Hendon used the difficult conditions at Kingsmeadow Stadium far better than hosts Kingstonian and deservedly came away with a 2-1 victory on Saturday. The 3 points lifted Hendon 3 places up the Ryman League Premier Division table to 17th, with 9th-placed Sutton only 7 points ahead, having played a game more.
Martin Randall was fit and replaced Eugene Ofori up front, while Micky Woolner came in for Mark Cooper, playing at right-back with Paul Towler taking over as Steve Butler's central defensive partner. Cooper, who had been working up North during the morning arrived in time to take his place on the subs' bench alongside Ofori and Dale Binns.
With the howling gale at their backs, Hendon wanted an early goal to get some confidence and it took just 3 minutes to arrive. Byron Bubb cut in from the left wing but the ball into the penalty area was easily dealt with by the Ks defence.
However, when Matt Elverson attempted to knock the ball downfield, Crace stuck out a foot and diverted it into the path of Bubb, who looked suspiciously offside. The assistant referee kept his flag down and as Lance Key came of his line, BUBB drilled the ball through his legs into the net. Key immediately ran towards the assistant referee, who was protected by referee Mr P Yeo.
Key then had a real adventure with a clearance from a short backpass by Billy Mead. He struck the ball high into the air and it went outside the penalty area before blowing back towards the goal and Key had to leap high to catch it, thus avoiding what would have been one of the craziest own goals of all time.
In the 29th minute, Hendon went 2-0 up, but this goal had little to do with the conditions. Steve Forbes set up Simon Clarke for a cross, which was delivered to beyond the far post, where Randall had lost his marker. Randall's volley was into the ground and off-target but it went across the face of goal. CRACE reacted quickly and slammed the ball into the net.
Key denied Crace a second goal with an acrobatic save from a header and also did well to keep out a shot from Bubb. The Kingstonian defence was in disarray and their work was at times almost comical, but Hendon could not find a third goal.
In attack, Ks did almost nothing; a free-kick well saved by David Hook was the only on-target effort. Notably, they did manage to curl a corner out of play into the wind. At 2-0 down Key summed up Kingstonian's ambitions by taking up to 12 second to release the ball. They were saying, "wait till the second half."
Shortly into the second half, a crazy goalmouth scramble ended with David Clarke and Key entwined with each other, the ball in the goalkeeper's hands. How the Ks skipper did not handle the ball is unclear. A minute later, a cross from Paul Yates was flicked on by Randall but Crace, at full stretch, smashed the ball over the crossbar from about 4 yards out.
Binns replaced the limping Bubb in the 51st minute. Almost immediately he ran at the Kingstonian defence, but the ball was cleared without much authority.
In the 61st minute, Ks gave themselves a lifeline with goal that was as sloppy as either that Hendon scored. A cross from the Mark Jones on the left wing blew beyond the last Hendon defender and fell at the feet of Liam COLLINS, who drove a first time shot across Hook into the bottom corner.
If Hendon expected a bombardment from Kingstonian they were pleasantly surprised. Although the Dons defenders had real trouble clearing their lines on a number of occasions, Kingstonian managed just one shot on target, a 25-yard effort straight into Hook's midriff.
Kingstonian tried to build down their left flank, but Woolner and Yates did just enough, and Jon-Barrie Bates had a storming game in front of the back four, marred only by a harsh second-half booking.
In the 72nd minute the home team's fans screamed for a penalty as a cross bobbled up and struck Forbes on the hand. None of the Ks players appealed, but Forbes admitted to relief that no whistle was forthcoming.
Binns produced a thrilling run and long-range shot in the 74th minute. It looked spectacular from the stand, but the reality was that Key was unconcerned as it missed the target by a yard.
Mr Yeo played 4 minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game, but Kingstonian had long since accepted their fate.
"The conditions ruined the game as a spectacle", admitted Hendon manager Dave Anderson. "We want fans to come away from games thinking, 'that was good entertainment,' but that was not possible today. I thought we were comfortable today without being exceptional, but I am delighted to have won."