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Hendon played out a goalless draw against AFC Hornchurch at Bridge Avenue on Saturday, It was a match both teams were a little disappointed not to win, the Urchins for failing to convert a penalty - Berkley Laurencin making a superb save to deny former Hendon loanee Jonathan Hunt - and the Greens for their overall performance.
Laurencin was the only change to the Hendon starting line-up from the one which had seen off Cheshunt in the FA Cup six days earlier, James Reading dropping to the bench. Kevin Maclaren completed his suspension and was named as a substitute, but the Greens didn't actually make a single replacement in the match.
The match nearly had a spectacular start as a first-minute lob from Lubomir Guentchev, a hat-trick hero in the same fixture last season - and he should have repeated the feat this time around - didn't quite have the height to go over Ollie Morris-Sanders in the Urchins goal.
A couple of minutes later, an unfortunate collision in the Hendon penalty area left Laurencin and Hornchurch central defender Rickie Hayles on the ground in pain. Hayles jumped for a free-kick from Hunt with the Hendon goalkeeper and there was a sickening crack as the pair collided.
Laurencin was able to get up after brief treatment from Mark Findley, but Hayles was less fortunate. He suffered a damaged shoulder, which required two lengthy spells of treatment, as well as going over on his ankle. At half-time, he was replaced by Ronnie Fletcher.
Belal Aite-Ouakrim then had two chances in two minutes just before the quarter-hour mark. Put through by a long clearance from Laurencin, he danced past the somewhat immobile Hayles and had a clear run on goal. Morris-Sanders was quickly off his line and bravely dived at Aite-Ouakrim's feet taking the ball cleanly.
The goalkeeper was then grateful to watch a shot from the Moroccan bend inches wide of his left post.
But it wasn't one-way traffic because Hornchurch were giving as good as they got. Their three most notable attempts saw Tambeson Eyong having a shot blocked by Danny Dyer, Jo Flack firing an effort just wide of the target and Laurencin saving well from the brave Hayles.
On the stroke of half-time, a Hendon corner was nearly headed home by the outstanding Michael Peacock, but the defender put too much power into the attempt and the ball flew over the crossbar.
Three minutes into the second half a tantalising cross from Aaron Morgan picked out Guentchev at the far post. He tried an acrobatic scissors kick which crashed off the foot of near post but on the outside, not the inside, and the ball went out for a goal-kick.
Almost immediately, Hornchurch made their second change, Leon Hunter coming on for Dave McSweeney. It meant that at least one of two potent Urchins strikers on the bench - Martin Tuohy and Jamie Richards - would not be involved.
The move of the match, after an hour, should have given Hendon the lead. Aite-Ouakrim collected a short pass ten yards outside of the Hornchurch box, near to the right touchline. He went on a mazy run across and into the penalty area, dancing past Michael Spencer, Hunt, Tommy Black, Styles, Ronnie Fletcher and Billy Coyne.
Aite-Ouakrim then played the ball back across to the penalty area to where Guentchev was lurking, only a few yards from goal. Unfortunately for Guentchev and the Greens, the ball bobbled just before reaching the Bulgarian and struck him on his standing foot. The result was a hurried strike that again struck the outside of the post and bounced away to safety.
Two minutes after picking up a caution for a foul on the edge of the centre-circle, James Parker tackled Hunt. The referee ruled that it was a foul and it was inside the penalty area, so awarded a penalty. A number of Greens players protested, Craig Vargas too loudly for which he earned a caution.
On the bench, Scott Cousins remembered his time as a team-mate of Hunt at St Albans, where he also had the penalty-taking responsibility. Kevin Maclaren was despatched to give Laurencin information, which proved crucial as he dived full-length to keep out Hunt's spot-kick, right by the foot of his post.
Admittedly, the penalty was not the most powerfully struck, but it was perfectly placed and many shorter goalkeepers simply would not have been able to reach it. Making the save even better was the fact that Laurencin ensured the ball didnâ€™t fall to an oncoming Hornchurch player.
Although goalmouth action was at a premium for most of the afternoon, there were quite a few half-chances at both ends. The probing midfield play of Hendon's Lee O'Leary, Jamie Busby and Casey Maclaren certainly had Hornchurch on the back-foot, while Morgan, Aite-Ouakrim and Guentchev kept defenders very busy.
And the Greens nearly took the lead when Morris-Sanders came for a Guentchev corner and failed to hold it. The ball bounced down and was only half-cleared to the edge of the penalty area from where Casey Maclaren struck a goalbound shot which was blocked by Fletcher with the goalkeeper beaten.
Home fans were then enraged when Dyer, shortly after being booked for persistent misconduct, shoulder-charged Tommy Black off the ball as they chased it towards the Hendon penalty area. The two players are almost the same height and they were side-by-side, so the decision to award a free-kick was extremely harsh so any further sanction on the Hendon player would have been even more unjust.
With 15 minutes to go, Tuohy came on for Lewis Smith - who had just spent a week on trial at Stevenage â€“ but the former East Thurrock and Aveley marksman was unable to create a chance for himself.
The match became more open in the final ten or so minutes as both teams looked for what would have proved to be the match-winner. With Peacock and Parker in outstanding form, ably supported by Vargas and Dyer outside them and Laurencin behind, another Hendon clean-sheet always looked likely. Finding a goal at the other end proved to be equally futile, so the teams had to settle for a point each.
"We defended brilliantly and attacked with purpose," said Hendon manager Gary McCann. "Our performance was excellent, but I am not sure if it was a point gained or two dropped.
"If you had asked me before the season started whether I would have been happy with a draw at AFC Hornchurch, I would have said 'yes'. But we have a group that is so confident at the moment, theat they were very disappointed to have got 'only' a draw from one of the hardest places to visit in the Division.
"The penalty save was crucial and it again proves how important it is to do your homework on penalties. Credit must go not only to Berkley for the save, but to Scott for knowing Hunt's tendencies and to Kevin Maclaren for passing them on."