Hendon continued their magnificent run of form with a ninth win in their last ten games as they overcame Northwood at Chestnut Avenue on Saturday afternoon. They remain in second place in the Ryman League Premier Division, 20 points adrift of Canvey Island, but four clear of the chasing pack.
The match was a strange affair, with both teams attacking at every opportunity, which made for excellent entertainment. However, Hendon defended resolutely, allowing Northwood just two good attempts at goal, while the Dons were denied a hatful because of a mixture of poor decision-making, final passes and shots and some inspired goalkeeping from the Woods' Lee Carroll.
Mark Cooper replaced Steve Butler at the heart of the Hendon defence, while Dwayne Plummer returned to the side at the expense of Dale Binns.
It took only eight minutes for Hendon to take the lead and it was an excellent goal that eventually decided the match. Andy Cook won the ball in midfield and quickly exchanged passes with Ricci Crace. Cook then knocked a longer pass into Crace's path and he instantly found Eugene Ofori, running through the heart of the Northwood defence.
Carroll came off his line, but OFORI, in a rich vein of form, confidently flicked the ball past him to grab his 24th goal of the season.
Quite how Hendon didn't extend their advantage in the next 20 minutes is something only they will know. The Northwood defence was routinely ripped apart by Crace, Cook, Ofori and Plummer, while Iain Duncan and Scott Cousins enjoyed time and space down the flanks. Only the final pass or shot lacked the crispness of the approach play.
Having weathered the early storm, Woods tried to get back into the game, but they found Ifura, Mark Cooper and Mark Burgess in commanding form. Burgess and Ifura were exceptional, highlighted by one piece of play from the latter.
A rare break from Alistair Heselton seemed to give him an unimpeded run at Dave King. However, Ifura appeared between the striker and goalkeeper and he not only took the ball away from both of them but also he strode towards the corner flag as if on a training run before knocking a 25-yard pass to Duncan on the right wing.
Indicative of Hendon's inability to extend their lead was a spell of 30 seconds around the 40-minute mark. Cousins started it with a run and low shot that Carroll did well to Parry. Ofori tried to pounce on the loose ball but slipped slightly and his effort was blocked by RenÃ¯Â¿Â½ Street, who failed to clear the ball and had his heel clipped by Ofori who was trying to have a second bite at the cherry.
Carroll, inexplicably, tried to take a quick free-kick, but it was read by Duncan, who intercepted the ball before it reached Chris Elsegood. Duncan fed Crace, whose shot was also well stopped by Carroll, who was then lucky that Cook couldn't get a decisive touch as he slid in towards the loose ball.
Instantly, Northwood broke and King was forced into his one difficult save of the afternoon. The reason for Woods getting that space down the left flank soon became evident, because Duncan was taken off and Binns replaced him, causing a major reshuffle, Jon-Barrie Bates dropping deeper and Cousins moving to the right side.
In the opening minute of the second half, Binns almost got his name on the scoresheet at the end of a mazy run. He had two goalbound shots blocked, the first back to him, the second away for a corner.
Long-range shots by Cousins, Crace, Ofori, Binns and Gavin forced saves from the overworked Carroll as the game went from end to end. The difference was that the Hendon defence looked solid and secure and the home rearguard was torn apart at will.
In the 75th minute, Cook was flattened in the penalty area directly in front of referee Robert Barnard-Smith but the official waved aside the penalty claims.
In the 81st minute, when Luke Evans violently took out Crace on the edge of the penalty area and, as the ball broke loose, Street collided with Ofori by the penalty spot. Both Hendon players required treatment, Evans was only lectured, then Ofori and Crace were ordered to the sidelines, leaving Hendon with a free-kick but no strikers to attack the ball.
Quick thinking from the Hendon bench meant there were at least 10 men on the pitch for the free-kick as Pat Gavin was introduced for Crace. However, play was held up for a good half-minute longer than necessary because Mr Barnard Smith insisted that Crace, who was off the field on the far side, had to walk across width the pitch for the change to be made.
With only a one-goal lead to defend, the Hendon supporters were rather edgy, but apart from a long-range shot from Christian Metcalfe that flew high over King's crossbar, there was little penetration from Northwood.
"I think our lads are trying to give me a heart attack by not putting away games," joked manager Dave Anderson. "We bossed the first half except for the last 15 minutes and we were superb in the second half. It's just we didn't take our chances."