Grays Ath 1 v 2 Hendon
After last weeks stunning performance against the league leaders expectations were high that Jamie Stuarts charges would build on that result and claim a further three points in their bid to avoid the drop, but it wasn’t to be in what was a disappointing and lacklustre display compounded by the sending off of last weeks goal hero turned villain Lheureux Menga. Throughout the 90 minutes they failed to carve out any real clear cut goal opportunities save for a scrambled effort from Lartey Sarpong in the closing minutes.
The game was marred by an unsavoury melee in the closing minutes which saw both sets of players grappling with each other following Menga’s’ stamp on his opponent.What followed was the ugly side of football with fists flying and yet remarkably the officials only saw fit to red card the Grays when clearly a Hendon player was seen punching Ryan Mahal and another grabbing him round the neck.This is the second time this season that Hendon have been involved in this kind of incident,their match at Sudbury having been abandoned,no doubt the authorities will have something to say.
Blues saw one change with Barney Williams coming in and Harry Watkins dropping to the bench and it was Williams who was the only Blues player on his game producing a lively man of the match display.
It was a cagey opening few minutes with both sides conscious of the importance of this encounter playing with caution and not committing too many players forward,Hendon though were the first to engineer an opportunity with an early free kick that failed to trouble the Blues goal.
Blues first opportunity came following a free kick when Jon Ashton nodded the ball down to Williams who struck a first time effort saved by Lovelock.It was the visitors turn next when good build up play found Dombaxe on the edge of the home area but his effort slid wide of the upright.
With neither side comfortable on a difficult surface play became increasingly scrappy, Hendon though were looking the sharper with the lively Ibe always a danger up front.
Blues were winning a number of corners mainly through the work of Williams who was using his pace to good advantage but they failed to capitalise on them ,Ashton coming closest when his header dropped over the upright.At the other end Amadou Tangara had to be alert saving well from Dombaxe .
Unlike last week Blues lacked urgency and cohesion in their play and errors began to creep into their game,passes were misplaced and the quality of ball out of defence was lacking with the ball hit aimlessly forward leaving Kieron Bishop to feed on scraps quickly nullified by the Hendon rearguard,
There was little to enthuse both sets of supporters with very little goalmouth action although Matt Baxter produced one moment of excitement when his free kick from 25 yards was turned over by Lovelock.Tangara then came to Blues rescue when he somehow got to a pile driver from Ball turning the ball behind.
If one side was to make the breakthrough it seemed Hendon were the more likely to do so as they were by now winning the battle in midfield and looking far sharper up front and in the 44th minute they did just that. A Blues attack was broken up and the ball played forward, Nathan Campbell looking to make an interception slipped allowing Hendon to push forward,Ashton looked to close down but he also lost his footing allowing Ibe a sight of goal and he made no mistake drilling the ball past Taagara.
The second period saw Blues get off to a lively start with Bishop creating a half chance when his effort was deflected high but into the grateful arms of Lovelock followed quickly by a corner which sailed harmlessly across the area and out on the far side for a Hendon throw,it was an example of the lack of accuracy in Blues play .Hendon quickly capitalised from deep in their own half the ball was played quickly to Ball who powered forward avoided a challenge from Mahal and just when it looked like he would increase the visitors lead he fired wildly over.
Blues introduced Harry Watkins at the expense of Kwabene Osei to the fray to inject some pace in midfield and he was quickly into action when his free kick found Joao Carlos who cleverly slid the ball across to Sarpong but his half hit effort failed to test Lovelock.
Blues although enjoying their fair share of possession flattered to deceive squandering opportunities to put pressure on the Hendon goal electing to pass when a shooting opportunity presented itself, or failing to play a decisive ball electing to play safety first in contrast to Hendon who broke with pace and created opportunities for their lively strike force. It was from one such break then that brought another fine Tangara save from Stanislaus turning the ball over .
The hour mark saw Matt Baxter who had a quiet game after last weeks MoM performance make way for Menga and with his physical presence it saw Blues enjoy a period of pressure on the Hendon goal but Hendon still threatened on the break. Tangara dealt well with a driven cross into the box from Murphy punching clear of his goal.
Williams who was lively throughout created an opening for sub Etienne Kababola who had replaced Carlos,using his electrifying pace he laid the ball to Kababola it looked a golden opportunity of which there had been few to bring Blues level but he hurried his shot and blasted the ball high and wide much to the dismay of the home bench.It was Williams again the provider prodding the ball through to Menga but he shot tamely straight at Lovelock.
Hendon who had come close in the half dealt a hammer blow in the 78th minute ,after winning a corner the ball was played in, Tangara beat out Coles’ effort only to Ball who was allowed to control the ball unchallenged and curled the ball past Tangara and into the top corner. Parson nearly increased their advantage with a thundering drive that cannoned off the angle of crossbar and post and away to safety.
To their credit Blues continued to press forward but rarely troubled Lovelock spurning shooting opportunities that was until the 85th minute and it was a scrappy goal that summed up Blues afternoon.The ball was played into the area where it was treated like a hot potato pinging off forward and defender finally falling to Sarpong who’s effort lacked pace but still managed to find the back of the net.
With just a minute into the five signalled by Mr Heavey the game suddenly erupted into violence when Menga appeared to be dragged down but there was no excuse for his reaction stamping on his opponent and was quite rightly given his marching orders,the mystery was why there were not further reds or yellows after the ensuing melee saw flailing arms and punches thrown.After three to four minutes the match continued but just two minutes later Mr Heavey decide rather strangely to end the game prematurely.
In truth Hendon looked the sharper and had more quality throughout in a game that rarely hit the heights,in contrast Blues were a pale shadow of the team that competed so well at the league leaders they lacked cohesion and composure and unlike last week allowed errors to creep into their game.
The defeat now leaves the Blues in a perilous position and with a mountain to climb if they wish to avoid the trap door to relegation.With just thirteen games remaining time is running out if they hope to maintain their Ryman Premier status.Next Wednesday sees them entertain fellow strugglers Harrow Borough anything less than three points will be required to keep their faint hopes alive.