Double for Clarke-Mardel sends Colney Heath eight points clear of Tring Athletic in title race
- Credit: Archant
Two goals from Spencer Clarke-Mardel and one for Chris Blunden gave Colney Heath a 3-2 win over Tring Athletic and put them in pole position in the Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division title race.
Three times the leaders took the lead but twice they gifted second-placed Tring a way back into it.
However, the three points at a busy Recreation Ground puts them eight points ahead of Tring now and with a game in hand.
And while there is still a lot of football to go but the title remains within sight and a promotion play-off at the very least even closer.
Tring won the toss and opted to play into the wind and up the slope for the first-half.
The breeze, which was blowing down the hill and from left to right, meant the Magpies were expected to take the game to their visitors and they did just that.
The problem was they struggled to find their players in good positions with the ball going too long or away from the forwards far too regularly.
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It left chances few and far between even if possession was dominated by the black and white shirts.
There was only really one half-chance as Blunden got on the end of a long Brett O'Connor but his return back across the box was gathered by David Saunders in the away goal.
And with the half-hour approaching a booking for Spencer Clarke-Mardel was the only point of note.
That changed on 28 minutes as O'Connor and Blunden combined again, this time though with the added extra of the ball going into the back of the net.
The hosts were awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the box, down by the by-line. O'Connor's delivery was this time fired low across the box and after a couple of deflections it ran to Blunden.
He took a touch before rifling it into the roof of the net.
The Magpies had chances to extend their lead too.
Another Blunden effort, this one from distance, needed tipped over the top by Saunders and a minute later a firm header from Chris Griffin drifted across goal and wide.
But after not really threatening, an Olly Butler header that was always going wide their only chance, suddenly Tring were level two minutes before half-time.
It was a quick break but Joe Naylor found it too easy to cut inside and along the edge of the box before a low shot to the left of Connor Sansom found the bottom corner.
The Magpies were out early for the restart, clearly the words and sentiment of the management team were short and needed no reinforcement.
And playing into the wind, as it so often turns out to be, wasn't that much of a curse. The balls forward were now holding up and giving the forwards a fighting chance of winning them.
Clements had their first chance after good interplay between him and Harry Lewis moments and although it went up and over it did show promise, promise that was realised in the 53rd minute.
There was hesitation in the defence and confusion from the keeper as a cross from O'Connor needed cleared off the line.
Clarke-Mardel was the only one moving in the middle and he guided his header into the back of the net.
But the lead only lasted three minutes and again it was a goal that will have annoyed manager Ryan Thompson as corner from the left was nodded home far too easily by Naylor.
Substitutions spoiled the flow of the game but both sides fancied their chances of grabbing a winner
A Jon Clements shot forced Saunders to scramble it behind at his near post while Sansom produced a fantastic diving save to tip a Tring effort behind, allowed the flag was up and it wouldn't have counted.
But with 12 minutes to go the Magpies were back in front for the third time, and this time there was no comeback.
Again the young goalkeeper will not look back fondly on it. A cross from Danny May was met by an overhead kick from Josh Humbert which looked good but lacked enough power.
But Saunders couldn't hold onto it and as he did for the first, Clarke-Mardel was the quickest to react and he poked it in off the post.
Late pressure came but never really threatened and there were plenty of cheers and punches of the air at the final whistle from the home support.
One big hurdle overcome for the Magpies.
Colney Heath: Sansom, May, Lewis (Sears-Black 56), Dudrenec, Lovell, Griffin, Woods (Devine 85), Clarke-Mardel, Clements, O'Connor (Humbert 76), Blunden.
Subs (not used): Devine, Westmore, Cobb.
Goals: Blunden 28, Clarke-Mardel 53, 78
Booked: Clarke-Mardel 21, Griffin 90+4
Tring Athletic: Saunders, Habashi, Terblanche (Sunderland 64), Foley (Asante 85), Barkers-Obua, McManus, Iroegbu (Salami 59), Nimoh, Ebonine, Butler, Naylor.
Subs (not used): O'Gorman.
Goals: Naylor 43, 56
Booked: Nimoh 61
HT: Colney Heath 1 Tring Athletic 1
Referee: Harry Tarrant