Hendon opened the 2005-06 Ryman League season with a narrow defeat against one of the preseason favourites for the title, Braintree Town, at Cressing Road. What was pleasing for Hendon's management team was that apart from the 20 minutes of the first half, and ten minutes of the second, the Greens were more than a match for their rivals.
Unusually, there was not one player in the Hendon starting line-up making a first-team debut, with the three new faces from the end of last season, Iain Duncan, Mark Burgess and Kieran Gallagher, all returning for another spell. On the bench, Andrew Judge and Youness Nabil did make debuts, arriving as second-half substitutes.
Braintree started the game in fine style and had the Hendon defence under great pressure. However, poor finishing and bad decisions on final balls meant that the Greens were able to reach the 20-minute mark unscathed. They were, however, grateful that Andy Porter drilled a golden chance against the underside of the crossbar from less than six yards out; a little less power would certainly have brought him a goal.
The second half of the opening period definitely belonged to Hendon, but they failed to take three good opportunities. A Gallagher free-kick struck a Hendon player on the edge of the defensive wall after 29 minutes and, four minutes later, Ross Pickett glanced a header just high and wide of the angle of post and crossbar.
Wing-backs Duncan and Rob Courtnage were becoming increasingly effective as the game progressed and when Ollie Adedeji mishit a clearance of a low Courtnage cross, he set up Pickett from 12 yards. Unfortunately for the Hendon man, the ball bounced a little higher than he would have like and he could not place it where he wanted. Nonetheless, Nick Morgan still had to make an excellent save to deny Pickett.
Just before half-time a slip by James Burgess almost let in Carl Griffiths, but Dave King was able to shepherd the ball away for a goal. Home fans screamed for a penalty as King and Griffiths collided, but the former Orient striker was, in reality, lucky not to be cautioned for his theatrics.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first. A misplaced backheader by Mark Burgess almost let in Griffiths, who lifted a delicate header over King. The tall goalkeeper somehow was able to stretch back and claw the ball away for a corner. On the Hendon bench, the management team Gary McCann and Andy Pape, both former goalkeepers themselves, looked on in awe, admitting the neither would have been able to make that save.
It delayed the opening goal for only a few minutes. It came from a Hendon error, Eugene Ofori losing possession on halfway and not tracking back, looking instead for a free-kick that was never coming. Billy Burgess quickly fed Matty Joseph, who attacked down the right wing. Joseph crossed low into the Hendon penalty area and Alex Revell reached the ball first, though his sidefoot was deflected into the net off Pickett, making a vain effort to block the shot.
Judge and Nabil came on for Gallagher and Courtnage, respectively, and they set Braintree different problems. Judge couldn't quite find enough space for one shot after a good run, while a Nabil corner, in the 81st minute, was thudded into the bar by Ofori and the rebounded bounced away from Pickett. Another corner from the same source found Steve McGrath but he directed his header into the side-netting.
With a minute to go, a left-wing cross seemed destined to arrive at John Frendo, until a leaping Paul Lorraine got just enough on his header to knock it past the unmarked striker.
"I am very disappointed to lose," admitted Mr McCann after the game. "Once we settled down after the first 15 or 20 minutes, we more than matched them and for parts of the game were much better than them."