Hendon suffered a heartbreaking end to 2011, conceding a goal in the fourth minute of added time to lose 4-3 to Bury Town at Vale Farm on Saturday afternoon. It was as cruel as it was undeserved at the end of a superb, pulsating afternoon of football.
The Greens were able to recall fit-again James Parker, in place of James Archer, but lost Kevin Maclaren to an injury from Boxing Day, bringing in Dave Diedhiou, and going with a two-man attack as Greg Ngoyi took over from Jerome Federico. On the bench was Tom Davie, signed on a dual registration from League Two Dagenham & Redbridge.
Matches between Hendon and Bury have been open, entertaining affairs, and this Ryman League Premier Division encounter followed the same pattern. The only difference, in the opening half-hour at least, is that there were few clear openings. Berkley Laurencin did make one excellent save, from a free-kick after 20 minutes, so it was a little surprising that there would be four goals in the quarter-hour before half-time.
In the 30th minute, sloppy defending allowed Bury to run through the Hendon defence and John Sands was sent sprawling in the penalty area. Although the striker had lost control of the ball, he was brought down and a penalty was the right decision.
Laurencin guessed correctly, but Danny Cunningham's spot-kick just beat the goalkeeper's dive to give Bury the lead. And, buoyed by the goal, the Blues turned the screw, doubling their advantage eight minutes later.
Once more, Hendon were authors of their own misfortune, needlessly conceding a free-kick on the edge of their own penalty area. The ball was hit goalwards and a green-shirted defender tried to head the ball clear but succeeded only in sending the ball high into the air,
Laurencin tried to gather the ball, when a punch might have been a better option, and he failed to hold onto it. In the scramble which followed, one shot was blocked, only for Roscoe Hipperson to shoot home the rebound.
Hipperson's joy turned to misery, four minutes later, when he slumped to the ground with what looked like a hamstring injury. He was helped off the pitch, to be replaced by Sam Nunn, but Bury were forced to reshuffle their defence.
Hendon were quick to capitalise. In the dying seconds of normal time at the end of the first half, a long through ball released Ngoyi, who beat the onrushing Marcus Garnham, and slipped the ball under the goalkeeper. The ball rolled into the net just before Russell Short could reach it.
Before play could resume, Bury suffered another blow as the scorer of their first goal, Cunningham, also was injured and he too had to be replaced, Craig Nurse coming on. And the news got even worse for Bury when their defence was again ripped open in stoppage time.
Once more Ngoyi worked himself into space. When the ball came to him, he turned and drilled it into the roof of the net. From being 2-0 down, Hendon found themselves going into the dressing rooms at half-time all square.
For the first six minutes of the second half, Hendon laid siege on the Bury goal. Garnham produced a miraculous block on Elliott Charles as the ball bounced off the goalkeeper and somehow wobbled over the top of the crossbar.
A minute later, Ngoyi was ruled offside. Bury took the free-kick quickly, and no Hendon defender reacted to Mark Coulson's ball down the left touchline. Kieran Leabon was the only player to react. As Laurencin came off his line, Leabon found the bottom corner of the net with his well-placed shot.
When Sands was replaced with 18 minutes of the second half completed, Callum Kearns coming on, it meant that Bury had made all three of their substitutions. They were able to get through to the end of the match without picking up any more injuries.
The only caution of the game came midway through the second half, Ryan Wharton taking down the breaking Lee Read. Some Bury players wondered why the card had been only yellow, but the offence was only a couple of yards across the halfway line, so could hardly have been considered denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Hendon switched Godfrey and Currie to the opposite wings, a move which had the deleterious effect of limiting Scott Cousins' effectiveness going forward. But there was still plenty of quality in the crosses coming into the penalty area and Bury were fortunate, on more than one occasion, that bounces of the ball or deflections off defenders went to other red-shirted players.
With neither defence displaying a huge amount of solidity Hendon certainly felt they weren't out of the game. Proof of that came after 70 minutes, when Darren Currie and James Fisher set up Diedhiou with a great chance to equalise.
Diedhiou, less than six yards out, did little wrong, striking the ball cleanly and powerfully, but he would have been better off either scuffing the ball along the ground or being a few yards further from goal. Garnham simply flew off his line and threw himself in front of the ball, making a brave block.
Davie and Michael Lewis came on Frank Sinclair and Diedhiou as Hendon effectively went into a 3-4-3 or 3-3-4 formation in a bid to get an equaliser. This, of course, meant that Bury, masters of the counter-attack became even more dangerous, and they missed a great chance to make the game safe after 84 minutes when a shot from Leabon flew just wide of Laurencin's goal.
With the game in the second of the four minutes of stoppage time, Hendon got their just reward. Lewis worked himself into some space and his cross was bundled over the line by Charles. His header was far from clean, but he shepherded the ball over the line before any defender could get to him.
Despite demands from the Hendon dugout that they should try to win back the ball, Hendon failed to make any good contact on it until it was too late. A misplaced cross from Bury resulted in a goalkick, which Laurencin scuffed.
Reed collected the ball and fed it into the penalty area, where Hendon failed to clear and it ended up at the feet of Billy Clark, all alone, just wide of the far post. Clark took one touch and fired into the net to give Bury the victory.
"This was one of the most disappointing defeats of the season," admitted Hendon manager Gary McCann. "We have played a heavy price for the defence switching off for all of their goals.
"This was as well as we have played for quite a few games. Our passing was excellent and we used the ball very well. Apart from those lapses in concentration for the goals, I thought our defending was also better."