Hendon produced their best 90 minutes of the season to see off a very strong Margate team at Hartsdown Park on Saturday. The 2-0 victory, the Greens' sixth of the season, saw them move three points clear at the top of the table, although there is a very long way to go.
After five minutes, Davis Haule brought the ball down 25 yards from goal, turned his defender and tried a speculative curling shot which beat Scott Chalmers-Stevens, but did not dip quite in time, clearing angle of post and crossbar by a matter of inches. At the other end, a couple on minutes later, Charley Side forced a good save from Richard Wilmot.
That was pretty much all the noteworthy action in the opening 15 minutes. Then, out of almost nothing Hendon took the lead. Davis Haule crossed from the left wing. The ball eluded Brian Haule but Dean Green chased it down.
Green then did well to get the better of Justin Skinner and delivered a cross into the heart of the penalty area. Rakatahr Hudson, timed his run into the penalty area perfectly and smacked the ball into the roof of the net.
This was Hendon's third visit in the Ryman League to Margate and in each of the previous visits, the Greens have led through early first-half goals, but gone home pointless.
The Gate tried to hit back quickly, but James Burgess and Craig Vargas insured that little got past them out wide, while Marc Leach and James Parker ensured there was little for Wilmot to do in goal.
However, in the 39th minute, Margate were given a great chance to draw level. A ball was crossed low in the penalty area and Mark Watson flicked on the ball. Behind him Vargas could do little but block the ball.
Unfortunately for him he did so with his hands raised and away from his body, leaving the referee with little option but to award a penalty. Although it was clearly ball to hand, because Vargas's hands were raised and away from his body, the decision was correct if perhaps a touch harsh on the defender.
Skinner stepped up and drove the penalty low and hard. Wilmot, however, guessed correctly and produced a magnificent save, using strong wrists to deflect the ball over the top of the crossbar. From the resulting corner, Wilmot punched the ball, one bounce, over the touchline 20-odd yards from the goal.
From the opening kick-off of the second half, Margate penned Hendon back on the defensive. In the past two seasons they have scored six second-half goals against the Greens to record in the end comfortable victories, and they were determined to follow the same script again.
In the second minute of the period they thought they had made the breakthrough. Jay Saunders's deep cross for once beat the defence and Side got good contact with a header beyond the far post. His effort beat Wilmot, but not the covering Parker, who produced a brilliant, acrobatic goalline clearance.
Maybe this was going to be Hendon's day after all because although it wasn't the last chance Margate would have, it was certainly their best attempt of the second period. Gradually, the Greens began to look more comfortable, with Jamie Busby and Hudson doing sterling work in stifling the home team's midfield.
Hudell replaced Green with 20 minutes remaining, allowing O'Sullivan to move to the opposite wing. Within five minutes, Hudell had brought out the best in Chalmers-Stevens, striking a free-kick that was curling a couple of feet inside the angle of post and crossbar. But Chalmers-Stevens stretched magnificently and palmed the ball away for a corner.
The game was decided in the 87th minute. Hudell played a clever diagonal ball into the penalty area, inviting O'Sullivan to run onto it. Louis Smith ran across to cover but O'Sullivan slowed down just a touch so that instead of taking the ball at pace away from the goal - and probably struggling to do much from that position - he invited a challenge from the defender.
There was appeared to be contact from Smith on O'Sullivan before the defender knocked the ball away and, once again, the referee was right on hand to point to the penalty spot.
Skinner was cautioned for his protests, but O'Sullivan, who was not hurt in the challenge, picked himself up and confidently sent Chalmers-Stevens the wrong way with a thumping spot-kick the goalkeeper would have done well to reach even if he had guessed correctly.
As the game moved into stoppage time, Hudson was battling in midfield with Kieron Morris. The Hendon player looked to have won the contest, but Skinner came flying in and his stamp earned himself an immediate straight red card.
It was a day to forget for the veteran defender, but one Hendon will remember for quite a while.
"It was our most complete performance of the season," said a very happy Hendon boss, Gary McCann. "Every one of the 12 players did their part and there wasn't a bad performance from any of them."