|Competition:||Isthmian League Premier Division|
|Date:||Saturday 07 January 2017|
Hendon finally had a home Ryman League win to celebrate at Silver Jubilee Park, removing from their back a giant monkey of King Kong proportions. The 2-1 defeat of Merstham on Saturday afternoon was greeted by huge relief from the Hendon faithful as this match was definitely in the must-win category after six consecutive defeats.
Two new signings, midfielder Matt Ball, from St Albans, and striker Marcel Barrington, ex-Tooting, were added to the squad, the former starting in place of Aaron Tumwa, while Keagan Cole took over from Quba Gordon. Barrington, Merrick James-Lewis, Tumwa, and Andre Da Costa were named on the bench, the latter two not being used.
The Greens dominated the first half and really could have been out of sight by the interval. After the break, however, it was Merstham - whose set-up and play for much of the game was not to lose rather than win - who were in control.
Phil Wilson kept Merstham in the game in the opening half-hour, making the first of a number of saves in keeping out a Cole effort after 12 minutes. Sam Murphy was the next to try his luck, in the 20th minute, but his mazy run curling shot and was too close to the keeper, who saved comfortably.
Three minutes later, Hendon felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Murphy linked well with Reis Stansilaus, playing a one-two but, a yard or two inside the penalty area, Murphy's run was halted by Michael Abnett.
The referee took a deep breath, blew his whistle and awarded a free-kick less than a yard outside the penalty area. Murphy's burst was sudden and such was his speed that he went down almost in line with the penalty spot, but it seemed a generous decision for the Moatsiders.
Hendon's accuracy from that free-kick, and two or three others around the penalty area, was not close enough to give Wilson any work to do. The goalkeeper, however, did well to spread himself and block another chance for Cole and then saved from Karl Oliyide.
It wasn't all one-way traffic, however, as Dean McDonald curled a free-kick just over the Hendon crossbar and Tom Lovelock was perfectly positioned to save from the tricky Daniel Cojocarel.
The second half was a mirror image of the first and it was Lovelock who was far the busier goalkeeper. However, and this has not been said recently, the Greens defence was certainly not worse than their opponents and the Moatsiders were susceptible to being opened up from many parts of the pitch.
Luke Tingey and Maclaren worked well in the middle of the back four, Jamie Smith and Arthur Lee were solid outside them and Dave Diedhiou did well in front of them. For all that, the performance of Lovelock was probably the most important.
In the space of six minutes between the 50th and 56th, there were four clear goalscoring opportunities. Lovelock saved from Dan Bennett twice, the second an exceptional effort, and Cojocarel while, at the other end, Oliyide lobbed the ball over the advancing Wilson, but the ball went narrowly wide of the target.
Just before the hour mark was reached, Hendon took the lead. A corner was needlessly conceded and, this time, the dead ball delivery was excellent.
Casey Maclaren timed his run perfectly, appeared to brush aside his marker and powered a header into the net. There were a few complaints from Merstham defenders, but they were ignored by the referee.
Just after Rae Bailey-Allen had replaced Abnett, and Barrington had taken over from Stanislaus for the final 20 minutes, the Moatsiders had two penalty claims waved aside. In the 73rd minute, the referee allowed play to continue, and McDonald's strike was brilliantly tipped over the crossbar by Lovelock.
A few minutes later, Hendon were penalised on the edge of their penalty area and the referee went over to his assistant before confirming the ball should be placed outside the 18-yard-box. The set-piece was off target.
With five minutes of normal time remaining Hendon grabbed what everyone felt was the vital second goal. Merstham, it must be said were masters of their own misfortune as they lost possession of the ball in their own half.
Suddenly, Hendon had a three-on two, with Ball in possession, Barrington to his left and Oliyide in front of him, both 10 yards in front of the midfielder. Timing the pass was critical, needing to be played forward before either striker ventured into offside territory.
Ball's pass was perfect as Oliyide took the ball in stride, balanced himself well and drilled his shot past Wilson into the net. Surely Hendon couldn't throw this advantage away with so little time remaining.
Ibe and James-Lewis came on for the scorer and creator of the second goal, respectively, while the giant presence of Calum Willock was added to the Merstham mix, with left-back Kristian Campbell being sacrificed.
And just to ensure that Hendon nerves would jangle right up to the final whistle, the Greens defence was finally breached. With a minute of additional time played, a diagonal ball went between Arthur Lee and Luke Tingey, both of whom had been excellent, and was controlled by Bailey-Allen.
The substitute wasted little time in turning and shooting past Lovelock. Fears of four or so more minutes of added time, entirely possible given five substitutions, a brief injury to Lovelock and three goals, two with long celebrations, were entirely reasonable.
In fact, there were barely 90 more seconds played before the referee brought an end to the proceedings and Hendon could at last enjoy a post-match home game with a winnersâ drink.
Greens boss Gary McCann admitted, "It's funny but I am sure the beer tastes much better after a win!"
The magnitude of this victory for Hendon is clear to see. Not only did the six-game losing streak end, but also the Greens will gain confidence from beating one of the teams in the relegation mix.
Nonetheless, Hendon remain in the bottom three of the Ryman League Premier Division, with an awful goal difference and they have played more games than all the teams around them, except basement dwelling Grays Athletic. Looking at the positive side, the Greens are now only three points behind 16th-placed AFC Sudbury.
|12||Marcel Barrington||for 9 , 71|
|14||Merrick James-Lewis||for 8 , 90|
|16||Kezie Ibe||for 10 , 86|
|17||Andre Da Costa|
|12||Calum Willock||for 3 , 83|
|15||Rae Bailey-Allen||for 2 , 68|