On paper, the AXA-sponsored FA Cup 2nd qualifying round tie between Hendon and St. Margaretsbury was a no-contest, pitting a club which has played as many games in the 2nd round proper in the past three years as the other played in the competition in their history. The game, however, was played on a grass pitch which was, thanks to two rainy weeks, quite long, slippery and boggy.
At 3.15, every Hendon supporter's nightmare showed every indication of proving all too real. The Dons were down to 10 men, the goalkeeper had just received a lengthy treatment - without a substitute 'keeper sitting on the bench - and were a goal down to a team 98 places below them in the football pyramid.
The extension of Richard Wilmot's loan and Hitchin's permission to let the goalkeeper play in the FA Cup meant that the suspended Andy Iga was not missed. The same could not be said for the suspension served by Jon Daly; the absence of his calm presence at the heart of midfield was sorely felt; Paul Towler was injured so Curtis Warmington got the start alongside Gary Fitzgerald and Warren Kelly in a reshaped defence.
St Margaretsbury, struggling at the wrong end of the Minerva Spartan South Midlands League, fielded a team of youngsters many of whom had played at LOOT Stadium a few years ago in the Southern Counties Floodlit Youth League. For the club, it was a exceptional feat to even reach this stage.
Hendon were quickly into their stride and Ross Pickett fired over after 90 seconds. In the 4th minute, a free-kick from Warren Kelly fizzed just wide. Then things started to go wrong.
In the 6th minute, Davis Haule was caught late and from behind by Lee Judges. Referee Iain Williamson (Reading) missed the incident. A minute later the two players clashed again and this time Haule retaliated, and again Williamson failed to spot anything. It happened again almost immediately, but this time the referee saw the retaliation rather than the foul. Haule was called over, given a long lecture and shown the red card. It is impossible to condone the Hendon striker's reaction, but he must have felt the need to take some action if the referee was going to miss persistently late tackles.
Mr Williamson seemed utterly overawed by the occasion and had an appalling first half, allowing about a half a dozen bookable challenges from both teams to go without even a free-kick. St Margaretsbury, however, were not going out to kick; the game was simply played at a pace which was greater than they could deal with.
After 12 minutes, Iain Duncan was attempting to clear a rare St Margaretsbury attack when Adam Stock came in and won the ball. As Warmington moved across the penalty area Duncan caught Stock. Wilmot, who had come off his line, collected a kick and lay on the ground injured. The referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Nick WINGER, who had scored the winner in similar style against Boreham Wood in the previous round and had not missed a penalty in 5 seasons, waited for Wilmot to receive treatment before calmly driving the ball beyond the goalkeeper to give the Hertfordshire club a shock lead. Two minutes later, David Adekola replaced Warmington.
It did not last long. In the 18th minute, Phil Gridelet was sent flying by Mark Dagger 5 yards outside the penalty area. The St Margaretsbury wall was 6 strong, but could do nothing about Simon CLARKE's perfect strike which flew past Craig Morgan and into the roof of the net.
Even though they were a man short, Hendon continued to play almost all of the football. Their passing was nothing like as crisp as it had been earlier in the season, but Duncan and Clarke were getting plenty of space down the flanks. Despite this, Adekola and Ross Pickett were getting little change in front of goal. Paul Adolphe and Marvyn Watson worked hard, but the final ball was all too frequently inaccurate.
In the 38th minute, Adekola received a short pass from Watson. He got the better of Steve McHugh, worked himself an opening and fired in a powerful shot. Morgan made a good parrying save to his left but could do nothing about the rebound which PICKETT headed inside the opposite post.
In the 43rd minute, Mr Williamson made his worst mistake of the day. Hendon were awarded a free-kick six yards from the goal-line four yards from the penalty area. The referee marched the wall back 10 ever decreasing steps, leaving them no more than 8 yards from the ball. Clarke's free-kick struck the outstretched arm of a member of the wall and bounced over the goal-line. Unfortunately for Hendon, Mr Williamson had his back to the free-kick and looked around startledly when he heard the penalty appeals behind him.
On the stroke of half-time, Hendon fell asleep as a lazy cross from Stock floated into the penalty area. Wes Pullen lost his marker and had a free header from 8 yards. He missed the goal by a considerable margin and sank to his knees in horror at the chance he had wasted.
The second half was quite poor. Hendon continued to create half-chances and waste them with regularity and spurn a surfeit of good possession. St Margaretsbury had few chances and rarely looked even remotely threatening, but they were only a goal behind and Hendon's defence was beginning to take chances with their clearances.
In the 75th minute, Hendon were caught in possession just outside their penalty area and PULLEN fired a low shot which neither Duncan nor St Margaretsbury sub Mark Owuso was able to touch on its way into the net.
Hendon immediately made their final substitution - Jason Soloman had made his debut in the 68th minute, replacing Adolphe - Dale Binns coming on for Adekola and, within seconds, he supplied the winning goal. He attacked down the left wing and delivered a fine cross. Watson got his head to the ball but succeeded only in lifting it high towards the back post. Waiting there was PICKETT, who rifled a powerful volley into the net for his second goal. He should have had a third, too, in the 82nd minute, but assistant referee Andy Marcham flagged for offside although Pickett was still in his own half when the ball was played.
St Margaretsbury manager Bill O'Driscoll said, "We pulled it back to 2-2 too early. We should have scored in the last minute."
Hendon boss Frank Murphy said, "Full credit to the 10 men for their effort in the last 82 minutes. I thought we were in control the whole way and passed the ball quite well."