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Hendon bounced back from the misery of two cup defeats last week to beat Merthyr Town 2–0 at the Met Coaches Stadium on Saturday, continuing the club’s perfect record against the Welsh club going back to when the Greens beat Merthyr Tydfil in the 1973–74 FA Cup second round proper.
These young Martyrs, replacing the squad which sat out last season because of the pandemic, battled hard but eventually succumbed to their stronger rivals. And there was more good news for the Greens as Joe White made a cameo appearance as a substitute, another of the injured players returning to first-team duties.
Making his debut at centre-back was Sam Dreyer, who joined the Greens from the Stevenage Under-23 squad. He was one of four changes from the team which lost 4–3 to Harrow Borough in the midweek League Cup-tie.
Into the team, as well as Dreyer, were Simeon Olarerin, Wilson Carvalho and Tommy Brewer, coming in for Juan Pablo, Lewis Hobbs, Shaun Lucien and Riccardo Alexander-Greenaway. Another newcomer, George Devine was on the bench, a dual registration signing from Hemel Hempstead Town.
The opening five minutes were quite open, but then the Greens struck with clinical efficiency.
Liam Brooks won the ball in midfield, exchanged passes with Christian Smith and ran into the Merthyr half, making good ground forward. Looking up, he saw Hamza Semakula making a run.
The weight of Brooks’ pass was perfect and SEMAKULA, leaving former Barnet hero Ismael Yakubi trailing in his wake, controlled the ball before slipping it through the legs of the advancing Steven Cann.
Brooks nearly scored a second for Hendon when he ran forward and saw his shot deflected for a corner. He met the set-piece with a header that dropped onto the crossbar before the ball was punched clear by Cann.
Merthyr nearly achieved parity just before the quarter-hour mark. Thomas Hillman tried his luck with a 25-yard shot. The ball kicked up on the bounce and Fred Burbidge, at full stretch, was able to push it around the post.
A few minutes later, a cross into the penalty area was met by the head of late-arriving Elias Youssef. Although Burbidge appeared to be wrong-footed, he twisted in mid-air and athletically tipped the ball over the crossbar.
The Martyrs’ penchant for trying to play the ball out of defence cost them dearly in the 39th minute. With the ball still inside the Merthyr penalty area, Jayden Clarke nipped in front of Daniel Barnard and was brought down by the centre-back.
There was little contact, but Barnard caught Clarke and not the ball. Brooks took responsibility for the spot-kick and lashed the ball into bottom corner, beyond Cann’s vain dive.
After being outmuscled by Hendon in the first half, Merthyr introduced Elijah Phipps after the break to add a more physical presence to their attack and showed their intent to attack by taking off defender Connor Davies.
This was where the experience of Lucas Perry, Keiron Forbes, Tommy Brewer and Smith came to the fore for Hendon. They kept the game simple and let the flair of Semakula, Clarke, Brooks and Carvalho ask the questions of the Martyrs defence.
After 55 minutes, Cann was forced into making a save from Carvalho. A little later, a run and cross from Simeon Olarerin was misplayed by Morgan Clarke and Semakula saw his snap-shot blocked by Cann.
However, Semakula was soon replaced by Devine. Having been cautioned a few minutes earlier, the Hendon management team made sure Semakula could not get into further trouble.
Troy Tizard-Cleghorn was Hendon’s second substitute, coming on for Brooks with 15 minutes remaining. Merthyr’s last one came a minute later when Toby Raison took over from Owen Evans – earlier on Cameron Keetch had been introduced at Kerry Morgan’s expense.
The last ten minutes were, unsurprisingly, rather frantic as Merthyr increased the pressure. Their best chance came from a free-kick when Barnard lofted a bouncing ball towards the far post, where Phipps got his head to the ball but Olarerin was well placed to clear the danger.
Devine, who had twice been denied by Cann, once a shot and the other a run on goal, had claims for a penalty waved aside when he appeared to be barged in the back as he cut in towards goal.
There was another excellent sight for the travelling Hendon fans in the final few minutes when Joe White came off the bench to replace Carvalho, his first action since being injured in preseason.
And he made an important contribution in his own penalty area when he got in the way of a header from Barnard. Whether Burbidge would have been able to make a save or not is moot, it did ensure the Greens kept a clean sheet