Hendon conceded a 90th minute goal against Grays Athletic on Saturday afternoon to deprive themselves of 3 important Ryman League Premier Division points at LOOT Stadium. The dropped 2 points mean that there is now a 4-point gap between the 13th-placed Greens and Gravesend & Northfleet a place above them.
The last four League matches between Hendon and Grays had produced a total of 1 goal, so to have 2 might be considered a wealth of riches. But that would be doing both teams a huge favour. The reality was that this match fell a long way below dull and uninspiring.
There were a number of extenuating circumstances: the pitch, unused for 40 days since the Dagenham debacle, was playable down the middle third, difficult across another third and unplayable over a third, but the game went ahead; Grays had been rocked by the sudden, unwanted and unexpected resignation of manager Chris Snowsill 4 days before the game; and Grays, aware of their limitations, were desperate to avoid defeat.
It was, of course, incumbent upon Hendon, as the home team, to set the pace, but the pitch was definitely a far greater help to the visitors. Frank Murphy wants his team to pass the ball and keep possession, an almost impossible task in the circumstance. The absence of injured Marvyn Watson and unavailable Andy Iga meant recalls for Paul Adolphe and on-loan goalkeeper Paul Newell respectively.
In the 9th minute, Danny Hazelden curled a free-kick which Newell pushed away for a corner plunging low to his right. A minute later, Simon Clarke curled a free-kick which forced Grays' Mickey Desborough to leap high to push over the crossbar for a free-kick to Hendon. They were the only 2 on-target efforts of note in the first half.
In the 19th minute, former Hendon striker Dominic Gentle skipped past Warren Kelly but, with the goal at his mercy, made an awful hash of his shot, scuffing it many yards wide. Five minutes later, Arron Wright stumbled into the ball when a little composure would have left him with a simple tap-in and another chance went begging.
It would, however, be wrong to say that Grays were dominant. They weren't it was just that they had to two clearest cut openings. Adolphe had a half-chance for Hendon, but the ball ricocheted off Steve Dickinson's head and if Adolphe had been able to locate it, he would have had a great opportunity. Instead two defenders had to combine to hack the ball clear.
In the 27th minute, Dale Binns crossed the ball low behind the Grays defence. Ross Pickett sprinted onto the loose ball and arrived at the same time as Desborough, who dived in low but couldn't gather. Referee Mr I Woodward penalised the striker, who was injured in the challenge and was replaced by David Adekola in the 30th minute.
The second half was a little better than the first, but not much. Hendon still struggled to get to grips with the conditions, while Grays were happy to launch the ball downfield and fight tigerishly for scraps of possession.
Hendon finally made the breakthrough their better play merited. In the 65th minute, Iain Duncan and Adolphe linked up on the right flank before quickly shifting the ball out to Binns on the left. For only time in the match, he got around his two markers and delivered a dangerous cross-come-shot. Davis HAULE timed his run perfectly and slid the ball into the net from 6 yards.
In the 74th minute, Hendon could have sewn the game up, but were never given the opportunity. Adekola ran past one defender on his way into the box, but his progress was halted by Mark Risley, who felled the striker whilst missing the ball. Mr Woodward however allowed play to continue.
In the last minute, Grays, who had not managed a single noteworthy effort on target in the second half, got a point when HAZELDEN went on a mazy run which took him through three defenders, whose phantom tackles were appropriate for a ghostly misty evening. His shot was low, but should not have proved too difficult for Newell to save, but the ball somehow squirmed under the goalkeeper and gave Grays a barely deserved point.
"We were rather hanging on," admitted a disappointed Frank Murphy. "I think it was a case of tired legs, but we should have had the penalty and if that had gone in, it wouldn't have mattered."