A round trip of five hours and over 200 miles to rural Suffolk proved worthwhile for Tring Athletic when Adam Scotcher grabbed an early goal to see them through to the second round proper of the FA Vase for the sixth time.
Their hosts Walsham Le Willows, who play at the same level in the pyramid as Athletic, have struggled in the Premier Division of the Eastern Counties League but they put in a determined effort that kept the game tight until the final whistle.
Athletic were not at their flowing best but they showed they are a resilient outfit despite the youthful nature of their line up with an average age of just over 23.
After taking the early initiative they had some glorious opportunities to extend their lead but let their opponents off the hook and later had to thank the woodwork and keeper Jack Hopwood for denying Willows a replay.
Athletic got off to a dream start when Sam Joliffe picked out George Carbery whose sumptuous flick allowed Adam Scotcher to beat the offside trap and thump the ball past the keeper for his second goal of the season.
The home side contained a lot of players who had played at a higher level and they shrugged off the early setback and started to probe the Athletic defence, which stood its ground. Athletic were relying on quick counterattacks which caused the Willlows defence plenty of problems.
Midway through the half Adam Scotcher and Chris Vardy linked up down the left with the latter’s superb cross picking out the unmarked Ryan Sturges at the far post but his header just cleared the bar.
As the half drew to an end the home side won a series of corners and full back Sam Peters struck a superb long range shot that Jack Hopwood tipped over but the Athletic defence stood firm and they went into the break with their noses in front.
Unfortunately the second half was a bad tempered affair with the hosts being reduced to 10 players for the last quarter when Alex Steed was red carded for a petulant stamp on Luke Dunstan.
But for the leniency of the referee two more home players could have got their marching orders and Athletic were not completely blameless picking up three yellow cards.
In between the fouls and free kicks Athletic created two good scoring opportunities with George Carbery putting Chris Mason’s super cross over the bar from eight yards then Chris Vardy set up Jack Sunderland whose lob over the keeper drifted wide of the gaping net.
Despite being a man down the home side enjoyed their fair share of possession and pushed forward at every opportunity, going close when leading scorer Andrew Wood hit the bar Later Jack Hopwood repelled a terrific strike from Sam Peters but Athletic held onto their slim lead to go in the hat for Monday’s draw.
A good result for Athletic which extended their unbeaten run to 15 games
Athletic are in cup action again on Tuesday night when they travel to London Tigers for a Premier Division Cup game. Then on Saturday they have a league fixture with a visit to newly promoted Crawley Green.
WLW:1 Craig Brand 2 Joji Kawaguchi 3 Sam Peters 4 Matt Morton (Capt) 5 Nathan Clarke 6 Craig Nurse (12 Andrew Wood HT) 7 Josh Curry 8 Alex Steed 9 Tanner Call 10 Jack Brame 11 Ryan Gibbs (14 Ryan Foster 67). Subs not used: 15 Edward Elers 16 Shaun Thorrold 17 Jake Gathercole.
TA: 1 Jack Hopwood 2 Jack Seaton 3 Chris Mason 4 Luke Dunstan 5 Dan Steadman (Capt) 6 Dave O’Connor 7 Ryan Sturges (12 Chris Stapleton 78) (14 Jack Sunderland 86) 8 Sam Joliffe 9 Chris Vardy 10 Adam Scotcher 11 George Carbery (16 Tommy Twelves 90+4). Subs not used: 15 James Banfield 17 Stuart Stedman.