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Hendon’s perfect start to preseason (including the two London Senior Cup-ties held over from 2019–20) came to an end at a blustery and squally Orbital Fasteners Stadium in Kings Langley on Saturday afternoon.
After the high-intensity London Senior Cup semi-final which went to extra-time on Tuesday night, Hendon looked a little leggy and their cause was not helped by a trio of first-half injuries which led multiple defensive reshuffles.
The Greens could not have made a much worse start. Inside 35 seconds, a through ball picked out Bradley Wadkins and the former Hendon striker – he played half a dozen games in 2012–13 – got clear of the defence before lifting a sweet lob over the stranded Jonathan North.
Around the quarter-hour mark both teams came close to goals. First a Kings Langley back-pass beat Alex Tocarczyk as Dwade James put him under pressure, but the ball caromed off a post and bounced away from goal.
James had no angle for a shot himself, so he set up Luca Allinson who was following up. Allinson’s strike beat Tocarczyk, but a brilliant goalline clearance from Jerrel Johnson kept out the ball.
Play broke to the other end and another ball over the top of the defence left a Langley forward with a one-on-one with North. The striker was Edu Toiny Pendred, and he was turning away in celebration after his lob, but attacking midfielder Sammy Gebrai made a lung-bursting run to reach the ball and he made an even better acrobatic clearance.
Anglo-Portuguese attacker Edu, who prefers to go by his first name, doubled the lead after half and hour. He did well to beat left-back Joe Howe before running at North, and although the goalkeeper got a good hand on EDU’s shot, the ball bounced just inside the far post, much to the goalkeeper’s chagrin.
Things quickly got worse for the Greens, in their new change sky-blue shirts, as Solomon Sambou had to go off with an injury, this after the trialist centre-half had lasted only 17 minutes. It meant that Keiron Forbes (for Sambou) and Eddie Oshodi were both forced to play many more minutes than manager Lee Allinson would have wanted.
Edu was proving to be a real handful and he created the third Kings Langley goal, after 37 minutes. His through ball was perfectly weighted into the path of Harry RUSH and he made no mistake.
Before play resumed, Hendon’s other starting centre-back, skipper Tommy Brewer, limped off and Lucas Perry took over from him, the captain’s armband going to Forbes.
North made a good save to deny Wadkins a second goal, set up again by Edu, but Tocarczyk also made a fine stop from a James shot as play continued to go from end to end.
With the wind at their backs after the break, Hendon set about getting back into the game and it took them only three minutes to reduce the arrears. They forced a corner on the left side and Matt Ball’s deep delivery was flicked on by a defender jumping with Oshodi. The ball dropped into the path of CLARKE, who steadied himself before smashing a volley into the net.
The Greens were definitely on top, but there remained a strong threat from the hosts on the break. Oshodi used his great experience, to be a couple of yards deeper, and then turn his body to win a free-kick under great pressure from Wadkins as the striker looked to get a clear run at goal.
Gebrai and Clarke were proving willing foils for James, who twice was denied chances by unkind bounces. In the 57th minute, CLARKE took matters into his own hands by dispossessing Johnson who dallied in possession of the ball, running in at Tocarczyk and finishing with aplomb.
North was forced into more action as Dean Hitchcock moved forward from midfield and struck a low shot. It looked as if the goalkeeper had guessed wrongly, but he recovered and made a fine low save, keeping hold of the ball as Wadkins sniffed the chance of a rebound.
Hendon made three more changes, replacing Allinson, Gebrai and Clarke with Shaun Lucien, another trialist and Cheyce Grant, respectively. They offered more of a threat out wide, but James was slightly more isolated down the middle.
Not that he needed much assistance because he might have had a quartet in the final quarter minutes. His first effort, after 67 minutes, was powerful but struck a post and the rebound bobbled away from him.
In the 79th minute, his shot was on target, but it the goalkeeper’s save was routine. In fact, had Tocarczyk allowed the ball to beat him, it would have been considered an error on his part.
If James had managed to fire into the net in the 85th minute, it would have been a goal worthy of winning a cup final let alone equalising in a preseason friendly. Receiving a pass from Ball a few yards outside the penalty area, James wriggled through three tacklers, ran into the penalty area, but he snatched at his shot and the ball flew over the crossbar.
The next chance was at the other end as a Kings Langley substitute smashed a powerful drive which was not only well saved by North but also the goalkeeper held onto the ball and was quick to release it downfield.
In the first minute of stoppage time, James had another shooting opportunity, but Tocarczyk produced his best save of the match, making a brilliant reaction stop at very close range. Hendon had a couple of half-chances from the corner that followed, brave defending from King Langley defenders saw shots blocked.
With just a few minutes more, Hendon may well have found an equaliser their second half performance undoubtedly merited, but time just ran out on them. While both management teams will have been disappointed with defending, for spectators it was an afternoon of great entertainment in a match played in conditions more akin to late autumn than an August afternoon.
Manager Lee Allinson didn’t pull any punches about the first half performance but was equally effusive in praise when he spoke in a post-match interview on the Hendon FC TV website.
He said, “I have said it before the results don’t matter but it is the manner of how we get the results. In the first half we were absolutely shambolic and I told them that at half-time.
“It is the first time this preseason that they have needed to hear that. We were not good enough all over the place, not my levels, not the team levels.
“In the second half it was a different story: we were fantastic; we engaged more up the pitch and we won tackles we didn’t win in the first half.
“We won free-kicks in dangerous areas; Dwade hit the post and their keeper has made a worldy in the last minute. It was his best performance for us in the second half and he was playing against a very good defender.
“And Jayden was really good, but he is still young and learning about the game. If he continues to improve we will have real player there.
“It was a game of two halves, but this is what preseason is all about and it has given me a lot to think about.”