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Hendon launched their 2015/6 Ryman League campaign with a creditable point away at fellow play-off hopefuls Grays Athletic following an even and fairly uneventful ninety minutes.
Missing a number of players who, had they been fit and available, would have been in the matchday 16 (Oliver Sprague, James Fisher, Mark Kirby, Elliott Brathwaite, Sam Murphy, Leon Smith and Kezie Ibe amongst those missing), the Hendon line-up had a rather makeshift to it. The back four included the returning Ryan Wharton and former MK Dons teenager Luke Tingey as the two centre-halves and Sam Flegg in an unfamiliar left-back role.
On a warm afternoon, the surface slightly parched by the sun in a few areas, the match begun at the sort of breathless place the two sides had played at in the League Cup Final at Whyteleafe in April.
Nathan Ferguson was the first to threaten in the first minute for the hosts when the ball was worked inside from the left wing, but his low shot from 20 yards drifted wide of Joe Wright's right hand post.
Within forty-five seconds, it was the Greens who were marauding forwards dangerously from midfield with Mahrez Bettache running at the heart of the Grays defence and planting a neat ball into the overlapping Andre Da Costa's path. The Portuguese winger, who had comprehensively won his duel with Lamar Johnson in the League Cup Final, this time found the home custodian more difficult to beat, and his dinked effort was deflected into the side netting by the well positioned Johnson.
After Kenny Beaney's neat curling chipped effort landed on the roof of the net in the ninth minute, there was only one real moment of note in the entirety of the remaining 35 minutes of first half action.
It came on the quarter hour mark when Russell Short showed some neat footwork to turn away from danger just inside the Grays half and launch the ball forwards. Aaron Morgan was quickly onto it, half a yard ahead of Sean Cronin. The former Wealdstone centre-half did everything possible to prevent Morgan from getting away from him short of scything him down, but found himself outmuscled and left on the floor. Morgan, with only Johnson to beat showed a cool head to pass the ball into the far corner of the net and give the Greens an early advantage.
The expected barrage from the home side didn't materialise, largely because the Greens did not concede set pieces within range of their goal. Ryan Wharton and Luke Tingey were able to deal with the lone threat of Bradley Fortnam-Tomlinson comfortably, whilst Sam Flegg kept former Hendon man Roman Michael-Percil quiet and Joao Carlos had little more success against Dave Diedhiou. In front of the back four, Lee O'Leary, Short, Da Costa, Scott Shulton and Bettache pressed the Grays midfield high up the pitch meaning that balls forward were often rushed and therefore, inaccurate.
After the break, there was far more purpose about the home side's play as they sought a way back into the game. They thoroughly dominated the first ten minutes or so, with Hendon barely able to get out of their half.
In the 50th minute, James Stevens broke forward from midfield and laid the ball into Carlos' path. The Grays left-winger found himself in an almost identical position to Da Costa in the first period, and although this time the goalkeeper was beaten, Ryan Wharton made an excellent clearance running towards his own goal a couple of yards from the line to maintain Hendon's advantage. A couple of minutes later, Carlos was again denied. This time a Jay Siva free kick eluded everyone except for Carlos, who got a touch to divert the ball towards goal. Joe Wright plunged to his right and met the ball with a strong right hand, sending it up over the bar and away for a corner.
As with the first half though, a promising start soon fizzled out to a succession of over-hit long balls, and tedious numbers of throw-ins.
Midway through the period, Grays found themselves back on level terms in somewhat fortuitous circumstances. A cross from the left flank was overhit, and fell nicely onto the right boot of Sam Flegg. Unfortunately, rather than sending the ball 60 yards upfield, it sliced of the outside of his boot and flew past the diving Wright into the far bottom corner. It was, by some distance, the best strike of the match.
For a couple of minutes following the goal, the home side sensed blood and moved in for the kill. However, the back four remained resolute and soon took the sting out of Grays' attacking momentum.
In the closing period, chances were few and far between. Hendon quickly broke from a Grays corner and had three on two, Bettache fed the ball to Morgan who sprinted in on goal again, this time Johnson was equal to the Hendon number 9's effort and made a good save. At the other end, Wright had to dive to his right to hold onto an audacious 40 yard strike from Jay Leader and finally, Jake Cass was unable to divert a Bettache cut-back on target as both teams were forced to settle for a point apiece.