Hendon crashed out of the FA Cup at the Recreation Ground on Saturday, when Grays Athletic comprehensively dismantled the off-colour Greens 3-0. It is the 3rd consecutive Cup exit for the Dons at this stage.
Although Hendon welcomed back Martin Randall and Jon-Barrie Bates after suspension, neither Ricci Crace (hamstring injury) nor Andre Delisser (flu) were risked in the starting line-up, both joining suspension-free Mark Burgess on the bench.
It took just 97 seconds for Hendon to fall behind. Steve Butler jumped for the ball with Leroy Griffiths by the corner flag and although it looked as if the former QPR man got the last touch as the ball went out of play, the assistant referee ruled it was a corner, much to Butler's dismay.
His worry was justified as a vicious inswinging corner from Danny Hayzelden was flapped at by Dave King. Richard Evans blocked the ball with his chest on the goalline and half-cleared it to the edge of the penalty area.
The next shot was blocked by a Hendon defender, drawing claims for a penalty from home fans, but there was no need for refereee Mr J Bottomer to make a descision as Freddie EASTWOOD rifled home the loose ball.
For the next 15 minutes, Hendon were shell-shocked and although Grays didn't add to their lead, it was more by luck than judgement. Such was the gulf in class and, more importantly, fitness that Hendon were unable to string even 2 passes together while desperately trying to stop the marauding strike-force of Eastwood and Hayzelden.
After 25 minutes, Randall, under pressure from the experienced Eddie Youds put a header just wide the target following a cross from Eugene Ofori. But it was a rare successful foray into Grays territory. Disappointingly, when Hendon got set pieces such as free-kicks out wide within 35 yards of the Grays penalty area, the delivery was uniformly awful.
In the 35th minute, a bad challenge by Andy Cook resulted in a free-kick 10 yards from the Hendon box. After players from both teams had milled around, Mr Bottomer produced yellow cards for Griffiths and Mark Cooper, presumably for an off-the-ball incident. The free-kick came to nothing.
The decisive blow came in the last minute of first-half normal time. A quick break from Hayzelden resulted in 3 defenders converging on him. It didn't matter that one of those going in won the ball, one of the other two appeared to make contact with the striker and he went down.
It looked a certain penalty and Mr Bottomer was also of that opinion. Up stepped EASTWOOD and although King guessed right, the spot-kick flew into the bottom corner for Grays to double their advantage.
Almost immediately, Delisser replaced Cook, moving Steve Forbes - put on the transfer list at the end of the week, but man of the match here - into the middle.
At least Hendon competed better in the second half, but it was pretty much a case of shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. Grays seemed content to rest on their lead and, for 10 minutes, were rarely stretched. In the 58th minute, Delisser, Forbes and Randall combined to set up Ofori, but with the goal at his mercy, he mishit the ball and Lee Williams cleared before it could reach Scott Cousins.
However, the game turned on 2 decisions from assistant referees in 5 minutes around the midway point. Ofori got around the back of the Grays defence and clipped the ball backwards from the goal line midway between the penalty and goal areas.
Randall was quickest to react and flicked the ball inside Mel Capleton's near post for what seemed to be a hope-inducing goal. The assistant referee, staring into the setting sun ruled that Randall was offside, an incredible decision given that not only was the ball passed backwards Randall and Youds seemed to be side by side.
Five minutes later, a neat passing move down the Grays right ended when the ball was lifted over the Hendon defence and Eastwood sprinted into the clear. Hendon defenders looked to the assistant referee for an offside decision, but it wasn't forthcoming and EASTWOOD scored confidently after rounding King.
Crace came on for the struggling Ofori but he couldn't change the course of the game. Capleton did at least have to make a couple of late saves, the best of which came from Forbes, who had made a powerful run through the midfield. It really was a matter of too little too late.
"I warned the players about being solid at the start," said manager Dave Anderson. "They are a full-time outfit and with their extra fitness they were able to shut us down. We couldn't get going."