Hendon have made a rather better fist of opening day 2023–24 than last season, beating newcomers Sholing 3–1 at Silver Jubilee Park on Saturday afternoon. In 2022–23, The Greens opened with defeat against Yate, who were relegated, and went on to lose another five matches before finally winning in late September, so three points at the first attempt was much welcomed on a day which started in pouring rain, but ended lovely August sunshine.
Newcomers Sholing have invested heavily since winning the Southern League South Division promotion playoff final but they were shocked by new-look Hendon, who scored early and rarely were seriously troubled.
The Greens’ starting 11 included five players making their debuts: goalkeeper Matt Kerbey, defenders Samuel Adenola and Will Dupray and midfielders Blaise Riley-Snow and Billy Leonard. Florian Endouvo-Ada and Thami Mmakola – a product of the club’s development system – were new names on the bench, but only the former was used. Hamza Semakula made his first start since suffering a terrible knee injury in March 2022. His contributions showed how much he was missed last season.
The opening goal, the first anywhere in the Southern League South Premier Division, came in the third minute. Adenola, who was given far too much space down the right wing in the first half, made a good break and he delivered a low cross.
It was just behind Niko Muir and a defender diverted the ball just outside the penalty area. The direction of the clearance was poor as the ball landed at Joe White’s feet. After taking a touch, WHITE fired goalwards from 15 yards and the pace deceived Ryan Gosney, the ball going off his hands, against the underside of the crossbar and into the net.
Sholing had shown some invention at set-pieces and, in the 19th minute, a right-wing corner nearly brought an equaliser. The ball was swung deep to beyond the far post where Owen Roundell was lurking. His strike seemed destined for the goal until two defenders bravely slid in to block the ball out for another corner, this one dealt with by Greens defenders.
The Greens’ lead was doubled after 26 minutes, when more good work down the right flank, this time involving Muir and Lucien, saw the ball crossed into the danger area by Muir. Another poor clearance went to a green shirt, this one’s Adenola, who fed White and skipper rolled the ball to Semakula. The beauty of this goal cannot be understated, his neat first touch, spin, pirouette and almost instant first-time curling shot just inside the far post. Simply sumptuous!
Two minutes later, Muir floated a cross over Gosney from a very acute angle. The goalkeeper had given up on making a save and was grateful to see the ball drop just beyond the far post.
Seven minutes before half-time, from a rare dangerous Sholing attack, Charlie Wagstaff fired a shot which clanged off the outside of a Hendon post and bounced away to safety. After that, the Greens created three more chances. Gosney produced two excellent saves, keeping out efforts from Lucien and Semakula, while a brilliant block denied Muir a goal his effort up front had merited.
Sholing were determined to put Hendon under pressure early in the second half, but they didn’t really trouble Kerbey, with Adenola and Lucas Perry out wide, Dave Diedhiou and Dupray in the middle and Riley-Snow in front of the back four holding sway. But, in the 50th minute, the visitors paid a huge price for over-committing to attack.
Hendon moved the ball forward and Lucien and Muir worked together to set up White, who turned a struck a shot which Gosney touched against the middle of the crossbar. LUCIEN had continued his run and when the ball bounced down, he swivelled and struck a rasping left-foot drive into the top of the net to make it 3–0.
Five minutes, later Jake Adams tried to surprise Kerbey at his near post, but his angle was far too tight and Adams’ shot cannoned into the side-netting. The Greens’ keeper finally had something to do after an hour as he made a good save to keep out a shot from Dan Mason.
Hendon felt they should have had a penalty in the 70th minute, when White went into the penalty area and as he was about to shoot, he went down under a challenge. The ball went in the direction that suggested it had come off the intervening defender’s foot, but the referee awarded a goal-kick. Minutes later, Endouvo-Ada, who had just replaced Lucien, had a chance to score, but his low shot flew across the face of the goal and went out for a goal-kick.
With 11 minutes of normal time remaining, Hendon’s comfortable advantage was reduced. A free-kick on the left side, just outside the penalty area, was curled in by Jake Hesketh and Byron MASON rose highest to nod the ball into the net.
It gave Sholing a scintilla of hope, but the Hendon managed the remainder of the game quite well. Frank Keita and Gio Palmer came on for Leonard, who had made a solid, unfussy debut, and Semakula, were late substitutes, but Sholing, who had made two of their changes midway through the half, rather ran out of ideas, even with seven minutes of additional time.
Muir was destined not to get a goal. His last chance saw him break clear, but a fine recovery tackle from Roundell dispossessed him just as Muir was about to shoot.
Hendon boss Lee Allinson spoke on the club’s TV site, saying, “I am absolutely delighted with the result. It was a really pleasing performance and some of our play in the first half was outstanding.
“We’ve got a number of big players missing today, so to get the three points was really pleasing. But the thing that pleases me the most is that we have a lot more to come.
“It is the first time we have won our first game of the season at SJP and with two tough games coming up it makes the win all the more important.”