Son hosted father as Lee Allinson’s Hendon took on Ian Allinson’s St Albans City and the honours were shared in a goalless preseason friendly. With next Saturday’s friendly against Barwell being postponed – it would have come two days before the London Senior Cup final against Brentford Bs at Hanwell Town – this was the Greens’ only home preseason friendly, and it was played in front of a Covid-19 test game capacity crowd of 200.
Those 200 fans would certainly not call the game the greatest they have ever seen but probably all were delighted to be able to see live football in what certainly seemed to be a safe and secure environment, well monitored by club volunteers. An added bonus for Hendon fans was the chance to enjoy the newly refurbished clubhouse which was open for the first time.
Saints, whose season doesn’t start for another month – they play in the FA Cup second round qualifying before the National League South kicks off – sent a very strong team and included ex Hendon man Dave Diedhiou in their starting XI. Their manager Ian Allinson heaped praise on the player who earned legendary status with fans in his decade with the Greens, citing his dedication, loyalty and willingness to help younger players at Clarence Park, especially French-speaking ones.
The Hendon line-up was pretty strong, though centre-back Tom Smith – who is progressing well in his rehabilitation from the winter knee injury he suffered – and central striker Joe White – still recovering from the knock he picked up in an earlier preseason friendly – were not considered.
Kicking uphill, Saints started the better but Eddie Oshodi and Tommy Brewer, assisted by fill-backs Simeon Olarerin and Lucas Perry, formed a powerful four-man defensive barrier with Matt Ball, Solomon Sambou and Keiran Forbes in front of them. It took until the 15th minute for there to be a chance of note and then Jonathan North made a good save to keep out a shot from Dara Dada.
The Greens had a scare just before the half-hour mark when they conceded a free-kick. Luke Warner-Eley’s powerful strike hit the defensive wall, looped up in the air and dropped wide of the post with North already committed to going in the opposite direction. Hendon were able to defend the resulting corner with a degree of comfort.
When they started to get into the game, Hendon began to cause problems for the Saints rearguard. Dwade James had the Greens’ first chance, but Michael Johnson made a scrambling save at his near post. James then set up Ball, whose shot flew just over the crossbar.
Oshodi then showed that he is not a typical stopper centre-half because, in the 40th minute, he showed some neat skill and although he could have drilled a ball into the six-yard box with the chance of a goalbound touch, he spotted Shaun Lucien in space just outside the penalty area. Lucien’s strike may well have beaten Johnson, but before the goalkeeper had started to dive Tom Bender, not far from the goal-line, had hacked the ball clear.
Sambou – along with Brewer, Joe Howe and Sam Corcoran former Saints players – had Hendon’s final chance of the half, jinking his way past a couple of defenders to set up a shooting chance. Johnson’s dive was nowhere near the ball, but he was grateful to see the ball fizz just beyond the angle of post and crossbar.
St Albans made six substitutions before the start of the second half, Diedhiou one of those going off, and a seventh early in the period when Shaun Jeffers returned to replace Chid Onokwai – similar to James in build, playing style and Essex Senior League background – who had given Hendon all sorts of problems during his 52 minutes leading the line.
Although they were far stronger than Hendon throughout the half, they had no clear-cut openings. Right-back Devante Stanley did well down the right side in the 53rd minute, but when he had the chance to shoot, he dragged the ball disappointingly wide of the near post.
Hendon made their half dozen changes during the second half, with Howe, Luca Allinson, Corcoran, Samrai Gebrai, Cheyce Grant and Jayden Clarke replacing Olarerin, Forbes, Ball, Liam Brooks, Lucien and Sambou. James led the line with strength, but he could not get the better of Warner-Eley, who won almost all of their individual battles.
Two or three Saints half-chances developed, but the final ball was either too close to North, overhit or final shots were well off target. In fact, it was not until the 78th minute that Saints were given a clear sight of goal, but substitute Mitchell Weiss fired inches wide of the post.
The closest either team came to a goal, was actually Hendon’s only on-target second half attempt. Corcoran spotted Johnson a little off his line and lofted a 50-yard strike towards the goal.
Last year, he scored from 65 yards in an FA Cup tie against Hayes & Yeading United – he tweeted this shot was a virtual tap-in – and his effort was dipping towards the crossbar. Back-pedalling at pace, Johnson leapt and the ball struck the crossbar, the referee awarding a corner, so the goalkeeper gets credit for the save.
The Saints’ response was a near copycat strike from Monash Sundire. His effort was from “only” 45 yards and had it been up the slope, he may have found the target. Instead, the ball cleared the crossbar by a small margin. A final strike from Jeffers didn’t trouble North and there were familial hugs and fist-bumps on the final whistle a few moments later.
Lee Allinson, upset at the performance at Kings Langley a week earlier, especially the first half, was much happier about this showing and he told Hendon FCTV: “It was a really good test for us. It is two weeks till the start of the new season and I felt we really needed to ramp up our preparation.
“It game was a proper game. It felt like there were three points at stake. Both teams went at it and both dugouts went at it.
“I thought we were absolutely outstanding today. It was disappointing that we didn’t create a lot, but we were playing against a team from a league above you.
“It is the first time this preseason that we have had two training sessions. To do what we have done this was a really good test.
“This was the one today that would tell me about where we are and I thought that it was a very good performance. But we have to play like that every week.
“Playing against a step 2 side is a gauge of you where you are and I think St Albans are a very good side. I thought we nullified them really well. We gave as good as we got.”