Tring Athletic belied their underdog status by beating Southern League Premier Division side Kings Langley to lift the prestigious St Mary’s Cup for the second year running.
A superbly taken goal by Jack Read proved to be enough to continue Athletic’s impressive record in this 130-year-old competition, winning it on seven occasions and appearing in six of the last nine finals.
The platform for this win on Friday night was laid down in the first half when Tring produced a fine attacking showing which earned them a slim 1-0 lead. As expected, Kings raised their performance in the second half but Athletic defended superbly to claim a merited victory.
Athletic knew they were in for a tough tie against opposition playing two levels above them but there were early signs that they would not be overawed. Read fired a shot over, although he was flagged offside, and Chris Vardy was twice just beaten to searching through balls by the alert Kings’ keeper Ross Hampton, who was in goal for Sun Sports last year when they lost 2-0 to Athletic in the same final.
The keeper was again in action in the 10th minute making a great save from a Vardy cross to foil the waiting Read.
Kings showed their class with some fine possession football and Jack Waldren won the first corner when his well-struckshot was deflected.
Matt Bateman tried his luck with a low shot which Athletic keeper Jack Hopwood was equal to. Moments later Hopwood again showed a safe pair of hands to collect a well-hit effort from the dangerous Jerry Amoo.
The game was flowing and evenly balanced but as it entered the last 20 minutes of the half Athletic started to look the more threatening.
Ollie Butler sent a curling shot just over and young right back Ben Johnson thumped a 30-yarder that the keeper fumbled over the bar. From the corner Jack Seaton headed a chance into the side netting.
Athletic sensed an opportunity and Tommy Twelves saw his deflected shot spilled by the keeper who managed to quickly grab it before any damage could be done.
Kings were still dangerous on the break and following a fine move Bateman was released down the right but under pressure from James Butler he shot well wide.
Vardy headed a cross just over but nine minutes before the interval Athletic got the break through. It started with a pile driver of a shot from Twelves, who was later given the man of the match award, which the keeper did well to get a hand to. With players and spectators expecting a corner, Read had other ideas by keeping the ball in, then cutting inside and thumping a terrific left footer past the keeper. It was a fine piece of play and finishing from the Athletic forward to set the game up nicely for an interesting second half.
Read had an early chance after the restart when a Ryan Sturges cross picked him out, but his shot was deflected.
Kings realised they would have to raise their game and they started to dominate.
From a short corner the ball was played to sub Ollie Cox and his low, skidding shot was gathered by Hopwood, who played with calm assurance throughout.
From another corner the ball reached Amoo, but the former West Ham graduate appeared to be caught by surprise and he meekly chested the ball down to Hopwood.
Kings were pushing forward searching for an equaliser and in the 70th minute they had an opportunity when the ball was pulled back to Amoo whose shot went straight at Hopwood who beat the ball away. Follow up shots were blocked by the Athletic defence.
With 10 minutes to go Kings’ captain Jorell Johnson headed a corner over and after that Athletic hung on fairly comfortably for the win to cap a fine season.
Afterwards Athletic manager Ian Richardson said: “What a great way to finish the season, over 60 games played, the furthest we have ever been in the FA Vase, a top-five finish in the league and two cup finals – not bad!
“I though we fully deserved our win over a good team. We ran our socks off up front, were superb in midfield and immense in defence.
“We will have a well-earned break in the summer and then look forward to building for next season,”
Tring: Jack Hopwood, Tommy Twelves, Jack Seaton, Ollie Butler (Seb Smith 89), Dan Steadman, James Butler, Ryan Sturges, Luke Dunstan, Chris Vardy (George Carbery 80), Jack Read (Chris Stapleton 62), Ben Johnson.
Subs not used: Dave O’Connor, Max Hercules.
Kings: Ross Hampton, Gary Connolly, Sam Tring, Jorell Johnson, Dean Hitchcock (Ollie Cox 41), Mason Bush, Chris Gosling, Jack Waldren (Lewis Toomey 75), Matt Bateman, Kieran Turner (Lee Stobbs 55), Jerry Amoo.
Subs not used: Mayo Balogun, Steve Ward.