to find the corner of the net. It was Goward’s third and most important goal of the season and a fitting reward for a player who is just returning to action after a lengthy spell out injured.
The first-half was competitive with the visitors working hard to deny Athletic time and space on the ball. It became a midfield battle with neither side able to create too many clear openings.
Kieran Turner had a couple of decent shots for Tring, Campbell robbed a defender but from a tight angle couldn’t beat the keeper and a super cross from Alex Campana caused chaos in the visitors’ defence before the keeper grabbed the bouncing ball to quell the danger.
However, it was not vintage play from Athletic, although credit must go to the visitors for knocking them out of their usual stride.
Colney could have taken the lead in the 28th minute when winger Harry Shepherd’s lob just cleared the bar. Soon after the same player whipped a super ball across the box that went unclaimed. Centre forward Reece Cameron then cracked a fierce shot that was not far over the Athletic bar.
There was a livelier start to the second period, with Tommy Twelves and Tring keeper Patrick Sinfield combining to deny Joe Newton and then Tring’s Billie Busari tested the Colney keeper who tipped his fine shot to Turner, who was unable to finish at the far post.
After that bright start, the game reverted to a midfield struggle with the best chances falling to Shepherd, who failed to control a cross when in a good position and Goward who chipped wide of the post.
As the game entered the last crucial 15 minutes, both sides stepped up their efforts to snatch a victory.
Tring’s Kyle Johnson headed just wide from a fine chip from Campana and the visitors’ captain Dan Fitzgerald forced a terrific save from Athletic’s fine young keeper Sinfield.
With time almost up, a draw seemed inevitable but then Goward struck to deliver the last-gasp triumph.
Tring now have two away games in the space of five days.
They were due to play last night (Tuesday) at Cockfosters in the second round of the Premier Division Cup as the Gazette was going to press.
Then this Saturday they are back in league action when they travel to midtable side London Colney.
Title rivals Biggleswade FC are playing at home against 17th-placed Harpendon Town so it’s likely Tring will have to win to keep hold of the top spot.
Tring v Colney Heath: Patrick Sinfield, Joe Fitzgerald, Connor Church, Roy Byron (Kyle Johnson, 62 mins), Tommy Twelves, Carl Mensah, Billie Busari (Elliott Goward, 70 mins), Mark Riddick, Ashton Campbell, Kieran Turner (captain), Alex Campana (Jack Read, 84 mins). Sub not used: Ben Johnson.