Hendon continued their recent improved form with a superb 4-1 victory over Leyton at the E10 Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The match came close to being abandoned during the 90 minutes as torrential rain left parts of the pitch just wet enough to slow the ball. However, referee Mr Saliy and the two teams deserve much credit for the way they conducted themselves in the awful conditions.
James Burgess dropped to the bench, allowing Belal Aiteouakrim to return to the starting line-up. This allowed Jamie Busby to drop back into midfield, alongside Rakatahr Hudson and Lee O'Leary, and the whole team looked much more balanced.
It was clear that the conditions favoured forward players and, on the whole, Kieran Murphy, Wayne O'Sullivan, James Parker and Marc Leach coped better with Manny Williams, Mark Sophocleous and Leli Bejada than Des Thomas, Vas Soteriou, Scott Honeyball and Roy Parkyn dealt with Aiteouakrim, Dean Green and Brian Haule. This was especially the case in the second half, when the conditions deteriorated and Hendon had a more distinct wind advantage.
The first clear opening of note fell to Dean Green in the 14th minute. His powerful run was matched by a shot which was tipped over athletically by Dave Morgan. The corner was sadly wasted.
Six minutes later, Leyton had a clearer opening. Williams was put clear by a long ball out of defence. He had a clear run at goal but, instead of shooting, laid the ball into the path of Sophocleous, who made a complete hash of his shot. The ball, however, bobbled back to Williams, who was denied by a brave save from Richard Wilmot.
Just before half-time, however, Leyton took the lead. The move started with a Hendon free-kick from O'Sullivan. O'Leary won a header, but he was convinced that a Leyton defender, jumping with him, got the final touch as the ball bounced away over the goal-line 10 yards from the post.
Mr Saliy and his assistant were in accord that it was a goal-kick despite the Hendon captain's protestations and Morgan's long kick led to Bajada being released. Although he had plenty of work to do before scoring, Bajada did it all, finishing it with a shot low into the bottom corner. Thirty seconds later, the half-time whistle blew.
Despite the psychological blow of conceding so close to half-time, Hendon started the second half well and quickly took the initiative. And, ten minutes into the period, the Greens were back on level terms.
A ball from midfield released Haule, who gained a couple of strides on Honeyball. Outstripping the defender, Haule was left with only the advancing Morgan to beat and he did so with a simple sidefoot into the bottom corner.
A couple of long-range free-kicks were well dealt with by Morgan, though Leach's attempts to get the ball to bounce just in front of the goalkeeper narrowly failed. When a backpass from Parkyn slowed up in front of Morgan, Hendon had a half-chance to take the lead, but the ball stuck under Green's feet too.
After 62 minutes, Wilmot made an excellent plunging save to keep out a speculative effort from Loui Fazackerley, who had replaced the struggling Sophocleous just after the restart.
In the 73rd minute, Hendon very nearly took the lead when an O'Leary corner picked out James Parker, who thudded his header off the top of the crossbar with Morgan beaten. The goalkeeper then pushed aside a free-kick from the same player.
But, in the 76th minute, he was left helpless as the Greens' pressure finally told. Haule collected an astute pass from Hudson and ran at goal. This time, however, he didn't shoot, setting up Aiteouakrim instead. His burst of pace took him past Thomas and his bent shot curled just inside the far post, crossing the line almost apologetically.
Leyton began to tire, though Bajada almost snatched an 81st minute equaliser, Wilmot again coming to Hendon's rescue.
The game was decided in the 85th minute, and in spectacular fashion. Hendon committed a number of players forward and Hudson saw his path to goal blocked, he laid the ball back into the path of Busby, the match-winning hero seven days earlier. Whereas Busby's goal against Worthing had much to do with the goalkeeper being unsighted, this strike beat Morgan because it was not only perfectly struck, but also because it was equally well placed.
Hendon made three substitutions in the last ten minutes of normal time, replacing Aiteouakrim, Green and Haule with Ross Pickett, Burgess and debutant Eseyas Yhdego, who has seen service at QPR, Fulham - where he was released when they signed Louis Saha - Farnborough Town, Margate and Harrow Borough.
There was still time for a Leach free-kick to be headed over the bar by Pickett when no intervention would probably have seen the ball end up in the net. Then, in the third minute of stoppage time, Leach bent another free-kick. Morgan did well to parry the ball, but could do nothing as it sat up in the six-yard box waiting for a Hendon boot to to slide it into the net. Pickett did the honours and Hendon fans went home very wet, but even more happy.
"I am very pleased with the second half performance," said manager Gary McCann, "and also very pleased to have picked up seven points out of nine over the Christmas period. We have closed right up on the teams in the little group above us."