Hendon were excellent value for their 1-0 victory over second-placed AFC Hornchurch at Bridge Avenue on Tuesday night, a win which saw them reclaim a place in the Ryman League Premier Division playoff places.
Kevin Maclaren came in for the injured James Fisher in what was the only change to the starting line-up from the goalless draw at Cray Wanderers two days earlier. Unfortunately, Elliott Charles picked up an injury in the warm-up and he was replaced by Isaiah Rankin, the second time in two weeks that a player has been hurt in the pre-match. Although he was named to the bench, Charles did not come on.
For almost 20 minutes, nothing of note happened at either end. AFC Hornchurch, coming off a 5-0 demolition of Blue Square Bet South strugglers Thurrock at the weekend had the advantage of an extra 25 hours of rest, but didn't make Hendon have to work too hard and Lewis Smith and Martin Tuohy got no change out the superb Ryan Wharton and the even better Frank Sinclair.
Jonathan Hunt, a month and a day older than Sinclair, and just over three years older than 37thirthday celebrating Darren Currie was kept very quiet as James Parker and Scott Cousins denied the Urchins any width. In front of the back four, Dave Diedhiou and Maclaren were tigerish in stifling moves forward by the Hornchurch midfield.
In fact it was Hendon who looked the more like to create an opening. Elliott Godfrey and Currie were given a lot of space in front of Hornchurch rearguard, who had their hands full with Mauro Vilhete and Rankin.
Just the before the 20inute mark, Currie sent in a teasing cross which Sinclair ran onto and flicked past Joe Woolley. The flatooted Urchins defence could only watch as the ball looped down, but they were grateful to see the ball strike the crossbar.
This was a lesson they didn't heed because, five minutes later, they conceded what turned out to be the game's only goal. The Hendon approach play was again incisive and when the ball was played to Godfrey, just outside the Hornchurch penalty area, no one came to shut him down.
Given time and space, Godfrey struck a well-placed drive low beyond Woolley's despairing dive and just inside the post. It was no more than Hendon deserved for their enterprise.
Having gone a goal down, Hornchurch tried to up their game, but were brilliantly stifled by the Greens. They created two chances in the 20 minutes before half-time. First, after 29 minutes, Frankie Curley struck a 20-yard shot that was little more than a back-pass, straight at Berkley Laurencin.
Then, excellent work by Smith took him around three defenders, but his shot - admittedly from an acute angle - was high, wide and not at all handsome.
Rankin almost doubled the Hendon advantage when he took advantage of weak defensive header by Hunt, but his effort was saved by Woolley. It was to be Rankin's last contribution of the half because Carl McCluskey replaced him before the second half kicked-off.
Within seconds of the restart, another dangerous run by Smith ended with a shot. It was on target, but Laurencin was equal to it, making a sprawling save.
The gusting wind certainly didn't help either team and it made life extremely difficult for both goalkeepers. Laurencin's decision to go for punches rather than clean catches was probably the right one, because he was able to some distance on them, whereas Woolley looked a bag of nerves when the ball came in.
Both teams were denied by the frame of the goal, Hornchurch twice and Hendon once, so the final score in that battle was 2-2. First to hear the clang of ball on metalwork was Curley, his shot clipping the crossbar after being set up by Andy Tomlinson.
Hendon should have had a penalty after 53 minutes when a very blatant handball went unpunished. There was a similar feeling at the other end when a green arm seemed to strike the ball in the penalty area.
Just before the hour mark, Vilhete went down with what proved a game-ending injury and Jerome Federico replaced him. Soon after that, from a free-kick just outside the â€œDâ€ of the penalty area, Currie struck the middle of the wall, the second attempt went out for a corner, which Woolley dropped, but a defender came to his rescue with a clearance.
In space of two minutes, both Hendon substitutes came close to scoring. Midway through the second half, McCluskey forced Woolley into an excellent save.
Federico really should have done better with his shot after a strong run by McCluskey had been halted by a tackle. With Woolley out of position when the ball rolled to Federico, a composed strike would probably have brought him his first Hendon goal. Instead, the ball flew high and wide of the target.
Hornchurch made three substitutions, withdrawing wide men Hunt and Tomlinson, as well as full-back and skipper Rickie Hayles. The Urchins flooded forward but rarely looked like penetrating the green barrier.
They also left themselves open to the counter-attack and both McCluskey and Federico were eager runners, even though nothing came of their enterprise.
In the last few minutes, substitute Michael Spencer curled in a shot which Laurencin let go and was extremely relieved to see it strike the outside of his far post. The rebound was drilled into the side-netting by Curley when a ball into the heart of the penalty area might well have been a better option.
Hendon manager Gary McCann was delighted with what he had seen, saying "I thought we were excellent tonight. Our back four and the two midfielders in front of them were immense. It was a big ask to put in a performance like that on the back of playing on Sunday afternoon, but the players were superb."