Hendon's unbeaten start to their Ryman League campaign came to an end at Sutton United on Saturday and the Greens can have few complaints about the result. There was something of a strange atmosphere at an unusually underpopulated Gander Green Lane, exacerbated by Sutton wearing all white instead of chocolate and amber and Hendon in two shades of blue.
Berkeley Lawrencin came in for his first-team debut in the absence of the injured Luke Blackmore and the former Hillingdon Borough youngster produced a competent display.
He was, however, beaten in the fourth minute by a fine piece of skill from Gavin McCullum, who jinked one way, then another, making space for a shot which he curled against a post. Dean Palmer followed up, but he had been in an offside position when McCullum shot, so nothing came of the attack.
Two minutes later Lawrencin was brought to his knees by Craig Dundas, whose low shot had plenty of power, but not the direction to unduly trouble the goalkeeper.
Hendon, who had forced a couple of early corners and caused the Sutton defence some difficulties in the opening two minutes, were quickly harried out of their stride. The Us, looking for the their first win of the season, had decided to go for a high-pressure game, rather than trying to pass their way across the beautifully manicured pitch.
It worked for the hosts because Hendon's passing became rather ragged and Brian Haule, the lone striker was left to fight for scraps against Chris Collins and Karim El-Salahi, with little success.
For about 20 minutes there was almost no action in either goalmouth, though McCullum pulled a shot wide after a good run and Collins had to head over his own bar after Paul Nicholls had come for a Sam Byfield cross and failed to reach it.
In the 36th minute, James Bent beat the Sutton offside trap and had a clear run on goal. Nicholls came off his line and was relieved to watch the ball sail over him and the crossbar from Bent's attempted lob.
Two minutes later, Sutton were awarded one of the clearest-cut penalties that will be seen all season. McCullum went on a mazy run across the pitch, just inside the penalty area. He was brought down by a careless and clumsy outstretched leg from Marc Leach.
McCullum picked himself up and struck the penalty low and firm into the bottom left corner. Unfortunately for Hendon, Lawrencin guessed the other way.
After 66 minutes, Lawrencin made another save from Dundas, but it was from a rare foray by the Sutton forwards, a first half injury to Dean Palmer having caused them to reshuffle and lose effectiveness. Us player-coach Steve McKimm came on, some 14 years after first playing for Hendon, and the former winger was used as a defensive midfielder, a role he played with great accomplishment.
But it would be wrong to assume that the action was in the Sutton penalty area. The game was mainly in the Sutton half, but at least 35 yards out. Hendon's passing looked good, but it came too far from goal and when the Dons did approach the penalty area, there were not only far too many bodies through which to thread a pass and the wrong option was taken far too often.
Additionally, Hendon players seemed unwilling to try their luck with shots from distance and once Sutton had worked this out, they were happy to keep Hendon at arms' length.
Chris Bangura came on for the final 20 minutes - replacing Bent - and Hendon finally had a two-man strike force. Within seconds, Bangura rose to reach a Byfield cross El-Salahi did just enough to put him off and the header just cleared the crossbar.
Both Lubo Guentchev and Dave Diedhiou came on in the final ten minutes - taking over from Jamie Busby and Charlie Mapes - but they couldn't make the difference. Indeed, the best chance came at the other end, when McCullum burst through on goal. Lawrencin was quickly off his line he made a brave smother of the ball, taking it off McCullum.
Late on, there was a skirmish in the Sutton penalty area after Bangura was shielded away from a ball bouncing towards Nicholls by El-Salahi but he tried to reach it anyway. Bangura caught the goalkeeper, who was unconcerned by the challenge, unlike El-Salahi, who wrestled the passive Bangura to the ground as he tried to apologise to Nicholls and the referee for the foul.
The yellow card for Bangura was probably justified, the one for El-Salahi almost certainly a little lenient.
"I am very disappointed," admitted manager Gary McCann. "We didn't take the right options often enough."