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Hendon were decisively beaten by Tonbridge Angels at Earlsmead on Saturday afternoon, the 3-0 margin summing up the difference in class between the two elevens. Only the Greens' second defeat since a week before Christmas, it ended a 10-match unbeaten run.
Injuries, illness and unavailability left Hendon significantly short of options in key areas of the pitch, the latest to be forced to the sideline being Carl McCluskey. Addison Garnett came into the centre of defence as the back line was reshuffled and Maz Bettache took over from Keagan Cole who dropped to the subs bench.
An indication of how much things have changed for Hendon since the reverse 3-1 defeat in Kent last November is that only seven of the 16 named, for the first game were in the 16 for the second (by comparison, nine Tonbridge players started both games). In addition, the Greens named six teenagers in the 16: Brandon Adams, 18, Garnett, 19, Luke Tingey, 19, debutant Nyv Bogaire, 16, Cole, 16, and Ben Pattie, 19 - the last three being the used substitutes.
Cole was introduced to the action far earlier than anyone from Hendon wanted, but a ball with Nathan Elder and the big striker's flailing hand caught Tingey in the face. Although the centre-back tried to continue, his vision was affected, and Cole's appearance forced another reshuffle.
In fact, the Greens might have been down to 10 men by then. Garnett had been cautioned for a foul as he and Tingey tried to stop a run from Luke Blewden and only achieved it through illegal means. The free kick came to nothing.
A few minutes later, Garnett ran into the back of Elder, who had stopped suddenly in front of the defender as they chased the ball. The referee - despite the demands of Angels captain Tom Parkinson, who ran 30 yards to demand a red card - realised that the collision was accidental and satisfied himself with a severe lecture that made it clear any more serious indiscretions would leave him with no choice but to show more cards.
Two minutes after Tingey had left the game, Elder powered a header goalwards. Joe Wright made a fine block, but the rebound fell to the striker, only half a dozen yards from goal. Before he could roll the ball into the unguarded net, Dave Diedhiou had made a magnificent block tackle and then cleared the danger.
In the 36th minute, Nick Wheeler and left back Jack Parter attacked down the Tonbridge left flank. No defender closed down Parter, who fired a 20-yard shot which beat Wright, but struck the outside of the post and rolled to the touchline, from where Wheelerâ€™s cross was headed clear.
Hendon finally created an opening when Kezie Ibe released Adams. The QPR youngster was forced a little wider than he wanted, but his shot towards the far post required a diving save from Tony DiBernardo. The Canadian keeper was relieved that the angle for Tony Taggart, on the rebound was even more acute and his attempt ended up in the side netting.
Wright was again called into action in first-half stoppage time and he thwarted Elder for a second time. When the whistle blew, the Greens were probably a little relieved to have gone in all square.
Parity did not last long in the second half. Barely a minute after the resumption, Hendon conceded a corner and then had no defender with the physical presence to stop Elder as he rose high and headed majestically into the net.
Less than two minutes later, from a long throw-in, Wright was beaten again. The ball was thrown into the middle of the penalty area, from where there was a little ping-pong before Charlie Webster whipped the ball into the net from 10 yards out.
Before the hour mark, the score increased again and the match was over as a contest. This time Hendon were able to clear a set piece to outside their penalty area.
Unfortunately for them, it looped straight towards Anthony Riviere, who had no one close to him. As the ball dipped in front of him he struck a stunning volley which flew past everyone into the net. The technique was outstanding and the shot sumptuous.
The Hendon response was to give a debut to another teenager from the Under-18s squad, Bogaire, who came on Maz Bettache. At the same time, Pattie took over from Adams. It was a gamble to make all the changes with half an hour to go, but something had to be done and the Greens were able to avoid any injuries.
Sadly, the changes didn't change the way the game went. Although Sam Murphy and Cole tried hard to spark the Greens from midfield and Ibe, Taggart and Pattie all had shots on goal, none of them were on target, and it must be said that Tonbridge had rather taken their collective feet of the pedals.
The Angels still showed a constant threat when they went forward, especially from set pieces. Their strength down the flanks meant than neither Sam Flegg nor Ollie Sprague were ever given the license to roam downfield, further limiting Hendon's options.