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Hendon suffered a fifth straight Ryman League Premier Division defeat on Saturday but the performance and the manner of defeat were unlike any of the previous four. The Greens battled hard for the full 90 minutes and deserved at least a point, especially after leading for almost 70 minutes.
Only the first three names on the teamsheet Sean Thomas in goal and wing-backs Iain Duncan and Danny Murphy were unchanged as Hendon reverted to a three-man central defence, with Ross Pickett partnering James Parker and Mark Cooper; in midfield James Burgess and Danny Julienne added bite alongside Andy Cook, while there was a new signing up front in former Staines man Jermaine Hunter. He partnered Blaise O'Brien. On the bench, RenÃƒÂ© Street was back after two months out with an ankle injury, as was Ricci Crace. They were joined by the Bubb brothers, Byron and Bradley, and Dave Hunt.
Braintree included former Hendon star Eugene Ofori, who had been out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury, but they insisted that centre-half Steve Good, currently on loan at Claremont Road, took no part in the game.
The 16-place difference in the table was certainly not noticeable in the opening dozen or so minutes, with both teams struggling to put cohesive moves together. A speculative shot from James Baker flew over the Hendon bar, while O'Brien had a shot blocked by Paul Lorraine.
Then, in the 17th minute, Hendon took the lead. A free-kick 30 yards out was headed half-clear, but Bradley Quinton was too eager to reach the loose ball and he was penalised five yards outside the Braintree box.
This time O'Brien took aim at goal. It wasnt the most powerful of shots, but it took a slight deflection and Iron goalkeeper Nick Morgan tried to make a clean save, rather than pushing the ball away for a corner. The giant goalkeeper, however, misjudged the bounce and the ball squirmed away from him before bobbling into the net.
Two minutes later, Braintree should have been level when they were awarded a free-kick. The delivery from Steve Parmenter was good, and the Hendon defence didnt really deal with the danger, allowing the ball to reach the unmarked Lorraine, eight yards. He had a free header but went for power over placement and crashed his effort off the top of the crossbar.
In the 26th minute, Hendon almost doubled their advantage when a free-kick curled in by Mark Burgess nearly fell for Pickett, who swivelled but could neither control, nor redirect the ball. Had he achieved either, Morgan would been lucky to make a save.
Braintree's first-half performance so enraged manager George Borg that, in the 43rd minute, he withdrew both Parmenter and James Hawes, bringing on Matt Joseph and Louis Riddle. Parmenter's free-kick expertise might have come in useful moments later as a foul by Murphy 25 yards from goal was right in the former Canvey playmakers range. Instead Alex Revell took the kick and he drilled the ball straight at Thomas, who gathered and held it at midriff height.
The Iron players didnt enjoy much of a half-time break either, because Borg sent them back onto the pitch after less than five minutes out of the cold. The few instructions Borg gave to his team had some of the desired effect, because they certainly upped their tempo in the second period.
Finding a goal, however, was a different matter because Cook and Burgess did exceptionally well in keeping the Braintree midfield at bay and the central trio at the back were in inspired form.
In the 55th minute, Thomas pulled off a magnificent save following a long-range shot. Ofori, who had struggled to make much of an impact and had been fortunate not to receive a yellow card for some serious dissent when not given a free-kick, was substituted after 62 minutes, the last of the changes available to Braintree.
It almost rebounded on the Iron because, within minutes, Quinton had gone down with an injury after tangling with Julienne, who was cautioned. Had he been unable to continue, the result would probably have been very different.
Hendon enjoyed a second escape in the 78th minute when Revell smacked a free-kick off the top of the crossbar with Thomas beaten. It began to look as if Hendon, against the odds were going to gain three vital points. It was not to be.
In the 85th minute, Quinton who had been able to resume almost immediately after going off, found himself in some space. He tried a speculative long-range shot that had power, and Thomas made a good parried save but could only watch in horror as the ball looped slowly into the net.
Hendon's heads didnt really drop, but Braintree suddenly sniffed the chance of getting a victory. The Greens had made two changes, Hunt replacing Julienne and Crace coming on for OBrien, but neither could do much in the attacking third of the pitch.
Instead, the play continued in and around the Hendon box and, in the third minute of stoppage time, Riddle sent in a teasing cross towards the front edge of the penalty area. Pickett was perfectly placed to deal with and, if he had lost the header, it was too far out for there to be real danger.
Except Thomas, trying to atone for his earlier error, tried to reach the ball and couldnt get to it. The ball was flicked on and Quinton stole in to nod it into the unguarded net. It was a desperate moment for the young keeper and it broke Hendon hearts too. Although there were three or fourmore minutes of stoppage time, the Greens couldnt find a way back into the game.
"I spoke to the players in the dressing room after the game," said manager Gary McCann, "and I told them that if they showed that heart and that commitment for 90 minutes in our remaining matches, then we will win far more than we lose. I told them to walk out of the dressing room with their heads held high.
"Sometimes football can be a cruel, cruel game, and today was one of those occasions."