Hendon made their usual first match departure (seventh in a row) from the Robert Dyas (Isthmian League) Cup, going down 1-0 to Wealdstone at Grosvenor Vale on Monday evening. It was an entertaining encounter and the Greens certainly deserved to take the match to a penalty shoot-out after a strong second half performance.
Both teams were at significantly less than full strength, using the game to give fringe players serious competitive action. Scott Cousins made his seasonal bow, playing the first 45 minutes, Dave Diedhiou, Dean Cracknell, Michael Murray, Anthony Thomas and Aaron Morgan all made starts.
Unusually, Chris Seeby became James Fisher's fourth different centre-back partner in consecutive matches, while Cousins was the third different captain in consecutive matches. The Wealdstone team contained two sons of 1970s/80s Hendon players - Scott McGleish and Jack Hutchinson, while both McGleish and substitute Chris Moore were former Hendon youth-teamers, and Peter Dean a first-teamer.
Hendon made a bright start and might have taken a stranglehold on the game had a sixth-minute foul by Stones goalkeeper Aldi Haxhia been ruled not only to be outside the penalty area but also not denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Both observations were questionable and the result was that the keeper was shown a yellow card, and the free-kick was placed three yards outside the penalty area. The shot from the set-play deflected off the defensive wall and went out for a corner.
Kicking up the hill in the first half, and with a couple of players lacking serious match practice there were excuses for some of Hendon's wayward passing.
It must be said that Wealdstone were in the same boat as Hendon in terms of personnel. Nonetheless they took the game to Hendon and wasted a couple of good openings, as well as seeing two balls flash across the face of the goal without a blue shirt able to get a touch.
The game's only goal came after 29 minutes. James Hammond attacked down the right flank, cutting inside. His ball into the penalty area bounced off a defender and as a green-shirted defender dithered, Hammond raced in and lashed a shot which beat Berkley Laurencin, crashed off the inside of the far post and nestled in the side-netting inside the near post. It was his first ever goal for the Stones.
In the 38th minute, Morgan worked himself an opening and fired a shot which required a save from Haxhia, above his head, it but would have been an awful gaffe if he had allowed a goal from the strike.
Just before half-time, Laurencin came quickly off his line as Dean ran through on the Hendon goal. Dean knocked the ball wide of the goalkeeper, but appeared to run into him rather than chasing it. As home fans howled for a penalty the referee waved play on.
Tony Taggart replaced Cousins at half-time, probably a planned move after the captain's absence since early in preseason training. And with slope in their favour, the Greens took control - even though Wealdstone still had more than enough opportunities to extend their advantage.
Diedhiou forced Haxhia into another routine save, as did Thomas and Morgan put an effort just wide with the goalkeeper well beaten. With an hour gone, Cracknell, making his first start since the second game of the season, made way for Michael Bryan, whose trickery caused Wealdstone a few problems.
Just after Dean had gone close for the Stones, Sean Cronin came on for Scott McCubbin, a defender replacing a midfielder showing that Wealdstone were determined to hold onto their advantage. But if Hendon's final ball into the penalty area or to players in space had been better, they may not have succeeded.
Bryan forced an excellent save out of Haxhia with 16 minutes remaining, while both Morgan and Thomas failed to keep efforts in the ground from very good positions. Another chance, for Lee O'Leary went begging when he tried to feed Murray, but left the ball a little short and Kurtney Brooks got a foot in to divert the ball clear.
Taggart went close with another effort and two deflected shots went straight to the goalkeeper when more of a diversion might have helped the Greens. The best chance fell to Carl McCluskey in the last minute of normal time. His header beat Haxhia, but not Hammond, well positioned on the goalline.