Hendon's brave fightback against Canvey Island fell just short on Saturday. Despite winning the corner count 7-4, the Greens' 3-2 defeat at Park Lane was probably just about the right result on a difficult afternoon.
There were 10 changes to the starting line-up following last Saturday's squad 6-5 extra time defeat at Heybridge, only Paul Johnson retaining his place. The long injury list was supplemented by the suspension-induced absence of Davis Haule, meaning that the starting 11 almost picked itself.
Canvey could not have hoped for a better start than the one they got, although Hendon will feel their efforts in contributing to the opening goal were far from satisfactory. The move started on the Gulls' left side and a defender had chance to clear but failed. The cross into the penalty area was aimless, but the defensive header out of the box was equally poor and the ball fell to John Kennedy, whose spectacular strike flew beyond Paul Newell's dive into the net.
That was just about the only real goalmouth excitement of the first half. Referee Mr R Ward (Milton Keynes) had an excellent game in the middle, ably assisted by two competent assistants, and he let the game flow while taking account of the cloying conditions that was one light rain shower away from being unplayable. Mr Ward showed Jon Daly a yellow card in the first half for a foul on Steve Tilson that looked very ugly, but appeared to be the result of the Hendon man slipping as he went to challenge.
Canvey like to pass the ball quickly and attack at speed (goalkeeper Ashley Harrison's distribution was particularly impressive), but all too often their final ball was too rushed and wayward. Newell made one routine save from Tilson, the former Southend man failing to strike the ball with much authority.
For Hendon, Johnson curled a free-kick a yard wide of Harrison's far post, but the goalkeeper had his angles spot on. More than once, players failed to anticipate a pass or loose ball and the Gulls' defenders were more than happy to clear the danger with unsubtle boots. In the 40th minute, Steve Ward slipped in his own penalty area, giving David Adekola a chance, but Micky Bennett threw himself in front of the Nigerian's shot to block it.
Hendon started the second half brightly, but again failed to test Harrison. The best chance fell to Phil Gridelet, who failed to capitalise on a weak defensive header from Ben Chenery by firing high over the crossbar with Harrison out of position. Then, in the 57th minute, the defence went to sleep. Conceding a throw-in near to their goal-line, Hendon dozed off in defence and when the cross from Chenery came in, nobody had tracked Neil Gregory, who tucked the ball home.
Three minutes later, Canvey stretched their lead to 3 goals with a move of some quality. A succession of passes drew Hendon's defence badly out of position and when Mark Stimson crossed, Gregory was again alone and he scored his second goal of the afternoon. Before the restart, Hendon made a couple of changes, Adekola and Johnson being replaced by Nathan Edwards and Bontcho Guentchev. The formation was changed too, and it bore immediate fruit.
A clearance from Newell was flicked on by Edwards into the path of Dale Binns, much happier and more dangerous in his wide role. He danced past Kennedy and drilled a low cross into the danger area. Harrison came out for the ball but spilled it. Edwards continued his run into the penalty area and was on hand to knock the ball into the net.
On paper, Canvey were comfortable in their two-goal lead. On the grass and mud of Park Lane the opposite was true. Paul Towler should have pulled another goal back after 78 minutes when he had a clear shot at a loose ball following a corner from Iain Duncan. With no time to set himself, and stretching slightly, Towler fired about 10 yards wide from 8 yards out.
There were significantly better efforts from Guentchev, who had an inspired 30 minutes. He left Harrison beaten by efforts to both his left and right, but both flew narrowly the wrong side of the post from Hendon's perspective.
In the 83rd minute, Hendon made it 3-2 following their best move of the match. Paul Adolphe - who produced one of his most effective performances of the season - Simon Clarke, Edwards and Binns were all involved, before Binns sprinted past Kennedy and fired a shot that would have ended in the Thames Estuary but was stopped by the goal net.
In the 88th minute, Duncan crossed the ball deep into the penalty area. Harrison came for the ball, but misjudged its flight. He was able to recover his position and got his hands to the ball near to the line. At this point he became aware of how close he was to carrying the ball into his own goal and he stumbled a little on landing, losing control of the ball. Edwards was sniffing for the chance of a simple tap-in, but Harrison was able to grasp and hang on to the ball at the third attempt.
"We were forced to shuffle the pack about a bit and were a little naive," said a disappointed Frank Murphy. "It wasn't so much bad defending cost us goals, more switching off. We let too many crosses get into the box. We played well enough though and had enough chances to get back into the game."