Hendon inflicted only the second Ryman League Premier Division defeat of the season on leaders Canvey Island with a performance of grit and perseverance in an absorbing encounter. The pitch at LOOT Stadium passed a Saturday morning inspection, after which the rains returned with miserable avengeance.
Manager Frank Murphy made just one change from the previous weekend's victory over Tonbridge Angels, defender Paul Towler coming in for Dale Binns, who reverted to the substitutes' bench alongside the recalled Davis Haule and Paul Adolphe. Haule and Towler's 3-match suspensions, for September indiscretions, actually resulted in 36-day absences.
The pitch was heavy, especially down the Clitterhouse Playing Fields wing, but the main feature was the driving wind and rain which was to Hendon's benefit in the first half. However, the first good chance fell Canvey's way and, from it, Hendon scored.
The wind played a big part in a hopeful cross from the left wing eluding the magnificent Hendon central defensive trio of Towler, Gary Fitzgerald and Warren Kelly - who missed almost nothing all afternoon. The ball fell to Neil Gregory, who wound himself up for a shot, but Simon Clarke threw himself in front of it and blocked the ball away.
It fell Hendon's way just outside the penalty area and an astute downfield pass saw David Adekola breaking clear of the last defender, Mick Bodley. The former Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge veteran managed to get back to make things difficult for Adekola, but his attempt to block the shot only ensured that Ashley Harrison had no chance to make a save by his near post.
Unused to trailing, Canvey were still quite comfortable on the ball with Peter Smith, Steve Tilson and Steve Parmenter all looking sporadically dangerous. However, there was a feeling that the Islanders would be happy to go in at half-time trailing by just a single goal.
Clarke was determined to see the lead at least doubled and, after 32 minutes, he saw his 25-yard drive smack off a post. Canvey had already been forced into a reshuffle, with Sammy Cooper replacing Bodley, and their defence now looked rather vulnerable.
Two or three corners were unnecessarily conceded by panicking defenders and they nearly proved costly errors. Iain Duncan curled one effort inches over and wide of the far post after 35 minutes and 2 minutes later Clarke came even closer. He spooned this corner high into the air, about 12 yards from goal, and let nature do the rest. Harrison was alone in reacting to the situation and caught the ball stumbling backwards. One of his feet was over the goal-line when he finally stopped, but the ball clearly was not.
Achieving their target of turning around with only a one-goal deficit, Canvey set themselves up to lay siege on the Hendon goal. They nearly got careless, however, when a run by Adekola ended with a powerful shot that beat Harrison but flew over the target.
Jon Daly, Jason Soloman and Phil Gridelet could not exert the same control in midfield they had enjoyed in the first half, but they worked like Trojans in assisting the beleaguered Dons defence. Striker Andy Jones replaced midfielder John Kennedy after 63 minutes as Canvey tried to get back on terms, but the prolific Steve Clark remained on the bench.
Richard Wilmot was a busy man, making a couple of fine saves, one notably down by his right post after 65 minutes. This led to a succession of corners from Tilson and Parmenter. The fourth of these, from the latter-named, was not dealt with by the Hendon defence and Neil Gregory nipped in to score. At that stage, it was no more than Canvey deserved.
Four minutes later, Clark replaced Wayne Vaughan, but this actually worked in Hendon's favour because the scraps in midfield started to go back towards Hendon and the Greens began to enjoy more success going forward. After 72 minutes, Haule and Binns replaced Hendon's tiring Adekola and Pickett, followed by, 11 minutes later, Adolphe coming on for Soloman. Within 2 minutes, the 3 substitutes combined to score Hendon's winner.
Adolphe won a tackle just inside in the Canvey Island half and quickly sent a ball out to the left wing, where Binns was able to show his speed. He left Smith trailing in his wake and delivered a deep cross which missed out everybody except the late-arriving Adolphe. A goalbound header from Adolphe would probably not have beaten Harrison, so the midfielder, instead, directed the ball back across the penalty area. It fell perfectly for Haule, who side-footed the ball past Harrison and Adam Miller on the goalline.
In stoppage time, Wilmot preserved the three points for Hendon with a magnificent save low to his right to deny Cooper. The 3 points, thoroughly deserved on the 90 minutes, took Hendon back into the top half of the table.
"We played really well in difficult conditions today," said a happy Mr Murphy. "We battled hard."