In terms of the Isthmian League Full Members Cup, Hendon's 2-0 victory at Harlow Town on Wednesday night will register barely a hint of surprise. For Hendon as a club it was a massive result; "a watershed," in the opinion of reserve team manager Alan Rolnick, in charge of the side that night. The reason is very simple: it was Hendon's reserves, with the addition of regular first-team substitutes Bontcho Guentchev and Marvyn Watson, who took on and beat - albeit with a touch of good fortune - the full first team of a Ryman League top-half First Division club.
Of the 14 players in Hendon's squad, only Paul Johnson (1 first-team start), Guentchev (2 + 8 sub) and Watson (4 + 9) have seen first team duty this season, while Nathan Edwards (5 sub) and Rory O'Connor played in last season's Middlesex Super Cup. No less than 9 players appeared on a Hendon 1st XI teamsheet for the first time. In a ringing endorsement of the club's 6-year-old youth policy, 4 of the Hendon 14 had played for Mr Rolnick in his Harrow Youth League Under-17s team 2 years ago.
Hendon struggled in the early going as they got used to the higher tempo of the game and for the first 15 minutes, Harlow dominated without really damaging Hendon in important areas of the pitch. After a quarter of an hour, Jason Donlon, who had featured prominently in Hendon's early preseason friendlies, fired a powerful shot just over Harlow bar. It gave Hendon confidence and with Guentchev beginning to influence play in midfield, it was the visitors who began to exert control. Edwards was denied a goal after 24 minutes when James Hasell made an excellent save from a powerful shot.
Nine minutes later, Hasell denied the same man after some magnificent passing between Dave Stewart and Guentchev had released the latter player. Guentchev's cross was met by Edwards' flicked header, but Hasell moving to his right, changed direction and made a plunging stop with his left hand.
It was not one-way traffic. Harlow had a couple of first-half chances of their own, but wasted them. Then, in the 43rd minute, Pat Sappleton was caught in possession by Gordon Guile, but the referee, Mr C Row (Basildon) ruled that the former Barton striker had fouled Hendon's Jamaican defender. It seemed a harsh decision, but Hendon weren't complaining.
It took just a minute of the second half for Hendon to take the lead. Donlon crossed to the heart of the Harlow penalty area where Edwards timed his run to perfection and arrowed a header goalwards. It beat Hasell, but Martin Young cleared the ball off the line. Waiting to snap up a half-chance was Ike OBIJI, and he gleefully rifled the ball into the net.
Harlow were more than stung into action, but they lacked the cuteness to get past Hendon. Jason Curtis had an fine game in goal and produced two or three excellent saves, most notably diving at the feet of former Hendon triallist Marc Salmon in the 60th minute.
David Boateng, Richard Dee, Sappleton and Johnson were equal to almost everything that Harlow threw at them, but Hendon did get 3 strokes of luck as Harlow managed to crash three efforts off the frame of the goal. However, if they had shown a little more composure, rather than panicking, when chances fell their way then Harlow would surely have scored.
Instead, as the Hawks pushed forward, so Hendon got opportunities on the break. In the 85th minute, Edwards beat an increasingly ragged offside trap and struck a powerful drive which stung Hastell's hands. As the game moved into injury time, Hendon made the game safe. Edwards timed his run perfectly to be in his own half as substitute Richard Dunne cleared the ball downfield. Edwards allowed a defender to get goal-side of him and slipped the ball out to the right wing although Watson was screaming for a pass to Edwards' left.
O'Connor, who had replaced Guentchev midway through the half, curled a cross to the far post where WATSON was unmarked. His simple header inside Hasell's near post was enough to ensure the Dons' passage to the next round. For substitute John McKinney there was disappointment as he was about to come onto the field as the last of the replacements when the final whistle blew. In the 2nd round, Hendon will travel to Heybridge Swifts, probably in mid December.
"It was beyond most people's expectations," said an ecstatic Mr Rolnick. "We have a crop of youngsters in the reserves who, as a group and individually, are much closer to first team quality than at any time since I have been here [since 1995]. It was a mighty victory."