Bostik Premier: Hendon 3 Merstham 0
PUBLISHED: 17:01 22 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:01 22 April 2018
Hendon are close to making their second play-off appearance in four seasons after a comprehensive victory over Merstham at Silver Jubilee Park on Saturday.
Four weeks after playing in snow and icy winds at Tooting, a very hot afternoon greeted the teams for Hendon’s final home Bostik League Premier Division fixture of the season.
The Greens rang the changes following the Middlesex Senior Cup final victory on Tuesday night as James Hammond, Ollie Sprague, Michael Corcoran and Josh Walker returned to the starting line-up with Luke Tingey and Matt Ball dropping to bench.
Dan Uchechi, Zak Joseph and the suspended Casey Maclaren missed out on the 16, with the bench supplemented by Keagan Cole, Dave Diedhiou and Harly Wise.
Merstham were completely outgunned by Hendon’s attacking verve and imagination.
By the time Corcoran opened the scoring in the 11th minute, the Greens could and probably have been at least two goals to the good.
Barely a minute into the game, Ashley Nathaniel-George drilled a shot inches beyond the far post with Ashlee Jones well beaten, and the striker fired just over the crossbar a couple of minutes later.
The Moatsiders’ discipline was not good in the early going. Reece Hall found his way into the referee’s notebook for a spectacular fall in the penalty area after six minutes and, three minutes later, Dan Bennett saw yellow for a crude challenge on Nathaniel-George.
And it was another foul, in the 10th minute that led to Hendon breaking the deadlock. A foul just outside the Merstham penalty area gave Hendon a free-kick which Murphy whipped in towards goal.
Jones was wrong-footed by the strike and could do no more than parry the ball up towards the far post. When the ball came down, Corcoran just about beat Jake Eggleton to it and headed home from about a yard out.
Sadly, it was to be just about Corcoran’s final involvement in the game because, two minutes later, he went down with a injury. Taking no chances, Hendon immediately sent on Diedhiou for Corcoran, who limped off disconsolately.
Charlie Penny has been a thorn in Hendon’s side for a few years and the striker did cause Rian Bray and Arthur Lee a few problems, but neither Hall nor Tayshan Hayden-Smith provided anything like enough support and the only shots at Tom Lovelock were not only straight at him, but also were rather lacking in power.
The Greens continued to pose serious questions of the visiting defence and Walker twice had chances to add to the lead. Set up by Niko Muir, who was outstanding in his more crative role, Walker fired over the bar after 25 minutes and then was denied by an excellent save from Jones.
Ten minutes before the break, Sprague broke up a burgeoning Merstham attack with a tidy interception and he immediate set off towards the other goal. No one came to close him down, so Sprague fired a 25-yard shot which dipped just after it had passed over the crossbar.
Before the second half started, Merstham made a double switch, sending on Malik Onwugbonu and Alberto Lubango for Tashan Hayden-Smith, who had never been given even a whiff of a look in against James Hammond, and Bennett, who was on a yellow card.
Reinforcements, however, were needed at the defensive end of the Moatsiders’ team because Liam Harwood, Tom Kavanagh and Tutu Henriques were struggling to cope with Hendon’s attack.
Murphy could, and probably should, have scored after 51 and 53 minutes, but he fired over the bar, then, set up by Walker, saw his shot saved by the overworked Jones.
Something had to give and, in the 64th minute, the second goal, desperately needed by the Greens, if only to settle their nerves, finally arrived. It was a thing of beauty, one Hendon fans had seen before – most memorably in the victory at Thurrock in February.
Nathaniel-George collected the ball on the left side, just outside the penalty area. His first move was to run into the penalty area before moving to his right to create a better angle for himself.
No defender dared get too close for fear of misting a tackle and conceding a penalty so Nathaniel-George continued his run. He found himself an angle and fired a shot which Jones watched as it sailed into the net just inside the far post.
Two minutes later, a ball down the Hendon right saw Walter win a race with Harwood. He needed only one touch to bring the ball under control and as Jones came off his line, Walker rolled the ball past him into the bottom corner.
Before play resumed, Deon Moore took over from Kavanagh as Merstham made their last substitution. Hendon made their second change with about 15 minutes to go, Cole taking over from Walker, who had come close to adding further to his 15-goal tally for the season.
Nathaniel-George, Diedhiou, Muir and Murphy all had further chances to pile the misery onto Merstham but either Jones or inaccuracy kept the score at three. The Moatsiders were not without chances and they forced a couple of corners, but every single set piece they took from the quadrant ended with Lovelock taking a clean catch under almost no pressure from an amber shirt.
With seven minutes to go, Ball replaced Eggleton, who had put in another energy-filled stint in the middle of midfield – the only blemish on his performance being a caution for a foul after a quarter of an hour. Merstham did have the ball in the Hendon net after 85 minutes, but the offside flag was already up as Onwugbonu side-footed past Lovelock and the goal didn’t count.
Merstham’s defence continued to be ripped apart by the rampant Greens and Cole should have become the fifth Hendon player to reach the 10-goal landmark when Muir joined him on a two-on-one.
Jones was quickly off his line, so Muir passed to Cole, whose firm side-foot was blocked on the goal-line by Henriques, and he deserves enormous credit for getting back into position when all seemed lost.
Hendon: Lovelock, Hammond, Sprague, Lee, Bray, Eggleton (Ball 81), Nathaniel-George, Corcoran (Diedhiou 13) Walker (Cole 86), Muir, S. Murphy. Unused subs: Wise, Tingey.