Hendon did everything they could to reach the First Round Proper of the AXA-sponsored FA Cup, but they found Nationwide Conference Dagenham & Redbridge just too strong for them on an awful LOOT Stadium pitch on Monday night. The final score of 3-1 may have been a little flattering to the visitors, but from the moment they cancelled out Ross Pickett's 26th-minute goal, the Daggers were the most likely winners.
Referee Tony Conn pulled out of the game at short notice so St Albans official Steve Chittenden was given 7 hours' notice of his appointment. He then had to make arrangements for an inspection and it was a great surprise he ruled the pitch fit. In truth, the boggy quagmire probably hindered Hendon less than Dagenham & Redbridge. Given the number of muscle strains picked up by the players from both teams, it is fair to say that the tie probably should not have gone ahead. Thirty years ago, this type of pitch was commonplace, so maybe the modern footballer is just a little moddly-coddled.
The Greens were almost unchanged, with Davis Haule coming into the starting line-up in place of the injured Jason Soloman, with Bontcho Guentchev, Marvyn Watson and Paul Johnson joining the expanded substitutes' bench. The Daggers, meanwhile, could afford to fill their bench with players who amassed 44 goals in their Ryman League championship campaign last season.
There was little of note in the opening 25 minutes as the two teams tried to come to terms with the pitch. Warren Kelly was cautioned for a foul, while Paul Terry had probably been just a little fortunate not to have suffered the same fate for a smiliar challenge a few minutes earlier.
The first noteworthy effort of the game also saw the first goal. Iain Duncan played a good ball into Haule, who did well to get around Jason Broom. He crossed low into the penalty area - a wise move given the height of the Dagenham defenders - and Ross PICKETT nipped in to place a header into just about the only place Tony Roberts could not reach. It was Hendon's first goal against Dagenham for over 330 minutes across 3+ matches, during which time they have conceded 12 goals.
The lead lasted just 4 minutes. Dagenham had already noticeably raised their tempo and the Hendon defence had repelled a dangerous run by Junior McDougald. The next time, they weren't so fortunate. A ball was dinked into the danger area and a defender appeared to slip as he approached the ball. Terry needed no second bidding and he set up a great chance which Drewe BROUGHTON accepted with glee.
Richard Wilmot then made three top-notch saves to keep the scores level before half-time, while Hendon's best efforts were a panicky clearance from Ashley Vickers which had Roberts gratefully running back to make a catch, and a stoppage-time drive from Phil Gridelet, which Roberts saved and, more importantly, held onto.
The second half was dominated by Dagenham, until they had the game sewn up. Roberts was little more than a spectator as the blue-and-white striped visitors kept Hendon's defence at full stretch. The decisive second goal came midway through the half. Paul Towler vows he was hard done by being penalised for a foul on Broughton, but the on-loan striker from Peterborough - watched by his boss Barry Fry - manoeuvered himself into a position that it looked like a foul.
Lee Matthews, who had already fired a vicious shot just wide in the first half was entrusted with the free kick. Terry and McDougald were decoys as MATTHEWS wormed a shot under the wall and just inside Wilmot's right post. The goalkeeper was aghast that the wall had disinegrated, but it appeared that the ball had rolled under Gridelet's attempted clearance.
There was no argument about the third goal, after 69 minutes. Dale Binns had just replaced Kelly and Hendon were reshuffling.their defence. The ball was out on the right wing and TERRY tried his luck with a 30-yard drive. It arrowed into the roof of the net just inside the far post, a magnificent strike.
From there, Hendon's chances of getting anything from the game were remote. Dagenham reverted to their comfort zone defending. Although they were nearly undone by efforts from David Adekola, Jon Daly and Binns. However, there was a strong feeling that even if they had conceded one goal, the Dagenham attack was more than capable of re-upping the tempo and getting more goals.
"It is not often that I am happy with a performance when we lose," said manager Frank Murphy. "I think tonight is one of those occasions. We gave it everything we could and I wonder if it would have been different if they had played on Saturday as we did."