Hendon's 40-year wait to get their hands back on the London Senior Cup is over after William Viner produced a heroic penalty shoot-out performance, giving the Greens a 3-1 victory over Croydon Athletic after 120 minutes of entertaining football had ended 2-2. Viner saved three out four Rams spot-kicks, while Hendon were a perfect 3-for-3.
This was Hendon's 11th match in the previous 31 days, but it was also the last competitive game for almost four months, and the wafer-thin squad - shorn of the holidaying Jamie Busby (the Final was rearranged after he had booked to go away and he couldn't change the dates) - saw the return of James Burgess, Mark Kirby, Sam Collins and Glenn Garner to the starting line-up. Brian Haule, who could not get away from work in time, was named on the subs' bench, alongside Lubomir Guentchev, Marc Leach, Danny Dyer and Casey Maclaren.
For 20 minutes, Hendon were forced to defend as Croydon set the pace. Daniel Waldren and Ian Selley dominated the midfield, but Kirby and James Parker pretty much kept Ben Godfrey and Sam Clayton quiet. Craig Vargas, meanwhile, was having a superb match in stifling the ever-dangerous Michael Gordon.
In the 27th minute, Burgess was the first of numerous players to be booked, but he was followed by Waldren and Godfrey, one for conceding a free-kick and the other for encroaching when it was taken. Garner's effort was blocked, but the rebound was returned with interest, only to fly inches wide of the post with Ross Flitney desperately trying to cover.
Two minutes earlier, Harry Hunt had almost set up Collins, but his low cross was hacked away by Richard Blackwell. It was a challenge that left no room for error, and the centre-half timed it perfectly.
The half-time whistle went with the game still goalless and, it must be said, that the period had not been one of the best. What followed in the next 75 minutes was top-quality entertainment, with thrills and spills at both ends.
Three minutes into the second half, James Bent rifled a shot which beat Flitney but struck a post. The rebound fell just beyond Collins and the Rams were able to breath a sigh of relief.
Less than 60 seconds later, they were celebrating. From the restart, the ball was played down the right wing. Gordon delivered a deep, teasing cross. Arriving all alone beyond the far post was Clayton and he slammed the ball into the net.
If the goal knocked Hendon's confidence, it wasn't particularly obvious. Two minutes after conceding the goal, Kevin Maclaren fired over the angle of post and crossbar. Flitney's theatrical dive made the effort look even better. In the 58th minute, Hunt drove a shot which Flitney was able to save without undue effort.
There was a feeling that the game might just be slipping out of Hendon's reach as Blackwell and Bradley Duke were comfortably on top of Hunt and Garner. They were having problems in dealing with runs from deep and Collins, Maclaren and Bent set the alarm bells ringing, but there was no end product.
That changed in the 70th minute, when Peter Dean set up Collins. He was denied by a sliding clearance from Selley, whose intervention came with Flitney out of position. The ball was not cleared properly and when it fell to Bent, he reprised his laser effort from the semi-final, this time, however, firing a diagonal shot beyond Flitney just inside the far post.
An injury to Parker saw the introduction of Dyer, with Burgess moving to partner Kirby in the middle. The orange-booted wingback caused a different problem for Robbie Ryan and Hendon looked more dangerous down both flanks.
Jeremy Williams and Shabazz Baidoo replaced Duke and Selley for Croydon while Haule took over from Hunt, all three changes coming in the final ten minutes of normal time, but a succession of injuries resulted in five minutes of added time at the end of the 90.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Hendon nearly won the game. Garner made space down the inside left channel and he fired a powerful low shot towards the far post. Flitney was at full stretch to palm the ball aside, the rebound going just beyond the reach of Haule.
With 15 seconds of the extra five minutes remaining, Viner produced a truly magnificent save to keep out a drive from Waldren. The shot seemed destined for the top right corner until Viner tipped the ball over the crossbar. From the first corner, Kirby did well to head the ball back away from danger.
The next corner was again cleared, but only just. By now, the second half was into its seventh extra minute and Hendon fans were fearing the worst. They needn't have worried because the third corner was gathered by Viner, who had time only to kick the ball clear before the referee signalled the end of the second half.
Hendon started the extra 30 minutes much the better and they took the lead five minutes into the first period. The move started in the defence and was fed through midfield, before Garner collected the ball. He ran a few yards and as Flitney started to narrow the angle, Garner drilled the ball past him into the net.
It was the first time in five cup finals during Gary McCann's reign as Hendon manager that the Greens had led - they had already reached the 45-minute mark level for the first time.
And also for the first time, Croydon Athletic looked beaten. They sent on midfielder Tom Bolarinwa in place of former French Under-16 international defender Romauld Bouadji, but it was Hendon who looked the stronger.
However, what would almost certainly have been the clinching third goal wouldn't come. Another superb intervention from Blackwell took the ball away from Haule's feet, set up by Dyer, early in the second period of extra time.
With eight minutes of extra time remaining, Garner, who had run himself to a near standstill was replaced by Leach - a worry for some given the former's ball striking talent if the match was to end up in a penalty shoot-out. What was forgotten, however, was that Leach had been the scorer of the decisive penalty in the shoot-out victory over Bromley.
And penalties became the order of the day after, in the 114th minute, the Hendon defence lost its concentration for a moment and Blackwell, thrown forward as a last roll of the dice by Rams manager Tim O'Shea, connected with a loose ball and drove it into the net.
The drama still wasn't over because both goalkeepers had to make excellent saves in the dying minutes to preserve the tie. Almost two hours and 40 minutes after the game kicked-off the match was sent to a penalty shoot-out.
Kicking towards the end where the Hendon fans had massed, it was Croydon who went first. Clayton stepped up and drilled a powerful shot low to Viner's right. The goalkeeper guessed correctly, but his save was still of the very highest quality.
Danny Dyer took Hendon's first penalty and Flitney guessed wrongly. He would have had to match Viner's athleticism to have kept it out even if he had gone the other way. Advantage Hendon.
Serge Makofo was the Rams' second penalty-taker. Viner seemed to lose concentration, because he appeared to move early and didn't even dive as the ball sped into the net behind him. Up stepped Leach and he again made no mistake for the Greens, his solid thump flying past Flitney.
Next up was Baidoo and Viner read his intentions perfectly. The peroxide keeper made his second super save and Hendon, when Bent smashed home the Greensí third spot-kick, were 3-1 up and on the verge of winning the Cup.
All the pressure was now on Croydon. Robbie Ryan had to score - as would the Rams' fifth penalty taker - and they still had to hope that Hendon's numbers four and five failed with their attempts for the Final to go even to sudden death.
It was rendered moot because Ryan didn't strike ball cleanly and Viner made his third save. Within seconds Viner was engulfed by a sea of celebrating teammates.
After the match, Bent was deservedly named man of the match, though Viner, Vargas and a few other Hendon players had pretty strong claims.
And so the curtain came down on the 2008-09 season, one of enormous difficulty for Hendon Football Club, homeless and struggling. But they go into 2009-10 as holders of the London Senior Cup and still members of the Ryman League Premier Division.
Mr McCann said, "This was the perfect end to the a season that has been transitional and troubled. I said a few weeks ago it would be a fantastic season if we won two cups and stayed up, and it would be a very good season if we won one cup and stayed up.
"I cannot praise the players highly enough for what they have been through. We have a tiny squad and we had to play 11 matches in 31 days.
"When we went a goal down, I didn't know where our next goal would come from, but after we scored I thought we were much the better side."
(Report by David Ballheimer - not to be reproduced without permission from the author)