Hendon returned to winning ways with a comprehensive second-half demolition of Hitchin Town at LOOT Stadium on Wednesday night. The result was doubly important because it showed that the Greens can score goals after failing to score from open play after four matches with only a penalty to show for it and it stretched the gap between Hendon and the relegation zone to 9 points.
Paul Adolphe, RenÃ¯Â¿Â½ Street and Jon Daly came into the side at the expense of Simon Clarke, Phil Gridelet (both injured) and Jason Soloman (a substitute). With the reserves in action at Whyteleafe, Gridelet's late withdrawal, plus the injury-enforced absence of both Gary Fitzgerald and Paul Johnson, meant that Frank Murphy had to name himself another of the replacements alongside David Adekola.
The first half can be summed up in 62 words. Adolphe mishit a second-minute volley, James Robinson produced a brilliant save to deny Ross Pickett after 31 minutes, four players were booked in five minutes, Hitchin had three free-kicks around the Hendon penalty area - one blocked, one saved by Richard Wilmot and one floated over the crossbar - and Wilmot, playing against his former club, made another fine save late on.
For the second time in consecutive games, there was a goal 123 seconds after half-time. This time it was Hendon who got the goal and the relief around the ground was tangible. Dale Binns made a break down the right wing where Jon Bone struggled to keep up with a player about 15 years his junior. Binns' low cross should have been claimed by Robinson, but he was slow off his line and PICKETT got the faintest of touches, which was enough to send the ball trundling slowly just inside the far post.
Hendon grew in confidence from the goal and Hitchin's defence, reasonably solid in the first half, suddenly looked very uncomfortable. In the 62nd minute, PICKETT finished off an almost identical cross from Binns, though this time his touch was much more assured.
Three minutes later, Binns smashed a 20-yard drive that cannoned off the underside of the bar. Pickett headed the rebound over the bar from a couple of yards out, but the assistant referee flagged for offside.
In the 72nd minute, Pickett had another great chance to complete his hat-trick. This time he was sent clear by Iain Duncan but his shot was well blocked by Robinson. The ball fell well for Davis HAULE, whose low shot went under Robinson's hand and rolled into the net to end his personal 8-week goal drought.
Haule and Daly were denied in quick succession by fine saves from Robinson, who appeared to be the only man playing against Hendon. Stuart Beevor, the lone Hitchin player cautioned in the first half, committed a spiteful foul on Duncan. Referee Mr F Mead (Gravesend) went to his pocket, but realised Beevor had already been cautioned, so instead of taking drastic action, adminstered a stiff talking-to.
With the game pretty much safe, Hendon made three changes, taking off the 3 forwards, Binns, Pickett and Haule, and bringing on Soloman (78), Adekola (82) and - to good-natured jeering from fans - Murphy (87). Within two minutes of the last change, Cliff Akurang some managed to fire over Wilmot's bar no more than a couple of yards out.
In the last minute of normal time, Duncan curled in a free-kick. ADEKOLA and Robinson jumped for the ball together and the striker got the faintest of touches to knock it into the net for number 4. Duncan was convinced the ball had not been touched on its way into the goal.
Three minutes into stoppage time, Murphy gave a glimpse of the skill that made him one of the top players in non-league football. He brought a pass down, turned and broke through the heart of the Hitchin defence. Robinson came out to narrow the angle, Murphy fired a low shot through the 'keeper's legs, but looked aghast as Robinson fell back and ended sitting on the ball.
"The boys have given me some stick over that," admitted the happy player-manager after the game. "I promised them I would score before the end of the season. Once we scored we looked so much better and it could have been 7 or 8 in the second half."