Hendon ended an 11-game and two-month run without a Ryman League Premier Division victory and gave themselves a chance of avoiding relegation with a 4-0 demolition of Leyton at Claremont Road on Easter Monday afternoon. They moved a point clear of the scrap to avoid the tenth and final relegation spot, moving a point and an 18-goal superior difference ahead of Southern League Northwood with two games to play, but still a point behind two teams in the Unibond League. It was only the second time this season, the Greens have scored more than two in a Ryman League game and their biggest winning margin in the competition since St Albans were beaten by the same score in December 2003.
Following Saturday's disappointing defeat and performance, there were numerous changes to the starting line-up and bench. James Parker, Andy Cook, Ross Pickett and Charlie Mapes were all omitted, with James Burgess and Danny Murphy making their first starts for seven and nine weeks, respectively, and first career starts given to Jamie Busby and Danny Edwards. RenÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© Street and Ricci Crace were both named to the bench after missing three and four months.
A bright, sunny day offered more hope than the dreariness of Saturday and this translated to the players who attacked with gusto, while defending with much more purpose. The first chance fell to Leyton, but Ian Hilaire's header from a Mark Sophocleous cross was deflected wide of the of the goal by a defender.
Hendon had the ball in the Leyton net after 17 minutes when Mark Cooper headed a Jeff Campbell free-kick goalwards and Dave Hunt added a final touch. He, however, was in an offside position and although both the referee and his assistant acknowledged that Hunt's touch was actually redundant - because it in no way altered the outcome - by making contact Hunt had to be given offside.
The Greens suffered a blow in the 22nd minute, when Lee O'Leary injured his ankle and he had to be replaced by Cook. Committed to attack, Hendon were determined not to let the reshuffle unsettle them.
In the 25th minute, Edwards burst into space and fired a powerful drive which Dave Morgan saved spectacularly. Blaise O'Brien then shot just over the bar from a good position.
At the other end, Rikki Banks made a fine fingertip save to push over a drive from Daniel Tenkorang. But the closest Hendon came to a goal was a chance for Campbell, who burst from the middle of the field to have a one-on-one with Morgan. He shot early and beat the goalkeeper, but failed to hit the target.
In previous weeks, this profligacy has proved to be disastrous, but not on this occasion. In the 49th minute, Campbell, Hunt and Edwards all had shots before the ball fell back to Campbell, who steadied himself before firing home from eight yards. The relief could be felt everywhere Hendon fans and staff were watching.
Nine minutes later the lead was doubled when Murphy swooped to dispossess Ian Bass. He cut inside the covering Frankie Curley and looked up to find both O'Brien and Hunt waiting for the ball. He passed to Hunt, who stroked the ball into the middle of the goal from around the penalty spot to give Hendon breathing space.
Leyton wilted in the sunshine and they were somewhat fortunate not to concede another goal for almost half an hour. Crace came on for Edwards after 69 minutes and within 60 seconds had almost scored. Unfortunately his first touch let him down and Morgan was able to gather the ball.
Twice in quick succession Cook won headers from Campbell free-kicks and watched the ball bounce just in front of the predatory Crace but go just the wrong side of the post.
But, in the 87th minute Cook got his reward. The increasing undisciplined Leyton defence conceded another free-kick in a dangerous position and this time, Campbell shot at goal. Whether Morgan would have made a save became a moot point and the ball cannoned off Cook and bounced into the net. The visitors were convinced Cook was in an offside position, but the assistant referee waved aside their protests.
Four minutes later, he was doing the same thing against as Pickett, on for O'Brien, ran onto a long ball from defence from Marc Leach, helped on by Campbell. Pickett had time to balance himself before shooting past the goalkeeper for number four.
"It was a gamble playing six players 21 or under today," said manager Gary McCann of his much-changed line-up, "but they didn't have fear. We could have scored eight or nine today."