Tring Athletic went down by a solitary goal as London Colney returned home with all three points from Saturday’s SSML Premier Division match at The Grass Roots Stadium.
It was a meeting of two in-form teams, with Athletic suffering just one defeat in nine previous games while their guests had an even better record of no losses in 10.
But despite this impressive back drop the game was scrappy and tight as both teams cancelled each other out.
Ultimately the outcome was settled by a superb strike from the Colney captain a quarter of an hour from the end which was somewhat out of kilter with the general run of play in which few scoring chances were created.
Athletic were short of central defenders – with Chris Salmon, Dan Steadman and Ollie Butler all missing – so they opted to move away from their usual back-three which has been so successful lately to a more conventional back-four.
The home players took a little while to settle into the change in formation and Colney looked the better side in the early stages – however, despite enjoying more possession they didn’t pose too much of a threat to the home goal.
Athletic’s Taylor Collins did well to chase down a long ball and then turn neatly past the defender but his attempt to curl the ball into the far corner went wide of the post.
The hosts gradually got into the game after a slow start but they too were finding it difficult to generate any threat to their opponents’ goal.
There was some momentary excitement as half-time approached when visiting forward Martin Collins got free down the right but his dangerous cross was cut out by Athletic skipper Sam Joliffe.
At the other end, Taylor Collins showed some great skill to flick the ball past his opponent to create a shooting chance but his effort went straight at the keeper.
So a tight, even first half of few opportunities unsurprisingly ended scoreless, but the home supporters would have been confident of an improved display with their team kicking towards their favoured end after the interval.
The home players did start the second period on the front foot and Adam Toone was causing problems for Colney with his long throws.
In the 55th minute Athletic found the net from one of Toone’s missiles after the keeper misjudged the bounce of the ball, but it failed to touch anybody en route and so a goal kick was awarded.
Colney had conceded only 20 goals in 27 games and they clearly came with a game plan to keep that terrific record intact by defending stoutly and in numbers and hoping to catch Athletic on the break.
The danger signs were there for the home team during the early stages of the second half as they took on a more attacking role.
They had a narrow escape in the 64th minute when the ball was played up to James Ewington who forced Jack Hopwood into a terrific save.
The visitors took every opportunity to break at speed and in numbers when the opportunity arose, and they did so with deadly effect in the 76th minute when skipper Danny Fitzgerald thumped the ball home from 30 yards following an Athletic corner.
Athletic tried desperately to get something out of the game but found it tough going against the league’s meanest defence, and the visitors were able to hold on for a hard earned win.
This was Colney’s third 1-0 victory on the trot and they clearly played to their strengths as they are the lowest scorers of the top 14 teams, but when a rare opportunity came their way they took it.
Athletic competed on an equal footing and the players cannot be faulted for effort but they failed to dent their opponents’ rock-like defence or test the Colney keeper.
Athletic have two tough games coming up, with the visit of second placed AFC Dunstable on Tuesday night followed on Saturday by a trip to improving Hadley, who have won three games on the trot and are managed by former Spurs and Chelsea favourite Micky Hazzard.
Tring Athletic: 1 Jack Hopwood 2 Ryan Sturges 3 Stuart Stedman (15 Lee Stobbs 80) 4 Adam Toone 5 Kevin McManus 6 Luke Dunstan 7 Rob Tomlin 8 Sam Joliffe (Capt) 9 Chris Vardy 10 Taylor Collins (12 Vinnie Iannone 74) 11 Greg Deer (14 Kieran Turner 62). Subs not used: 16 Ryan McMahon 17 Joe Fitzgerald.
London Colney: 1 Jack Smith 2 Bob Armstrong 3 Tom Smith 4 Shaun Murphy 5 Sam Dolan 6 Stefan Geraldis 7 Spencer Clarke-Mardle 8 Danny Fitzgerald (Capt) 9 James Ewington (14 Harry Sedgley 86) 10 Martin Collins (16 Dan Power HT) 11 Caine Davey (12 Jack Woods 56). Subs not used: 15 Archie McClenard 17 Felix Hull.