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Hendon moved back into the top half of the Ryman League Premier Division with a 2-1 defeat of feisty Folkestone Invicta on a fractions Saturday afternoon at Vale Farm. The Greens are now one-third of the way through their League campaign, though this was the 21st matchday on the schedule.
There were numerous changes to the Hendon line-up from the one that played their last League match - at Croydon Athletic four weeks earlier. Eddie Munnelly, Craig Vargas, Scott Cousins, Aaron Morgan and Brian Haule all started, with Jonathan Coke and Danny Dyer named on the bench. Dropping out of the 16 from the starting 11 at Croydon Athletic were Lee O'Leary, suspended, Kevin Maclaren, injured, and Danny Wishart, who has returned to Hayes & Yeading. A new name on the bench, though he was not used was Barkley Miguel Panzo, a member of the Under-18s squad.
Having not played a League match for so long, it is maybe unsurprising that Hendon started slowly. That excuse could not be used for the equally torpid Invicta team who had played Horsham just four days earlier.
Nevertheless, apart from a header from James Parker after 14 minutes and some dithering in front of the Hendon goal from James Dryden, three minutes later, there was absolutely nothing to mention from the opening 21 minutes. Hendon were, it must be said, trying to play their normal style of football, but it just wasn't coming off, until they suddenly got it right and took the lead.
A neat move down the left central channel continued with a ball out to the right wing, where Morgan lost his marker. He cut inside a covering defender and shot at goal. Jack Delo stuck out a foot to make the save, but the goalkeeper succeeded only in diverting the ball into the path of Lubo Guentchev, who wasted no time in knocking into the net.
Three minutes later, Hendon had the first of three very loud penalty appeals turned down. The referee denied the claim of Michael Peacock who was manhandled away from the ball as it came into the box from a set piece on the right side. The lack of penalties was not all one way, and before half-time, Folkestone had one very good shout, following a foul, and a more hopeful one, for handball, both rejected.
One of the best Hendon passing moves of the season should have seen Hendon double their advantage after 41 minutes. Five passes ripped open the Invicta defence and Morgan really should have scored with a shot from 10 yards out. Instead, he passed the ball to Haule - in a worse position - and he saw his effort blocked by the scrambling Delo.
Two other excellent chances were spurned as Hendon finished the half completely on top. But when the half-time whistle was blown, the Greens, frustratingly, had only one goal to show for their domination. During the interval, Parker came out early from the dressing rooms to test an injury he had picked up in the opening 45 minutes, but he returned unable to continue, so Coke came on as Hendon reshuffled their rearguard.
While the Greens regrouped, Folkestone enjoyed a spell on top. A shot from Allan Tait flew wide of the target before, in the 55th minute, the Greens were made to pay for first conceding a free-kick close to their penalty area - it wasn't first careless indiscretion around their 18-yard-box - then failing to clear the ball when the had the chance.
Josh Vincent latched onto the loose ball 20-odd yards from the Hendon goal and struck a shot which beat James Reading all ends up, struck the underside of the crossbar and was hacked clear. The assistant referee, however, was perfectly positioned to seed the ball cross the line before being kicked away and Folkestone were level.
It took less than eight minutes for Vincent to go from hero to villain. He clashed with Casey Maclaren some way off the ball and when the referee spotted the fracas, both players were wrestling on the ground. Everyone joined in, mainly as peacemakers and, when the dust had settled, Maclaren was despatched to the dressing rooms.
As he made the long, slow walk across the pitch, the referee called Vincent aside and spoke with his two assistants, but this was just a delaying tactic to ensure that the Hendon man was away from the playing area before Vincent was shown his red card.
Hendon's winner came in the 71st minute, again after some good approach play. Guentchev got free down the right flank, beat Burchell and delivered a teasing low cross which Haule diverted into the bottom corner. It was his first goal for Hendon since rejoining at the start of November.
Scott Cousins, delivered a number of teasing crosses, but there was always a Folkestone player in position to deal with them and Jamie Busby twice saw shots blocked as well as firing narrowly wide on a couple of occasions.
Dyer was the last of the Hendon substitutes to be used and his pace instantly unsettled the Folkestone defence. And, six minutes later, Darren Smith's reckless and dangerous lunge at Dyer, a yard from the Invicta goal-line outside the penalty area, was easily the worst and most malicious foul of the afternoon.
The referee, as he ran to the scene - Dyer was sent flying into the advertising hoarding behind the goal - was already brandishing the red card. Folkestone players had been incensed when Vincent had been despatched, but none of them said anything a Smith followed him for an early bath.
Down to nine men, Folkestone were left to spend the final half-dozen minutes in damage limitation mode.
"I am very pleased with the result," said Hendon manager Gary McCann. "It was very difficult to criticise the players for this performance as we have played so little football in the past few weeks.
"I donâ€™t want to say we won ugly, but we needed the game. There were times, late in the first half, when we played some of very good football."