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Hendon showed some real courage and fighting spirit in twice coming from behind to earn a 2-2 draw at Maldon Town on Saturday afternoon. With Windsor & Eton losing, it means the gap between Hendon and the bottom three is seven points over Maldon (who have five games remaining) and eight over the Royalists (six). The big problem is that the teams above the Greens are also scrambling points and there are still a minimum of three between Hendon and safety.
Iain Duncan's injury last week kept him out of this game, so Jeff Campbell came in at left back. The only other changes were on the bench where Danny Murphy and Danny Edwards came in - Darren Watson dropped out.
The game could not have started worse for Hendon, who found themselves behind after seven minutes, and deservedly so. A free-kick was needlessly conceded just outside the penalty area and it was cleared for a corner.
From this set-piece, the marking was non-existent and Paul Goodacre had a free header from eight yards. Rikki Banks vainly tried to reach the ball but Goodacre was able to get there first and plant the ball in the net with a confident header.
Another free-kick, led to another corner and another free header. This time, however, the Maldon player was unable to direct it on target and Hendon had a lucky escape.
The Greens began to get into the game and Charlie Mapes schemed his way into an opening before firing a shot that whistled inches wide of Darren's Gould's left upright. If the stiff wind blowing across the pitch had been 180 degrees in the opposite direction, the ball would probably have blown just inside the post.
In the 24th minute, Gould produced three top saves. First he acrobatically tipped away a back header from Mark Cooper. It was dipping under the crossbar, although the Maldon defence, marshalled by former Hendon defender Simon Clark, were looking at the assistant referee for an offside flag.
From the resulting corner, both Ross Pickett and Blaise O'Brien had goalbound efforts well saved by the keeper.
The first half ended as it began, with Maldon taking control. Banks made two fine saves to divert efforts from Gareth Heath and Michael Brothers away from the goal, although the marking from the corners which followed left more than a bit to be desired.
Maldon started the second half better than Hendon and their finishing was again below the necessary standard as Tommy Lee, Brothers and Heath all drove shots over the stand behind Banks' goal when well placed.
Hendon made a change, bringing on Danny Edwards for Andy Cook and he was busy enough to give the rather cumbersome Maldon defence a few problems.
Then, in the 65th minute, out of almost nothing, Hendon got an equaliser. A long downfield ball saw Pickett put pressure on Goodacre, who used his hand instead of his chest to knock the ball back to Gould. The assistant referee had no hesitation in flagging and signalling for a penalty. O'BRIEN had to spot the ball three times before it stayed on the mark long enough for him to take the penalty kick, but his strike was unstoppable.
Looking for a winning goal, Hendon introduced Jamie Busby in the place of Lee O'Leary and he showed some nice touches. Unfortunately at the other end in the 83rd minute, a foul by Marc Leach led to another free-kick. This time it was Brothers who escaped his marker and he placed his header just inside the far post.
The Greens again hit back, this time very quickly. Mapes and Edwards combined well to feed O'Brien, who crossed deep to Dave Hunt. He chested the ball down and Pickett swept the ball into the net as he got in front of Neil Shade.
James Parker was then maybe fortunate to receive only a yellow card for what seemed a professional foul as Brothers broke clear. But, for once, Malden couldn't take advantage of a free-kick and it cannoned off a blue-shirted player in the wall and away for a goal kick.
"As much as we are disappointed to have dropped two points today, the loss of points was more important for Maldon than it was for us," said manager Gary McCann. "I wasn't happy with our defending but we showed real character in coming back twice."