It's been a while since I last visited Hemel's Vauxhall Road, 26/03/2014 to be exact (http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/the-ton-up-club) when I witnessed a spectacular game between Hemel Hempstead Town and Stourbridge in the season that The Tudors gained promotion to the National League South. They are still there and their ground, apart from one very noticeable change, is pretty much as it was 2 years ago. The major difference is that the stand
behind the goal at the Leverstock Green Road end is now seated rather than standing.
I'll be honest, until I saw this fixture, I didn't know anything about the St Mary's Challenge Cup and even though I now know a lot more (thanks to the match day programme) I don't intend to go into any great detail about it. Suffice to say, the cup is an old competition, dating back to 1888 and gets it's name from the fact that it was donated by Mr F.S. Miller of Watford St Mary's FC. A few years later Watford St Mary's and Watford Rovers merged to form Watford FC, the club that currently plys it's trade in the Premier League.
Since the turn of the century the cup has been dominated by Hemel Hempstead Town with 6 wins from 14. Next in line, with three wins each, come Oxhey Jets and one of tonight's finalists, Tring Athletic.
Following a few minutes where the teams sounded each other out, the game sprang into life in the eighth minute. A Sun Sports through ball caused some hesitancy in the Tring back-line allowing Sun's Brima Johnson to nip in between the centre-half pairing. Luckily for Tring keeper Jack Hopwood was quick off his line to smother the effort.
Tring's best effort in the opening 20 minutes came on the 17 minute mark. A ball down the left flank found Kieran Turner who ran clear. His shot beat the Sun keeper but was cleared off the line by a defender, who had tracked back well to stem the danger. It was Sun, however, who were looking the more dangerous of the two sides.
Midfielder Ashley Lewis was really stamping his mark on the game and it was Lewis who made the next goalscoring opportunity. Picking the ball up on halfway, the Sun number 8 drove past a couple of Tring players and unleashed a superb shot from the edge of the box. The ball beat Hopwood's outstretched hand but came back off the foot of the post and was cleared.
Sun continued to have the best of the play but, on 40 minutes, it was Athletic who came close to scoring when a cross from their right-hand side flashed across the edge of the Sun 6 yard box with no Tring player able to get a touch.
At half-time and with the rain once again hammering down, it was Sun Sports 0 Tring Athletic 0. Sun had probably just about edged the first half but it was all still to play for.
By the time we were 10 minutes into the second half the rain had let up again. Tring were now kicking up the slight slope on the pitch but this didn't deter them and after 12 minutes of the second half they took the lead.
It may have taken 57 minutes to break the deadlock, but it was worth the wait. A rash challenge on the right-hand side of the Sun box lead to a free-kick. Taylor Collins eyed up the opportunity and then drilled a superb shot into the far corner of the net. A great strike.
Three minutes later and Collins was at it again. He latched onto a through ball down the left hand side, guiding his shot in off the far post with a very cool finish.
In fact, with Sun pushing up, it was Tring who could have, and should have, scored again. The ball was won back deep into the Sun territory on the left flank by Ryan Sturges and, when the ball was cut back across the six-yard line, it should have been finsihed off by Stapleton. Credit to Sun Sports stopper, Ross Hampton, for getting back across his line to make the block though.
In the end it didn't matter as the referee blew for full-time a minute or so later.
Congratulations to Tring Athletic who, on their second half performance, just about deserved the win. Sun Sports were, in my opinion, the better team in the first half but in the end the difference between the teams was the clinical finishing shown by Taylor Collins.
Sun Sports - @sunsportsfc
Tring Athletic - @tringathletic