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Hendon suffered a disappointing Ryman League Premier Division defeat at the hands of Maidstone United at Vale Farm on Saturday afternoon. They were the victims of a crowded fixture list, a long injury list, a dead, energy-sapping pitch and - it must be said most pertinently - a Maidstone team which was desperate to pick up points as they looked to pull out of the relegation zone.
Amazingly, this was the first time Maidstone had won a League game away to Hendon since the 1963-64 season. As all the teams around them picked up at least a point, the Stones remain in the bottom four, while Hendon stay 16th, though still closer to the playoffs than the relegation zone.
With defenders James Parker, Craig Vargas and John Fletcher, midfielders Lee O'Leary and Danny Dyer and strikers Greg Ngoyi, Brian Haule and Glenn Garner all out, selection options were very limited and there was a first Ryman League start for new signing Jason Mason, who had appeared in the two midweek cup ties.
The game started very brightly and both teams showed a desire to get forward. Hendon really should have taken the lead after six minutes when Aaron Morgan got around the back of the Maidstone defence and laid the ball into the path of Belal Aite-Ouakrim.
He guided the past Andy Walker, but was very unlucky to see it hit the foot of a post. The rebound fell to Jamie Busby, but the goalkeeper displayed lightning reactions in diving out to block Busby's shot.
Two minutes later, it was Maidstone who were ruing the miss of a great chance. A cross into the penalty area from Nathan Paul was not dealt with by Berkley Laurencin, whose punch pushed the ball out only to the edge of the penalty area. Jay Saunders latched onto the loose ball but failed to hit the target with his shot.
Hendon took the lead after 20 minutes, when Aite-Ouakrim and Morgan again combined. This time it was the former who was the creator and Morgan made no mistake in directing the ball just inside the far post. Having failed to score since the end of October, until converting the stoppage time penalty against the Metropolitan Police two days earlier, Morgan had scored in consecutive matches.
The lead lasted less than a minute. When Maidstone played the ball into the Hendon penalty area, no defender moved to deal with it and when it came back to Paul, he drove it past Laurencin, off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.
Six minutes later, the Hendon defence was again caught out. A free-kick was delivered into the penalty area and Tommy Whitnell managed to get in front of Daniel Sintim before heading the ball low past Laurencin, who may have been unsighted. However, Whitnell's header was neither particularly powerful nor that far away from the goalkeeper.
A couple of minutes later, Hendon suffered another blow when Michael Peacock went off for treatment. Although he returned to the fray after a couple of minutes, he was far from mobile and the Greens defence did not look solid. Going forward, there was little joy for the front two and almost all of the action was directly in front of Laurencinâ€™s goal.
The second half started with Dave Diedhiou and Eddie Munnelly replacing Mason and Peacock. With defensive options so limited, it mean that Hendon were a little unbalanced but, for all their possession and territorial advantage, Maidstone failed to take full advantage.
They did hit a post with a drive after 62 minutes, soon after which new signing Jack Pallen replaced Whitnell. Hendon really didn't create anything of note and it looked as if their only hope would be that Maidstone would tire and concede a late goal, as they had in two recent games.
In fact, the Greens got back into the game in slightly fortuitous circumstances with 15 minutes of normal time remaining. A rare raid led to a misunderstanding in the Stones defence and Cedric Abrahams saw his attempted clearance strike Paul and go out for a corner.
As Busby and Cousins tried to work a short corner move, the referee ordered an encroaching Maidstone player to retreat and told the Hendon men to retake the corner. This time Busby delivered a cross directly into the penalty area and no defender was close to challenging Casey Maclaren as he headed the ball just inside the near post from ten yards out.
Instead of going on to look for the win, as has been the case in most Hendon matches this season, this time, the team looked exhausted and seemed unable to force the pace or apply any pressure on the jittery Maidstone defence.
And they were made to pay for this in the 82nd minute. Aite-Ouakrim lost possession five yards inside his own half, allowing Alex Flisher the chance to break down the left. He passed to Pallen, who went around Coke and laid the ball back towards Danny Hockton.
Munnelly attempted to make a clearance, but succeeded only in diverting the ball to the feet of Hockton, The striker, who had already hit the Hendon goalframe earlier, turned past his marker and struck a shot which Laurencin got a hand to, but could not keep out. Again, the direction and power of the shot didnâ€™t seem to be that good, but the goalkeeper was nonetheless beaten.
Lubomir Guentchev, who had been in bed with flu two days earlier, came off the bench to replace Kevin Maclaren for the final few minutes, but he couldn't fashion an opening which might have brought Hendon a somewhat undeserved point.
"It was a tired, leggy performance," admitted a very disappointed Hendon manager Gary McCann. "Once we had got the equaliser, we should have gone on to win the game. But, once again, our defensive frailties have cost us."