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Hendon overcame the dismissal of Danny Dyer to record a 2-1 victory over Maldon & Tiptree at a rain-soaked Vale Farm on Sunday afternoon. The win takes Hendon into the third qualifying round of the FA Cup and a tie on 9 October against Whitehawk of Ryman League Division 1 South.
The Greens made three changes from the team which had lost to Kingstonian, James Reading, Kevin Maclaren and Aaron Morgan coming into the team at the expense of Berkley Laurencin, Craig Vargas and Belal Aite-Ouakrim, all of whom had places on the subs bench.
Ten minutes before kick-off the rain started and it got steadily harder for the first half-hour of the match, the slick surface making it very difficult for players from both teams. Unfortunately, the referee appeared to take no account of this and all of the first half cautions were a direct result of the awkward conditions.
In the seventh minute, Tony Tucker made a good save from Lubo Guentchev. A minute later, at the other end, Joe Sweeney fired an attempt just wide of James Reading's left post.
Hendon took the lead after 12 minutes after a mishit clearance from Danny Smith went out for a corner. Scott Cousins found Jamie Busby, who cleverly lifted the ball into the roof of the net with his right outstep. Paul Abbott was guarding the far post but the ball looped over him and his positioning made it impossible for Tucker to reach it.
Five minutes later, the Greens were forced into a substitution when new signing Paul Robinson limped off and he was replaced by Mariusz Serwin. Hendon continued to set the pace, but their finishing was not precise enough to beat Tucker, who made a couple of stops, denying Morgan, well, and Lee O'Leary, routinely.
Maldon & Tiptree nearly found an equaliser when a misplaced defensive header from Michael Peacock looped over Reading and dropped just wide of the far post.
In the 32nd minute, Dyer slipped as he turned with Kane Rice. He brought down the forward as he went to ground and was booked.
Four minutes later, Guentchev chased a through ball and, realising that Tucker was going to win the race, pulled out of the challenge. The goalkeeper, used his experience to ensure there was contact and his yelp persuaded the official to produce another yellow card.
A minute before half-time, as Dyer went to head clear a diagonal ball from Dean Standen, Sweeney raised his boot to knock the ball away from the Hendon player. Angles are everything in cases like this and while Sweeney may have been some yards from Dyer's head when he made contact, it looked significantly closer to most observers and quite probably dangerous play.
Irrespective of that, both players had to turn quickly to chase the ball and they collided. Unsurprisingly, there was incidental contact and after staggering to keep his feet, Sweeney went down some 10 yards further downfield. To be fair to the Maldon & Tiptree player, he did not try to get a decision; he simply couldnâ€™t keep his feet on the greasy surface.
According to the distraught Dyer, the referee's words to him were, as he thrust a second yellow and then a red card in his direction, "I know it was a complete accident, but I have to send you off." The free-kick failed to trouble Reading and, after a couple of minutes of stoppage time, the half-time whistle went.
Before the second half kicked off, Hendon made their second change - this one tactical - as full-back Eddie Munnelly replaced Serwin, who had little chance to shine before he was sacrificed.
Five minutes into the second half, Morgan bustled into the penalty area, held off the challenge of Craig Wilkins and drove the ball off the legs of the advancing Tucker into the roof of the net. It was the breathing space Hendon needed, but they had little chance to enjoy their two-goal advantage.
Barely 90 seconds later, the ball came from the right wing to the edge of the penalty area, where Maldon & Tiptree skipper Lee Blackburn was waiting. His first-time strike was superb and Reading's despairing dive was in vain as the ball flew into the top corner.
Cousins and Danny Smith were then involved in an unseemly confrontation. Cousins lost possession by the corner flag down the left wing and wrestled Smith to the ground. As a foul, it might have merited a caution, but Smith's swinging fist - which missed Cousins - certainly deserved more than the yellow card both players were shown.
The better chances were still being created by Hendon, but Tucker - who won promotion to the Blue Square Bet South Division with Boreham Wood last season - showed why he was Wood's player of the season with a number of top-notch saves. Guentchev, O'Leary and Morgan were all denied, though the last-named really should have done better with a couple of other opportunities.
Parker and Michael Peacock were in superb form at the heart of the Hendon defence and they broke up a number of potentially dangerous raids from the visitors, who were far from out of the tie. Kris Lee almost found an opening after 72 minutes, but he was off target, then a driven cross from Abbott fizzed across the face of the Hendon goal, but no one in a blue and red shirt could get a decisive touch.
With seven minutes to go, moments after Aite-Ouakrim had replaced Busby. Hendon should have restored their two-goal cushion and given themselves a less uncomfortable close to the match. Guentchev timed his run perfectly to run onto a through ball from Aite-Ouakrim, waited for Tucker to commit himself and lifted the ball over the tall goalkeeper. The ball, however, sailed inches over the crossbar, much to the relief of the visitors.
Maldon & Tiptree made their three changes in the final 25 minutes, strikers Tony Boot and Leli Bajada and defender Jake Brown all coming on. The two forwards are both at the veteran stage and they almost fashioned a last-minute equaliser.
Bajada brought down the ball, steadied himself and fired across Reading. The goalkeeper, however, flung himself to his left and got a firm hand on the ball and deflected it wide of the post. It was a magnificent save and preserved a victory that the Greens certainly deserved.
"The boys showed their true desire," said a very happy Hendon manager Gary McCann. "Every player gave their all for the cause and we got what we deserved.
"The two central defenders, Michael Peacock and James Parker, were again outstanding. But we were a little too cute in front of goal and should have taken more of our chances."