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Hendon made it four Ryman League Premier Division victories out of five and climbed five places up the table with a well deserved 2-1 defeat of relegation threatened Folkestone Invicta at the Buzzlines Stadium on Monday night.
The huge pitch at Cheriton Road, shorter than usual recovery time for injured players and minor knocks to James Parker and Andy Cook, persuaded Hendon to go to a different formation. In a slightly changed line-up, Danny Murphy and James Burgess came into the team at the expense of Cook and Parker, with Murphy at left back, Ben Hudell moving into a wide left role in midfield and Jeff Campbell doing likewise on the right.
Early indications were not overly promising because Folkestone started brightly and the Hendon defence was put under pressure, but Mark Cooper and Steve Good proved more than capable in the middle, while Dave King dealt with balls behind them. A number of shots flew wide of the goal, while a succession of corners came to nothing.
On the counter-attack, Ricci Crace and Blaise O'Brien gave the rather ponderous Invicta defence fits. Tony Kessell had to be very quick off his line to block a through ball from Dave Hunt to O'Brien, while another effort from the same player flew wide.
Folkestone didn't learn from these warnings and paid for it after 33 minutes. A long clearance from King found Adam Flanagan without assistance dealing with the speedy O'Brien. The striker's first-time attempt made no contact with the ball but succeeded in manoeuvring Flanagan away from it.
His second effort was almost faultless. Kessell's dive was for show purposes only as O'Brien's shot flew into the roof of the net at the far post.
The goal rocked Folkestone, who became a little more introspective for the rest of the half. Obviously geed up by the manager's words, they started the second half in more attacking mode, but and reverted to leaving holes in their own rearguard.
In the 53rd minute, they nearly paid for it again. This time it was a run from Hudell which created a half-opening. On his weaker foot, Hudell struck a 25-yard drive that beat Kessell all ends up, but the on-loan left-footer was denied a second goal as the ball crashed off the angle of post and crossbar before being cleared hurriedly.
Hunt, who had picked up a knock early in the first half, was replaced by Ross Pickett after 64 minutes, just as Hendon were lining up a free kick level with the angle of the penalty area, 30 yards from goal.
The Folkestone defence switched off momentarily too, it seemed, because when Hudell curled in a cross, Crace was able to outjump John Guest and flick a header into the top corner of the goal. Crace deserves full marks for outjumping Guest, despite conceding inches in height, but the delivery from Hudell was exceptional.
King came into his own in the next few minutes. He made a fine low save by his right post to keep out a Paul Jones shot. Then he flew out of his goal to dive at the feet of James Dryden and blocked his goalbound effort. The rebound fell to Stuart Myall who shook his head in disbelief as the recovering King pulled off an even better save.
The game became really open and Crace and O'Brien both had chances to extend Hendon's lead on the break, before both were substituted in the final ten minutes of normal time. Byron Bubb, back for his second spell at Claremont Road, replaced O'Brien to a chorus of boos from the home fans, the result of his spell at Invicta's hated near-neighbours Dover Athletic. He almost scored with two attempts in his brief cameo.
At the other end, King's handling of high balls, shaky earlier in the game, became rock-solid as his confidence returned and two grabs in particular thwarted very good Invicta crosses.
In the last minute of normal time, Folkestone skipper Michael Everitt was badly injured in an innocuous challenge with Iain Duncan, the Hendon full-back clearly winning the ball. Everitt was helped off the pitch and his replacement Scott Lindsey, fired up while warming at pitchside, entered the fray.
He didn't last long, probably two minutes at most. John Frendo, who had taken over from Crace, legitimately held up the ball on the edge of the Folkestone penalty area and invited a challenge. He certainly didn't expect a forearm jab across the mouth, delivered by Lindsey, who later claimed he was only trying to get in front of the Hendon man.
The referee had absolutely no doubt about what he had seen and Lindsey was given a straight red card. Still, the ten men did what the 11 had been unable to. They scored, Dryden getting his head to a flicked on free-kick.
This goal came in the third minute of stoppage time and there was practically no time for Invicta to even launch another attack.
"I thought we were solid throughout," said a delighted Hendon manager Gary McCann. "We changed our formation, and the back two were superb. But our passing was also much better and we scored two absolutely cracking goals."