Hendon produced an outstanding performance in reaching the Final of the Robert Dyas (Isthmian League) Cup, beating Margate 2-1 at Earlsmead on Wednesday night. They were more than good value for their victory.
James Fisher and Kezie Ibe were missing from Hendon's starting eleven - Sam Murphy and Leon Smith replacing them. The Gate line-up may have had only two regular starters in Kane Wills and Ryan Moss, but Adam Cash, Anthony Riviere, Tom Phipp, player coach Jamie Stuart and Zac Attwood are usually involved with the squad and Matt Armstrong-Ford is the second-choice goalkeeper.
The Greens made an excellent start and soon forced Margate onto the back-foot. In the fifth minute, a Hendon attack down the left reached the penalty area before it was cleared away at the expense of a corner.
Andre Da Costa's delivery was perfect and both Elliott Brathwaite and Charlie Goode probably should have scored from the cross. They were denied the glory, however, by Moss, who headed the ball into his own net.
Hendon had the ball in the next for a second occasion in the 11th minute, but this effort was disallowed for offside, despite Smith appearing to be behind Andre Da Costa when the ball was played.
Margate's struggle for cohesion in that opening 20 minutes could certainly be put down to the unfamiliarity with their team-mates. As a result, they were grateful for Armstrong-Ford's clean handling and good positional play for denying a second Hendon goal.
When the Gate did get forward, they looked dangerous and their first shot on target caused Hendon a problem as Ben McNamara could not handle it cleanly. The goalkeeper was able to pounce on the loose ball before a blue-shirted player could react.
Margate were still being limited to mainly long-range efforts, but on the odd occasion a ball was delivered from out wide, either McNamara or one of Casey Maclaren, Goode or Brathwaite won the challenge. Certainly, in the main, Dave Diedhiou and Ollie Sprague had the better of Gate's wide men.
In the 33rd minute, Hendon felt they should have had a penalty. Smith attacked down the left side and cut into the penalty area. He knocked the ball a little ahead of him, and appeared to be clipped or tripped by the outstretched leg of a defender, but the referee allowed play to continue.
Four minutes later, Hendon put together one of their moves of the season. A superb array of passes saw the ball fed from right to left and then into the penalty area. Lee O'Leary rolled the ball into the path of Murphy, who drilled the ball goalwards.
Riviere threw himself in front of the ball and got a slight touch with an outstretched leg. It lifted the ball just enough for Armstrong-Ford to make an incredible reaction save. This genuine candidate for save of the season, certainly kept Margate in the match and the goalkeeper followed up the save with a dominating punch, reaching the ball and skittling over three green-shirted players in one movement.
Right on the stroke of half-time, the Greens gave away a penalty when Phipp went to ground under the challenge of Sprague. Attwood took the penalty and although McNamara guessed correctly, diving to his left, the shot had too much power and placement for him.
For the first half hour of the second half, HendonÃ¢Â€Â™s frustration grew. Three free-kicks in and around the Greens penalty area caused a worry, but two hit the defensive wall and the other was easily gathered by McNamara.
Hendon had another goal disallowed in the 64th minute when a corner was crossed in and Brathwaite powered home a header. However, the referee had spotted a foul and awarded the vistors a free kick. However, Armstrong-Ford felt his team-mates had dodged a bullet, because he hadn't seen a foul.
In the 70th minute, Hendon hit the goalframe again. This time it was Smith nipping through the middle. Armstrong-Ford and Jamie Stuart made it a three-way tussle for the ball, but the strongest touch came from Smith.
The ball having started to roll towards the goal, suddenly started spinning towards the post. Smith could not get around the two fallen Margate men to divert it into the net and watched in horror as the ball kissed the outside of the post and went away for a corner. Was this going to be the tale of Hendon's evening?
No was the answer, delivered emphatically by the forehead of Brathwaite. Another corner; another towering header; again the net bulged, but this time there was no whistle for a foul, merely the signal of a goal.
Armstrong-Ford tried to kid the referee - and gave fans the behind the goal a moment of dread - as he shaped to take a free-kick from the edge of the six-yard-box, but the goalkeeper, with a grin on his face, then threw the ball to the half-way line.
Margate tried to get back into the game, but the Hendon defence and midfield stood firm and, in the second of five minutes of stoppage time, Armstrong-Ford produced another superb save to deny Smith in a one-on-one, deflecting the ball inches wide of the upright. Sadly for the Gate hero, there was no one at the other end to give him the reward he deserved.