Hendon should have enjoyed the second half of their penultimate home Ryman League Premier Division game of the season on Saturday by running up a cricket score against Walton & Hersham after taking a comfortable 2-0 half-time lead. Instead, the Greens became lazy and lost two points, allowing the Swans to snatch a well-deserved point which will probably not be enough to keep them in the top flight.
Magnificent work on the pitch by a gang of Hendon people, led by vice chairman Andrew Landesberg, managed to make the LOOT Stadium pitch playable, although there were a few heavily sanded areas dotted around the ground. Behind the goal there was a large puddle, giving an indication of how wet it was. That being said, the playing surface did not look too bad.
There was no lack of goalmouth action, with goalkeepers Adrian Blake of Walton and Andy Iga of Hendon making two good saves in the opening 25 minutes. Blake denied Marvyn Watson with legs after 7 minutes and Davis Haule with an athletic leap after 25. Iga thwarted Marc Coates, spreading himself well, after 22 minutes and then caught a rasping drive from Liam Collins.
The Walton defence was showing signs of collapsing and it was no surprise when the opening goal arrived after 29 minutes. Haule received a short pass from Paul Towler. Jon Daly and Paul Whitmarsh were both unmarked nearer to goal and Haule fed the latter. Whitmarsh turned towards goal and unselfishly sent the ball into Daly's path. Blake had moved to narrow the angle for Whitmarsh, so DALY had the simple task of putting the ball into the almost unguarded net.
Marcus Rose was having an absolute nightmare at left back for Walton and he and team-mate Alan Dowson almost came to blows after a one piece of work which almost set up Daly for a second goal. Rose's distribution. It was no surprise he did not reappear for the second half.
A minute into stoppage time at the end of the first half, Dowson attempted yet another clearance. This time however, HAULE blocked it, skipped past a couple of defenders and shot low past Blake into the corner. The former Wembley man has take time to settle in at Hendon, but goals in the last two games highlight his improvement in recent weeks.
The second half was a massive disappointment for Hendon fans. Too many players just assumed the game was won and coasted through the final 45 minutes. Daly was denied by Blake in a one on one, but the Swans' defence looked not only stronger but better organised in a four-man rearguard. It was, nonetheless, a surprise when Walton came back into the game after 58 minutes. Hendon were caught in possession just outside the penalty area. Walton knocked the ball forward and a Hendon defender seemed about to clear it but slipped and fell onto the ball.
The ball certainly struck a green-and-white-shirted arm, but there was no attempt to touch the ball or to gain advantage. Referee Mr P Crossley (London) saw his assistant Mr Perry flag and immediately pointed to the penalty spot. COATES sent Iga the wrong way from 12 yards.
Curtis Warmington got a kick from Ross Pickett and made it clear to the Walton man that he was unhappy with the challenge. Mr Crossley, however, missed both the original incident and the Hendon man's reaction. He however had a clear view of Warmington's retaliation, which brought him a yellow card and a seat on the bench as Matt Howard substituted him. After 68 minutes Bontcho Guentchev replaced Watson.
After 73 minutes, Walton made the their second substitution, replacing Collins with David Adekola. He had to sprint into the penalty area because Coates was about to take a free kick 30 yards from goal, near to the right touchline. The ball was curled in beautifully and ADEKOLA got a flick on the ball to send it into the corner of the net, without a single Hendon player moving.
Within seconds, Haule had set up Whitmarsh with a brilliant chance to restore Hendon's lead, but last season's leading scorer's predatory instincts are duller this year and he scuffed his shot badly. Blake collected what was little more than a backpass.
Guentchev set up Dominic Gentle, Whitmarsh's 78th minute replacement, with one fine chance, but Gentle could not take advantage of it. It was a frustrating end to a beautiful afternoon. For Hendon victory would have kept alive their faint hopes of a top 7 finish; for Walton, even victories at home to both Billericay and Canvey Island may not be enough to save them from the drop.
"I told the players that their second half performance was unsatisfactory," said furious manager Frank Murphy. "We had the game won at half-time but threw it away."