Hendon enjoyed their biggest away win for five years when they demolished Wingate & Finchley 5-0 at the Abrahams Stadium on Easter Monday.
It was also an exact reversal of Hendon’s last league fixture at the stadium on Summers Lane; 49 years, three months and 16 days earlier, on 22 December 1962, when Finchley beat the Greens 5–0 in the Athenian League.
There were three changes from the team which had slumped to a 3–0 home defeat against Margate on Saturday - James Parker, Isaiah Rankin and Tom Davie taking over from Michael Peacock, Jack Mazzone and Jerome Federico respectively.
Interestingly, on the day that the home club celebrated the 92nd birthday of Maurice Rebak, the last surviving founder member of Wingate FC in 1946, Hendon’s Scott Shulton was the only Jewish player in either team’s line-up.
And it was Shulton who had the first opportunity for the Greens in their most dominant first-half display for years - his shot, from the edge of the Blues’ penalty area, was saved easily by Bobby Smith. A minute later, the goalkeeper had to work harder to keep out an effort from Carl McCluskey.
From the corner, played short to Scott Cousins, the ball was crossed into the penalty area and Rankin was able to get in front of the defence before heading the ball into the net from close range.
It was the perfect start for Hendon and their opponents were noticeably deflated at the ease with which the Greens had unlocked their defence.
Not that they learned from the experience. Before 20 minutes were up, the lead could have been doubled when Bobby Smith, under pressure from Rankin, didn’t clear the ball far downfield. Davie brought the ball under control, took it past Ross Parmenter and tried to find the target from 35 yards. He was unlucky not to open his account - the ball striking the post with Bobby Smith some distance from making a save.
Hendon’s next attack, 90 seconds later, resulted in a corner when Bobby Aisien, caught out by the strong wind at the Greens’ backs, couldn’t deal with the ball’s bounce. The delivery from this corner was again pin-point accurate and the one to profit on this occasion was Casey Maclaren, who planted his header in the net from six yards out.
Indicative of the effort and energy expended by Hendon was a run by Rankin to tackle Murat Karagul in the 25th minute. He conceded a corner but the centre-forward’s sliding tackle – outside the penalty area – was almost on his own goalline.
Corners proved to be a fruitful source of chances for Hendon, so they continued to pepper the Wingate & Finchley rearguard in a bid to force set pieces.
And the policy paid off again in the 28th minute when a deep corner picked out Dave Diedhiou, who made it 3–0 with his head.
Five minutes later, Hendon forced another corner and again scored.
This time the ball was played a little deeper and when the ball bounced, the whole of the home defence seemed to freeze. Diedhiou didn’t and from a very acute angle, he shot the ball into the roof of the net.
Wingate & Finchley’s mountain to climb assumed Everest proportions two minutes later.
Ryan Wharton cleared a ball downfield from ten yards inside his own half. David Laird lunged in late and caught the defender. The referee took decisive action, producing a red card and leaving the Blues down to ten men for the last 55 minutes.
In the 39th minute, a pass from James Parker didn’t find Wharton and Leon Smith pounced on it. Berkley Laurencin came off his line, but the striker cleverly lifted the ball over him. It was bouncing towards the net but Wharton somehow got back just in time to clear the ball off the line before wrapping his legs either side of the post. It was a magnificent effort by the defender, who was determined to preserve the four-goal lead.
Two minutes later, Karagoul fired in a 25-yard shot which Laurencin did well not so much to save, but to keep from bouncing away from him and into the path of the predatory Leon Smith, who was looking for a rebound.
When the ball was cleared downfield, Hendon were awarded a free-kick seven yards outside the Blues’ penalty area. Elliott Godfrey took responsibility for the set-piece and his shot was saved low by Bobby Smith.
The second half was a bit of a non-event – at least compared to the first half. This was mainly because Hendon played a more defensive game and allowed Wingate & Finchley possession until they reached 30 to 40 yards from goal, at which point their two banks of four denied the Blues space and frustrated with solid tackling and well-timed interceptions.
Laurencin was forced to make a few saves but these were all from long-range shots. Lewis Jones had probably the best of these, a dipping, swerving 25-yarder which the goalkeeper kept out excellently.
Leon Fisher replaced Tony Burke after 57 minutes and, three minutes later, he tried his luck from 30 yards. It was easy meat for Laurencin, who was again forced into action by another attempt by Leon Smith in the 71st minute.
With 15 minutes to go, Mazzone and Federico replaced Rankin and Godfrey, probably more to rest tired legs than a result of an injury. Surprisingly, Wingate & Finchley, chasing the game, decided not to make any more changes.
Shulton tried his luck with a drive from 25 yards, but he was denied by a brave block by Danny Nielsen. It was a message to Wingate & Finchley that Hendon weren’t content just to see out time; if the opportunity presented itself, they wouldn’t hesitate to extend their lead further.
And, having scored four times from set-pieces in the first half, Hendon completed their afternoon’s work with an excellent goal from open play in the 87th minute.
A ball played out to the right wing brought Kieran Street forward. The speed of Federico caught him out and the substitute burst past him. Street deserved credit for trying to keep up with Federico, but he could not stop him from reaching the goal-line and looking up for yellow-shirted team-mates inside or just outside the penalty area.
Mazzone was there, as was McCluskey and both Shulton and Davie were approaching the D. Two defenders were back but they had not stopped when the two Hendon men had. This meant Federico’s low cross to McCluskey found him in five yards of space.
Looking up to see which way Bobby Smith was moving, McCluskey had time to steady himself before driving the ball past the helpless goalkeeper and the defenders into the net.
Peacock replaced Maclaren in the first minute of added time and it was probably a relief for the Blues that the referee played only two addition minutes.
“We are still alive in the play-offs,” said Hendon manager Gary McCann, “but we have to win our last three games. If we can get to 72 points, it just might be enough.
“We thought we could have success from corners today, if the deliveries were right. And they were perfect.
“I am really pleased with the reaction of the players after Saturday. We have some very tired players out there; they have put in some big shifts in the last few games.
“We didn’t keep the ball as I would have liked in the second half, but we were very solid in defence.”
Wingate & Finchley manager Dave Norman said: “I think we conceded three goals from corners in my three seasons here, but today we conceded four of them in the first half. It was very disappointing.”
Team: Laurencin, Diedhiou, Cousins, Wharton, Parker, C Maclaren (Peacock 90), McCluskey, Godfrey (Federico 75), Rankin (Mazzone 75), Shulton, Davie. Not used Archer and J Lewis.