No amount of sugar will make this bitterest of pills easier to swallow. Hendon were dumped out of the FA Umbro Trophy by a Tiverton Town team the Greens would be confident of beating 8 times out 10 at home.
No excuses - neither the difficult pitch, nor the 6-man injury list, nor the lack of luck of the bounce - are acceptable in the light of a performance that saw the Dr Martens (Southern) League Western Division title-chasers win 2-1 at LOOT Stadium on Saturday. It would be fair to say that none of Hendon's 11 starters could have walked off the pitch on the final whistle and could say, hand on heart, "I played as well as I am capable today."
Davis Haule returned from suspension and took Paul Adolphe's starting role in an otherwise unchanged line-up. Adolphe reverted to substitute alongside fit-again Jason Soloman, and Richard Dee, Bontcho Guentchev and Nathan Edwards, the 3 bench-warmers from last week.
Tiverton started brightly, but didn't cause the Hendon defence undue bother. Gradually, Hendon began to get into the game, but by the 15-minute mark, the only incidents of note were cautions for former Blackburn star Nick Marker and Steve Daly, both for bad and late fouls.
In the 17th minute, Dale Binns made one of his trademark runs and immediately caused panic in the Tiverton defence. His low cross was booted away for a corner. The delivery was good and Paul Edwards was nowhere near reaching the ball with his attempted punch clear.
Two defenders attempted to deal with the danger, but failed miserably. When the ball was knocked back into the 18-yard box, a deft flick found David Adekola unmarked 10 yards from goal. Controlling the ball and turning, ADEKOLA didn't strike it particularly cleanly, but he did have the accuracy to put the ball beyond Edwards' dive inside the far post.
For the next 20 minutes, Hendon were totally on top, without ever laying siege on the Devonians' goal. Binns did have another run and shot which squirmed under Edwards' body, but the ball rolled straight to Paul Tatterton, who hacked the ball clear. On another day, Edwards' fumble might have gone straight into the net or found Haule, sniffing for a half-chance.
Then, in the 37th minute, out of nothing, Tiverton found an equaliser. With every other path to goal blocked, Steve Daly tried a long-range shot. It should not have proved too difficult a save for Paul Newell, but the on-loan keeper fumbled the ball and it fell to Phil EVERETT, who wasted no time in knocking home the rebound.
On the stroke of half-time, Daly could have been dismissed for another foul on Phil Gridelet. Referee Dean Whitestone (Northants) decided that a final warning was appropriate rather than a second yellow card, which would not have been harsh. It had a massive bearing on the game because Daly was proving to be the best midfielder in the game, linking well with his defenders and joining the attack when he could.
In the 52nd minute, Iain Duncan made a fine marauding run down the right wing. He linked well with Haule and found himself with the options of crossing towards Adekola and Binns, shooting for goal himself or laying a short pass into Haule's path. He went for power, but passed to Haule, who had little chance to control the ball.
It was was easily broken up by Neil Saunders, who found Stuart Smith. Smith released Kevin Nancekivell, who tore down the wing left vacant by the out-of-position Duncan. The Hendon defence attempted to scamble across to cover the danger, but over-committed. Nancekivell laid the ball across the penalty area into the path of EVERETT, who scored his 2nd goal of the game.
Two minutes later, Haule did exceptionally well linking with Paul Johnson down Hendon's left flank. He teed up a great chance for Binns who completely missed his kick. It should not have mattered as the ball found Duncan, unmarked, 8 yards from goal. Using his less favoured left foot, the wing-back blasted the ball well over the bar.
It proved to be Hendon's best and last really good chance of the half. Tiverton's defending grew more confident as Hendon's efforts became more desperate. The arrival of Guentchev in favour of Haule was probably not the best of changes Hendon could have made and the timing of Nathan Edwards' introduction - the 85th minute - could have been better timed too.
But it was just that sort of a day for Hendon. Tiverton's attitude was better and there is no doubting the merit of their victory. Most surprising of all, Hendon, noted for their fine spirit and cameraderie, showed almost none of it, while Tiverton's players never stopped running for each other.
"This was our worst performance for a couple of years," said a despondent manager Frank Murphy. "We just couldn't get going."