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Hendon won their first Ryman League Premier Division match after five straight defeats when a solitary goal was sufficient to see off division newcomers Burgess Hill Town in the first meeting between the two teams. The Greens were more like their old selves in the first half, but the second half was a nervy affair with chances at a premium at both ends.
Following the London Senior Cup victory over Cray Paper Mills on Tuesday night, there were two changes to the starting line-up, Joe Wright and Mark Kirby replacing Melvin Minter and Dean Cracknell, both of whom were on the subsâ€™ bench, along with newcomer Wesley Fonguck, Leon Smith and Andre Da Costa. Goldy Capela dropped out of the 16.
The strong wind was at Burgess Hill's backs in the first half and they had an early penalty appeal turned down. Kirby lost his marker, but won a challenge which the visitors felt was illegal; the referee, however, disagreed.
In the 15th minute, Hendon came close to opening the score. A short pass from Kezie Ibe released Ben Pattie and the youngster, on loan from QPR, fired a shot which beat Josh James's dive, but it went just the wrong side of the far post.
Two minutes later, however, the Greens did take the lead. The ball was played out the wing and a defender went across to deal with the danger, albeit too late to stop cross being laid back into Pattie's path.
Pattie back-heeled the ball goalwards, wrong-footing James. His effort was on its way into the net, only for Ibe to follow up and knock the ball over the line from a yard into the net.
There was a question-mark about Ibe's position being offside, but the defender who had attempted to block the cross was slow getting back to his feet and was on goal-line, thus playing on Ibe.
Four minutes later, Aaron Morgan should have extended the lead when he was put through. James was off his line very quickly and smothered the shot.
Then, in the 27th minute, James again came to the Hillians' rescue. Pattie will probably feel he should have done better when presented with the chance, but the goalkeeper's alertness thwarted him.
Having spurned three good chances Hendon fans began to wonder if their profligacy would prove costly. Burgess Hill came into the game more and Wright produced a superb acrobatic save to push aside a header from Pat Harding.
Just before the break, the Hillians did have the ball in the Hendon net, but the assistant referee had already raised his flag for offside. It must be said their was no protest from any Burgess Hill player.
For whatever reason, the second half simply was not as good as the first. Neither team's passing was as crisp or accurate, with Hendon's play noticeably more tentative. The recent run of form was probably the reason for the Greens to rein in their enterprise, even with the wind at their backs.
It allowed Burgess Hill to do more attacking, which forced full-backs Omar Vassell and Ollie Sprague to stick to defensive duties. Dave Diedhiou was superb protecting the defence behind him, but Mark Kirby and Sam Flegg did equally well to keep Pat Harding and Chris Smith quiet.
The wind did unsettle the Hillians and James made a horrible hash of one clearance slicing the ball out for a corner. Sam Murphy's set-piece almost picked out Diedhiou, but a defender did enough to put off the midfielder, whose header was off target.
Proof of Hendon's nervousness came with the substitutions, with 12 minutes of normal time remaining. Attacking midfielder Finbarr Robins, who had been quiet in the second half, and Pattie, who had been starved of possession for about 20 minutes, were replaced by Fonguck and Cracknell.
This limited the Hendon attacking options to Morgan and Ibe, with only Murphy linking with them while Fonguck and Cracknell were in defensive mode alongside Diedhiou. Wright had to make one save of note, but offside flags and poor passing options cost Burgess Hill dearly.
It was a little surprising that Burgess Hill didn't go to a more attacking formation, especially with an accomplished striker Sam Gargan on the bench. When we was finally introduced, with six minutes of the 90, it was Pat Harding who was one of those withdrawn (Dan Pearse also went off, with Guy Bolton also coming on).
In stoppage time, Ibe should have made the game safe. Over-committed to attack, only one defender was close to the striker as he broke forward. Ibe had the angle to beat him, and then took the ball around James, although the keeper did get a hand on it.
It did enough to cause Ibe to take a moment to steady himself. This allowed both Andy Pearson and James to make blocks from Ibe's two attempts. But the Hillians didn't have enough time to take advantage of the let-off to snatch an equaliser; in fact, they conceded a corner at the end of the five minutes of stoppage time so were 95 yards from goal when the final whistle was blown.