|Competition:||Isthmian League Premier Division|
|Date:||Saturday 14 January 2017|
It was very much a game of two halves as Hendon revisited one of their less successful hunting grounds: Longmead in Tonbridge. The Greens can count themselves unlucky not to have finished the first half at least 4-2 up, while the home side dominated the second half with an imperial display that took them to a very well-deserved victory, even if the final score was somewhat flattering for the Angels.
Ultimately, the decisive difference between the two sides was Tonbridge goalkeeper Anthony Di Bernado, his inspired performance seeing him justifiably scoop the Man of the Match accolade from the gameâs sponsors. Another strong influence was the ill health of the Hendon squad, manager Gary McCann noting that "Things certainly were made much harder for us by a virus that went through the team at the end of the week. Matt Ball, Merrick James-Lewis and Reis Stanislaus weren't available and Keagan Cole was fit only for the bench, but praise to Arthur Lee who also battled through it and put his hand up to start."
It was the home side who enjoyed some early momentum, seeing a couple of long range efforts barely trouble Tom Lovelock in the Hendon goal, before Di Bernado made his first of many pivotal interventions, pulling off a very smart double save from Kezie Ibe after he had been played in by a ball lobbed over the Tonbridge back line. He could, however, do little to prevent Hendon taking a well merited lead in the opening ten minutes. Again, Ibe was at the heart of the action, his shot parried by Di Bernado into the path of Karl Oliyide who made no mistake as he smashed the ball into the net.
Hendon's games at Longmead have generally been highly eventful in the past, and this encounter was no exception. In an end-to-end first half, Tonbridge soon forced Lovelock into his first meaningful save of the game, before some excellent approach play from Hendon's Sam Murphy at the other end saw his eventual shot sail narrowly over the bar. Lovelock was called into action shortly thereafter, sprawling at the feat of Tonbridge's Alex Akrofi to prevent an equaliser.
An equaliser was imminent, however. A Tonbridge corner was lofted in to the Hendon box, the ball being met by a towering header from the Angels' Mitchell Nelson who thumped the ball beyond Lovelock to bring the game to parity.
Hendon were soon back on the front foot, a header from the impressive Marcel Barrington being sent just over the woodwork before a shot from the industrious Murphy produced another decent save from Di Bernado. He was back in the thick of it almost straight away, diving at Ibe's feet for a ball that the Hendon striker had every right to go for, despite the protestations of assorted Angels personnel.
Just after the halfway point of the first half, the hosts were forced into an early change, the injured goal scorer Nelson being replaced by Luke Blewden. Lovelock was then the Hendon saviour as he pulled off a smart save after Nathan Elder was afforded a decent opportunity from a Hendon defensive mix-up. Di Barnado racked up another decisive contribution as he saved an effort from Karl Oliyide, before play shifted once more to the other half where Tonbridge took the lead.
Casey Maclaren was adjudged to have hauled down an Angels attacker in the box and the ref pointed to the spot, Oliyide picking up a caution for dissent in the aftermath. Alex Akrofi made no mistake from the spot. The remainder of the opening period saw Di Bernado pull off a world-class save from a rasping drive from Hendon's Dave Diedhiou and Maclaren pick up Hendonâs second yellow card for a robust challenge.
The second half saw Tonbridge almost immediately extend their lead. A corner resulted in some aerial ping-pong in the Hendon six-yard box, the ball eventually squirming its way to George Beaven who bundled the ball in. This seemed to knock the stuffing out of a hard-working Hendon side, and the visitors lost a great deal of their urgency and threat.
A flurry of yellow cards followed as the game lost much of its fluency, Dave Diedhiou picking one up for Hendon for what appeared to be an accumulation of minor transgressions. Hendon defender Jamie Smith followed him into the referee's notebook after a wild challenge that might have resulted in a dismissal with a different official in charge, the Greens' defender somewhat relieved to see a mere yellow card waved in his direction.
Hendon made two changes as the end of the game loomed, Laste Dombaxe being replaced by Keagan Cole and Ibe switched for Andre Da Costa. Di Bernado pulled off another wonder save from an Arthur Lee header that came from a corner before pulling off another jaw-dropping save from Oliyide.
As the game neared its conclusion Murphy left the pitch to a warm ovation as he was replaced by Quba Gordon. There was a good chance for Tonbridge to crown their victory with a fourth before the final whistle, although Nathan Elder somehow contrived to knock the ball wide rather than stick it into the net.
Gary McCann was upbeat after the defeat. He said, "I thought we played really well and deserved to get something out of the game. We dominated large parts of the game. When the opposing goalkeeper is head and shoulders man of the match, it is clear that we had done some things very well. However, I do realise that we should have been more ruthless and efficient in front of goal. I am good friends with their manager Steve McKimm and he told me that he could have had no complaints if we had got a draw from the game and would not have argued if we had picked up all three points."
|1||Anthony Di Bernado|
|12||Tommy Whitnell||for 11 , 75|
|15||Sid Sollis||for 7 , 84|
|16||Luke Blewden||for 5 , 23|
|12||Keagan Cole||for 8 , 73|
|15||Quba Gordon||for 7 , 83|
|17||Andre Da Costa||for 9 , 73|