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Hendon came up just short against Margate at a freezing cold Hartsdown Park on Saturday. Although the Gate had more of the possession and territory, the Greens certainly had chances and they were thwarted by three superb saves from goalkeeper Paddy Lee.
In the two and a half years since the controversial Premier Division playoff final between the teams at Earlsmead much has changed, Margate - promoted then relegated from the National League South - are under new ownership with a third manager, and Hendon have a new home. Indeed only three of the 32 named in that game in May 2015 were on the teamsheets at Hartsdown Park, Casey Maclaren, Dave Diedhiou and Kezie Ibe, all of Hendon.
The Greens almost took the lead in the opening 30 seconds. Niko Muir collected a pass midway inside the Margate half, ran a few yards forward and unleashed a powerful shot which Lee did well to save.
Shaken by this, Margate were quick to move forward and, for most of the game's opening quarter, they were on top. Two or three half-chances were created, but no efforts were put on target.
However, a simple ball out of midfield led to the opening goal. Frannie Collin has made a career out of scoring goals - many have come against Hendon, going back almost a decade - and when he angled his run into the pass, ahead of the last defender, there was only one outcome, Tom Lovelock having little chance of making a save.
The Greens struggled to keep out a rampant Gate attack, but Arthur Lee and Rian Bray did just about enough. Hendon's midfield of Josh Walker, Diedhiou, Maclaren and Michael Corcoran initially did not get enough ball to set up Ashley Nathaniel-George or Muir.
Margate could not keep up their great pace, and not only were Jake Eggleton and Sam Murphy then able to supplement Walker and Nathaniel-George out wide, but also the central midfield trio exerted more control as the game changed.
In the 27th minute, a superb ball from Corcoran released Muir and his powerful drive was athletically clawed away by Lee, a magnificent save. The corner, however, led to the Greens' equaliser as Margate conceded a second corner and this one was not so much headed clear as away from immediate danger.
First to reach the ball was Nathaniel-George, but he was confronted by two men in blue. Nathaniel-George got past the first, worked himself an improved angle and bent a shot which curled around Lee, kissed the far post and rolled over the line in the middle of the goal.
For the remainder of the half, Hendon were on top and Walker and Nathaniel-George were constant threats. Corcoran headed over from a corner and Maclaren was just wide with a header, but Margate just about rode out the storm until the interval.
Although Margate started the second half on the front foot, the first chance of the period went to Hendon. Nathaniel-George somehow got the better of half-time substitute Nathan Fox - on for Jack Evans - and suddenly he had a clear run at goal.
Lee came off his line to narrow the angle but seemed to have left a gap at his near post. Muir was charging up in support and called for the ball.
If Nathaniel-George had shot at goal, despite Lee, he would probably have scored. If the pass to Muir had been to the 23-goal man's feet, he would definitely have scored (note to Hendon fans, Niko Muir should never be confused with Blaise O'Brien when faced with an empty goal at Margate's clubhouse end).
Unfortunately, the pass was not only overstruck, it was hit behind Muir and although he got to the ball first, the covering defence did enough to ensure Muir could not get a shot at goal. If Hendon had made it 2-1, the game would probably gone in a very different direction.
Instead, Margate breathed a collective sigh of relief and returned to the attack. Kane Haysman and David Martin were outlets out wide, while Jay May and Collin posed the questions down the middle.
Just past the hour mark, the pressure told. Hendon had a chance to clear the danger but Margate regained the ball and when it came to Collin, he smacked the ball into the net.
With 13 minutes to go, Gate extended their lead. A ball to the left wing found Tom Wynter in acres of space. No one closed him down and his cross went beyond the far post where Martin arrived late to find the net.
Hendon's response was immediate, replacing Corcoran with Zak Joseph. Within a minute, a ball from the right wing was not cleared at the far post and Diedhiou came in powerfully to score from inside the six-yard box for his fourth goal in six games.
Maclaren went close with an overhead kick and Diedhiou almost got himself a double with a shot that fizzed just over the crossbar. But the closest Hendon came to a goal was a strike by Maclaren from the edge of the penalty area which Lee palmed aside and Muir fouled James Rogers as both raced for the ball which was trickling towards the line.
Margate were rocking and desperately tried to run out time. They sent on Matt Bodkin and Jordon Chiedozie for Wynter and Hayman, respectively, while Hendon substituted Nathaniel-George with Ibe.
Four minutes of added time was shown on the board and Hendon didn't really threaten the Margate goal as the veteran Gate players were professionally cool in defending close to the Hendon corner flag.