Hendon remained on top of the Ryman League Premier Division this weekend following a 2-0 win away at Margate's Hartsdown Park, despite two enforced substitutions in the first half.
Gary McCann was fortunate enough to be able to name an unchanged starting eleven for the fourth match in a row, although the bench saw changes with Isiah Rankin replacing the injured Aaron Morgan while James Fisher and Byron Bubb stepped up to the bench to allow Danny Dyer and Bradley Ambrose to get some match time on loan.
The match itself was largely affected by a strong wind blowing in off the coast and with Hendon kicking against the weather the main aim had to be to get through the first half unscathed. It took just four minutes before the Greens had their first chance, a Scott Cousins corner being played in to Jamie Busby on the edge of the area, only for his attempted drive to be charged down barely a yard from the midfielder.
It took a further ten minutes for either side to carve out another chance, with Casey Maclaren crossing the ball into Carl McClusky who played it onto Greg Ngoyi, lurking near the corner of the six-yard box. Ngoyi had the space for an athletic effort, but Jack Smelt was pleased to see it driven straight at him for a comfortable save.
Margate nearly found themselves with a good chance as Curtis Robinson rounded James Archer down the left channel and headed for goal, only to look up and see the offside flag denying him a chance to test Laurencin, before things took a turn for the worse for Hendon. After only 19 minutes, Casey Maclaren came off worse in a challenge and with a suspected broken bone (x-rays later showed this wasn't the case) had to be replaced by his brother Kevin.
Almost immediately Margate had their best chance of the game. Attacking down the right-hand channel Matt Bodkin found himself with time and space and launched a powerful shot that arched towards Laurencin's goal. The keeper had to stretch as he jumped in an attempt to stop the effort and looked relieved when it cannoned off the top of the crossbar and over for a goal kick.
As the half went on, Hendon became increasingly willing to allow Margate possession, so long as they didn't threaten the 18-yard box, while the home side seemed unable to break down the Greens. At the other end, chances were equally rare until after Ryan Wharton had been forced off with another injury, affording Fisher his debut.
In the third minute of stoppage time, Hendon suddenly sparked to life, Kevin Maclaren feeding Jamie Busby who forced an excellent parry from Smelt, diving to his left. The ball was delivered back in by McClusky back to the midfielder, but Busby's second effort was well over.
The start of the second half suggested things may improve, with Dan Stubbs heading over for the home side in the 47th minute, while just a minute later Ngoyi broke and lifted the ball over Smelt only to see his effort to be chalked off by the raised offside flag.
However, the game settled into familiar patterns as the wind played havoc with the all too-regular high balls and Margate again spent more time with the ball without testing Laurencin unduly. Indeed the only time the visiting 'keeper was really called into action came in the 65th minute when he had to come out to claim a through ball under pressure from Kwesi Appiah.
The Greens for their part looked very comfortable, but with Ngoyi often ploughing a lone furrow up front he could do little more than cause discomfort for Richard Avery and Laurence Ball in defence. However, things changed in the 69th minute as Elliott Godfrey played a perfectly weighted ball in behind Margate's high line for the forward to run onto.
As Ngoyi ran towards goal, Smelt dived at the his feet, only to find Ngyoi quick enough to knock the ball past and then go to ground. Despite the 'keeper's protests that he "never touched him" (many behind the goal agreed, but Ngoyi later maintained there was contact), the referee didn't hesitate in awarding a penalty and a booking. Jamie BUSBY calmly waited for everything to settle down before stepping up and cooly sending Smelt the wrong way to put the Greens ahead.
From the restart Margate had their own penalty shout, Tom Bradbook going to ground as he rode a challenge, but the referee was in no doubt that the tackle was clean and Margate appeared visibly deflated by the decision. The Greens immediately broke, with Smelt having to charge out of his area to head clear a through ball to McClusky.
The pressure from the Greens was sustained as two minutes later Godfrey forced a comfortable save that earned Hendon the first of seven consecutive corners from alternative sides. Each one was cleared in turn for another attempt from the opposite side, taking a full three minutes before the pressure told.
Godfrey took the last effort and a Margate head again got to the ball first, but was only able to knock it out to Kevin Maclaren, lurking around 25 yards out in the right channel. As Margate pushed out to clear the penalty area, MACLAREN lofted a teasing ball in towards the far post. The wind no doubt caught the ball while in flight to put it on target, but Smelt looked comfortable as he rose to claim an easy looking ball.
To Margate's horror, however, although he got both hands to it, he was only able to help the ball inside the far post. Despite quickly reacting in dropping onto the ball under pressure from Dave Diedhou and pulling it back into play, the assistant referee had seen the ball cross the line and after pausing for a second to be sure flagged for the Greens' second.
Smelt was furious at the decision and jumped up to launch the ball out of the ground in the general direction of the flagging official, prompting some of the visiting fans behind his goal to call for a second booking and a subsequent dismissal, but leniency was shown with just a stern warning being deemed sufficient.
The second goal killed the game as a contest, Hendon reverting back to allowing Margate the ball in safe areas, but working hard to ensure that Laurencin was never unduly troubled, two quick corners in succession aside.
"That was really a 0-0 game," noted manager Gary McCann later, "but we felt after the first half that their high-line at the back was leaving them vulnerable and we eventually took advantage.
"I told the players beforehand that nothing less than three points would do after the start we've had to the season and at half-time, the team were determined to get the win for Casey and Ryan. I can't fault their commitment today."