Hendon produced a performance of magical proportions at Billericay on Saturday. In the first half, the Greens gave some superb entertainment, leaving Billericay's defenders bewildered and confused. After the break, it was a different type of magic; Hendon disappeared.
The Dons were able to name a completely unchanged 14 following Monday's victory over Heybridge. They started the game quite brightly, but were a little unlucky in coming up against a home defence bolstered by two on-loan signings from Dagenham & Redbridge, Jeff Woolsey and ex-England international Steve Conner. The latter did not put a foot wrong.
Gary Fitzgerald went close after 18 minutes, when he drilled a 25-yard shot which was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Gavin King. Simon Clarke enjoyed plenty of room down the left flank and delivered a few crosses.
On the other flank, Matt Howard should have had a field day against the cumbersome Chris Moore, but he concentrated more on his defence responsibilities instead of attacking.
Conner and Woolsey apart, Billericay's defending was shambolic. Davis Haule was charged in the back, just inside the penalty area, as he controlled a ball on his chest. It would have been a very harsh penalty had it been awarded. Like most things in the match, referee, Mr P Crossley (Kent) got this decision right.
John-Simon White then tried a 25-yard shot. It was goalbound, but Conner bravely blocked it without thought of his safety.
Paul Whitmarsh and Dominic Gentle both saw half-chances narrowly miss the target; the latter was desperate to put one over his brother, Justin, playing on the left side for Billericay.
Hendon's goal arrived in the last minute of the first half. Freddie Hyatt curled in a corner. A defensive header sent the ball beyond the far post from where Jon Daly returned it with another cross.
Three defenders jumped for the ball, all missed it and CLARKE struck a side-foot shot from 10 yards just inside the post. For all their first half domination one goal was almost scant reward for Hendon.
The second half was even more one-sided than the first, but it was Billericay who were on top. Former Hendon man Colin Simpson had the ball in the net after 56 minutes, but the assistant referee had been flagging for offside two passes before Simpson netted.
Warren Kelly was in fine form at the heart of the Hendon defence and his no-nonsense clearances should have given Hendon breathing room. Unfortunately, the midfield and strikers could not hold onto the ball for any length of time, putting further pressure on the defence.
Andy Iga was very busy. He caught every one of the numerous crosses delivered by both Justin Gentle - pushed onto the left wing to counter Howard - and Joe Baker - shifted right to restrict White's forays.
Iga also plunged low to left to save from Paul Linger - one of seven players, along with Baker, Simpson, Howard, Clarke, White and Hyatt, who appeared in Hendon's famous FA Cup victory over Leyton Orient in November 1997 - and to his right to deny Dean Parratt.
As Hendon's defending became more desperate, Clarke, Howard and Kelly picked up cautions, but their narrow lead began to look more solid.
Then, in the 75th minute, a bit of indecision between Iga and White resulted in Kelly hacking the ball out for a corner. It was delivered perfectly into the path of CONNER, whose header flew past Iga into the net.
From then on, Billericay looked like the only possible winners. Jason McKoy (for Haule) and Paul Scott (for Gentle) came on for Hendon, but were unable to stem the blue tide.
'Ricky, however, could not find the key to unlock the Hendon rearguard and, on the final whistle, the theme from "The Great Escape" seemed most appropriate for Hendon's largish band of travelling fans.
Mr Murphy said, "We played really well in the first half, but we did nothing after the break." Looking embarrassed to come up with the clich3, he added, "It was a game of two halves." In this case, however, Murphy's comment could not have been more succinct.