Hendon made it three Ryman League Premier Division victories in six matches with a comfortable 2-0 defeat of basement dwellers Redbridge at Oakside on Saturday afternoon. Amazing the Greens climbed only one place, to just outside the bottom four, but more importantly, they are now six points away from the first of the three guaranteed relegation positions and just four points off 11th spot.
The team that took the field was much changed from the one which had capitulated so tamely at Staines 11 days earlier. Of the five changes, three involved players making their Hendon debuts: on-loan centre-half Steve Good, from Braintree, on-loan wing-back Ben Hudell, from Yeading, and permanent signing Blaise O'Brien, a striker who scored more than 50 goals for Hillingdon Borough last season.
They took the places of James Burgess, Danny Julienne and John Frendo. In addition, Dave King returned between the posts as Sean Thomas was unavailable and Andy Cook took over from Ross Pickett in midfield.
A downpour 40 minutes before kick-off left the pitch under water in places, especially the goalmouth Hendon attacked in the first half, but the referee was happy to let the game go ahead. The conditions probably explained why the opening ten minutes were rather cagey.
However, after that, the action was pretty constant at both ends. The first chance fell Hendon's way in the 11th minute when Ricci Crace was put through by O'Brien, but Michael Wakefield was quickly off his line to block the striker's run and shot.
Two minutes later, a rare Hendon failure to convincingly clear their lines allowed Dave Wattley to try a 20-yard shot. It flew inches wide of King's left upright, but it was a rare foray into the Hendon end for Redbridge, who were regularly restricted to hopeful crosses or very wayward shots.
Hendon meanwhile continued to probe and test Wakefield, who proved himself equal to almost everything the Greens threw at him. A shot from Jeff Campbell after 15 minutes was saved at the second attempt, while the goalkeeper did better to hold onto a fierce drive from O'Brien that had both Andy Cook and Crace sniffing for a rebound.
Dave Hunt tried his luck from distance, too, before Hendon got the breakthrough after 30 minutes. Iain Duncan attacked down the right flank. His cross was only half-cleared and the ball was passed to Hudell, who steadied himself before sending a wicked, dipping curling shot that Wakefield could only parry into the net.
Hunt then arrived late at the far post to meet a free-kick from Campbell, but a Redbridge defender did just enough to put off the midfielder, whose header went into the side netting. Redbridge enjoyed a little bit of pressure just before the break, but James Parker, Mark Cooper and Good were more than equal to the challenge of keeping the attacks at bay.
Redbridge made one change at half-time, with one former Ilford central defender Chris Tedder being replaced by another in Chris Perkins. Ten minutes later, Redbridge made their two final changes in withdrawing Gazmead Dauti and Petrit Elbi in favour of David Apata and Ian Luck, going to a more attacking formation.
It had the desired effect in that Redbridge were clear winners in terms of possession and attacking time, but not if attempts on goal were counted, because they failed to force King into an actual save for more than half an hour, while Wakefield again distinguished himself with three excellent blocks as Hendon counter-attacked to great effect. O'Brien and Hunt were particularly unlucky not to get Hendon's second goal before it arrived in the 75th minute.
James Burgess had just replaced the tiring Cook when Hunt collected the ball in midfield. He made a fine run at the back-pedalling Redbridge defence and laid a short pass into the path of Crace. Although there were two defenders in front of him, neither reacted as Crace went past them and as Wakefield came off his line, Crace slid the ball under him into the net.
Three minutes later, King was forced into making his only notable save of the afternoon, alertly tipping over a shot from Keith Rowland, the ball dropping just behind the crossbar. The corner, like everything else Redbridge tried, came to nothing.
Campbell and Crace were substituted, Pickett and Jimmy Froud replacing them, as Hendon continued to soak up pressure around the penalty area and then scaring the home defence with confident counter-attacks.
"The first half performance was very good," said a delighted Mr McCann. "The three debutants were all excellent and the commitment from everybody was exactly what we asked for, the players throwing themselves into blocks and battling for everything."