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Hendon again moved out of the bottom four of the Ryman League Premier Division, this time with a 1-0 victory over relegation-haunted Slough Town at Stag Meadow. In a match where the result was more important than the performance, this was winning ugly, but winning.
With Marc Leach suspended and James Parker and Wayne O'Sullivan fit only for the bench, Hendon had to revamp their entire defence. Chris Robinson stayed at right-back, with Jazz Rose coming in on the left, to accommodate Craig Vargas's move into the middle where he was joined by Rakatahr Hudson, playing his first game for Hendon in that role. That at least allowed the front six to remain unchanged, but they had a collective off-day.
The Greens had the advantage of kicking down the hill in the first half, but they didn't use it particularly well. After 40 seconds, Dean Green created a half-opening, but the shot was off target.
In the next five minutes, the Hendon defence twice gave away free-kicks barely feet from the edge of the penalty area. From the first, a low shot from Terry Davis struck a boot in the defensive wall and the ball rolled inches wide of the post with Richard Wilmot not even close to it. The second free-kick hit the wall and was cleared without too much difficulty.
The pendulum swung the other way over the next 15 minutes, but the Hendon strike force had a real off day. Belal Aiteouakrim was particularly off the pace. He had three excellent chances, put one narrowly wide and twice was dispossessed after taking too long to shoot. He seemed really uncomfortable on the very difficult surface as his normally reliable touch deserted him.
Jamie Busby did ever so well to dispossess Steve Daly to set up another chance, this time for Brian Haule, but a fine challenge from Michael Donovan did enough to avert the danger. Hendon had control of the midfield, but the final ball was all too often either wayward or passed to a player well marked.
Rather out of the blue, Hendon got what proved to be the winner after 35 minutes. Robinson attacked down the right wing and cut inside. Given a sight of goal, he let fly, but the goalbound shot struck a defender and went away for a corner.
Lee O'Leary floated the ball into the area, Jazz Rose got a flick on it and Davis Haule diverted it, via an upright into the net as Jamie Jackson vainly tried to keep it out of the net. It was an untidy goal, utterly in keeping with the rest of the match.
Brian Haule was denied by a last-gasp challenge from Donovan following another lapse in the Slough defence just outside their own box. Donovan timed his tackle perfectly taking the ball off Haule's toe just as he was about to shoot; he could so easily have conceded a penalty with a little less precision.
Whatever was said at half-time in the Slough dressing room had the desired effect on the Rebels. They started the second half with a great deal more energy and forced Hendon into retreat. A shot from George Moleski had Wilmot at full stretch to push aside his shot and the big goalkeeper was relieved to see the clearance completed before Steve Hale could pounce.
Aiteouakrim and Brian Haule both squandered good opening when Hendon did find a way into the Slough box, but most of the action was at the other end, where Hendon's makeshift defence held firm. But Slough's problem this season has been scoring goals and a total of four in 12 League games prior to this one tells its own story.
With 15 minutes to go, Slough were awarded a free-kick just outside the Hendon penalty area. As the kick was about to be taken the referee, halted the action and called over Jon Mills. With barely a word to him, the referee produced a red card and as Mills walked off the official appeared to indicate he had seen the use of an elbow.
Enraged Slough fans screamed for a penalty as one of their players went to ground when the free-kick flew into the penalty area, but none of the players appealed and the ball was cleared.
Hendon's nervousness was shown in microcosm in the 83rd minute when they turned a promising attack into anxious defence under almost no pressure. Starting to launch an attack down the right side, the ball stuck in the mud so was passed towards the centre circle. From here a first-time ball went way behind Rose, who had to back-track and his only real option was a pass back to Wilmot, who saw Matt Miller running towards him. Wilmot passed back to Rose, who sliced the ball out for a throw-in 30 yards from the Hendon goal-line.
The Greens made three late changes, withdrawing the limping Brian Haule, Aiteouakrim and Green being replaced by Ross Pickett, James Burgess and Wayne O'Sullivan.
"I think we made it more difficult that we should have," said manager Gary McCann. "We were very focused on winning the game and I would agree that it was winning ugly. However, a look at the table shows just how important it was for us to get the three points.
"It was a great performance by our back-four because we had to make late changes. And if we had taken some of our very good chances it would have been much easier for us. But however we struggled on a pitch that was ankle-deep in mud in places, I still thought we were much the better side."