Hendon reached the third round of the Westview Rail (Ryman League) Cup with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Division One North strugglers Flackwell Heath. The Greens' first competitive victory of the season was only achieved by a stunning strike from Wayne O'Sullivan with 15 seconds of normal time remaining.
Gary Hoy made his Hendon debut at the expense of Ryan Wharton, while Takumi Ake and Rakatahr Hudson took over from Jermaine Hunter and Nas Richardson, the three dropped players all going to the bench, where they were joined by Jamie Busby and fit again O'Sullivan, who had recovered from the virus that kept him out on Saturday.
The changes didn't appear to work, at least in the opening minutes, because Hendon's early frailty was once again ruthlessly exposed. A silly free-kick and a misplaced defensive header resulted in a Flackwell Heath corner after only 90 seconds. The ball was swung in and Kieran Webb's flicked header deflected off Jazz Rose and was headed clear from behind the goalline to give the Heathens the lead.
Hendon hit back very positively but, unfortunately, the finishing and set-piece delivery in the first half was at least as bad as the defending had been. Corners and free-kicks were invariably met by a red-shirted defender in front of the nearest Hendon player, while pretty much every attacking player wasted an excellent opportunity to equalise. Some the credit must go to the Heathens' Nick Hart, who had an inspired game in goal, but both Dean Green and Ross Pickett could have bagged first-half hat-tricks.
The equaliser, when it arrived in the 40th minute, came out of almost nothing. A simple ball lifted over the defence invited Lee O'Leary to run into space. He timed his break well and lifted the ball over Hart and was turning away in celebration before the ball dipped under the crossbar.
To the astonishment and fury of the Hendon bench, the second half started even worse than the first. This time it took Webb less than a minute to capitalise on a defensive slip to bag his second goal of the game.
It took only 15 minutes, after four more wasted opportunities, for Hendon to draw level and there was a slice of luck in it too. Green drove a low cross from the right wing and Jamie Clarke, under pressure from Pickett, could only divert the ball into his own net.
Six minutes later, Hendon had the lead. A low shot was spilled by Hart and Hudson nipped in to knock home the rebound. By this time, both Hoy and Pickett had been substituted, by O'Sullivan and Hunter, respectively, and it wasn't long before Ake made way for Hunter.
The game became more open as Hendon's nervous defending invited Flackwell Heath to try their luck. There really should not have been much cause for concern, but Richard Wilmot became as busy as Hart, while Craig Vargas was forced to do much more defending than he'd had to in the first period.
A pile-driver of a shot from James Burgess flew inches wide and a cross from Green was deflected inches wide of the far post by Matt Rolfe as Hendon attacked, but, in the 78th minute, it was the home side who were celebrating as Jon Donoghue lobbed Wilmot to make it 3-3. A brief shower just added to the Hendon misery.
But it all came right in the end. O'Sullivan had twice made marauding runs out of defence, going unchecked for the 40 or 50 metres, so this time he ventured further forward without the ball. That came to him from James Parker and when O'Sullivan had advanced to 25 yards out, he looked up to see no one coming to close him down. He elected to shoot and his precision was perfect, the ball beating Hart's despairing dive and kissing the inside of the post as it flew into the goal.
His joy, and that of the Hendon bench, was clear to see, especially as the game was in stoppage time by the time it restarted. This time the defence was able to hold out and Hendon had their first competitive victory since Easter Monday.
"I am pleased with the win," said manager Gary McCann. "If we had taken our chances tonight we could have won by any number of goals, but we weren't clinical enough. And our defence was as bad, giving away three terrible goals, all from mistakes."