Hendon just about ensured their Premier Division safety with a 3-2 defeat of Billericay at cold and blustery LOOT Stadium on Monday night.
The illness bug which had recently claimed Freddie Hyatt (briefly), Bontcho Guentchev and Marvyn Watson, took Nathan Edwards during the day meaning that the three others had to be involved in the line-up. Davis Haule and Warren Kelly's absence forced Frank Murphy to name himself on the bench along with Guentchev and Dale Binns.
Watson started in midfield, alongside Hyatt and Jon Daly. Paul Scott again partnered Dominic Gentle up front while Matt Howard and Simon Clarke were wing-backs outside the recalled Curtis Warmington, Gary Fitzgerald and Matt Bartholomew.
With a strong wind at their backs. Hendon needed to make a good start and they did just that. In the 7th minute, Billericay had three attempts to clear a Freddie Hyatt cross, under pressure from Gentle and Scott. The last attempt was too close to SCOTT, who almost inadvertently lifted his thigh and flicked the ball past Gavin King for his first first-team goal.
Watson was leading the Blues defence a merry dance, but the final ball was always just lacking the necessary accuracy to unlock the rearguard. Billericay were at full stretch and a second was imminent
It arrived in the 23rd minute from a rather unlikely source. Hyatt curled in a free kick 40 yards from goal. King called for the ball and seemed to have no trouble in gathering it as it was carried by the breeze towards him. CLARKE had other ideas and launched himself at the ball.
His bullet header a yard in front of the keeper flew into the middle of the unguarded net. The wing-back's two goals this season have both come against Billericay.
In the rare position of enjoying a two-lead, Hendon proceeded to play some neat football. However, the Greens failed to capitalise and were indebted to Hyatt who made a stunning goal-line clearance following a rare Billericay foray into the Hendon territory.
Hendon didn't learn their lesson and, in the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half, the Blues grabbed a lifeline. A long ball raked through the Hendon defence and found nobody around. Joe BAKER ran onto the ball and slipped it neatly past Andy Iga.
The second half was pretty much one-way traffic, with Billericay forcing the pace. A needless foul by Gary Fitzgerald, in the 57th minute, as Iga came out catch a long downfield ball, gave Billericay a penalty which Dean PARRATT converted.
Hendon immediately replaced Watson - who had run out of steam - with Binns, the youngest Hendon sub by 17 years. The only winners looked like Billericay, but the last goal went the other way.
In the 64th minute, a pass to Dominic Gentle, who had a much better game than brother Justin in the opposite No. 11 shirt, found him just outside the penalty area.
A neat bit of control brought the ball down and, after turning GENTLE drilled a 25-yard shot high into the net. King appeared to have his weight on the wrong foot, because he made absolutely no attempt to stop the shot.
Billericay's attempts to get something grew increasingly desperate, but Iga did produce a couple of fine reaction saves, as well acting as sweeper behind the three centre-backs when downfield passes eluded them.
In the 81st minute, 35-year-old Guentchev came on for Scott and despite playing barely 20 minutes of first team football in two months, looked very sharp. He came close to setting up Gentle and Binns with good passes.
The last sub came on in stoppage time, 40-something-year-old Murphy taking Gentle's place. The "old geezers" should have made the game safe within a minute. Murphy passed to Guentchev, who jinked inside a defender and laid the ball back into Murphy's path.
The boss had the opportunity to shoot, but instead laid a perfect pass into the path of Binns, who missed from 4 yards out, Guentchev also having deferred to youth in accepting the chance.
"I should have had that shot," growled Murphy. "I put the ball on a plate for Dale and he missed it. Seriously, we did well tonight under difficult circumstances. We are now in the top half of the table."