Hendon produced probably their best display of the season to defeat Sutton United in the FA Umbro Trophy at LOOT Stadium on Saturday. The final scoreline was a very unfair reflection of the game because Hendon were so much the better team in every department.
Sutton failed to capitalise on a Hendon team apparrently lacking in confidence after three straight defeats, all of which involved the concession of 3 goals. Instead they failed to put a single effort on target until the last 15 seconds of the match.
Defensively the Us were at full stretch for almost the full 90 minutes and, indeed, if they had been 4-0 down inside 20 minutes, it would not have been an unfair reflection on the play. Moroccan international goalkeeper Chuck Martini (Moussadek to Barnet fans) was Sutton's best and busiest player of the game, making a number of fine saves.
As early as the second minute, he was at full stretch to keep out an effort from Phil Ruggles after the striker had created an opening. A minute later, Micky Woolner had a clear sight of goal as the short diagonal pass eluded a host of legs. His low drive was destined for the bottom corner, but Martini produced a superb left-handed stop to keep the ball out.
In the 6th minute, Hendon had an even better chance. Eugene Ofori showed some lovely touches to get himself clear of the last defender. Martini was not particularly quick off his line, but Ofori's confidence deserted him at the vital moment. He stopped, slipped and, unchallenged, did little more than pass the ball to the goalkeeper, who had gone to ground very quickly.
Ruggles, Woolner and Jon-Barrie Bates unlocked the Sutton defence again in the 20th minute and Ruggles delivered a great cross. Unfortunately for Hendon, Davis Haule directed his free header wide of Martini's near post from 8 yards out. RenÃƒÂ© Street was next to go close, heading just wide from a corner. After 27 minutes, Sutton's Matt Fowler went to ground in the penalty area, but appeals for a penalty were ignored by referee Mr S Ticknell.
Just before half-time, Hendon were forced into making a change when Street limped off. He was replaced by Ross Pickett, who moved into a midfield role, with Woolner dropping back into defence and Paul Towler reverting to a central position.
The breakthrough arrived in the 44th minute. Haule and Ofori played a neat 1-2 on the edge of the Sutton penalty area and Haule was all alone as he ran in on goal. Martini tried to spread himself, but HAULE slid the ball under him and into the net.
It was the very least Hendon deserved and they should have extended the lead in stoppage time at the end of the period. Byron Bubb, who had an excellent game replacing the suspended Dale Binns, went on a mazy run which was illegally stopped by an outstretched leg in the "D" of the penalty area. Instead of Simon Clarke taking the kick, it was Woolner, but he lifted the ball hight over the bar. Moments later, a deep cross from Ryan Palmer was tipped over the bar by David Hook, his first real work of the afternoon, apart from collecting a couple of crosses.
The second half was almost as one-sided as the first. In the 54th minute, Mr Ticknell ruled that Cooper was not fouled as he stretched to reach a free-kick from Clarke. From another angle, it looked like a clear-cut penalty.
Two minutes later, Bubb tried his luck from 35 yards and Martini was able only to knock the ball down before regathering. Unfortunately, nobody from Hendon was quick enough to latch onto the rebound before the goalkeeper. In the 62nd minute, Ruggles and Bubb bypassed the Sutton defence with some good passing, but Ruggles was denied by a bad hop which caused him to lift the ball over the bar.
In the 75th minute, it was Towler's turn to fail to take a goalscoring chance (only Clarke and Bates of Hendon did not have opportunities to score). His header from a Clarke corner was athletically caught by a diving Martini, whose effort was far more spectacular than necessary, given that there were no cameras to catch the moment.
After Bubb had shot wide in the 76th minute, Hendon fans began to fear that their inability to get a second goal would prove costly. But their worries remained unfounded as Sutton still could not make inroads into the well-organised Hendon defence.
Relief came in the first minute of stoppage time. A long ball out of defence found Pickett all alone in the centre circle. The Sutton bench were convinced the substitute was offside, but the assistant referee said that a defender near the touchline was playing him on.
Pickett ran in on goal and shot from 25 yards. Martini made a save two yards outside his penalty area but the ball went back to Pickett, who avoided the goalkeeper's second attempt to get a red card and knocked the ball towards goal. Danny Brooker came back and also tried to pull down PICKETT but he too failed and the Hendon man knocked the ball into the empty net.
If Pickett had not scored, it is quite possible that both Martini - for the handball and hold-back - and Brooker - also a hold-back - would have been dismissed. Instead, Hendon celebrated.
Too soon, it seemed, as in the 3rd minute of stoppage time, Paul HONEY fired through a forest of legs to reduce the arrears. It was the first goal Hook had conceded at The LOOT Stadium since 15 September. Less than 10 seconds after restarting play, the final whistle went and Hendon could indeed start celebrating.
"We were excellent in the first half," said a delighted manager Dave Anderson, "and in the second half we were more than good enough."