Hendon made the perfect start to the new Ryman League season, demolishing Division One champions Croydon 4-0 at LOOT Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It meant that the most meaningless League table of the season, after one game, sees Hendon on top of the pile.
Three players made their Hendon debut: Iain Duncan, Paul Adolphe and Ross Pickett. There was also a welcome return of Phil Gridelet, who was sold to Barnet in 1989-90 after earning England Non-League international honours at Claremont Road, before enjoying most of a decade in the Football League with Barnsley and Southend United. Another player who was not at the preseason photo-call was goalkeeper Andy Iga, who finished last season as Hendon's No. 1, while Gary McCann rehabilitates his injured knee.
The last thing Croydon manager/chairman Ken Jarvie would probably have told his charges was something along the lines of, "Don't give Hendon a sight of goal in the open 10 minutes." Well, the players couldn't have been listening because they were a goal down inside 100 seconds, the first goal in the Ryman League Premier Division this season.
Davis Haule was the inspiration for the opening score. He collected a short pass just outside the Croydon penalty area, danced inside Ross Edwards, rounded Ben Judge, cut inside Ali Reeve and clipped a deep cross to the far post. Arriving late and unchallenged was Simon CLARKE, whose header bounced past James Wastell, beyond Reeve's desperate lunge and nestled in the Croydon goal.
Reeve stood up, looked at the ball in the net, and held his head in his hands in abject misery. The Blues could not have made a worse start and this was the sort of reality check he had dreaded.
When Croydon were first in the Isthmian League Premier Division, their reliance on the offside tactics were hugely unpopular. Well, even if nobody remains from those days in the late 1970s, the tactics hadn't changed. The well-marshalled defence worked perfectly for the next 30 minutes, as Hendon's forwards fell into the trap about 10 times. It was frustrating, but effective.
After 34 minutes, however, the trap was sprung. This time, Gary Fitzgerald knocked a perfect pass 30 yards downfield and Pickett timed his run well. Matt Dickinson was a yard slow in stepping up allowing Picket to run onto the pass. He tracked back and forced Pickett to beat him, but the Hendon man was up to that challenge. Wastell came off his line, PICKETT spotted this and sent a delicious, 20-metre lob over him, one bounce into the net.
Five minutes later, Pickett turned creator. He knocked down a cross right into the path of ADOLPHE, who steadied himself and flicked the ball past Wastell into the net for number three, and for the first time in well over 30 years, Hendon led 3-0 at half-time of the opening game of the season.
The warm afternoon certainly added to Hendon supporters' feelings and even a less impressive second half could not change the positive mood. Croydon were forced to chase the game but they did little to unduly concern the Hendon defence. Paul Towler, Fitzgerald and Warren Kelly were outstanding at the heart of the defence and they allowed Croydon only once chance, and that came when a lucky rebound gave Craig Dundas the chance to get around Duncan. The ball fell to Eben Allen, but he spooned the ball over the bar from about six yards out.
Croydon, who made a triple change after 63 minutes, may have enjoyed the bulk of second half posssession, but they didn't do anything with it. Hendon were content to attack on the counter and looked more dangerous with the few opportunities that came their way. Adolphe shot just over and then the best move of the match, after 73 minutes, nearly resulted in Jon Daly getting on the scoresheet with a deft lob after some slick, first-time passing.
Hendon made a double change after 81 minutes, with Adolphe and Pickett replaced by Marvyn Watson and Dale Binns respectively. Three minutes later, Bontcho Guentchev replaced Haule and, a minute, later Hendon fashioned a superb fourth goal.
Excellent midfield passing left Croydon short of numbers at the back and Guentchev released Binns down the left. Binns outstripped Orlando Hollingsworth (who had kept him very quiet when he was with Carshalton at the end of last season) and, at full speed, whipped over a magnificent cross from near the goal-line. WATSON timed his run to perfection and he powered a header into the roof of the net.
In the last minute, the pass of the game should have resulted in goal number five. Guentchev collected the ball in the centre circle, looked to his left, swivelled and drilled a 45-yard diagonal pass into Watson's path. Dickinson, completing a miserable afternoon, almost corkscrewed himself into the turf trying to block the pass, was hopelessly out of position as Watson ran in on goal. Wastell, however, did exceptionally well to make a double save to deny Watson his second goal.
On the final whistle, one Croydon fan was heard to say, "It was men against boys today."
Hendon manager Frank Murphy said, "I am delighted with the result today, but we can play much better than that."