WELWYN GC put themselves within four wins of becoming Spartan South Midlands League champions, completing their 12th successive league victory, to go seven points clear at the top of the table.
To do this, they gradually wore down the stubborn resistance of a plucky, youthful Hoddesdon side to record the fourth WGC success in seven days.
Their East Herts visitors, one of the early season’s fancied teams, were stuck a major blow when they lost their manager to nearby Isthmian League Ware, along with half-a-dozen players.
To fill the void, Hoddesdon appointed their development manager, who is filling their current side with young players.
And this youthful opposition battled WGC all the way, particularly in the second-half, when it seemed that once the Citizens had opened a two goal advantage, they might go on to an avalanche of goals.
WGC started on the front foot, top scorer Jon Clements testing Hoddesdon keeper Damien Farrow in the opening minute, while Paul Marks wheeled away at the back post to a left-wing corner to head over.
Then a super WGC move involving Tyler Hatherly and Dan Bond set up Clements to strike a powerful effort past Farrow and against the post, before the effort was cleared to safety.
Hoddesdon immediately responded by taking a shock lead in eight minutes. One-time Citizen Manny Melford-Rowe hit a looping, high effort over keeper Charlie May, who was off his line, and into the net behind him.
The league leaders went straight back on the attack, central defender John McGrandles heading a pinpoint Jay Rolfe cross straight at Farrow and Bond badly miscuing a Jon Sexton centre to see his effort end nearer the corner flag.
In a period of almost constant pressure, the equaliser came from the penalty spot.
The impressive Nick Ellott turned well in the area, only to be downed by Hoddesdon’s Kardan Campbell. Referee Dickens immediately pointed to the spot and Clements obliged, driving his well placed penalty into the corner.
WGC were denied a second by a goalline clearance by Hoddesdon’s Jack Riddle after Bond shook off several challenges and placed his shot beyond Farrow and then a downward Elliott header – from a corner – suffered the same fate, cleared off the line by full-back Liam Andrews, as WGC pressed for the second.
That came four minutes from the break, Paul Marks playing Clements clean through to waltz around the keeper and slip his personal second again into the corner.
Early in the second-half, the pair almost repeated the trick. Marks played another exquisite ball through for Clements. This time he slid it under the keeper, but was denied his hat-trick as the effort rolled along the goalline, clipped the far post and came out!
Manager Adam Fisher introduced Ashley Kersey, scorer of three in his last two games and Josh Bronti for Hatherly and Bond on the hour.
Farrow was soon called into action by Kersey, saving well from the big forward’s effort, set up by Elliott.
Hoddesdon showed they weren’t out of the game and almost bagged an equaliser from a free-kick, that Aidan Critchley clipped over keeper May only to see if bounce back off the bar.
A WGC third put an end to the visitors’ brief revival. Elliott won a vital challenge outside of the box, got up from it and whipped a low effort past the keeper for 3-1.
Hoddesdon substitute Ciaran Doherty confirmed his side’s fighting spirit to the end, with a good long-range just past a post, but WGC substitute Charlie Joy scorned a late chance of a fourth, Farrow tipping over his delayed shot and Elliott also missed the chance of increasing the Citizens’ margin, which their dominance overall, merited.
WGC: May, Rolfe, McGrandles, Payne, Sexton, Marks, Spaul (Joy 74), Elliott, Bond (Bronti 57), Clements, Hatherly (Kersey 57)