Hendon finally saw off Braintree's brave challenge on Monday night when Jon Daly fired home a 20-yard shot off Courtney Naylor's hand in the 2nd minute of stoppage time at the end of extra time. In the next round of the Ryman League Cup (last 16, 3rd round), Hendon will be at home again, this time to Premier Division rivals Chesham United.
With only a modicum of good fortune, the extra half-hour would have been unnecessary, but that still does not deflect criticism as Hendon twice threw away one-goal leads, the second with just 4 minutes of normal time remaining. A mitigating factor was the serious-looking knee injury suffered by centre half Paul Towler, who was carried off after 23 minutes. The exact nature of the injury will not be diagnosed until later in the week.
The two week gap in fixtures gave Hendon's injury list ample time to clear up and Frank Murphy had an almost full squad to select from (Curtis Warmington is still some weeks away from fitness following January surgery). Gary Fitzgerald returned after a month out in a full-strength defence, while Jason Soloman and Paul Adolphe were given midfield roles ahead of substitutes Phil Gridelet and Dale Binns. Davis Haule and David Adekola were preferred to Ross Pickett in attack, with Bontcho Guentchev taking the last of the substitutes' berths.
The heavy pitch didn't really suit Hendon's desire to pass the ball, but they got on with and soon made the breakthrough. In the 9th minute, Adolphe received a pass from Soloman and delivered a teasing cross which David Adekola nodded down beyond Dean Mahoney's dive, just inside the far post.
A quick move after 21 minutes nearly brought a second goal. Hendon again raided down the right flank, this time on the counter-attack, and when the ball was crossed in Adolphe thudded a header off the underside of the crossbar. The rebound fell Braintree's way and it was hacked clear.
Braintree showed what they could do on the counter-attack and they equalised after 35 minutes. Bradley Quinton was the instigator of the move and when the ball came across the Hendon penalty area, Leon Gutzmore fired a crisp first-time shot past Gary McCann.
In the 42nd minute, Braintree enjoyed an even greater stroke of luck. Iain Duncan, Adolphe and Haule combined on the right side and the striker worked him self an opening just inside the penalty area, near to the goal-line. Haule improved his angle only slightly before curling the ball almost lazily over Mahoney. It struck the middle of the crossbar and fell against Alan Keeper's chest. Somehow the centre-half's inadvertent contact deflected the ball wide of the far post from barely a yard off the line.
In the 59th minute, another fine header, this time from a free-kick, brought Adekola his 2nd goal of the night and 10th of the season. Almost immediately, he was withdrawn in favour of Guentchev, who immediately caused Braintree's defence problems. Two crosses invited efforts on goal, but they were spurned.
When Binns replaced Soloman in the 72nd minute, Hendon immediately lost not only their shape, but also their impetus and the initiative. Mr Murphy explained that he took off Soloman before he got too tired and strained his hamstring. Maybe given Soloman's fragility, the earlier substitution of Adekola was ill-advised. Binns certainly struggled to get involved in the action, even though the situation was tailor-made for him.
A last-gasp block denied Braintree sub Robbie Reinelt an equaliser in the 82nd minute, but it only delayed the inevitable. Naylor attacked down the right wing and crossed into the penalty area. The ball should have been dealt with, but Warren Kelly, unaware that Fitzgerald was behind him and ready to do the deed, got only the top of his head to it and it fell right to the feet of Josh Leeke, who scored the equaliser from 12 yards.
The game turned in the first minute of extra time. Guentchev was sent clear. He held off the challenge of Gavin Cowan and flicked the ball towards goal. Mahoney, however, had come flying off his line and produced a superb save, palming the ball to one. Guentchev, didn't bother to chase the apparently loose ball, instead just pointed at ground where Mahoney lay.
It was 2 yards outside the penalty area and assistant referee Sam Orsini waved his flag. Referee Mr R Bone (Orpington), infuriated the visitors with the only possible decision in the circumstances, showing a red card to Mahoney, who, it should be said, had made no attempt to stay inside the penalty area trying to make the save.
Simon Clarke and Guentchev lined up to take the free kick while Naylor put on the departing goalkeeper's No.1 shirt. The former curled the free-kick over the defensive wall, but it did not come down until it had passed over the bar.
Hendon then laid siege on the Braintree goal, but a combination of clueless play, outrageous fortune and a couple of competent stops by Naylor conspired to keep out 4 consecutive corners and dominant possession in and around the Braintree penalty area.
The second period of extra-time followed the same pattern as the first, but a breakthrough looked increasingly unlikely, despite Hendon again striking the frame of the goal and Leeke clearing another effort off the line.
In the 119th minute, Guentchev finally put the ball in the net after Naylor had produced a fine save to deny Binns. Unfortunately, assistant referee Mr Smeulders had decided the Bulgarian was in an offside position and the "goal" was disallowed.
The game had moved into the second minute of stoppage time at the end of extra time when Hendon finally snatched the winner. Two attempts at goal had already been blocked when the ball to captain Jon Daly, who drilled the ball straight at the middle of the goal. Naylor got a hand to the shot but could not keep it out, and Hendon finally had their winner.
"They are one of the best teams we have faced this season," admitted Mr Murphy after the game. "I do think we made very hard work of it, especially when their keeper went off. The last thing we wanted was a replay."