Hendon advanced to their third cup quarter-final of the season with a well-deserved Westview (Isthmian League) Cup defeat of AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow Stadium on Tuesday night. There may have been only one goal in it, but this victory was far more comprehensive than that, with almost all of the good chances going Hendon's way.
With Mark Cooper nursing an ankle injury, Hendon reverted to a four-man defence, Ross Pickett partnering James Parker in the middle, with Danny Murphy and Iain Duncan at full-back. This allowed wide midfielders Byron Bubb and Ben Hudell - outside Dave Hunt and Andy Cook - to occupy Wimbledon's two full-backs and keep them in defensive mode, as well as linking with the front two of Ricci Crace and Blaise O'Brien.
The tactics worked a treat, because Wimbledon were unable to make a quick start and indeed it was their defence which had to answer all the early questions. However, the real problem the home team had was in coping with Hendon's counter-attacks and they proved to be decisive.
In the 20th minute, a cross from Dave Sargent was plucked out of the night sky by Dave King, who showed all his old authority. The goalkeeper landed on his feet and he immediately bowled the ball out to the left side, where Hudell was in space.
Hudell took the ball to the edge of the Wimbledon penalty area, where he passed to O'Brien, who was marked by Antony Howard. O'Brien feinted one way, went the other, deceiving Howard, and drilled a left-foot shot into the roof of the net with Dons goalkeeper Andy Little as much a spectator as the 400 fans behind him.
Little produced a fine save to deny Crace before Wimbledon launched their first serious raid on the Hendon goal. It came after 36 minutes when Richard Butler worked himself an opening with some excellent approach work down the left flank. He cut in and drilled a low show, which King saved well. Two minutes later, Shane Smeltz escaped his marker on the right side, but he drove his effort over the angle of post and crossbar.
Hendon expected to be put under serious pressure in the second half and, for five minutes, that was the case. But when a combination of Crace and O'Brien almost added a second Hendon goal at the end of another quickfire break, Wimbledon pretty much shut up shop. It appeared that stopping a second Hendon goal was more important that getting their first one and this timidity played right into Hendon's hands.
Even the introduction of playmaker Dwayne Plummer for the final 20-odd minutes didn't change the complexion of the game. They also brought on other attacking options in Nas Richardson and Niall Connolly, later, but they had no effect either.
In fact, Crace should have sewed up the game in the 81st minute, when he rounded Little but failed to hit target, mainly because he was stumbling and falling to the ground as he tried to sidefoot the ball into the empty net.
"This was a really good performance, from each and every player," said a delighted manager Gary McCann after the game. "Our commitment was as good tonight as it has been all season."