Hendon’s play-off hopes were dealt a massive, if not fatal, blow when Margate deservedly won 3–0 at Vale Farm.
The injury-ravaged Greens were low on energy and were generally outenthused by a Gate team which had nothing to play for, but certainly didn’t show it.
There were four changes from the team which had won so magnificently at AFC Wimbledon in midweek, with Scotts Cousins and Shulton coming in for Tico Gavi-Mihedji and Darren Currie respectively, Casey Maclaren replacing his brother Kevin and Carl McCluskey taking over from Isaiah Rankin.
There was indication, in the first five minutes anyway, of what was about to unfold. The Greens started brightly and forced a free-kick just outside the penalty area which came to nothing.
In the seventh minute they had another set piece, but this time the ball was hacked out of defence to the right wing, where Matt Bodkin was in acres of space. He ran down the wing before delivering a ball towards the Hendon penalty area.
Berkley Laurencin, suddenly aware of the lack of defence in front of him, sprinted off his line but he was not in time to beat Tommy Murphy to the ball. The lob from Muprhy, as Laurencin challenged him, was absolutely perfect and the ball bounced just short of the line before rising into the roof of the net.
Hendon tried to hit back and after 18 minutes had a half-chance when a flick from Jack Mazzone was headed goalwards by Maclaren. The ball, however, was never going to drop enough to go under the crossbar. Instead it struck the top of it and bounced out for a goal kick.
The Greens should have drawn level in the 28th minute when a careless trip by Laurence Ball brought down Maclaren a yard inside the penalty area. The defender had been wrong-footed by the Hendon midfielder and had no argument with referee’s decision.
Incredibly, this was the seventh consecutive Ryman League Premier Division match between Hendon and Margate in which the Gate had conceded a penalty. This time Jamie Busby wasn’t on hand to apply the coup de grace, nor were Currie, Greg Ngoyi or Elliott Charles.
The responsibility fell to Elliott Godfrey and he will have nightmares about his attempt. It didn’t have much power, and the direction wasn’t much better. That said, if Simon Overland had guessed the other way Hendon would have been level. He didn’t and it remained 1–0 to Margate.
Half-chances continued to come Hendon’s way but they were no better than that. At the other end, Margate found Laurencin in good form and he made two excellent saves, denying Murphy and Dean Pooley – the latter a top-notch effort.
There was also the requisite injury misfortune for the Greens. Michael Peacock went off inside the opening half-hour and he was replaced by James Parker, who slotted straight in at centre-half.
Hendon started the second half quite strongly and forced a succession of corners. However, the Margate defence, well marshalled by Ball, seemed to win every key challenge and, if they didn’t, there was always a team-mate close enough to deny Hendon clear goalscoring opportunities.
The Greens quickly began to take more extravagant options, such as the 25-yarder by Mazzone when McCluskey had set him up. Shulton also worked himself an opening but he got a bad bounce and his shot bobbled to Overland, who saved easily.
When Margate attacked, however, there was danger all the time. Bodkin’s prompting created openings for both Murphy and Tom Bradbrook, Hendon were able to stop most of the clear opportunities. That said they did strike the top of the crossbar with one effort and a post with another.
Jerome Federico began to give Dean Hill a hard time and, more often than not, the left-back was given the security of Mark Corneille in trying to stop the tricky winger. On one occasion when there was no cover, Hill’s challenge brought him a yellow card – joining Maclaren in the referee’s notebook.
A few minutes after the Hill challenge, another challenge left Federico limping more and Rankin replaced him, giving the Greens two out and out strikers. But, by this time, they were two goals down and more or less out of the match.
Good work by Bodkin down the left, getting the better of Cousins, saw him get to the byeline from where he played a ball in low to Murphy. Controlling the ball on his thigh, Muphy swivelled and rifled a shot from an acute angle off the underside of the crossbar and into the net.
A cross from Dave Diedhiou was headed just over by Mazzone and Rankin was unlucky with another bounce as Hendon vainly tried to get back into the game. The game was very open, with Margate relishing the opportunities to attack on the counter, while Hendon huffed and puffed and couldn’t blow the Gate house down.
Tom Davie replaced McCluskey for the final ten or so minutes and he did hit the Margate bar in the last minute of normal time. That said, Murphy was denied his hat-trick by the frame of the opposite goal.
In the third minute of stoppage time, the final nail in the Hendon coffin was driven home by Bradbook. His finish was neat but he had been given far too much space by a Hendon team which looked distinctly exhausted and somewhat unhappy with life.
Hendon: Laurencin, Diedhiou, Cousins, Wharton, Peacock (Parker 26), C Maclaren, McCluskey (Davie 81), Godfrey, Mazzone, Shulton, Federico (Rankin 71). Not used: Archer, Gavi-Mihedji.