Hendon secured their first home Ryman League Premier Division draw of the season when they held title favourites Gravesend & Northfleet 1-1 at LOOT Stadium on Saturday afternoon. After 24 games with only one draw, Hendon have now collected a single point from both of their last two.
Although the first half was dull, the match roared into life after the break and the atmosphere was more like a cup-tie than a midseason league game. There was certainly far more tension in the second half on Saturday than there had been in the FA Umbro Trophy tie played 10 days earlier.
If Hendon fans had been offered a point before kick-off, they would have certainly taken it, so to be disappointed not to have won afterwards is a little churlish. Although Gravesend played the final half-hour with only 10 men, they were far the better team for almost all of that time and Hendon were definitely hanging on in the last 10 minutes.
The two teams made 4 changes from the FA Trophy tie at Stonebridge Road 10 days earlier. Hendon had Paul Towler, Leon Woodruffe, Dale Binns and Ricci Crace in the team at the expense of Paul Yates, Mark Burgess, Eugene Ofori and Byron Bubb (the last 3 were all substitutes), while Gravesend replaced Elliot Martin, Nick Burton, Robert Owen and Craig Wilkins with Justin Skinner, Aaron Barnett, Darren Smith and Simon Parker, respectively.
Woodruffe should have given Hendon the lead in the second minute. He dispossessed Francis Duku 15 yards from Gravesend's penalty area and had a clear run at goal. Duku clipped Woodruffe's heels, but the striker kept his balance and was inside the penalty area when he shot. Gravesend goalkeeper Jamie Turner had narrowed the angle, but he need not have bothered because the ball went 10 yards wide.
There was little action of note for the next 35 minutes, save for a pair of cautions. First Smith was shown the yellow card by referee Mr Eamon Smith for dissent, kicking the ball away, then Binns received the same punishment for crossing the ball a stride after the referee had blown his whistle to award a throw-in after Binns had marginally failed to keep the ball in play. Both may have kicked the ball away, but while one was obviously dissent, the other was no more than impetus - Mr Smith admitted after the game that Binns' caution had been harsh.
In the 37th minute, Martin Randall struck a 20-yard drive which Turner pushed around the post in spectacular style. Six minutes later, David Hook had to be alert to keep out an effort from Parker.
Four minutes after the restart, Gravesend took the lead. Jimmy Jackson and Skinner combined down the left flank and the former crossed into the penalty area. Two defenders lunged for the ball and missed it as it fell to former Hendon midfielder Steve McKIMM, who despatched a shot into the net without fuss.
It took 10 minutes for Hendon to hit back, and they were helped by a rush of blood from Turner. Steve Forbes passed to Randall, who was all alone on the edge of the penalty area. He had knocked the ball past Turner and had an almost empty goal to fire into when the goalkeeper scythed him down.
The assistant referee immediately flagged for a penalty, although Jon-Barrie Bates initially put the ball down a foot or so outside the box. Mr Smith called Turner to him and was immediately joined by McKimm and Danny Lye, pleading on their teammate's behalf. It was to no avail and Turner was already running off the pitch when the red card was shown.
Central defender Barnett took over the No. 1 shirt and looked less than enamoured with the idea of facing a spot-kick. BATES stepped up and although Barnett guessed correctly, the ball was perfectly struck into the bottom corner.
Two minutes later, a mazy run from Forbes took him past a couple of defenders, but his shot lacked power and Barnett saved gratefully by his left post. It was the last strike Hendon were to manage on target.
The credit for this has to go to Gravesend, who took over the game. They forced Hendon back into defence and Towler, Simon Clarke, Steve Butler and Mark Cooper were kept more than occupied. The Fleet used their 3 attack-minded substitutes to keep the pressure on the Hendon rearguard, while the 3 remaining defenders worked well to limit Hendon's attacks to sporadic raids.
A free-kick from Clarke was floated into the penalty area, but nobody could get a touch on the ball as it went through to Barnett, who kept his eye on it all the way into his chest. The only time Barnett had to deal with a cross, his handling was exemplary.
Gravesend did become more desperate as the game progressed and Lye was cautioned for ungentlemanly conduct in a bizarre incident. A drop ball which would normally have been returned to Hendon - Binns was stopped so that treatment could be administered to an injured player - was kept by the Gravesend player and his reaction must have been pretty close to being worth a second yellow for dissent.
Ofori replaced the injured Woodruffe in a straight swap, but when Crace was withdrawn, Burgess came on rather than Bubb, a negative move, but one which manager Dave Anderson felt necessary because of the danger caused by Jackson. Any free-kick around the Gravesend penalty area would have seen Bubb introduced, but Gravesend didn't let Hendon get close enough.
"We had the better of the first half," said Mr Anderson, "but they were stronger after the break. We are continuing to improve and getting a point from a team such as Gravesend was very important."