Hendon made 8 wins in their last 10 games with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Croydon at the Arena on Saturday afternoon. The win lifted Hendon to 8th place in the Ryman League Premier Division, their highest placement since September 2000.
Hero of the day was Ricci Crace, who netted a first-half hat-trick. There was only one change to the starting line-up following the 3-0 midweek win over Braintree Town, Mark Burgess coming into the team at the expense of the injured Byron Bubb. With Iain Duncan playing for the reserves, coach Warren Kelly was on the bench, the only other change.
It took just 80 seconds for Hendon to take the lead. Dale Binns played a diagonal pass into the path of CRACE, who sprinted past the static defence, and slotted the ball inside Matt Martin's near post.
Croydon came back well and David Hook produced a fine save to deny Nicky Greene following a 7th minute free-kick. In the 17th minute, Hook came for a corner and appealed that he was impeded as he failed to make contact. Billy Rivers' effort was headed off the line by a well-positioned Micky Woolner.
In the 20th minute, a through ball struck Carleton Chatelier on the arm and it appeared he was just inside the penalty area. The assistant referee was bang in line and he indicated the incident was just outside the box, so referee Mr G Russell (Milton Keynes), awarded a direct free-kick. Binns effort was curling into the top corner, but a defender's head looped the ball just over the crossbar.
It delayed the inevitable until the 29th minute. Crace brought the ball from the halfway line and fed a pass to Martin Randall. His sublime touch completely wrong-footed the Croydon defence and invited CRACE to smack in his second of the game, which he duly did.
The Trams' defence was at 6s and 7s every time either Binns or Crace got the ball and it was no surprise that the two were heavily involved in Hendon's third goal, in the 40th minute. Simon Clarke, in his 350th appearance started the move, passed to Binns, who gave the ball to the captain for the day.
Clarke's effort was blocked but fell to CRACE, who wasted no time in shooting low past Martin's despairing dive. Crace came close to making it a first-half four-time when he rose to meet a cross from Burgess. This time, however, his effort bounced off the top of the crossbar.
The second half was very tedious. Hendon were comfortably on top and Croydon rather resigned to their fate. They did little to cause alarm in the Hendon defence although Craig Dundas did produce a startling 80-metre run down the left wing, aided by a neat one-two with Nic McDonnell - a shining light in a dull outfit. Dundas could not add the finish to the approach.
Hendon's best chance of the second half was a Mark Cooper header from a corner which Chatelier cleared off the line. It was a near carbon copy of the first half incident, with the goalkeeper again claiming a foul but he had simply failed to get to the ball.
In the 73rd minute, Hendon manager Dave Anderson made a substitution that was neither tactical nor because of an injury. Eugene Ofori was introduced in place of Clarke because, in the words of Mr Anderson, "I wanted to give the players and fans the chance to salute Simon on his 350th appearance. All the players clapped him off the pitch and I was the first to shake his hand when he returned to the dugout." Hendon fans around the ground stood in applause too.
The excellent day was marred slightly in the 88th minute, when the Hendon defence went to sleep and allowed Croydon to snatch a consolation goal. Hook produced two brilliant saves to deny first McDonnell, then Dundas on the rebound. No defender moved after the second save and Simon MITCHELL had a simple tap-in to make it 3-1.
"Our finishing was clinical in the first half," said Mr Anderson after the game. "It was hard to keep focussed in the second half, because the game was won, but I am disappointed we conceded a late goal."