|Competition:||Isthmian League Premier Division|
|Date:||Saturday 27 August 2016|
Hendon got their season up and running at the fifth time of asking, deservedly coming out on top in a seven goal thriller at Merstham. With both sides winless going into the game and having scored just five goals between them in their opening four matches, it was perhaps inevitable that the scoresheet would suffer significant damage. However, the game was not one for a purist of the art of defending to watch since five of the seven goals came from miserably defended set pieces.
Gary McCann's starting XI showed three changes from that which stuttered to a draw against Burgess Hill in midweek with Brendan Norris replacing the unfit Berkley Laurencin in goal, Spencer McCall returning for Dave Diedhiou, who was also carrying a knock, and Niko Muir coming in for Omar Vassell.
The Greens controlled the opening stages of the game, but fell behind in the 11th minute when a free kick into the box wasn't cleared and Alex Addai cut the ball back to Dan Bennett who finished with aplomb from 15 yards, first time beyond the exposed Norris. Something in the build up to the goal that had gone unnoticed by the officials, but not Kevin Maclaren.
Finbarr Robins had already forced a fine save from Phil Wilson before Hendon went a goal down, but they responded through an unlikely source within 90 minutes of the hammer blow of Bennett's goal. The ball was worked to the left flank for Mayo Balogan to curl in a dangerous cross. In trying to deal with the danger, the Merstham number 5 Marc Okoye succeeded only in scuffing his attempted clearance beyond Wilson and high into the roof of his own net.
The Blue shirted greens went on to control the following twenty minutes; skipper Chris Seeby was denied by a strong block from an amber shirt to his low shot before he put the visitors ahead in supreme style.
Receiving the ball wide on the right midway inside Merstham territory, he cut inside to try and get a shot away. Whilst amber shirts blocked his way, they refused to offer a challenge and so he continued his merry way into the inside left position and into a position where he was through on goal. A neat dink over Wilson ended in the back of the net to give Hendon the advantage. The fact that Hendon's right back had run so far unchallenged led to an internecine exchange of views between goalkeeper and those in front of him.
Five minutes later, two had become three when Tutu Henriques conceded a free kick midway inside his own half and received a caution for handling the ball. Spencer McCall curled the set piece into the penalty area and it was met by Henriques. Unfortunately for the hosts, his attempted clearance scuffed off the outside of his boot and left Arthur Lee with the simplest of tap-ins to register his first Hendon goal and make it 3-1.
Four minutes later, the arrears had been reduced by the hosts. Again, a set piece wasn't cleared, the ball was worked wide to Alex Addai whose super cross was emphatically headed home by Callum Willock.
It had been a niggly first period with four bookings - two apiece to each team, but it had been equally absorbing and entertaining.
With five goals in the first period, the likelihood of a scoreless second half felt quite low at the break. And so it proved ten minutes in when another free kick, again delivered by McCall after a foul by the previously cautioned Xavier Vidal into the heart of the penalty area was met on the volley by the outside of Seeby's right foot. Wilson had no chance as the ball arrowed just inside the far post to restore Hendon's two goal lead.
Large parts of the second period continued as the first had, with Hendon dominating possession yet Merstham providing dangerous incursions on the break. Another Spencer McCall free-kick delivered with a real sparkle into the box wasn't cleared by Henriques and Muir's stabbed effort goalwards was deflected wide for a corner by an alert defender.
At the other end, debutant Brendan Norris recovered well from a slip to stop the ball slithering over the line from a cross before going on to produce a brilliant save from a Henriques header after a corner to preserve the two goal cushion. And it would go on to prove to be a vital stop.
Xavier Vidal, having previously been cautioned and then spoken to twice, committed a foul inside the Hendon half with 15 minutes remaining. The referee played a good advantage and when, sixty seconds later the ball had gone out for a Merstham corner, the official went back and showed the former Dulwich man a second yellow card.
As so often happens, playing against 10 men becomes harder than against eleven. Galvanised by the red card, Merstham's attacking play found renewed purpose whilst Hendon's, strangely, became more nervy.
With four minutes remaining, a left wing cross from Arron Hopkinson found its way inside Norris' far post to make it 4-3 and increase the nerves of the Hendon supporters.
That said, the back four settled down and it was Hendon that came closest to extending their advantage when Muir, who had an excellent afternoon in an unfamiliar left wing position, beat his full-back and fired a shot towards goal. Wilson produced a very smart reaction save to send his effort over the top of the bar.
The final whistle brought plenty of succour to those Hendon supporters that were in danger of turning a shade of lobster pink in the strong Surrey sunshine and are now able to look forward to Monday's home game with Dulwich Hamlet at Silver Jubilee Park with more confidence than they would have done before kick off.
|4||Xavier Vidal||s/o, 75|
|12||Tashan Francis-Adeyinka||for 10 , 65|
|15||Reece Hall||for 7 , 82|
|16||Kristian Campbell||for 3 , 46|
|14||Dave Diedhiou||for 7 , 69|
|15||Khale Da Costa|
|16||Keagan Cole||for 8 , 82|
|17||Andre Da Costa||for 9 , 82|