Hendon gave Fisher Athletic a huge fright at the start and finish of the London Senior Cup Final at the impressive Imperial Fields stadium in Tooting, on Tuesday night, but came out on the wrong end of a 3-2 final scoreline. It was Hendon's first cup final defeat for 19 years, and means that it is now 37 years since the Greens last won the London Senior Cup, although there have been a few years when the club did not enter the competition.
Dave King returned in goal for the Final, while Jeff Campbell and Ricci Crace returned to the starting line-ups. In a brave, attacking move, apart for Rikki Banks as substitute goalkeeper, Ross Pickett was the only defensive replacement on the bench and his experience as a central defender has only been as an emergency stop-gap.
Fisher's pace and precision passing was a big fear for Hendon, but they have a tendency to move a bit too fast and a couple off offside flags in the opening dozen minutes stopped attacks before they could develop fully.
Then, in the 13th minute, Hendon should have taken the lead. A diagonal pass from Campbell found Blaise O'Brien, whose hopeful dink into the box caused chaos. Crace and Ahmed Deen went for the ball without touching it, but impeding Will Packham, who got his hands to the ball but could only push it a few yards away towards the edge of the box.
Andy Cook was there, waiting to pounce on scraps. A little composure was needed, much as he had shown when the scoring the only goal in the League encounter between the clubs at Fisher in January, but this he lashed the ball high over the bar. He did need to lift the ball as Packham advanced towards him, but it was a decent chance.
The lesson in how a chance should be taken was given by Fisher skipper Chris Piper 11 minutes later. It was a beautiful, flowing move that ripped apart the Hendon defence and Piper's shot, a powerful, low drive, arrowed past King on its way into the bottom corner.
That was the only goal of the half, but Hendon were distinctly unlucky not to be awarded a penalty ten minutes after going behind. A corner from Campbell was going towards Mark Cooper, who was being marked by Nick Davis. As the ball arrived, Davis pushed Cooper away. The referee blew his whistle and awarded the free-kick to Fisher, punishing Cooper for an offence instead.
Ninety seconds into the second half, Fisher doubled their lead. The Hendon defence was sloppy as it failed to deal with the Fisher forwards and Lenny Piper emulated his brother by scoring in the Final with a finish that was almost as emphatic.
Things got worse for the Greens just before the hour mark. A clumsy challenge on Steve Watts resulted in the striker going down in the penalty area and the referee had no hesitation, this time, in pointing to the spot. Hamid Barr had the responsibility with the penalty kick and he confidently converted.
At 3-0 down, and with barely half an hour to go, the game was pretty much over as a contest. Except this is just the situation that sees Fisher fall asleep and lose concentration. For the third time in six matches over the past 15 months, Hendon totally dominated the final part of the game and almost turned a hopeless situation into something positive.
Ross Pickett replaced the O'Brien and Danny Edwards took over from the exhausted Crace. And, within a minute of Edwards' appearance, Hendon were given a lifeline. Campbell drove in a free-kick. The ball was deliberately aimed away from regular targets Cook, Cooper and Pickett; instead it went to Marc Leach, whose delicate, looping header floated over Packham and dropped just inside the angle of post and crossbar.
In the 78th minute, Fisher should have made the game safe when Chris Piper attacked at great pace down the right. He found Damian Scannell, who danced around Leach and laid on the simplest of chances for Steve Watts. Incredibly the striker ballooned his effort high over the crossbar from about six yards out.
Charlie Mapes came on for Campbell a couple of minutes later, but he could not do much to improve the situation, until he took another free-kick, five minutes from full-time. Dave Hunt rose well and sent a powerful header against the underside of the crossbar. The ball bounced down on the line and spun away from the goal. But Cooper was there, three yards out and unmarked. His header was unstoppable and it was 3-2.
In the final five minutes, Hunt tried his luck with a shot from distance, but Packham watched it sail wide of the target. Mapes then had an effort that also failed to have the necessary accuracy. In the last minute, with the Fisher defence now distinctly uncomfortable, they failed to deal convincingly with a ball into the box.
The clearance fell to Leach, 25 yards out. He didn't hit the ball quite as well he would have liked, but it certainly would have beaten Packham had it been travelling just inside the right post. Unfortunately for him, and for Hendon, the ball went a couple of feet the other side of the post and Hendon's last chance of forcing extra time had gone.
"I am proud of the way we fought back from 3-0 down," said manager Gary McCann. "Fisher are the best footballing team in our division, but they sometimes overplay things and make mistakes at the back. We couldn't take advantage of the chances that came our way and we left ourselves with too much to do."