Hendon finally booked their place in the 4th round of the FA Umbro Trophy when a pair of Martin Randall goals - his first for the club - gave them a 2-0 victory over Cambridge City at St Albans City's Clarence Park ground. The match was played at St Albans after the FA ordered the tie to be played away from LOOT Stadium on Saturday.
The reward for winning the 3rd round tie was a trip to Gravesend & Northfleet, leaders of the Ryman League Premier Division. Again the FA stepped in to order the tie to be played at Stonebridge Road last Tuesday night.
After being idle for 3 weeks, Hendon were just grateful to be back in action. Two changes to the starting line-up were made, Mark Burgess and Eugene Ofori, coming in for the suspended Paul Towler and Dale Binns, respectively. With Ross Pickett away on loan and Leon Woodruffe cup-tied, the bench had even less match-practice; only goalkeeper Gary McCann, who had been on loan at Slough, had seen any first-team action in 3 months.
In the 4th minute, Kevin Wilkin reacted first to a low cross from Adam Wilde, but steered his flick into the side netting at David Hook's near post. Wilde then forced Hook to make a sprawling save by his far post and the same Cambridge player curled a free-kick wide from 25-yards.
Little had been seen from Hendon in the first half hour, but they took a strangle hold on the match in the last 15 minutes of the first half. In the 32nd minute, Randall tried his luck with a long range header, but Matt Nurse saved with ease. He was well beaten, a minute later, when Byron Bubb cut in from the left wing and fired a powerful shot. The ball cleared the crossbar by no more than a foot.
Two minutes later, Nurse came for a corner from Simon Clarke, but didn't get close to the ball. Steve Butler won the header and Nurse was relieved to see the ball drop from a great height and bounce off the top of the bar. It delayed the inevitable until the 37th minute.
Steve Forbes split Cambridge's defence with a fine ball to Ofori, who was faced by Russell Flitton as he bore in on goal. Ofori could not get past Flitton, so he rolled the ball back 15 yards into the path of Clarke, who delivered a teasing first-time cross. The ball fell nicely for RANDALL, who struck a perfect volley into the bottom corner. Randall's joy at breaking his Hendon duck was clear for all to see.
Cambridge were rocking and, in the 42nd minute, Bubb came close to adding to the Hendon lead when a fine ball from Paul Yates was dummied by Ofori. Unfortunately, Bubb's strike was not as clean as he would have liked and the ball went past Nurse's far post.
With the strengthening wind at their backs, Cambridge seemed likely to cause Hendon much discomfort almost straight from the kick for the second half. Certainly, the normal advantage of the slope, which Hendon enjoyed in the second half, was nullified by the wind.
Instead, Hendon kept up the pressure and Cambridge were unable to respond. In the 54th minute, a cross from Bubb was met by a header from Randall, but the wind led to Randall misdirecting his attempt at goal. The ball fell to Forbes, who looked to be offside, but with no flag being waved, he had a great chance. Nurse was off his line in an instant and blocked the shot.
Nurse came to his team's rescue again, four minutes, later. This time Ofori ran in unchallenged on goal. His shot was parried to one side by the goalkeeper. Ofori reacted first, but with almost no angle, his shot went across the face of the goal without a Hendon player able to get a decisive touch.
Almost immediately, Yates was caught by a stray high boot from Martin Fox. It was a nasty injury to to Yates, but there was no malice in Fox's challenge as he had been going for a bouncing ball and so Mr Simmons took no action.
The stoppage gave Cambridge the chance to regroup. Matt Hann replaced Wilde, who had been brilliantly stifled by Burgess, assisted by Yates. Although they had more possession in the Hendon half, the Lilywhites didn't do much with the ball, frequently thwarted by tigerish tackling from Jon-Barrie Bates and Yates in midfield.
Roy Essandoh, a cup hero with Wycombe Wanderers last season, gave the impression that the more physlcal aspect of non-league was not to his liking because he was rarely more than a peripheral character. Credit for this has to go to Butler and Mark Cooper, who were outstanding at the heart of the Hendon defence.
The game was decided in the 78th minute. Forbes sent Ofori clear again and this time he shot past Nurse. The effort was clearly going wide of the right post, but RANDALL had gambled and was on hand to slide the ball into the net from a very acute angle.
In the 82nd minute, after Ricci Crace had replaced Randall, Cambridge had their first good chance of the half. A succession of 4 corners finally created a half-chance, but Hook made a fine save, diving to his left and smothering the ball.
Six minutes, later Wilkin should have reduced the arrears. Hann delivered a deep cross to the far post where Wilkin had lost his marker. He had a free header from no more than 6 yards and the ball seemed booked for the top corner, until Hook appeared out of nowhere to tip it over the bar.
Referee Mr J Simmons - who largely had an excellent game, allowing the teams to play, while communicating with them - played 7 minutes of stoppage time, during which James Burgess made his debut as substitute for Ofori. But Hendon were largely untroubled as Cambridge rather meekly accepted their fate.
The result was a perfect tonic for absent manager Dave Anderson, who had been confined to bed with sickness. Player-coach Warren Kelly said, "We battled really well today. We are all so pleased for Martin Randall: we knew he could score and it was just a matter of time for him."