Bostik Premier: Billericay 4 Hendon 3
PUBLISHED: 08:10 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 08:10 09 October 2017
The top two teams in the Bostik Premier Division served up a fantastic match for nearly 2,000 supporters (a record league attendance at the AGP Arena) on Non-League day, but it was home side Billericay who clinched victory.
The pulsating game saw the hosts retain their leadership of the league, while Hendon slid to fourth, being leapfrogged in the table by Dulwich and Leiston.
This was a curious game: although largely outplayed and outmuscled by the hosts, the Greens might feel slightly aggrieved over leaving Essex without a point.
However, were it not for some wayward finishing and some top-class goalkeeping from Tom Lovelock, Billericay should have finished the game about six goals up.
Hendon put in a tremendous shift throughout the match, scoring a third goal in the final stages of the match and giving the home side a real fright as they looked for what would have been a deserved equaliser.
With on-loan Ollie Sprague ineligible – he is a Billericay player – Jake Eggleton regained his spot in defence and Sam Murphy moved back to the left. Another change was Michael Corcoran replacing Josh Walker, a move to strengthen the midfield steel and there was good news with Dan Uchechi taking his place on the bench after six weeks out injured.
And it was Hendon who stunned their hosts by taking an early lead in the third minute as the effervescent Ashley Nathaniel-George received the ball well outside the area and curled a fantastic shot into the top corner, leaving Alan Julian flat-footed as the ball sailed into the net.
The lead lasted just ten minutes as Billericay reasserted themselves and began to apply some pressure through plenty of pressing play and set-pieces. It was from one of these passages of play that they clinched an equaliser, with Ricky Modeste heading in from close range as Hendon failed to clear their lines.
The visiting supporters were sent into raptures in the 17th minute when the industrious Keegan Cole, who had previously received a yellow card for a petulant foul, completed a virtually identical finish to Hendon’s opener, with Julian in the Billericay goal a virtual spectator once again.
And as Hendon looked to extend their lead, there were two narrow escapes for the home side.
In addition to Cole seeing a delightful chip evade Julian and hit the crossbar, Hendon had penalty shouts turned down after Niko Muir was upended in the box.
Hendon players and supporters were incredulous as the referee waved the claims away, with Billericay instead launching an attack that resulted in Adam Cunnington smashing in a thunderous volley to level.
Billericay then laid siege to the Hendon goal and deservedly scored twice more to create a 4–2 advantage at the break.
Ironically, they took the lead through a penalty, with Billy Bricknell converting after a team-mate was pulled to the ground in the penalty area.
The fourth goal was a second for Cunnington, a superb header beating Lovelock on the stroke of half-time.
The second half, while lacking the goals of the first, was an entertaining affair nonetheless.
Billericay should have extended their lead on numerous occasions, but Lovelock pulled off a string of excellent saves, while Hendon also cleared a couple of efforts off the line.
Greens boss Gary McCann made three changes in a bid to pull the game back, with Matt Ball, Daniel Uchechi and Josh Walker replacing Cole, Joseph and Corcoran.
As it looked like Billericay would hold on comfortably, Nathaniel-George netted his second goal, a jinking run seeing him waltz through the home defence before slotting the ball into the bottom corner.
With five minutes of injury time to play, Hendon threw everything forward in search of an equaliser but their endeavours were repelled and the home side were able to preserve all three points.
While McCann might be concerned at some of Hendon’s defensive shortcomings, he will surely be satisfied at giving the leaders a real test despite the financial gulf between the two clubs.
The Greens will look to bounce back in Saturday’s home match against Tonbridge Angels, no doubt encouraged by resolute showing against the undeniable might of the Billericay team.
Hendon: Lovelock, Eggleton, Murphy, Corcoran (Walker 72), Bray, Lee, Cole (Ball 84), Diedhiou, Joseph (Uchechi 72), Muir, Nathaniel-George. Unused subs: Pedro, Ibe.