Hendon booked their passage into the last 16 of Westview (Isthmian League) Cup with an extra time defeat of Brook House at Kingshill Avenue on Tuesday night. Although they were nearly on the wrong end of a shock defeat, there is no doubt that the better team over the 120 minutes prevailed.
The difficulty of the tie should not have been a surprise. Brook House, who play in Ryman League Division Two, have already played Hayes in the FA Cup and a full-strength Yeading team in a friendly. Hayes needed a replay to prevail, while Yeading had to work hard to narrowly win the friendly. For Hendon, this match was no less of a battle than the two Conference South teams found out when they duelled with them.
With Sean Thomas cup-tied, Dave King returned between the sticks. Del Lewis was on the subs' bench alongside Danny Julienne, who replaced the injured Rene Street.
It took all of 45 seconds for Hendon to create their first opening. A shot from John Frendo was spilled by Keiron Jimmy and Ricci Crace almost reached the ball before keeper was able to regather it.
After 10 minutes a 30-yard free-kick from Jeff Campbell crept past the outside of the Brook House wall and almost bent just inside the far post. Jimmy, however, made a fine low save, pushing the ball out for a corner.
A foul on Dave Hunt just outside the penalty area was spotted by the assistant referee who flagged for the foul. The referee marched the wall back before Campbell fired over the crossbar.
On the stroke of half-time, Dave Hunt was set up by a combination of Crace and Frendo, but he drove his shot directly at the advancing Jimmy, who blocked the ball.
The second half saw Hendon lose a little of their impetus but still enjoy the bulk of possession. Heavy rain, which began falling early in the first half, continued to lash down, making for a miserable evening. Brook House certainly adapted better to the harsh conditions, and it wasn't a complete surprise when they took the lead after 60 minutes.
Hendon had a throw-in ten yards from their own line. Iain Duncan took the throw, trying to find Marc Leach for a flick-on down the line. The ball, however, slipped out of Duncan's hands, going only as far as Hunt, who was unable to direct his header.
Darren Cahill snapped up possession and drove a 25-yard first-time shot towards the Hendon goal. King was well positioned and made a good save. Unfortunately the ball rebounded nicely for Jay Pereira to tuck home the rebound.
Three minutes later, Dean Papali tried his luck with a shot, but King was able to make the save. In the 68th minute, Andy Cook came on for Jeff Campbell in a bid to strengthen the midfield and to add some physical presence to the attack. Jimmy Froud was then introduced at the expense of Frendo.
A goal-line clearance by Danny Rouco from one of a succession of Hendon corners preserved the Brook House advantage and, as the game moved into its closing stages, an embarrassing exit began to loom as a reality.
Redemption came in controversial circumstances in the fourth minute of stoppage time. From a Hendon free-kick, Leach jumped for a ball and got his head to it. Whether it then came off a Brook House player before going over the goal-line was the subject of much post-match argument. The man who mattered, the referee, pointed to the corner flag.
The ball was crossed in and Mark Cooper rose above the home defence to plant his header through forest of legs and into the net. There were barely 30 more seconds of action following the restart before the whistle blew to signal extra time.
Brook House almost scored in the opening minute of the first period of extra time. Substitute Trevor Dennison held off James Parker and had a clear shot at goal. He placed it low towards the corner, but King was equal to it, pushing the ball away.
Almost immediately, Hendon broke to the other end and Danny Murphy sent Cook into a huge gap in the Brook House defence. After beating two covering defenders, Cook had only Jimmy to beat, but the goalkeeper produced an excellent save from his left foot shot.
In the 95th minute, Hunt timed a run into the penalty area perfectly to meet a short pass from Ross Pickett, but he could not find the target with his shot. His revenge, however, was just a couple of minutes away.
Another Hendon attack left the Brook House defence dragged out of position and when the ball reached Hunt, he dragged his shot into the ground. It proved to be the perfect finish because the bouncing ball looped high over Jimmy, who was already committed to a diving save, and dropped into the net.
In the opening minute of the second period of extra time, Crace should have made the game safe when he went on an electrifying 60-yard run with the ball. All that was missing from a goal of the season candidate was an on-target finish and Brook House breathed again.
As the time began to tick away from Brook House, their attacks became more and more borne of desperation. Three shots were fired at King, but none were remotely close to him. When they tried to attack from the wing, the crosses were easily picked out by the tall goalkeeper, under no pressure.
"We made really hard work of that," admitted a somewhat relieved Gary McCann. "I thought we were in control in the first half and should have had the game won by half-time. We could have scored three or four goals by the interval.
"Credit to Brook House, they made us work really hard, but I thought we played well and we kept our composure, even when we went behind. I always felt we were capable of scoring, but we did leave it late."