If Tring Athletic win their last league game of the season this Saturday they will finish at least fifth – and possibly even fourth – in the Spartan South Midlands Premier Division, which would be their best finish since 2011 when they were runners up to Chalfont St Peter.
That would be a big improvement over the previous season when they finished 12th and credit must go to managers Ian Richardson and Colin Phillips and coaches Stuart Stedman and Gary Looker who have moulded their young side into a resilient, hard-working team that is a match for anyone.
They have also had to contend with key players being picked-off by clubs with deeper pockets and a recent injury crisis that has seen the squad depleted.
The upside of the growing injury list is the promotion of young players, with Max Hercules being a particular success. The 17-year-old opened his first-team account with a smartly-taken goal at Holmer Green last Tuesday night and when he came off the bench just past the hour mark against Crawley Green on Saturday, he made an immediate impact by setting up the winning goal.
For the first hour, Athletic had been lethargic which was perhaps understandable considering this was their sixth game in a fortnight.
They started well with efforts from Chris Vardy, James Butler and Jack Read forcing the visiting keeper into good saves, but the Luton-based opposition, who had only lost one of their previous six, gradually grew into the game.
Crawley didn’t create much in the early stages of the game but in the 26th minute their leading scorer Charlie Clayton shot wide when in a good position. Moments later, fellow striker Sean Couglan had a similarly good shooting opportunity but his effort was way off target.
Green were then firmly in the driving seat and Tring keeper Jack Hopwood made two good saves from Dean Dummett before Clayton struck the crossbar.
After a difficult patch, Athletic recovered their composure and four minutes before half-time veteran Stuart Stedman hit the inside of the post with a cross. Two minutes later Chris Vardy seized on a back pass, cleverly found some space and then slotted home his 18th goal of the season for a 1-0 Tring lead.
There were half-chances at both ends in the early part of the second-half but it was the visitors who grabbed the next goal when Clayton poked the ball past Hopwood for a deserved equaliser.
Soon after, Hercules came on as a sub and his sharp running and quick feet created the signature moment of the second period. Jack Read started the move, with the ball moved on to Ryan Sturges and Vardy and then wide to Hercules who played a lovely diagonal pass into the area for Sturges to tap home from close range to make it 2-1. It was the best move of the match.
The visitors pressed for a second equaliser but Athletic seemed more energised and they came the closest to scoring the next goal when Vardy hit the bar.
Athletic were delighted to get another game done as their ridiculously hectic end to the season draws near.
They face Colney Heath this Saturday where they hope to have some players back.
After that, they travel to Leverstock Green next Tuesday, May 2, in the semi-final of the St Mary’s Cup. If they win, Kings Langley await in the final.
Whatever the outcome, it will have been a superb season with a creditable finish in what has been a fiercely-contested league, a wonderful run in the FA Vase and a Herts Charity Shield final.
There was further good news for the club last Saturday when the A Team finished as runners-up in the West Herts Premier and the B Team won the Sir Stanley Rous Cup by beating Potten End 5-1, having already claimed the West Herts Div 2 title.