Hendon returned to the top of the Ryman League Premier Division table, and kept up their unbeaten run, with a well-deserved 2–2 draw against pre-season title favourites Lewes on Sunday.
Equally encouraging was the crowd of 293 at Vale Farm, the second-biggest to visit Hendon since the club left Claremont Road in 2008.
Less happy was the post-match discussion, almost all of which centred around the performance of the three match officials. Three major issues arose and, it must be admitted, Hendon benefited from two of them.
The Greens named an unchanged starting XI, with the only two alterations on the substitutes bench where a fit-again Kevin Maclaren replaced the injured Jerome Federici, while Aaron Morgan took over from Isaiah Rankin. Unusually, Lewes included a player who had played against Hendon in their last match. Christian Nanetti – substituted after 58 minutes for Harrow Borough on Monday – was named to the Rooks bench, and he came on after 74 minutes.
Lewes made a fantastic start to the match, scoring inside two minutes. Hendon conceded a free-kick on their left side just outside their penalty area. The ball was played in and Max Hustwick powered a header, which Berkley Lawrencin did well to block.
The rebound, however, was not cleared and Michael Malcolm drove the ball back towards goal, only to see it blocked by a defender. When the next rebound fell to him, MALCOLM made no mistake, hammering the ball home from close range. It was the first time Hendon had trailed this season.
The Greens’ reaction was positive and they nearly drew level when Greg Ngoyi glanced a header just wide of the far post.
In the 17th minute, a poor punch from Stuart Robinson fell to Elliott Godfrey, who controlled the ball before drilling a shot towards the top corner. The giant Robinson flung himself to his left to make a spectacular save.
Instead of praise, the goalkeeper was berated by Lewes skipper Steve Robinson, who, in no uncertain terms, felt his backstop should have made Greg Ngoyi pay physically for the temerity of trying to reach Scott Cousins’s cross. Jamie Busby was then off-target with his shot from the resulting corner.
But goalkeeper Robinson was not so fortunate in the 27th minute. Having gathered the ball inside his penalty area, he launched a clearance down field. The assistant referee spotted that the goalkeeper had taken a stride outside his penalty area before releasing the ball and flagged immediately.
Play went on for a few seconds before the referee was made aware of his assistant’s flag and, after consulting with him, awarded Hendon a free-kick almost a yard outside the penalty area. Technically, it was handball the instant the ball was carried outside the box, not where it was released by the goalkeeper, but Hendon weren’t about to look this gift-horse in the mouth and complain.
The complaint came from Rooks manager Steve King, who said that it was the first time in ten years of managing that he had seen a goalkeeper penalised for this offence. As the goalkeeper had not denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity, he was correctly not shown a red card, but a yellow – for a deliberate handball – might have been a correct sanction.
Godfrey, however, issued the real punishment. After the wall had been pushed back 11 yards, the former Canadian Under-23 international rifled the ball past the wall and Stuart Robinson’s dive, though why the goalkeeper decided to position himself behind his wall is something only he knows.
The next big controversy came in the 31st minute, when Lewes broke quickly from defence. Malcolm and Nic Ciardini exchanged passes, but the former was sent crashing to the ground inside the penalty area after contact with Dave Diedhiou.
Covering defender Ryan Wharton was convinced the offence took place outside the penalty area, but that was only the initial contact; the challenge which actually sent Malcolm to the ground was inside the box. The referee’s assistant did not signal for a penalty, so the referee awarded a free-kick.
This was a decision which enraged Steve Robinson who, without punishment, sprinted almost 50 metres to tell the referee that he had got his decision wrong and that Diedhiou should be dismissed. FIFA’s advice to referees is that players who wave imaginary cards in their faces should be cautioned, but official did not do so, but he did show Diedhiou a yellow card.
Paul Booth had two attempts at the free-kick, 19 yards from the goal. The first bounced off the defensive wall, the second missed the goal, so the scores remained level.
That was the way the scores stayed until half-time, by which time, any initiative taken by Lewes had been well and truly nullified by a tenacious Hendon team. That said, Laurencin did make an excellent save to deny Malcolm a second goal four minutes before oranges.
But the Rooks started the second half much the better and Ciardini nearly restored the Lewes lead following a free-kick, but put his attempt just wide of the target.
Eleven minutes into the period, Lewes regained the advantage. A corner was not dealt with by Laurencin, under little pressure, and when the ball fell to MALCOLM, he needed no second bidding to sweep the ball home from close range.
Kevin Maclaren replaced Diedhiou before play resumed and Morgan took over from Godfrey after 63 minutes, two minutes before Hendon drew level.
A corner was headed goalwards by Casey Maclaren, only for Matt Somner to produce an excellent goalline clearance. The ball was not cleared a long distance and when Kevin Maclaren crossed it back into the danger area, Ngoyi, looking suspiciously offside, latched onto it. The angle of delivery took NGOYI wide of the goal, but he was still able to knock the ball past Stuart Robinson’s left hand and bend it just inside the far post.
Morgan’s contribution to the Hendon cause was ended in controversial fashion in the 75th minute. Busby’s diagonal pass invited Morgan to run onto it, but it was hit just a little too hard.. With Malvin Kamara out of position, it was left to Stuart Robinson to deal the with danger and the goalkeeper, five yards outside his penalty area and at full stretch, just got his foot to the ball ahead of Morgan.
Both players were committed only to the ball and Morgan, sliding one-footed at the ball. caught Robinson on the foot, just above the boot. Both players went down and the referee immediately blew for a free-kick.
Robinson got to his feet and, with the referee standing less than two yards away, slapped or pushed the still-prone Morgan in the face. This inflamed the situation, and the referee only fuelled it by producing a red card for Morgan.
There was no punishment for the goalkeeper, but he did receive a yellow card for an obscene comment to a spectator, who accused him of time-wasting (play was halted for more than five minutes). Foul and abusive language, especially delivered in that manner, is always a dismissal, but the referee, having been verbally bullied by the Lewes team all afternoon, failed to take appropriate action.
Left to play the final 15 minutes – plus what proved to be nine more of stoppages – with 10 men, Hendon’s hopes of three points were pretty much dashed. The Greens stifled their attacking options and bolstered the superb back four of Michael Peacock, James Archer, Wharton and Cousins (the much-heralded Booth had been taken off after 70 largely ineffective minutes) with the Maclaren brothers, Lewes had few chances to win the game.
“I think it is a point gained,” said manager Gary McCann, “and it might have been three if we had kept 11 men on the pitch. I thought it was a very harsh red card as both players were stretching for a 50–50 ball.
“But what really pleased me is that we again showed we can stand toe to toe with teams like that. I think in recent times, when we conceded an early goal like that, we would have lost. But this team has a great deal of inner strength and we showed that by coming from behind a second time.”
Team: Laurencin, Wharton, Cousins, Peacock, Archer, Diedhiou (K. Maclaren, 56), Busby, McCluskey, Ngoyi (Dyer, 90), Godfrey (Morgan, 63), C. Maclaren. Unused subs: Fraser, Ambrose.