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Hendon's defence of the London Senior Cup continued on Tuesday night as they were far from impressive in seeing off Southern Counties League (East) strugglers Croydon at Silver Jubilee Park. The Greens' reward for the 2-1 victory is a trip to another team at the wrong end of their League table, Redbridge, one place off the bottom of Ryman Division One North.
There were mitigating factors as the starting eleven comprised seven midfielders, two full-backs, a striker and goalkeeper Joe Wright, then lost creative playmaker Sam Murphy with a serious injury in then opening quarter of an hour. Making welcome returns were Casey Maclaren and Omar Vassell, the former whose tribulations are well documented and the latter who missed ten weeks for personal reasons.
With two new centre-halves who not only had never played together, but also had barely trained with each other, it was unsurprising that they would take a little time to get to know each other. And, after a couple of minutes, Croydon nearly took the lead.
A short pass gave Karl Douglin space just outside the penalty area and he quickly moved forward before unleashing a powerful shot. Wright produced a fine save to tip the ball over the top of the crossbar and was then grateful to see the corner headed wide.
The injury to Murphy saw another reshuffle in the troops as Wesley Fonguck replaced him, leaving Tony Taggart as the only wide player in front of full-backs Vassell and Ollie Sprague.
Croydon took the game to Hendon, but were mainly limited to long-range efforts which barely troubled Wright. When the Greens went forward, Ben Pattie was complemented by Carl McCluskey and Dean Cracknell, though neither are out and out strikers.
Disappointingly, there was a lack of incisiveness in and around the penalty area and, on two or three occasions, players took the wrong options, shooting when passing was a better choice and vice versa.
Both teams tried to pass their way downfield but the accuracy was lacking. It made for a rather disappointing spectacle, a contest which was desperate for a goal.
Pattie was denied by an excellent save Daniel Carpanini. At the other end, a corner fell to Al-Hassan Oshilaja, but his free header, from a very good position, was poorly directed and cleared the bar by some distance.
In the 42nd minute, Croydon did make the breakthrough. Tristan Toney broke clear of his marker, steadied himself and fired low past Wright into the bottom corner.
The goal concentrated Hendon's minds and, in the time added on for Murphyâ€™s injury, they equalised. Taggart was the creator and his pass back was netted by Pattie.
There was some concern, however, when the assistant referee was seen standing with his flag raised. The referee, aware the scoring pass had been backwards, consulted with his assistant and overruled him, awarding the goal.
Kicking up the hill in the second half, Hendon were in control in terms of possession and creating chances. Unfortunately, the opportunities were never close to being taken and whilst Croydon deserve enormous credit for their defensive work, the Greens' decision making remained lacking.
When Maclaren went off after his first live action in nine months - he lasted a little more than an hour - Kezie Ibe was introduced to partner Pattie, and another central defensive pairing was created. Vassell was replaced for the final dozen minutes of normal time, Charlie Kuehn getting a rare run-out.
The Trams made their first change with central defender henry Brockman making way for Austin Gacheru. They did make the odd foray forward, but Triton and Douglin got no change out of Russell Short and Dave Diedhiou.
As the London Senior Cup rules have no provision for extra-time before a penalty shoot-out (except in the final), this match seemed destined to be decided from 12 yards.
In the 85th minute, Cracknell could have won it when he had a great shooting chance. His effort had too much power and didn't trouble Carpanini.
But there was a sting the tail, one which metaphorically inaccurately broke the hearts of Croydon. A cross from the right wing hung in the bitterly cold night air and McCluskey powered in before placing his header beyond Carpanini into the bottom corner.
This was in the third of five minutes of additional time, meaning the Greens had failed to score in either of the regulation 45 minutes, so they had two minutes to hang on. The Trams sent on Nana Mansah for Jamie Lyndon, but Hendon were determined not make any mistakes and saw out the little remaining time without alarm.