WELWYN GC scraped through the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup, to open their season, with a narrow 2-1 win away at former SSML Premier rivals Bedford on Saturday.
To reach the next stage - the preliminary round to be played on Saturday week (Aug 20), away at Stotfold - 3-1 away winners at UCL Wellingborough, WGC had to thank a Josh Bronti penalty 20 minutes from time and a goal-saving tackle from outstanding, new full-back Lewis Endacott 10 minutes later.
A Bedford side relegated from the SSML Premier last season, having gone up with the Citizens the season before, have turned to youth for the new campaign.
They have appointed Mark Nervais, former under 21 manager at nearby Kempston and he has filled his new look side with under 21 year olds, including fielding two 16-year-olds in goalkeeper Mike Hudson and centre-half Lewis Jones.
And what a game they gave WGC in this tie. The Citizens didn't have defenders Dan Power and John McGrandles and forwards James Ewington and Dave Parkinson, but were hustled out of their attempted, composed stride for the whole of the 90 minutes.
Bedford's harrying tactics, a somewhat threadbare pitch on the season's opening day and a brisk wind combined to provide the worse opening 45 minutes anyone in the 60 strong crowd is likely to see in the next nine months.
The first-half couldn't produce a single chance. Danny Fitzgerald, given the nod over Ross Collins in WGC's midfield, skied an early chance miles over the bar and fellow new midfielder Ben Long jabbed a foot at a Bronti passing cross to stab wide, in the visitors' only half-chances.
For all their effort and endeavour Bedford didn't look dangerous either, until five minutes from half-time when Danny Payne miscued an attempted back-pass to keeper Jack Metcalfe and only set up home forward Sam Smith. Fortunately for WGC, the young Bedford forward rushed his effort and struck it wide.
WGC began the second-half with more urgency and Bronti lifted the best opening of the game so far over the crossbar, trying to take an attempted volley on the full.
Luke Robins also got through in the half's opening stages, but shot wide of the target, when he should have done better.
But after a brighter start, the game drifted back into its earlier torpor and was only lifted by a surprise opening goal for Bedford.
Yasin Boodhoo, under pressure from Smith, made a hash of a clearance in front of keeper Metcalfe and only set up the young Bedford forward to stab his side ahead in 63 minutes.
Thankfully, the popular WGC defender redeemed himself within two minutes. A strong Robins run down the left was ended by Bedford conceding a corner and from it, Boodhoo rose excellently to plant a fine header back past keeper Hudson, just inside the angle, for 1-1.
WGC introduced new midfielder Joe Foley, ex-Wingate & Finchley, for an out-of-sorts Ashley Kersey, who has been working abroad and within minutes were ahead.
Foley combined with Robins to put Bronti through. Defenders Jones and Swain closed in on the WGC forward and sandwiched him between them, forcing referee Scott to point to the spot as Bronti went down. The winger got up and slotted in a confident penalty to put the Citizens ahead with 20 minutes remaining.
Most of that time was successfully negotiated without much alarm, as Bedford clearly tired, apart from one 81st minute incident, when the visitors' substitute Jarvis broke completely clear of the WGC defence.
He had winger Pinney for company just a couple of yards from goal and but for an outstanding interception from the impressive Endacott, WGC's best performer on the day, would have surely scored had the ball reached him.
A true goal-saving tackle, was all that prevented a replay, one that the youthful Bedford side clearly felt they had earned.
WGC: Metcalfe, Endacott, Boodhoo, Standen, Welsh, Payne, Fitzgerald, Long (Collins 72), Bronti (Grant 88), Kersey (Foley 67), Robins.
Yasin Boodhoo heads home the equalizer for City
Josh Bronti's penalty sealed the win for the Citizens