Hendon slipped to a second consecutive Ryman League Premier Division defeat on Saturday when third-placed Sutton United defeated them 2-0 at Gander Green Lane. The Dons remain in second place, albeit three points clear of the chasing pack and, if they can pick up four points from the final two games, then that position will be confirmed.
With Mark Cooper out, Dave Hunt got a starting role, Antony Howard from wing-back to the heart of defence. In addition, Martin Randall, so efficient in his work off the bench, was inserted into the starting line-up at the expense of Ricci Crace.
In truth this was an awful game, ruined by four factors: both teams were missing a number of inflential players; a rock hard and bumpy pitch. which was disconcerting for players, a strong, swirling wind that changed direction capriciously; and a referee, Ian Gosling, who was determined that everyone would remember his officiating if not the match. He was consistent only in his inconsistency.
The open ten minutes saw Sutton have the better of the play, but there were no clear cut chances. Then, when Martin Randall tried to control a high bouncing ball in the Sutton penalty area, the ball came off his foot and struck his hand. Mr Gosling immediately awarded Sutton a free-kick.
However, when in the 17th minute, Paul Honey suffered the same fate in pretty much the same place, Mr Gosling decided there it was ball to hand and accidental and waved play on. There is no question that it would have been a tough penalty decision on Honey and Sutton, but if one player is penalised for the offence then another one should receive the same decision.
Neither team could settle and possession was carelessly conceded on both sides, although Sutton did look the more potent on the rare occasions when either team got close to the opposing penalty area. Hendon's central midfield of Andy Cook and Steve Forbes struggled to get forward, while Dale Binns found openings almost impossible in the unpredictable conditions.
In the 18th minute, Hendon coach Warren Kelly questioned another inconsistent ruling from the referee, who took exception to the comment. He walked slowly to the dugout, then made great play of producing a card and theatrically banished Kelly from the dugout.
In the 26th minute a speculative ball from Scott Cousins seemed to be bouncing Eugene Ofori's way, until a bobble made former Hendon keeper Andy Iga the slight favourite to reach it first. However, the wind got the better of both of them and Iga ended up running into Ofori. Although the collision was accidental, Iga did take out Ofori, who needed treatment before he could continue. Again no penalty was awarded.
Almost immediately, Sutton broke to the other end. A speculative shot struck a Hendon player amidships and fell invitingly for Eddie AKUAMOAH, who wasted no time in spanking the ball past Dave King.
The goalkeeper was almost embarrassed a couple of minutes later when a mishit shot from Lewis Gonsalves caught him on the wrong foot and he could only watch helplessly as the ball struck the foot of a post and bounced away to safety.
Just before half-time, Hunt went on a fine run that took him past three defenders. Unfortunately, he wasn't well balanced as he tried a shot and the ball rolled to Iga, who was grateful to gather it.
The second half saw Hendon with the wing predominantly at their backs, but the Greens had as much trouble controlling it as Sutton had in the opening period. After an hour, Crace came on for Randall and he almost made a spectacular difference.
After barely three minutes on the pitch, Dale Binns sent a perfect ball into his path, clear of the last defender. Iga came off his line, but Crace sidefooted the ball past him. The ball, however, bounced off the outside of the post. Hunt collected it and crossed it in for Ofori to head goalwards, only for Iga to make a spectacular save.
Two minutes later, Sutton tore the Hendon defence apart and, like Crace, Glenn Boosey really should have done better with his shot that also hit the post. The difference between the two sides was clearly illustrated in that when Sutton then delivered a cross back into the box, BOOSEY's header beat King.
Steve Butler then went off, to be replaced by Nick Booth, the youngster making his Ryman League debut. It meant Mark Burgess was the last of the regular central defenders left on the pitch, and even he was to be replaced late on Pat Gavin as Hendon desperate strove for a way into the game. Iga did make one save, from a long-range Andy Cook shot, but it was straight at him.
King produced a couple of fine saves as the second half drew to a close, the inexperienced defence in front of him crumbling on a number of occasions. A couple of late bookings rather summed up the Hendon frustration.
The two managers, Hendon's Dave Anderson and Sutton's John Rains, agreed that the conditions had more than done their part in ruining what should have been a good, close contest and accepted that the first goal was all-important.