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Hendon moved back into the Bostik League Premier Division playoffs with a comfortable victory over Thurrock at Silver Jubilee Park on Saturday afternoon. Three goals in five minutes midway through the opening half put Hendon in control and the Greens rather cruised through the remainder of the afternoon, though the margin of victory could, and probably should, have been significantly larger.
There were four changes to the team which had won so heroically at Arbour Park, Slough, on Tuesday night, Dan Purdue, Jake Eggleton, Michael Corcoran and Zak Joseph making way for Tom Lovelock, Channing Campbell-Young, Casey Maclaren and Josh Walker, the latter's first appearance for more than a month.
Thurrock almost made the perfect start when a raid up the left wing resulted in a ball across the penalty area. Although there were three pale blue shirts in attendance, none could get to the ball and the chance went begging.
The response from Hendon was quick and Maclaren saw his effort after seven minutes saved by Jake Jessup. In the 10th minute, Thurrock failed to clear a corner and Walker almost marked his comeback with a goal. but his effort hit a post.
In the 19th minute, Hendon attacked down the left side, with Sam Murphy and Dan Uchechi combining before setting up Walker, who could not find a space to shoot, so he passed to Maclaren.
The Greens' captain fired a shot which was going close to the post, but a deflection diverted the ball into the net with Jessup hopelessly wrong-footed. It was Maclaren's 50th Hendon goal, the fourth Greens player to reach the landmark in Gary McCann's management tenure.
Three minutes later, another Hendon player reached a landmark, Dave Diedhiou making it 40 Hendon goals. Once again Jessup was unlucky as a deflection, not as obvious the one gifting Maclaren the opening goal, left the big goalkeeper with no chance of reaching the trundling ball as it rolled just inside the right post.
There was no luck involved the Greens' third goal, in the 25th minute. Ashley Nathaniel-George was given space on the right wing and he got the better of Remi Sutton before passing the ball into the penalty area.
Niko Muir beat Christain Affour-Okoto to the ball but was moving away from goal, with near post behind his left shoulder. Nonetheless, Muir was able to turn and his shot from an acute angle surprised Jessup, whose attempted kick save was in vain, and rolled just inside the far post.
Thurrock should have pulled a goal back within five minutes. Ronnie Winn and Hamilton Bunga combined down the left side and the ball across the penalty area evaded everyone until it reached Reece Morgan, who should have done better than striking the near post with his close-range effort and so much of the goal unmanned.
Muir came close to making it 4-0 after 35 minutes and there was danger whenever Hendon attacked. It was not one-way traffic, but the big difference between the teams was that Channing-Young, Murphy, Rian Bray and Arthur Lee kept Thurrock too far from goal.
Fleet had another chance after 39 minutes when Lewwis Spence was fouled just outside the penalty area. The captain took the free-kick himself and struck the outside of a post with his effort.
However, on the stroke of half-time Fleet pulled a goal back. Sutton worked his way into the penalty area, trying to get the better of Campbell-Young. Sutton cleverly changed the angle of his run and the young defender clipped his heels.
It was clumsy, but not malicious, and unquestionably a penalty, even if Campbell-Young disagreed. Winn had the responsibility for the spot-kick and he lashed the ball into the bottom corner, the rebound back to the six-yard-box from the stanchion momentarily suggesting the ball had hit a post.
Thurrock's management team made their intentions clear by making a change at half-time, replacing Banda with Michael Pindy. The substitute showed flashes of his skill almost immediately, but he fired wide of the target from just outside the penalty area.
This was the start of five minutes of pressure from Fleet, but Tom Lovelock had only one save to make and it was of the routine variety. Then Spence, Morgan and Stimson set up Winn, but Bray made a superb tackle to dispossess him. And, having seen off that spell, the Greens returned to the offensive.
The power and variety of the Hendon attack gave the Thurrock defence fits, with Walker, Nathaniel-George, Uchechi and Muir offering different threats. With almost an hour gone, the three-goal lead was restored.
When Walker tried to get the better of Baffour-Akoto it looked like the defender had done enough to deal with the danger, but he then tried to dispossess Walker and brought him down to concede penalty. Muir made it a double with a comfortable conversion of the penalty kick.
In truth, Muir, having scored twice, should have scored another three, all of which were easier than his first goal. In the 65th minute, Nathaniel-George set him up after a mesmerising right-wing run, but Muir's flick went just wide of the far post.
Ten minutes later, a misplaced header in midfield gave Muir the chance to get behind the last Thurrock defender. He had only Jessup to beat, but goalkeeper stuck out his giant frame and saved with a combination of hand and leg.
Stimson and Oli both had late chances to reduce the arrears, but the former's header was comfortably saved by Lovelock and the latter, set up by substitute Timothy Ogunrinde, flashed just wide of the goal.
Matt Ball and Keagan Cole came on for Walker and Maclaren, respectively, and with seven minutes remaining, Kezie Ibe took over from Uchechi. Then, in stoppage time, Muir tried to lob the ball over Jessup, who had been quick to come off his line, but the ball dipped just too late, cleared the crossbar and landed just behind the goal.