Tring Athletic pushed SSML Premier Division leaders London Colney all the way on Saturday but were beaten 2-1.
After a good run of results, which included a fine 2-1 win at Rothwell Corinthians in midweek in the FA Vase, Athletic faced a stiff test in London Colney.
Although they came out second best in the end they did challenge their opponents right up to the last five minutes when they conceded a second goal. Athletic did pull one back but it came too late to make any difference.
The visitors came into the match with an impressive record of having dropped only five points from 16 league games, being the highest scorers in the Premier Division with 47 goals and having the second best defensive record of just 12 goals conceded.
Despite these odds Athletic matched their opponents as both sides cancelled each other out in a first half that was high on work rate and effort but low on goalmouth action.
Neither keeper was tested until the 19th minute when Spencer Clarke Mardel just beat home custodian Jack Hopwood to a lofted pass but he lobbed the ball wide.
Athletic welcomed back Kieran Turner after a spell at Aylesbury FC and he made an early appearance off the bench in the 34th minute to replace the injured Ryan Sturges to make his 100 appearance for the club. Turner was soon in the action, linking up nicely with Chris Vardy in the opposition area and just failing to get on the end of a super back heel.
Just before half time Athletic twice went close to opening their account when Turner and George Carbery combined to set up Chris Stapleton who was denied by a superb save from the visitor’s keeper. From the resulting corner Jack Seaton had a free header but his effort agonisingly just cleared the bar.
After dealing well with the leagues most prolific scorers during the first half the Athletic defence will kick themselves for conceding a soft goal from a set piece nine minutes after the restart. The free kick travelled a long way from way out on the wing but Athletic failed to deal with it and former Athletic player Greg Shaw got a vital touch to put his side ahead.
There was a chance of an equaliser two minutes later when, following a corner, there was a mad scramble in the Colney area but Athletic were unable to force the ball home. Athletic took the game to their opponents who were happy to drop off deep and defend in numbers and break quickly when they had the opportunity.
Athletic were doing the lion’s share of attacking and got into some good positions behind their opponents defence but their final passes and shots let them down.
With ten minutes left Athletic felt they should have had a penalty when Luke Dunstan’s fine dribble into the area was ended with a clear trip but to the disbelief of the home supporters the referee waved away the appeals.
Throughout the game the home defence had dealt confidently with the opposition attacks restricting them to few chances but a moment of slack play five minutes from time presented Colney with an opening and Spencer Clarke Mardel too the opportunity to give his side an unassailable two goal lead.
Athletic kept going and did pull a goal back deep into added time when Luke Dunstan smashed a superb shot past the keeper but it came too late to affect the outcome although it did give the score line a more realistic feel.
Despite the defeat Athletic can take some solace from the fact that their young side pushed the potential champions all the way and that there was little to choose between the two teams.
Next Athletic travel the short distance for a local derby game against Aston Clinton for a Challenge Trophy game.
TA: 1 Jack Hopwood 2 Jack Seaton 3 Chris Mason 4 George Brinkman 5 Dan Steadman (Capt) 6 Sam Joliffe 7 Ryan Sturges (14 Kieran Turner 34) 8 Sam Joliffe 9 Chris Vardy 10 George Carbery 11 Chris Stapleton . Subs not used: 12 Paddy Downes 15 Cameron Brooks 16 Stuart Stedman.
LC: 1 Tom Gowans 2 Chris Cutler (16 Rickey Brennan 90) 3 James Lawrence 4 Gregg Douglas 5 Shaun Murphy 6 Roy Byron 7 David Parkinson (14 Tom Silford 81) 8 Greg Shaw (Capt) 9 Archie McClelland 10 Spencer Clarke Mardel (17 Mark Riddick 87) 11 Jon Clements. Subs not used: 15 Callum Dudrenel 20 Rhys Lawrence.
TA: Luke Dunstan (90+4)
LC: Greg Shaw (54), Spencer Clarke Mardel (85)