Hendon's rain-enforced 4-day break was not enough for the players to recharge their batteries and the prospect of 5 matches in 3 days was a daunting enough proposition to inhibity them further. It was no surprise, therefore, that a tired team were beaten 2-1 by Gravesend & Northfleet at Stonebridge Road on Thursday night.
Richard Wilmot felt his groin was sufficiently recovered to play in goal, giving Gary McCann a night off, but the latter was named as a substitute, alongside manager Frank Murphy and Marvyn Watson, who was delayed on his journey to Kent.
The biggest problems for Hendon were at the heart of defence and up front, leaving Mr Murphy with no alternative but to go to a 4-4-2 formation with RenÃƒÂ© Street partnering Gary Fitzgerald as the middle 2 at the back and Nathan Edwards and Bontcho Guentchev up front, the latter being double the age of the former.
Phil Gridelet and Simon Clarke were orthodox full-backs, playing behind Paul Adolphe and Dale Binns in midfield, with Jason Soloman and Dave Stewart filling the middle hole. Gravesend were also stretched for players and had Craig Wilkins in attack, the central defender enjoying his role as emergency striker, especially as he had netted twice in the Fleet's Full Members Cup semi-final victory at Bognor Regis the previous evening.
A well-worked free-kick move gave Gravesend the lead after 14 minutes. Floated in from the left wing, the ball was flicked on at the near post and Chris CURRIE came in at the far post and sent a powerful header past Wilmot. For all the quality of the move, questions must be asked about Hendon's marking.
Within 20 seconds Hendon should have been level. From the kick-off, Hendon attacked with Binns and Edwards linking well. The ball was knocked into Guentchev's path, but the Bulgarian's strike flashed inches over angle of post and crossbar with Jamie Turner well beaten.
Ten minutes later, Edwards showed a glimpse of what he is capable of with a quick burst and neat turn to get just clear of the last defender. As he steadied himself to lob the ball over Turner, Francis Duku nudged Edwards in the back, doing just enough to put him off, and the ball dribbled slowly wide of the target. The referee turned down Hendon's valid, if rather hopeful, penalty appeal.
McCann, whose surgically-repaired knee was far from 100 percent, replaced Wilmot at the break, the latter's groin injury having worsened significantly. Within 10 seconds of the restart, Hendon should have drawn level. Binns made a burst down the middle, leaving three defenders trailingin his wake. He shot past Turner, but did not put enough bend on his strike and the ball went the wrong side of the post by less than a yard without ever looking likely to go in.
Hendon brought on Watson for the tiring Edwards after 66 minutes and, as they reshuffled their playing formation, immediately conceded a second goal. A hopeful long ball out of defence found Wilkins beating the offside to get a clear run on goal. McCann came out to narrow the angle, but WILKINS shot powerfully past him.
With 12 minutes to go, Fitzgerald's season ended, his tender hamstring finally giving way. This brought Murphy into the action and necessitated yet another switch in the formation, now 4-3-3. Inevitably the number of holes in the Hendon defence grew and with just a little more composure,Gravesend could have doubled or tripled their score. At least 4 excellent and a similar number of good chances were wasted with wayward efforts, while McCann did well to make a couple of saves.
In the 86th minute, Hendon grabbed a lifeline with a surprise goal. Binns, as so often, was the architect. He made a fine burst down the left flank, stopped on a proverbial sixpence, looked up and cut the ball back into the penalty area. SOLOMAN called Murphy off and drilled an 18-yard shot off Turner's hands into the net.
In stoppage time, Guentchev made a break. He reached the penalty area, looked up and saw no blue shirts there, so he displayed a couple of party tricks to beat 2 defenders. His cross was destined for Murphy's boot until a defender lunged in and knocked the ball away.
"They battered us in the second half," admitted coach Dave Anderson, "but we nearly snatched a point at the death. I must praise young Dave Stewart tonight. He battled so hard."