Hendon produced a superb fightback to take all three points from a pulsating and thoroughly enjoyable first-ever meeting with Peacehaven & Telescombe. Credit must go to the Ryman League Premier Division new boys, who gave Hendon all they could handle, and then some, especially in the first half, but the victory lifted the Greens up to third in the table.
Two or three players had to pass fitness tests before the match, so it was only Casey Maclaren who made way for Dave Diedhiou in the Hendon starting line-up. Fit again Andre Da Costa stepped up to the subs bench.
Although Hendon started the better, it was Peacehaven who created the first opening. Jamie Brotherton found himself in space, but he fired his shot narrow over the crossbar.
Hendon's pressure paid off and they deservedly took the lead in the ninth minute. A ball was played into the penalty from the left side and it reached Kezie Ibe, closely marked on the far corner of the six-yard box.
A neat turn took him clear of his marker, and Ibr needed no second bidding to drive the ball across Antony di Bernado into the bottom corner. It was an excellent piece of finishing by the Hendon striker, though the Peacehaven contingent will feel the defending certainly should have been better and Di Bernado's positioning would also be questioned.
The lead lasted only eight minutes and, if questions were asked about the defending for their goal, the Hendon defence was not at its best for the equaliser. Possession was lost too easily just outside the Greens penalty area and Brotherton and Jon Marzetti linked up well down the right flank.
Marzetti was given too much space to cross the ball and no Hendon player tracked back quickly enough to either win the far post header or even make it difficult for Mark Knee. The full-back guided his header into the net almost without trouble.
This was the signal for Peacehaven to take complete control and it would be more than a quarter of the match before a Hendon player even touched the ball inside the visitors' penalty area. George Legg was very busy, making a handful of saves as shots rained in on him from all angles.
In the 23rd minute, Legg flung himself to keep out an effort from just inside the penalty area. The ball, however, went straight to Lloyd Cotton, who found the bottom corner from 18 yards out.
Hendon were in danger of being overrun in the next few minutes and Peacehaven did it by outplaying Hendon at their own game. Their was passing and running off the ball was slick and fast, and the Greens were forced into some desperate defending.
Elliott Brathwaite and James Fisher did pretty well under the circumstances, with Leon Smith, Dave Diedhiou, Lee O'Leary and Tony Taggart all dropping back at various stages. Neither Chris Seeby nor Ollie Sprague were able to get forward and Sam Murphy and Ibe were left distinctly isolated.
Legg made an excellent save to deny Tom Burton after 27 minutes and then did even better to block a drive from Josh Jones. On this occasion, the rebound fell to Evan Archibald, but he struck his shot against the outside of the post.
It was probably the turning point of the game because had that 41st minute double-chance been snapped up, Hendon would have been facing at least a two-goal half-time deficit and the dressing-room team talk would have been very different.
Before the start of the second half, Taggart was withdrawn and Da Costa introduced. He provided fresh legs and was able to slow down Marzetti's progress on the right side, which, in turn, stifled Brotherton. There was also a positional change which saw the Greens take control of midfield, and it was Hendon who were the more dangerous throughout the half.
In the 52nd minute, Smith showed his power, strength and control as he got the better of Dan McLaughlin before rifling a shot past Di Bernardo. The goalkeeper looked around gratefully as the ball cannoned off the goalframe and was eventually cleared.
There was another escape for Hendon in the 57th minute when Jones and Knee combined well down the left side. The ball fell to Jones, who drilled the ball into the side netting with his left foot. He might have been better served to try and find the target aiming at the far post rather than the near one.
Hendon's equaliser came in the 63rd minute and it was a very special goal. Diedhiou started it with a magnificent 40-yard pass to Seeby, rampaging down the right flank.
Seeby cut inside Jones, then played a one-two with Ibe on the edge of the penalty area. Ibe's return was perfectly weighted to allow Seeby to take one touch to get into the clear and his second touch was a rocket which flew over Di Bernado's head into the roof of the net. The goalkeeper was probably fortunate not to get a hand to the ball.
Although Hendon were in control, the game remained very open and was played at great pace. This probably assisted the Greens, who appeared to get stronger as the latter stages approached. Surprisingly neither team made any changes for more than 40 minutes of the half.
With six minutes to go, a floated shot nearly caught out Legg. The goalkeeper back-tracked to catch the ball close to the goal-line. However, he felt himself stepping back and had to drop the ball before he carried it into the net. An almighty scramble ensued before Fisher imperiously dismissed the ball towards the half-way line.
A minute later, Smith got himself another shooting opportunity, set up by Diedhiou and Ibe. His shot was parried by Di Bernado, but Diedhiou had continued his run and he was able to knock the ball into the net for what proved to be the winning goal.
With two minutes to go, Callum Saunders and Charlie Pitcher came on for Peacehaven, replacing Brotherton and Burton, but it seemed to be a bit of too little, too late. Hendon responded by Sam Flegg taking over from Smith and Richard Worrell doing likewise for Ibe, both in stoppage time.
There were two moments of concern in the five or so minutes of additional time - four had been signalled, but Hendon made two changes in this period. First a series of three set pieces were only just dealt with - Peacehaven had caused trouble with almost every free-kick around the penalty area and from the corner quadrant.
Then, with less than a minute remaining, a ball bounced up and struck Flegg on the hand. It was by his side, and he did not move his hand towards the ball, so the referee's decision not to penalise the defender was absolutely correct, but as a member of the coaching staff said after the game, "It wasn't handball, but we have all seen them given."
Gary McCann was rightly proud of his team. He said, "There was a little frustration at the way Peacehaven dominated the last 30 minutes of the first half. But full credit to them as they really took the game to us and outplayed us at our own game.
"That said, it was a really good game and was played at great pace and with full intensity. I am delighted that we came out on top, and I think a big reason was that our energy levels were so good.
"I told the players in the dressing room that we had been fortunate to be trailing only by one goal, but we changed a few things around and a made a substitution. In the second half, we were the better team and I think we got stronger the longer the game went on.
"I was delighted with the way that we reacted to the first half. We really dug in and produced some excellent passages of play in the second half. The two goals we scored were both superb, especially Seeby's.
"But we had to be careful because, even though we were on top, Peacehaven were still very dangerous on the break. Elliott Brathwaite was outstanding at the back, but everyone really contributed to the performance."