Hendon's unbeaten start to the Ryman League Premier Division season came crashing to a halt on Monday afternoon when former Hendon triallist Nko Ekoku scored a 92nd-minute winner at LOOT Stadium. It was a result which even Sutton manager John Rains admitted had been scarcely deserved.
On-loan goalkeeper Richard Wilmot made his debut for Hendon, following his temporary move from Hitchin Town, and Marvyn Watson came in for the injured Warren Kelly. Phil Gridelet took over as sweeper in a revamped defence. David Adekola was named as substitute after recovering from illness.
It took just 8 seconds for indecision in the defence to appear, but after Iain Duncan and Wilmot had miscommunicated Michael Mahoney-Johnson was given a clear run at goal. Not expecting such a chance so early in the game he bundled the ball wide.
Hendon soon moved into the ascendancy, but the Greens fell foul of Sutton's well-worked offside trap. Davis Haule and Ross Pickett gave Danny Hodges and Ryan Palmer an uncomfortable half an hour and Hodges was lucky to escape when he mistimed a challenge which sent Haule crashing to the ground in the penalty area. The contact was unquestionably accidental, but as he made contact only with Haule and not the ball, a penalty would not have been particularly harsh.
Haule should have opened the scoring after 28 minutes. Put through by Paul Adolphe, he shrugged off the challenge of Palmer and as Gareth Howells came off his line, Haule slightly overhit hit his lob and the ball smacked off the crossbar before being banged away to safety.
Four minutes later, Hendon were awarded another free-kick just outside the penalty area. Simon Clarke struck the ball beautifully, curled it over the defensive wall, beat Howells all ends up but watched in horror as it caromed off the top of the bar and away for a goal kick.
Wilmot looked quite comfortable in goal, making a couple of good saves as Sutton, taking advantage of the few chances to fall their way, at least put efforts on target. The big failing for Hendon since the opening game of the season has been that the Dons have created chances or openings by the hatful, but far too few have forced the opposing goalkeeper to make saves.
Sutton enjoyed more territorial possession in the second half and Wilmot had to be alert to block a couple of long range shots. He was almost caught out by a deep corner, but no Sutton player could get onto it. Then Paul Harford almost bundled an effort into the net, but the ball was hacked off the line.
One Hendon raid ended with Haule prone in the penalty area following a challenge from Howells. However, Hendon supporters' loud appeals for a penalty were optimistic in the extreme. Dale Binns and Bontcho Guentchev came on for Watson and Pickett, respectively, in the final 15 minutes and Binns came close to settling the match in 90th minute when he got around the back of the Sutton defence and drilled a low shot from an acute angle, but Howells was alert and saved well at his near post.
Then, in the 92nd minute, Fitzgerald, harshly cautioned earlier in the half, was even more unfortunate to be penalised for a challenge on Ekoku - even the Sutton striker didn't think there was anything untoward - 25 yards out. The Hendon wall was pushed back. It had to be the last chance of the game.
The ball was powerfully struck and Wilmot got down well to block the effort. He could not hang onto the ball, however, and EKOKU was the only person to react, smacking the ball into the net.
"We were mugged," said manager Frank Murphy. "I am gutted."