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Hendon's inability to turn half-chances into goals once again came back to haunt them as they slipped to a 1-0 defeat against Billericay Town at New Lodge on Saturday afternoon. There was little to choose between the two teams - one fighting relegation, the other chasing a playoff spot - after the Blues had snatched an early goal.
Danny Julienne came in for the injured Iain Duncan, but he operated in midfield with Jeff Campbell taking over at right wing-back in an otherwise unchanged line-up from the one which had won the London Senior Cup semi-final against Tooting on Tuesday night.
The first attack of the game saw Hendon go very close to a goal. Good work down the right wing resulted in a cross from Dave Hunt which was directed at Darren Watson. The striker was denied a goal by a desperate intervention from Matt Game, whose defensive header flashed inches wide of the target to give the Greens a corner.
This set-piece came to nothing, but it did serve to wake up the home team, who then launched a concerted period of pressure on the Hendon goal. In the eighth minute, a cross from Lee Hodges, curled in from the left side, found Leon Hunter without a defender nearby and he bundled the ball past the hopelessly exposed Dave King.
Hunter and Nathan Elder then missed excellent chances from close range as the Hendon defence rocked, but once the game reached the 15-minute mark, things settled down. In the next 20 minutes neither team really looked like scoring, the approach play from both rather flattering to deceive.
Hendon's two best chances were from headers, but neither Hunt nor Watson could direct their efforts on target from behind the far post.
Then, in the 37th minute, Billericay were awarded a penalty. A low cross into the penalty area hit a divot and struck Campbell on an arm outstretched for balance as he tried to control the bouncing ball. The referee immediately pointed to the spot.
However, Hunter smashed the spot-kick high over the crossbar - and the stand behind the goal, for that matter - his first spot-kick failure for the Blues.
Three minutes later, a through ball found former Greens youngster Pat Sappleton chasing with Blaise O'Brien. The defender played the situation perfectly, putting himself in the path of the ball, so when he collided with O'Brien, flattening him in the penalty area, it looked like incidental contact. It was the sort of challenge that a striker would win a free-kick maybe once in 20 incidents, no matter how blatant the defender's intervention.
For the second half, James Burgess replaced Julienne and he stiffened the midfield. But Billericay should have doubled their lead in the 50th minute when Elder met Dave McSweeney's flicked header at a free-kick, but he directed his free header wide of the goal from less that six yards out.
Watson, who was suffering with cold-like symptoms and had struggled to contribute in the first half, found new energy after the break and proved to be more of a handful for the Blues' defence. In the 63rd minute, he came close to an equaliser when he bustled past Sappleton and fired across the face of goal with Dale Brightly well beaten. Seven minutes later Andy Cook replaced him.
The Greens' last substitution came in the 82nd minute, Hunt being replaced by Ross Pickett and it almost brought instant reward. Pressuring Sappleton into an underhit backpass, Pickett almost bent an effort inside the post, but the defender did just enough to force the ball wide of the upright for a corner.
Four and a half minutes of stoppage time increased the nervousness of the Billericay players and fans alike, but Hendon just didn't have the answers to the questions posed by the defence.
"Apart from the first eight minutes we were more than a match for them," said manager Gary McCann, "and they are a team with championship aspirations. I am never happy when we lose, but I am as pleased with the performance today as I was upset with the one at East Thurrock last week.
"Good goalscorers cost a lot of money and that is something we don't have, so we are going struggle to get enough goals."