Hendon's recent good run came to a halt at Kingsmeadow on Saturday when AFC Wimbledon beat them 2-1. A very poor first half performance left Hendon with too much to do and although they dominated the second half, on balance, the result was just about right.
A fourth game in eight days may also have been a factor in the performance, but while only Dave King, Steve Good and Blaise O'Brien started the quartet, a number of others had their third outing and also been on the bench.
The first chance of the game went to Hendon, in the fifth minute. A fine angled pass from O'Brien sent Ricci Crace into space, but his unchallenged shot didn't trouble Andy Little as it flew over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Wimbledon had the lead. Indecision in the Hendon defence resulted in the ball going across the penalty area from right to left and when Michael Harvey latched onto it, there was nobody, other than Dave King, in front of him. After taking one touch to control the ball, Harvey drove it low across King into the far corner.
Over-eager running by Shane Smeltz resulted in an offside flag as the Kiwi striker appeared to have another clear chance, while Richard Butler was denied by King at point-blank range.
Dwayne Plummer was enjoying himself in his duel with Danny Murphy as Harvey was against Iain Duncan. The wing-backs' difficulties restricted the attacking options for both Dave Hunt and Ben Hudell, who presence was needed at the back and this allowed Wimbledon's Dave Sargent and Wayne Finnie to play in more advanced roles. This left James Burgess fighting a tough duel against Chris Gell and Wes Daly.
Unsurprisingly, Wimbledon took advantage and doubled their lead just before the half-hour mark. Butler was again left one-on-one with King and although the keeper blocked the first effort, Butler knocked in the rebound.
Having been out of it for most of the first half, a snap-shot from O'Brien in the dying seconds of the half almost gave Hendon the lifeline they needed.
Hendon made a change at half-time, Byron Bubb coming on for the struggling James Parker, shoring up the right side of the midfield, but also allowing the Greens to change their overall formation.
It had the desired effect, because Bubb forced Sargent back into a defensive role, not his strongest suit, and isolated Harvey, who became rather anonymous. Put under pressure, Wimbledon quickly buckled but did not completely break.
In the 55th minute O'Brien left fly from the angle of the penalty area and Little was comprehensively beaten by the power and direction of the shot, right into the roof of the net.
This set up Hendon for a concerted spell of pressure, but former Hendon star Antony Howard was determined to ensure his current employers saw off his former ones. For all the possession enjoyed by the Greens, there were few clear-cut chances.
Both teams made a change with a quarter of an hour to go, Ross Pickett coming on for Murphy, with Hudell dropping into defence, while Wimbledon gave a debut to Mark Peters, who replaced Plummer.
In the final ten minutes one player from each team collected a caution that could easily have been a red card instead. It began in the 82nd minute when Butler tried to drag Mark Cooper out of position to me a long ball from Sargent. Cooper, however, still managed to divert the ball away across his own goal-line.
The assistant referee, apparently perfectly placed to see the incident, awarded neither a foul against Butler, nor a corner to Wimbledon, but a goal-kick to Hendon. This was too much for Butler who spent the next 15 seconds in arm-waving one-sided discussion with the assistant. As Butler retreated downfield, the assistant referee waved his flag again and the referee had no hesitation in showing a yellow card.
Within seconds, Butler, his dander still up, raced down the left wing, where he was unceremoniously upended by Cooper. With the home fans screaming for a red card, Cooper was probably a little relieved the referee showed a yellow one. Butler was able to resume after a spell of treatment and almost immediately, though probably unseen by most of the 2,693 fans in attendance, was Cooper's apology.
A minute later Crace sneaked into the Wimbledon penalty area and when Hudell's cross came in he planted a header almost straight at Little. A couple of yards either side would have brought him an equaliser.
In the final seconds of normal time, Crace again came close to an equaliser, this time Little making a brilliant save. But, if Crace had looked to his right, he would have seen an unmarked O'Brien, and Little would have had little chance to get across his goal.
"We started poorly," said manager Gary McCann, "and we weren't at the races in the first half. But we almost got a point with what we did in the second half. We certainly had them worried when we pulled a goal back and we had those two chances in the last couple of minutes."