Hendon made a winning start to the 2008-09 season, seeing off third favourites for the Ryman League Premier Division title Dartford 3-0. It was a disappointing afternoon for last season's Division One North champions, who not only lost heavily, but also had centre-half John Guest sent off inside the opening half-hour.
Three starters made their full debuts for Hendon - Kevin Maclaren, brother of Casey, Mark Kirby and James Bent - while three others - Craig Vargas, Charlie Mapes and Sam Byfield - started second or in the case of Vargas third spells. There was also three newcomers on the bench, Bangura who came on late in the game and the unused Fredrick Yebuah and Dave Maissa Diedhiou.
The new line-up did not take long to gel and, after six minutes, Brian Haule headed just over the bar from a good position. Four minutes later Bent was in on goal, but Tony Kessell was off his line quickly and made a smothering block on his shot.
In the 12th minute Dartford showed a glimpse of what they were capable of when a low cross found Guest, but his drive was straight at Luke Blackmore, who made a save at the second attempt.
Hendon took the lead in the 14th minute. Kevin Maclaren was eased out of the ball's path by Lee Noble. It was a soft foul, on the angle of the touchline and halfway line, but an infringement nonetheless. Byfield took the kick and delivered it perfectly for Haule to rise almost unchallenged and plant his header in the bottom corner.
The Greens continued to set the pace for the next half-dozen or so minutes before Dartford began to enjoy a spell of pressure. However, their final balls into the penalty area were easy meat for Kirby and Marc Leach.
Things went downhill for Dartford in the 28th minute. A through ball from Vargas resulted in Haule and Guest challenging for the ball. Haule eased his way goalside of the defender and had about 30 metres of space between him and the goal.
Although there may have been defenders level with Haule, there were none in front, so when Guest pulled Haule to the ground, the referee had no hesitation in showing the defender a red card. It was a brave decision by the official, but it was the correct one.
Three minutes later, while the Darts were still reorganising their defence, they were opened up again. This time it was the influential Bent who took a short pass from Jamie Busby and cut in from the right wing. Seeing a gap, Bent unleashed a powerful left-foot shot which beat Tony Kessell all ends up and the ball nestled in the bottom left corner. It was a sweet strike.
Dartford still made no changes to their team, playing a 4-4-1 formation, with the midfield four being quite deep. It simply wasn't penetrative enough to give Hendon serious alarms and it meant that when Hendon, trying to play football and passing around the pitch occasionally making mistakes, didn't face being outnumbered on the counter-attack.
The Darts first substitution came 11 minutes into the second half and it was former Hendon striker Rob Haworth who replaced Brendon Cass.
Howarth had clearly Dartford's best chance and his failure to take it was another major turning point. Hendon had ceased to look like scoring themselves when, in the 76th minute, a short pass from Nick Barnes put Haworth clear on goal with only Blackmore to beat.
The tall striker did the first part easily enough, poking the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper. But he didn't reckon on the instinctive run of Leach, who covered for his goalkeeper and hacked the ball clear. Visiting fans felt Haworth should have driven the ball, but if he had done so, he could not have controlled the direction as well.
Almost immediately, Hendon made their first substitution, withdrawing Haule and introducing Bangura. Less than 90 seconds later, the Greens forced a corner, which Byfield crossed in. Once again the Dartford marking was almost non-existent and Bangura rose to score with a free header. It was his first touch in a competitive match for Hendon. As he ran away in celebration, he shouted, "One touch is all I need."
From then on, Dartford rather accepted their fate and the final dozen or so minutes passed almost without incident. But, just in case things got out hand, Hendon brought on James Burgess and Lubo Guentchev (for Mapes and Bent, respectively) to shore things up.
"It is great that we have started the season with a victory," said manager Gary McCann. "I thought we were in control for most of the game, but the sending off certainly helped us."