For the second season running Hendon belied their fairly average status and opened their Southern League campaign with a hard fought and deserved point from a tricky looking game on the road, this time denying Steve Claridge’s Salisbury side three points with a strong showing in the final quarter of the match.
There were Hendon league debuts for Dwade James and Jayden Clarke – the latter the one change from the London Senior Cup winning XI as he replaced Samrai Gebrai – and there were welcome returns for Joe White and Liam Brooks amongst the substitutes.
The Greens couldn’t have made a worse start as they fell behind inside 50 seconds. A loose pass inside the Salisbury half saw the Whites move the ball forward with purpose. Dominic Jefferies outfought Tommy Brewer down the right-hand side and cut the ball back adroitly to the penalty spot where Marvin Brooks, who scored at SJP last season for Poole, swept the ball superbly first time into the top corner of the net to give the hosts the lead.
For the next twenty minutes or so, aside from the occasional sporadic raid down the left by Shaun Lucien, the Greens were at sixes and sevens – sometimes eights – defensively as it looked as though their hosts would overwhelm them. Jonathan North made the first of four splendid saves to deny Brooks a second around the quarter hour mark before the Greens found themselves on terms in sensational style.
The ball broke for Sam Corcoran inside the centre circle and looking up, no more than a pace inside the Salisbury half, he spotted Liam Armstrong just outside his penalty area. The chip from the Hendon midfielder had the Salisbury goalkeeper backpedalling like a hamster stuck in reverse as it sailed over his head, under the crossbar and into the net – joined by the crumpled Armstrong a split second later.
It was yet another impudent piece of skill and remarkable vision from Corcoran, whose two Hendon goals have come from a combined yardage in excess of 100 yards. Having come close to executing the same move a fortnight before against St Albans, this was no fluke.
The goal settled the Greens down somewhat although the Whites continued to have the better of the chances. North made a fine save with strong hands low to his left to repel Lewis Benson’s free kick and he then denied his former Wealdstone team-mate Dan Fitchett with a more comfortable stop after the Salisbury striker had stretched well to get his header on target.
The early running after the break was once again made by the hosts and the early chances fell to the Whites. Former Dorchester winger Antonio Diaz was denied by another very good North save and then Brooks again tested North with a powerful drive that the goalkeeper was more than equal to once again. Lucien did force Armstrong to his knees with a low curler at the other end but the Bristol Rovers loanee showed safe handling to hold the ball.
The hosts went ahead again on the hour mark when Benson’s corner kick dropped in the heart of the Hendon 6-yard box and Lucas Perry, at full stretch, could only divert his clearance beyond the startled North and into the bottom corner.
Immediately Joe White entered the fray for Clarke and within five minutes Luca Allinson and Liam Brooks came on for Corcoran and the ever-willing but largely isolated Dwade James. The move transformed the Greens as an attacking force, moved them 20 yards further up the pitch as White and Brooks really began to trouble the two home centre-halves.
They had almost linked up a couple of times before Brooks harried Charlie Kennedy into a hurried header back to Armstrong. Once again, the goalkeeper’s starting position could be queried as he was a couple of yards outside his penalty area. Had he been behind his 18-yard line it was a simple claim but as he couldn’t handle the ball, he tied himself into all sorts of contortions trying to deal with the bouncing ball. White was onto it like a whippet, dispossessed the goalkeeper before finding Brooks who kept his head to plant the ball beyond the desperately covering defender.
Hendon enjoyed their best spell of the game and twice came close to one-on-one situations, only to be denied by tight – but correct – flags from the assistant. Diaz went close in stoppage time when he planted his far-post header wide of the upright when he probably should have hit the target and with just seconds remaining White worked himself half a yard for a shot at goal but was denied by a splendid covering challenge by Kennedy.
Having come off a two-hour test on Monday evening against Brentford’s B team, once again Lee Allinson’s Hendon side showed themselves full of character and resolve to win the club’s first ever point at the Raymond McEnhill Stadium.
The team sheet looked good on paper, but the Whites didn’t live up to that on the pitch against a fairly average Hendon side, and this was certainly a case of throwing away two points – and that, even more disappointingly, after the best possible start.
That came after only 49 seconds and had the standard of the move which produced the opening goal been repeated, then surely the visitors would have been put to the sword, but as it was that was just about all there was to savour for most of the very good crowd who came for the long-awaited first league game of the season. Lewis Benson started the move and won the ball just inside the Hendon half before passing wide to Dominic Jeffries. He did well to get to the byeline and played an inviting ball to Marvin Brooks who, without hesitation, arrowed a right foot shot into the top corner, giving visiting keeper Jonathan North no chance.
Mouths open in celebration – except for one! – ©Roger Elliott
Elation at the creation – ©Michael Berkeley
For a time afterwards the Whites looked comfortable and on 16 minutes Jefferies was again involved in creating another chance for Brooks, chipping the ball over a defender, but the keeper did his job well to block the finish.
Keeper North goes north to keep out Brooks – ©Michael Berkeley
And that was about as good as it got at the start of the game, as, after 20 minutes, Hendon scored an equaliser- and what an equaliser it was! Sam Corcoran, in the centre circle, had the ball at his feet, looked up, saw Liam Armstrong off his line, and launched a tremendous effort from about the halfway line which caught the keeper backpedalling in vain as the ball dipped under the bar. Fluke? I don’t think so, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion and as I understand that this is something which Corcoran does quite regularly and the hackneyed “practice this in training” phrase was not used I’ll give him the benefit of any doubt. I hope the Whites will be aware of his capabilities in future meetings.
Fluke or skill – questionable, but definite despair for Liam Armstrong – ©Michael Berkeley
1-1 seemed a little unjust at the time and it appeared that the balance was going to be restored when on 23 minutes a Benson free kick forced North into a good save low to his left, and also with five minutes remaining before half-time when Salisbury appealed, in vain, for a penalty.
Just before the half-time whistle a Benson cross found Dan Fitchett at the near post but the difficult header was not strong enough to beat the keeper and 1-1 it was at the break.
Dan Fitchett diverts a difficult ball, with no luck – ©Roger Elliott
Two minutes after the restart, Antonio Diaz brought a good save from North once more, having received the short ball from Brooks before trying his luck with a left foot effort, but the away side threatened, mildly, shortly afterwards, with Shaun Lucien allowed time to cut back in on his right foot to test Armstrong, who was equal to the effort.
Of 56 minutes great feet by Brooks saw him try his own snapshot which also produced a good save from the Hendon keeper, and when the Whites took the lead on the hour that really should have sewn up the game in their favour. A Benson corner landed plumb in the danger area and it was so awkward for Lucas Perry that he could not avoid diverting it into the net.
©Michael Berkeley – Pinpoint Lewis Benson corner causes own goal chaos. – ©Roger Elliott
It only took another 11 minutes however before the Whites hit the self-destruct button with a mixup between Charlie Kennedy and Armstrong seeing the ball arrive at the feet of Liam Brooks who gleefully deposited it into the empty net.
Hendon now had the bit between their teeth but the game came to an end with a chance for each side. Diaz will be disappointed with his header from Elliott Wheeler’s pinpoint cross going just the wrong side of the upright, and in time added Hendon’s Joe White will also have been disappointed to be thwarted by a great Kennedy block.
Maybe it was the great sense of expectation, at a home opener, or the extra pressure in playing for points, at last, which was instrumental in the Whites’ showing, but had they played half as well as they did against the higher standard of opposition provided by Eastleigh, then they would surely have romped away with the points. It was not to be however, and it turns the next challenge, in the FA Cup at Kidlington on Wednesday, into an opportunity to put things right by a team still with something to prove.