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Hendon reached the last eight of the London Senior Cup, with a well-deserved, if slightly nervy 3-1 victory over last season's winners Metropolitan Police at Imber Court on Thursday night. The match, originally scheduled for Vale Farm, was moved to the Blues' Imber Court ground because of fixture scheduling diffiiculties.
This was the third meeting of the two teams - they met in the FA Cup earlier in the season - but injuries and unavailability meant that only six (three each team) of the 22 who started the replay were in the 11s who took to the field, joined by three of Hendon's bench and two of the Police.
The Greens' fourth away match in 10 days had a spectacular opening. With barely a minute on the clock, Glenn Garner beat Mo Maan with a well-placed drive but Tom Moorhouse blocked the effort. Aaron Morgan followed up and, aiming for the far post, he struck the ball too well and it swerved inches away from the upright, ending up by the corner flag.
Three minutes later, Hendon were ahead. A through ball invited Garner to run onto it an although Maan did well to deny the striker, the rebound fell to Jamie Busby, who stroked the ball into the net.
In the eighth minute, Hendon doubled their advantage. The jittery Metropolitan Police defence again failed to deal with a raid from Morgan and Garner and although the former was unable to beat Maan, the rebound fell nicely for Garner, who found the inside of the side-netting from a very acute angle.
Garner had the ball in the net again, in the 11th minute, but this time, the Blues were indebted to the assistant referee, who raised his flag to rule Garner offside. It was a very close decision.
Metropolitan Police thought they had got back into the game after 14 minutes when James Cottee slipped the ball into the net after a block by Berkley Laurencin. However, the other assistant referee had already decided that Billy Marshall was offside and in an active position when the first ball was struck goalwards.
Hendon looked likely to score every time they broke towards the Police box, but there went not many opportunities for them. Daniel Sintim and Michael Peacock looked rock-steady at the back while the Police wide men got little change out of Eddie Munnelly and captain for the night James Burgess.
The midfield contest between Dave Diedhiou and Jason Mason and the Blues' Steve Flinn and Neil Lampton was well-contested, but neither pair could take control. It meant that the game was played pretty much between the two penalty areas and passes forward were routinely overhit, meaning that neither goalkeeper was unduly overworked.
The Police made two changes at half-time, with one former Kingstonian player, Lee Hall going off and another ex-K, Matt Gray, going on, while Neil Williams was introduced and Chris Bourne withdrawn. The Blues, who began to take control of the midfield as the half progressed then introduced Matt Cefai at the expense of Marshall, but efforts on target were still at a premium.
In fact, the best chance in the first half of the second period went to Garner. A ball towards the penalty area was sliced by Moorhouse and the Hendon striker would have had a free shot at the unprotected Maan, if he had been able to control the spinning ball as it dropped from a great height.
Nevertheless, after the ball bounced Garner and Maan jumped for the ball, with the goalkeeper failing to win it. The referee, however, penalised Garner as he stroked the ball into the net. It was a bit harsh on the striker, whose eyes had - like Maan's - been fixed exclusively on the ball.
Midway through the second half, the Policeâ€™s pressure finally paid dividends as Williams netted from close range following a cross into the penalty area. With Hendon now noticeably tiring, it seemed likely that extra-time, something neither team wanted, would be the outcome.
Dave Reading, Barkley Miguel Panzo and Bradley Ambrose were all sent on - ensuring that Jon Coke and Scott Cousins were not used - as Peacock, Garner and Busby were withdrawn. Morgan continued to ask some questions of the Police defence, but they had all of the answers.
As the match moved into stoppage time, there was drama at both ends. First, a shot from the edge of the Hendon penalty area struck Munnelly on the arm. It was the sort of incident that attacking players and their fans would have some expectation of penalty appeals being answered in the affirmative.
On this occasion, however, the referee gave the benefit of the doubt to Hendon. The ball was cleared to the edge of the penalty area, where Munnelly played it to Mason.
Showing great energy, Munnelly continued upfield and collected the pass from Mason. Pragmatically, he should probably have gone towards the corner flag to waste time, but Munnelly instead charged towards goal.
He did it expertly, beating three defenders before being faced by Woodhouse. A shimmy and a turn later might have left Munnelly with only Maan to beat. Instead, the desperation challenge by Woodhouse sent him crashing to the ground and, this time, the decision was a penalty.
Police players were convinced that Woodhouse had played the ball, and he probably did, but to get to the ball he had to go through Munnelly, so the referee's verdict was the right one. It was clear that a penalty awarded in Busby and Lubo Guentchev's absence had not been considered, but Morgan took responsibility.
He ran up and confidently sent Maan the wrong way. Unfortunately, when he struck the ball, Burgess, Panzo and a handful of defenders were all in the penalty area and the referee was absolutely right to order the kick to be retaken.
The cat and mouse game resumed, but like most of them, the result was the same. Maan dived one way, Morgan struck it the other â€“ in fact both Maan's dive and the ball ended up in the same places they had been seconds earlier.
"I am pleased to have won tonight," said Hendon manager Gary McCann. "We were excellent in the first half. We were in control of the ball and we dominated the game.
"However, we looked a bit tired in the second half. That said, I thought we kept our defensive shape very well, and we rarely looked like conceding another goal."