Hendon missed the chance of returning to the top of the Ryman League Premier Division when Metropolitan Police beat them 3-1 at Vale Farm on Tuesday night. Almost a year to the day after beating the Boys in Blue at Imber Court to earn an FA Cup first round place, the Police showed a clinical touch in front of goal to inflict a first home defeat of the campaign on the Greens.
With Greg Ngoyi resting the injury he picked up on Saturday, Kevin Maclaren was given the start, while Ryan Wharton returned after missing six weeks - he took the place of James Archer. Both changes resulted in positional reshuffles.
The Police started brightly and very nearly took the lead after nine minutes. A drive from Mu Maan struck Stafforde Palmer and was deflected onto the crossbar. The original shot was going some way off target, so justice was probably done, although the warning signs should have been heeded by the Hendon midfield and defence.
In the 14th minute, Hendon took the lead. Casey Maclaren attacked down the left and, under pressure from Elliot Taylor could not get a clean strike on his attempted cross. The ball, however, did go into space close to where Elliott Charles and Orlando Jeffrey were running and it was the Hendon striker who reacted quicker.
He could do nothing with the ball because Jeffrey's challenge sent him crashing to the ground. The referee, well positioned eight yards from the incident, hesitated for a second before blowing his whistle and pointing to the spot.
Charles rushed to pick up the ball, but after shouts from the Hendon management team, Jamie Busby, the regular spot-kick taker, pulled rank. Busby put the ball down on the spot and confidently smacked home the penalty to give Hendon the lead.
Two minutes later, from a corner, Michael Peacock had a half-chance to double the advantage. However, a rising Police player did enough to put him off and the header went some way wide of the target.
Sloppy Hendon play in and around their penalty area soon saw the game change direction. First a couple of bad passes just outside the penalty area saw Busby try to remedy the situation, but he mistimed his tackle to concede a free-kick.
Tyron Smith struck the ball beautifully and although Sean Thomas got his hand to the ball, he could not keep it out of the goal. Three minutes later, with 29 minutes gone, things got even worse for Hendon.
From a corner, the ball was played in low to Duran Reynolds, who flicked it towards goal. A Police player jumped over the ball and his dummy took out three Hendon defenders, who all left the ball. Scott Cousins also could not deal with the rolling ball and, by the time Thomas had a glimpse it, it was almost over the goalline.
For the next dozen or so minutes, the Hendon defence creaked desperately, but they did just about hold out. It was, unfortunately for the increasingly frustrated home fans, the best that the Greens could do to repels the waves of blue-shirt attackers. Neither Dewayne Clarke nor Charles saw much if any of the ball in an attacking position.
Even so, Hendon should have been awarded a free-kick after 38 minutes when a rather aimless ball into the penalty area forced Jamie Butler to go a long way to retrieve it. He dived to grab the ball, but his momentum appeared to take him outside his area.
Butler was fortunate, however, because not only was the referee's assistant unable to see the line of the penalty area clearly, but also the angle and speed of the ball meant the referee could not get into position quickly enough to make a decision.
This moment of misfortune was the auger for an improvement in Hendon fortunes and they got more hope from a cross into the penalty area just before the break. It seemed certain that Charles would get a header at goal, until a super intervention from Jeffrey took the ball out for a corner.
The Hendon management team's dissatisfaction with the first half fare was made very plain to the team in the dressing rooms and the eleven came out with a much better attitude. They were more than a touch unfortunate to find Butler in almost unbeatable form.
On two occasions early in the second half goalbound efforts seemed to have beaten Butler only for the gangly Charles to find himself unable to get out of the ball's path. Both Carl McClusky and Peacock were denied by their teammate.
Hendon continued to press and when Butler was beaten by a shot from Casey Maclaren, Sam Hurrell made a goalline block with his chest.
Hendon had to be careful not to leave too many holes at the back, because the Police had shown a willingness to attack on the counter and displayed a high degree of skill at it too. Busby was booked for a cynical block on a Police runner inside the centre circle to end one such foray. Had Busby not "taken one for the team" the Blues would have had a 3-on-1 break.
In the final 15 minutes, Isaiah Rankin, Byron Bubb and Belal Aite-Ouakrim took over from McCluskey, Kevin Maclaren and Clarke, respectively (none of whom had stamped much authority on proceedings), while the Police replaced Palmer and Maan with Joe Sheldon and Carl Wilson-Dennis, the latter a long-time thorn in the Hendon side from his days at Kingstonian.
Hendon had a great chance to equalise in the 76th minute when a break caught the Police short of numbers. Charles was denied by a brilliant block from Butler, but the ball span out to Rankin, running in support on the edge of the penalty area.
Under normal circumstances, Rankin would have drilled home the loose ball. But these were not normal circumstances and the ball took an age to drop to Rankin's feet. This allowed Dan Gwyther the opportunity to throw himself towards the Hendon striker and forced Rankin to rush his shot, which flew high over the crossbar.
It proved to be a critical moment in the match because, in the 88th minute, the Police grabbed a decisive third goal. Great work down the left flank from Hurrell saw him beat Parker and then get past the covering Wharton. When he laid the ball across the penalty area, there was Wilson-Denis, who calmly slotted it into the net from 10 yards.
Although very unhappy with much of the Hendon performance, manager Gary McCann acknowledged there was great improvement after the break. He said, "On another day, and if Lady Luck had been shining on us, we would have got something from the game - at least a draw and possibly a win.
"That said, I was very unhappy with the first half. Our passing was awful, as was our decision making and we conceded two very sloppy goals. The first was a beautiful free-kick, but we conceded it needlessly because we had got ourselves into trouble.
"I cannot fault the commitment and effort in the second half, so although there were many more negatives than positives, I can take that out of the game.
"We have to put all of that - and the two previous games - out of our minds and concentrate on Saturday's game at Luton Town."