Hendon reached the last four of the Middlesex Senior Cup with an excellent 3-2 victory over Staines Town at Wheatsheaf Park on Tuesday evening. Not only did the win end the Greens' run of three straight defeats, this was a performance out of the top drawer, especially as Staines were as determined to win as Hendon.
There were a number of changes to the Hendon line-up from the game at Ramsgate ten days earlier. In came Luke Blackmore for Richard Wilmot, who was on the bench, Alan Massey - a loan signing from Wycombe Wanderers - for Sam Collins, while Casey Maclaren took over from Rakatahr Hudson in midfield and Davis Haule made his first start in ten weeks, taking over from the departed Wayne O'Sullivan.
On the bench alongside Hudson and Wilmot were Iavor Guentchev, Danny Dyer and Belal Aiteouakrim, the last of whom had also been absent for more than two months. Staines, it must be stressed, were also pretty much at full strength.
Both teams spent the first five or so minutes probing for weaknesses and it was the visitors who struck first. In the eighth minute, the Haule brothers linked up well, Davis finding Brian on the edge of the penalty area. Brian had Matt Flitter snapping at his heels, but the Swans' skipper was too close to Haule because, after a little shimmy one way, Brian turned past him with ease. Looking up and seeing the goal in front of him, Haule wasted no time in firing past Shaun Allaway.
Hendon were in good form and looking primed to add to their advantage. A few minutes later, a shot from Jamie Busby beat Allaway's dive, but went inches wide of the post.
Staines gradually took a toe-hold on the game and they nearly snatched an equaliser when a Lewis Cook snap=shot from 20 yards was parried by Blackmore and, with Mark Nwokeji about to pounce, Marc Leach did well to knock the ball out for a throw-in. Howard Newton then had a chance to equalise with a header, but he was off-target with his effort.
In the 34th minute, Hendon should have stretched their lead when Davis Haule rode a challenge from Jon McDonald on the goal-line just inside the penalty area. He kept the ball until Flitter came in and pulled down the Hendon man. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, much to Flitter's dissatisfaction. But he will have been delighted to see Allaway save his blushes with a good save from Davis Haule's spot-kick.
Both teams spurned one more good opportunity in the next ten minutes. Then, on the stroke of half-time, Hendon doubled their lead. Busby collected a pass from James Burgess some ten yards outside the penalty area. No defender was in any great rush to close him down, so Busby let fly. The best efforts of Allway to reach the ball were in vain as it arrowed just inside the upright.
Staines manager Steve Cordery was not a happy man at half time. Trailing 2-0 and, it must be said, lucky not to be further adrift, he set about making changes from the start of the second half. Adam Thompson replaced McDonald and the result was a far more attacking look to the Swans. In the 49th minute, they forced a corner, which was curled into the danger area. Blackmore came for the ball but was beaten to it by Adrian Toppin, who made it 2-1 from close range.
Less than 90 seconds, the scores were level. From their next attack, Staines moved the ball down the right wing and when the ball was crossed in low, Nwokeji reacted fastest of all and flicked the ball into the net with what looked like his heel.
Hendon were rocking and Staines went for the jugular, replacing Ramon Calliste with the more dangerous Victor Asombang. Although Staines ran with great purpose, James Parker rallied his defensive troops and Sam Page, Leach and Massey stiffened their resolve. Apart from splendid save by Blackmore from a Toppin drive, the Swans didn't get a clear sight of the Greens goal.
The Greens, meanwhile, rode the storm well. After 65 minutes, Davis Haule and Page were replaced by Dyer and Aitoueakrim and Hendon soon began to reassert their superiority. The quick passing and rapid transition from defence to attack had the Staines defence at full stretch and beyond on occasions. In the 69th minute, Hendon put together the move of the match, but Maclaren was desperately unlucky to see his 20-yard drive fly off the inside of the post with Allaway well beaten.
Staines then sent on Marc Charles-Smith but he rather surprisingly came on for the dangerous Nwokeji. Charles-Smith's only real contribution was a yellow card - one of four (two to each team) handed out by the referee.
Hendon's enterprise finally gained due reward in the 82nd minute. It was another beautiful move, starting from defence where Parker found Busby in midfield. He fed the ball out to the left wing where Guentchev went around Marcel Nugent.
Guentchev could have taken a shot himself, but picked out Aiteouakrim with a good low pass. A dozen yards from goal, Aiteouakrim simply passed the ball beyond Allaway and into the net. It was goal worthy of winning this excellent cup-tie.
As the game moved into stoppage time, Brian Haule was replaced by Iavor Guentchev, ensuring that the Greens started and finished the match with brothers on the pitch. And Iavor really should have added a fourth goal deep in stoppage time, but he rather fluffed the opportunity.
Hendon will now play away to Northwood in the semi-final, a fixture scheduled for the week commencing 18th February. The Middlesex Senior Cup Final will be played on Easter Monday, 24 March at Uxbridge FC.
"Once again, we showed our great resilience," said happy manager Gary McCann. "We were excellent in the first half and deservedly led 2-0, but after they came back to draw level, we didn't panic.
"We stuck to our principles and got the reward. And we scored some excellent goals tonight."