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Hendon went into Christmas buzzing after a 4-2 victory over Brightlingsea Regent at a chilly Silver Jubilee Park. The late Regent goal was the very least they deserved after their strong performance, especially early in the second half.
With the run of two games a week continuing, manager Gary McCann has been careful to use his squad in a way that exhaustion is less likely. As a result, Dave Diedhiou came in for Michael Corcoran and the injured Dan Uchechi was replaced by Ashley Nathaniel-George.
After some cautious sparring in the opening minutes, Hendon took the lead with 10 on the clock. Once more, Niko Muir showed his ability to be a creator and his excellent approach work set up Keagan Cole, who scored from just inside the penalty area.
Four minutes later, Jake Turner was denied an equaliser by a superb save from Tom Lovelock, the goalkeeper just tipping the ball away from the angle of post and crossbar. In the 18th minute, at the other end, it was Harry Palmer who covered himself in glory keeping out an effort from Muir.
The Regent goalkeeper was nearly undone by Harly Wise in the 24th minute. Hendon were awarded a free-kick just inside their own half and Wise, spotting Palmer was off his line, smashed the ball goalwards, but it cleared the crossbar by barely a foot.
By this time, Regent had been forced into making their first change. Jack Newman had collided with a team-mate in the first couple of minutes and the pain in his foot continued to get worse. He had already received treatment once, when he went down again and the sign to the bench immediately was that Newman's involvement was at an end, Harry McDonald coming on for him.
After the game, Newman was told that he had probably suffered a fracture - a most unwelcome Christmas present. The suspension of play, while Newman received treatment, did have one positive effect because it gave the Brightlingsea coaching staff to change their system and a half-dozen players received their new instructions.
When it came to stunning strikes this game had more than a few of them, and the next one brought Brightlingsea right back into the game after 27 minutes. Billy Hunt, who had been a very fortunate goalscorer in Essex in August when Arthur Lee's clearance caromed off him into the net, showed that he can score spectacular goals too, and his 25-yarder, which beat Lovelock all ends up, was proof of this.
Buoyed by the goal, Regent began to attack with more conviction, but it must be said that, in the final 15 or so minutes of the first half, neither team managed a noteworthy attempt on target. A couple of Hendon strikes did go close, as did a header from Rian Bray, but Palmer was happy to watch them just clear the crossbar.
The early second half was definitely Brightlingsea's best period of the game. In the 52nd minute, Sam Ashford - for probably the only time in the 90 minutes - got the better of Arthur Lee and set up Turner, but the midfielderÃƒÂ¢Ã‚Â€Ã‚Â™s strike flew across Lovelock and past the far post.
Play quickly went back the other way and Zak Joseph came close to restoring Hendon's lead when, set up by Jake Eggleton, he fired past Palmer from the right side. Covering, however, was Ricky Griggs and the full-back was able to keep the ball out, reaching it a yard or so from the line.
The Greens' advantage was restored with 18 minutes remaining. A ball downfield found Diedhiou breaking forward. He rose higher than Josh Gould and was able to flick the ball further forward.
Diedhiou was certainly favoured by the bounce and found himself in a one-on-one with Palmer. This was a no-contest as Diedhiou rolled the ball past him into the net.
Less than two minutes later, Hendon were just about in the comfort zone. Muir controlled a pass to him close to the goalline just inside the penalty area. He shimmied past Matt Cripps and as the ball sat up for him, Muir crashed a shot inside the near post with such power that the adage of goalkeeper always being at fault if beaten at his near-post, simply didn't apply.
Corcoran and Sam Murphy came on as substitutes, replacing Cole and Casey Maclaren, respectively, in the final 10 minutes, while Louie Newland took over from Ashford at about the same time. The Greens made their last change entering the final minute of normal time with Josh Walker taking over from the industrious Nathaniel-George.
The change had an almost immediate effect, because Walker was on hand to finish off a superb run from Joseph which had taken him past Matt Cripps and Griggs before he rolled the ball into the middle of the penalty area, six yards out.
There was still time for Brightlingsea to get a second consolation goal. There was almost no time on the clock when a drive from McDonald came off Lovelock's hands and the ball was turned into the net at close range by Hunt.