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Hendon gave title-chasing Tiverton Town more than a few uncomfortable moments in a well-contested clash at Silver Jubilee Park, but eventually succumbed to a narrow, and on balance, undeserved defeat. It would be equally fair to say a Hendon victory would have been considered in the same way.
The four changes to those who started in the League Cup shoot-out against Hayes & Yeading were Romario Jonas and Tahjae Anderson and two debutants: goalkeeper Patrick Ohman and midfielder Keiron Forbes, while Kingsley Eshun and Joseph Felix made their bows coming off the bench. Those dropping out of the starting 11 were goalkeeper Dante Baptiste, Howard Hall, Reece Mitchell and the departed Connor Calcutt.
Second in the table, Tiverton started the game with confidence and passed the ball around looking a weakness in the Greens' defence. Jonas and Corey Panter gave a much stronger physical presence out wide, while Luke Tingey and Tom Hamblin had to deal with 12-goal Jared Lewington and 17-goal support acts River Allen and Jordan Bastin.
In the opening half-hour the best chances came HendonÃ¢Â€Â™s way with Shaun Lucien curling a delicious effort that beat Lewis Williams all ends up but kissed the top of the crossbar. Had the Greens been kicking up the slope the ball's trajectory would still have made the shot unstoppable but it would have dipped under the crossbar.
Ryan Hope and Isaac Galliford then combined well down the right side before the latter delivered a teasing low cross. Anderson tried to reach the ball, but it went just beyond him.
In the 31st minute, a teasing cross from the Pierce Mitchell was met with a thumping header from Lewington. Ohman had started to come for the ball, realised he wouldnÃ¢Â€Â™t reach it, but still was able to recover his position well enough to pull off a stunning save.
The ball struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced down inside the six-yard box. Fastest to react was Tingey, who completed the clearance with an over the shoulder hooked kick.
Six minutes before the interval, Hendon almost capitalised on a defensive slip to take the lead. A back-pass to Williams was short and Sergio Manesio, in a more forward role ahead of Forbes, reached the ball before the goalkeeper.
Manesio was at the tightest of angles and had to stretch to reach the ball, but he did get there ahead of Williams. His touch rolled agonisingly towards the rear post as a defender raced back to cover the danger, but he did not have to intervene as Manesio's effort rolled inches the wrong side of the post.
The next two good moments went to Tiverton as Lewington saw his header caught at full stretch by Ohman. Steven Colwell was next to try his luck and his 20-yard shot flew just outside the near post.
In the final minute of the half, Panter, who had scored with a scorching drive against Hayes & Yeading United, tried his luck again. Williams flung himself towards the ball and got just enough on it to push it away from the goal.
Although Tivvy started the second half brightly, it was Galliford who almost opened the scoring in the 47th minute. More than 20 yards from goal, he shot powerfully, but the ball went just the wrong side of the post from a Hendon perspective.
Five minutes later, the visitors found themselves in front. A beautiful through ball from Chris Shephard released BASTIN, who lifted a deft lob over the advancing Ohman.
Buoyed by the goal Tiverton took control of proceedings. Josh Key set up Colwell for a shot that appeared to be goalbound, but took a deflection wide of the target for a corner.
From the corner, Hendon's defence stood firm, and three strikes at goal were all blocked before a green shirt hacked the ball clear. A couple of minutes later, Hendon replaced Hope with Mitchell, and the move had an immediate effect.
The Greens quickly attacked down the left side through Galliford. His low cross seemed to need only a touch from Reece Mitchell to bring the equaliser, but he was bundled over before he could touch the ball.
Had the referee made the decision to award a penalty, the feeling was that the defender's punishment would have been a red card as he stopped an obvious goalscoring opportunity without making an attempt to play the ball Ã¢Â€Â“ much as Tingey had suffered at Kings Langley last season. Instead, there was a moment's hesitation before the official ruled that play should continue.
The Hendon equaliser did come a couple of minutes later and it was a superb goal. Galliford started the moved with a powerful run from the halfway line, before he released Anderson to raid down the left side.
He got the better of Pierce Mitchell and delivered a teasing cross into the middle of the penalty area. Hendon's Mitchell was sniffing the chance but he was beaten to the ball by GALLIFORD, who had raced forward, and then planted a powerful header past Williams.
Parity lasted only three minutes as Tiverton scored what proved to be the decisive goal. Tivvy blocked a Hendon clearance and the rebound favoured them.
Noah Smerdon moved forward and fed Lewington who, in turn, passed to KEY. The wide man, one of three players on loan from Exeter City, ran forward and shot into the bottom corner. The ball was not the most powerfully struck, but the accuracy was impeccable and beyond Ohman's vain dive.
There was no head-dropping from Hendon, who immediately set about getting back on level terms. Eshun and Felix took over from Forbes and Anderson as the Greens completed their substitutions.
With 12 minutes to go, Reece Mitchell struck the outside of the post with a powerful low drive and, three minutes later, from a free-kick, Galliford just cleared the bar with a powerful drive.
Things got harder for the Greens in the 83rd minute. Manesio came across to stop a quick Tiverton counter-attack and did so illegally. Having already been cautioned, the referee was quick to show a second yellow and red cards.
Although they now had a man disadvantage, Hendon's defence remained steadfast, twice stopping further counter-attacks. In fact, the biggest scare came at the other end as Ohman came up for a late corner.
He couldnÃ¢Â€Â™t reach the ball, Tivvy substitute George Nancekivell - an indication of their nerves was TivertonÃ¢Â€Â™s two changes came after 89 and 94 minutes - heading half clear. The ball bounced down and Lucien fizzed a 20-yard shot that went just too high.
The final whistle was greeted with as much relief as satisfaction from the Tiverton players, a clear indication that they had been given a far harder examination than they had expected. Hendon remain in the bottom three of the division but, on the evidence of this performance against the sectionÃ¢Â€Â™s top scorers, an upturn in results and league placing is surely not too far away.
Speaking on the clubÃ¢Â€Â™s internet TV website, manager Lee Allinson said, "It was the best performance since I have been at the club. I am bitterly disappointed to lose.
"Football is a game of fine lines. I canÃ¢Â€Â™t fault the effort of the players, because they were outstanding.
Ã¢Â€Âœ"op of the table have come here today and we have more than matched them, but Tiverton are a very good side. They managed the game a little better than we did.
"Their manager said some very nice things about us after the game, which is always nice, but it is easy to do that after you have won the game.
"When we made the changes I think we changed the game. After we had equalised I thought that there was only side that was going on to win the game. And even after they had scored I thought we were magnificent.
"We are not the finished article yet, the squad is still slowly getting there. I said to the boys after the game, Ã¢Â€Â˜if you play like that for me we wonÃ¢Â€Â™t have any problemsÃ¢Â€Â™.
"But we need to settle down the side. I would like to be settled by Thursday, but it doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t always work that way, "