Hendon 0 AFC Hayes 2 . . .

Middlesex Senior Cup final . . .

Hendon failed, for a fourth time, to win a cup final under manager Gary McCann, losing in most disappointing fashion to AFC Hayes in the Middlesex Senior Cup at Northwood FC on Easter Monday evening. The better side for most of the 90 minutes, the Greens paid the penalty for shoddy opening and closing ten minutes.

After the vital League victory on Saturday, four players were rested, James Parker, Mark Kirby, Brian Haule and Glenn Garner, with Marc Leach, Peter Dean, Harry Hunt and Lubomir Guentchev getting starts.

The bobbly penalty areas certainly upset William Viner, whose first attempted clearance should have resulted in a goal for Dean Clark after his slice fell at the forward’s feet. Viner, however, redeemed himself with a brilliant save.

He was not so fortunate in the eighth minute, when the ball fell to Victor OSUBU, who made no mistake with a well-placed lofted shot. Dean Papali might have added to Hendon’s woes a couple of minutes later, but he wasted the chance.

Gradually, Hendon took control, but they came up against an inspired James Harry in the AFC Hayes goal. His first save came from Sam Collins after 21 minutes, but the ball was probably going wide.

That was not the case four minutes later, when Hunt tried to guide a cross from Kevin Maclaren inside the post. The ball was not struck cleanly and Harry, who had already committed himself was forced to make a more difficult save.

The next player to try his luck was Guentchev, but again he found Harry unbeatable with his 36th minute strike. By now, Hendon playes and supporters were getting frustrated by the obvious time-wasting tactics of the Brook, with Harry the main culprit. Unfortunately for the Greens, referee Wes Linden, whose performance was unsatisfactory in almost every way, seemed content to hand out regular warnings without taking further sanction.

Guentchev had already been taken out cynically by Daniel Bennell as he cut into the penalty area – the offence, unpunished, was very close to the edge of the box – when Hendon were the victims of one of worst refereeing injustices I have witnessed in 15 years.

The half was about enter stoppage time when Maclaren made a dart into the penalty area. He got around one defender and had beaten a second, leaving him six yards from goal with Harry out of position.

Maclaren was about to shoot when the defender clipped his standing foot, sending the Hendon midfielder crashing to the ground. Why Maclaren would simulate a foul when he was clear on goal with most of the target to aim at just six yards away doesn’t make sense. The obvious decision was a penalty and probably a red card for the defender too, but neither happened.

Mr Linden, 40 metres down the hill was too far away to hear the contact and his assistant who seemed unwilling to flag for a taxi in the pouring rain after the last train had left, was paralysed by indecision. So the referee, almost bursting with pride sprinted up the hill and with enormous relish flourished a yellow card in the face of an astonished Maclaren.

Although still in control early in the second half, Hendon’s passing lacked its first-half crispness and a number of players looked increasingly tired as the recent run of games took its toll. Six minutes into the period, Hunt got around the impressive Gilbert Nuako – a Hendon player in 2004–04, he was playing against the Greens for a third different team in the Middlesex Senior Cup in three seasons – his run was unceremoniously stopped.

This time Mr Linden put the whistle to his lips, but looked to his assistant for confirmation that it was a penalty. Again it wasn’t forthcoming, so he allowed play to continue, much to the angst of Greens players and fans.

It took 18 minutes of the second half for Hendon to create a clear-cut opening and – the Maclaren trip apart – it was their best of the evening. A low cross was driven across the six-yard box, right into the path of the unmarked Dean, who had timed his run to perfection. All it needed was a sidefoot towards the inside of the near post to equalise. Instead the ball was stabbed a foot the other side of the upright. It was a golden opportunity.

Midway through the half, Hendon’s frustration boiled over. A bad, two-footed tackle by an AFC Hayes player in the centre circle resulted in a square dance. The miscreant was lucky to receive only a yellow card for the challenge, while one player from each team was cautioned for the resulting fracas.

In the final quarter, Hendon sent on Haule, Danny Dyer and Kirby, for James Bent, Guentchev and Leach, respectively, as the Greens hunted for the elusive equaliser. They had to be careful because the Brook had a number of players with speed to burn and they started creating chances on the break.

In the 86th minute, Hendon had their final chance to force extra time. Collins arrived in the box and had only Harry to beat. His effort, although on target, was not well directed and Harry pulled off another fine save.

Two minutes later, Nuako was cautioned for the most obvious example of kicking the ball away, but it was a yellow card that should have been shown to an AFC Hayes player much earlier, given their gamesmanship.

As the game entered stoppage time, Hendon forced a corner down the right wing. The ball was played towards the near post where a defender reached the ball first. He made marginal contact with his head, and solid one with his hand which was away from his body. The assistant referee, again with a perfect view of the incident, decided that it was not handball.

In the fifth of six minutes of stoppage time, Viner was adjudged to have upended Osubu, earning him a yellow card and giving AFC Hayes a penalty. The reaction from their bench was laughter at the decision, but Dean PAPALI, coolly knocked the ball straight down the middle, past the diving goalkeeper to make it 2–0.

It must be said that AFC Hayes battled magnificently, and defended with great heart and passion. Goalkeeper Harry thoroughly deserved his man of the match award, but for Hendon there was only disappointment.

“I think this is the lowest I have been after a Cup final,” admitted Mr McCann. “We looked heavy legged and didn’t play very well. I really thought we could win this game. It was a risk resting the players I did, but we have big games later this week and I thought we would still be strong enough.

“I said to the players that avoiding relegation and winning two cups would be a magnificent achievement. Winning the London Senior Cup and staying up will still be a very good achievement.

“We didn't lose the game because of the referee, our overall performance wasn't good enough, but I felt we should have had four penalties. I had to console Kevin Maclaren at half-time after he had been booked for diving and told him I was sure it was a penalty."

Hendon: Viner, Burgess, Vargas, Leach (Kirby, 90), Bent (Haule, 68), Busby, Guentchev (Dyer, 76), K. Maclaren, Dean, Hunt, Collins. Unused subs: Garner, Parker.