Tring Athletic earned a creditable 1-1 draw after a 120 mile round trip to Hornchurch on Saturday to face Essex Senior League outfit FC Romania in the Third Round of the FA Vase on SAturday.
However even though they have the chance to finish the job off on home territory they will have come away with mixed emotions because they should have had the game wrapped up after only half an hour.
Their hosts, as their name suggests, contained players who were all from the eponymous Eastern European Country and they were highly skilled individuals who had lost only once in their last 11 games.
But during the opening 30 minutes Athletic took them apart, creating a succession of clear cut chances which should have seen them safely through to the next round already.
After a tentative start by both teams the visitors started to get into their stride and opened the scoring after only 10 minutes. From a corner Jack Seaton headed the ball across the area to Sam Joliffe who neatly half volleyed the ball in off the post.
Two minutes later Chris Vardy produced a lovely touch to send Lee Stobbs away down the right and his accurate cross picked out Kieran Turner unmarked in front of goal but the midfielder’s shot was brilliantly tipped over the bar by the keeper.
The home side retaliated with a shot from an acute angle from their leading scorer Andrei Pavel which Jack Hopwood saved.
But it was Athletic who looked the more dangerous and a superb flick from Lee Stobbs sent Kieran Turner through on goal. Turner rounded the keeper but his shot was dramatically stopped on the line by a defender who then did equally well to block a follow up shot from Chris Vardy.
A few minutes later it was Vardy’s turn to go close, beating the keeper to a through ball but being clipped in the process. Vardy sportingly stayed on his feet but was forced wide and his shot just evaded the far post. Had Vardy gone down, like most forwards tend to do, the home side would have been looking for a replacement keeper. As it was the keeper earned just a yellow and the sacrifice kept his team in the game.
With just over half an hour gone not much had been seen of the home attack, which was the second most prolific in their division having scored 57 goals in 19 league games, and that was down to some great defensive play by Athletic. But against the run of play they found an equaliser and the game became more evenly contested after that.
The goal stemmed from a cross that hit the top of the bar which Athletic were unable to clear and winger Llie Vasile cut inside and fired a shot past Jack Hopwood. The goal transformed the home side who looked much more assured and started to keep possession much better then earlier in the game when they resorted to a lot of long balls.
The second period continued to be evenly contested with both defences keeping things tight and as a consequence neither keeper was tested. Kieran Turner struck a nice shot that keeper safely gathered and Chris Vardy found the side netting with an effort.
A few niggles started to creep into the game as frustration grew and the referee started to make use of his yellow cards, which he flashed to both sides. Home centre forward Ionut Danila tried a snap shot that failed to hit the target and Kieran Turner was just unable to direct his header on target after being found by a good cross from Chris Stapleton as the game headed towards extra time.
Athletic were dealt a blow when, 10 minutes into the first period of extra time, key midfielder Luke Dunstan was shown a second yellow card and they had to play out the last 20 minutes with 10 players.
But apart from a header from defender Ion Costache which went just wide the Athletic defence coped superbly with the pposition attacks given them few sights of goal until the very last minute when Jack Hopwood made a great save from Danila from six yards to keep Athletic in the competition. Following the final whistle there was an unsavory incident when Danila was given a straight red card for allegedly spitting.
A superb performance from Athletic against a strong, technically gifted team and if they can recapture the sharp play they produced in the opening 30 minutes they will fancy their chances of progressing to the Fourth Round for the first time in their history.
The replay will probably take place at The Grass Roots Stadium on Tuesday, while on Saturday they face a tough local derby when they visit Leverstock Green in the SSML.
FCR: 1 Adrian Darabant 2 Dinu Barcari 3 Cosmin Sandu 4 Marius Teleoaca 5 Gabriel Ghinea 6 Ion Costache (16 Sergio Maxihov 91) 7 Llie Vasile 8 George Taban (Capt) 9 Ionut Danila 10 Andrei Pavel (15 Sergiu Pitaru 57) 11 Liviu Pop. Subs not used: 12 Gabriel Stroe 17 Ionut Roman 18 mihai Botosan
TA: 1 Jack Hopwood 2 Tommy Twelves 3 Jack Seaton (14 Chris Mason 90+4) 4 George Brinkman (12 Jamie Warne 72) 5 Dan Steadman (Capt) 6 Dave O’Connor 7 Luke Dunstan 8 Sam Joliffe 9 Chris Vardy 10 Kieran Turner 11 Lee Stobbs (16 Chris Stapleton 77).
FCR: llie Vasile (31)
TA: Sam Joliffe (10)