A second-half strike from Matt Bartholomew, his first senior goal for Hendon, brought the Greens a Ryman League point against Basingstoke Town at the Camrose Ground on Saturday. It was a battling performance, the third consecutive season in which Hendon have come back from 1-0 down to earn a 1-1 away draw against 'Stoke.
The rain fell like tears from a baleful slate-grey sky, not so much drenching the faithful fans huddled against the inclement weather, more reaffirming the fact that the seasons have gone into reverse, from winter back to autumn.
Referee Mr S Head (Bucks), passed the pitch fit less than 90 minutes before the kick-off, the correct decision, but one which certainly kept the crowd down. He decided, however, neither to follow the Football League and Conference by kicking off at 3.06 pm, nor to have a minute's silence in memory of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989.
Davis Haule was the only change to the Hendon starting line-up, swapping with Dale Binns, who moved to the subs' bench. Basingstoke started brightly and Gary McCann produced an excellent save to deny Ian Mancey, a frequent thorn in Hendon's side over the years, following a long throw-in by Jason Bristow.
It did not take long for Hendon to start causing problems for the home defence. Dominic Gentle and Paul Scott were well prompted by Haule and Freddie Hyatt, but they could not get shots on target to trouble Scott Tarr.
The rain should have encouraged both sets of teams to shoot from long-distance in the hope of discomforting the opposing goalkeepers with the ball bouncing off the slick surface. Hendon's only efforts on target were weak ones from Paul Towler and Gentle, the latter after a good run past a couple of defenders. McCann had only one effort to deal with and that was at easy catching height.
For all their pressure, Hendon could not be considered on top, because Basingstoke were happy to attack on the break. And this was how they opened the scoring in the 35th minute.
Glen Howes slid a perfect diagonal pass into the path of Tim Sills, who ran into acres of space. McCann came off his line to narrow the angle but SILLS shot early and McCann was well beaten.
The ball, however, was not certain to cross the goal-line as it had not been struck with great power. A yard from the line, the ball landed in a puddle and floated just inside the post, the standing water doing enough to divert the ball into the net.
The goal lifted Basingstoke and they played with greater confidence. A free-kick from Steve Winter beat McCann all ends up, but it flew a couple of inches wide of the post, hitting the side netting. Steve Harris, an own goal scorer at LOOT Stadium in December, came close to notching at the right end early in the second half, but his header went just over the crossbar.
Hendon then began to exert some serious pressure on Basingstoke's defence. Scott was tripped by Harris just outside the penalty area when he appeared to have a clear run on goal, but Simon Clarke's free-kick was blocked. A neat chip by Hyatt sprang both Haule and Scott clear, but they did not communicate and combined to knock the golden opportunity wide.
Another attack was hampered by the assistant referee who flagged for offside against Jon Daly although he was chasing his own block of a Basingstoke clearance. Any thoughts of crossing he may have had were rendered useless as no Hendon forward ventured into the penalty area upon seeing the flag, despite Mr Head correctly overruling the flag.
In the 73rd minute, Scott sprang the offside trap and Tarr did well to block his shot as he rushed off his line. The ball fell to Gentle, who drilled the ball towards goal. Julian Sills did brilliantly to head the ball off the line for a corner.
Hyatt curled the kick in and Bartholomew rose highest, but succeeded only in sending the ball higher in the air. Tarr came for the ball but, under pressure in the crowded 6-yard-box, could not get any distance on the punch.
The ball bounced down and BARTHOLOMEW was first to react, turning and drilling the ball through a forest of bodies and legs into the net. It was as scrappy a goal as you could wish to see, but the glee with which it was greeted showed how important it was for both scorer Bartholomew and the rest of the team.
Hyatt and Haule then were both guilty of trying to be too clever on the edge of the penalty area and failed to get off shots. At the other end, McCann was twice almost embarrassed by the quagmire outside his penalty area. First Towler hurried a backpass to him which was sliced away. Then a through ball did not reach him and he could not clear the ball at all.
The keeper tried to take the ball around Mancey, could not do so and lost possession to the striker as the pair ran towards the left Basingstoke left wing. Referee Mr Head decided that McCann had fouled Mancey as he tried to kick ball into touch, but it was outside the penalty area and the action was going away from goal.
In the 89th minute, Basingstoke thought they had won the match when substitute Mark Lisk powered a header past McCann from a corner. Luckily for Hendon, the header just missed the target.
"It was a hard battle, but I thought we were worth a point," said satisfied manager Frank Murphy. "They are really hard to beat at home."