Saturday, April 14, 2012

48 Hours of Madness - The Life of a Hendon Fan

On Saturday afternoon everything was over. Our play-off hopes were completely dead and buried, barring a miraculous run-in that would bring us maximum points from our remaining four league matches. That was very unlikely to happen particularly in view of our stuttering record against sides in the bottom four this season and indeed the fact that we still had to host Kingstonian. We were running on empty, just as we had been four years ago when we entered the last day of the season with our play-off destiny in our own hands only to see them slip through our fingers despairingly against Wealdstone.
I spent all of Saturday evening following the 3-0 reverse against an impressive Margate side wondering just what it was about being a Hendon fan that played so heavily on my emotions. Was it the fact that I always saw us as plucky underdogs, expecting to be disappointment yet daring to hope when things were going well? The end to the 2007/8 season had been a real kick in the goolies, yet the reality was that we had fallen just short. There could be no doubting the effort and commitment, we just didn’t quite have enough about us to make our season last a week longer.
This season has felt a bit different though. In 2007/8 I felt as if the players were almost as surprised as we fans were that we had been riding so high in the league. This time around, for the most part there has been a belief about the way we set ourselves up that we belong at the top end of the table and aren’t there due to a fortunate good run. And so with each impressive win against our rivals in and around the play-offs that belief has grown and filtered onto the terraces. I think it has shown with the number of times fans have come away from games disappointed because we’ve only had a point to show, when really, had we put in a performance as we did at Bury or against Lowestoft or Hornchurch, we would have come away with all three.
This all made getting up to go and watch the boys play in the miserable, blustery wet conditions that the bank holiday brought along a tiny bit tougher. Those five minutes of madness at Lewes were pretty hard to take. Yet three days later we had beaten AFC Wimbledon for the third time at Kingsmeadow in the London Senior Cup under Gary McCann. Elation. Of course, that was then followed by deflation as Margate turned us over with a worrying degree of comfort. What on earth was yesterday to bring?
The home match against Wingate had seen us draw 1-1 with Greg Ngoyi grabbing a second half equaliser. Although Murat Karagul had seen red for a foul on Ryan Wharton, we displayed a lack of guile on the day that would have brought us three points. At the time, I saw that as two points dropped. With the hosts requiring a point to guarantee Premier Division football next season, I expected a tough afternoon’s viewing.
The first six minutes were tough to watch. Wingate began the game with their customary powerful and pacy attacking, and the Hendon back four were put under early pressure. A skewed clearance by Berkley Laurencin did little to settle the nerves as the ball span away off the outside of his boot having fizzed off the greasy surface.
In the 7th minute, began a sequence of events that wouldn’t have been too out of place in something like Groundhog Day or  Jesus, Don’t leave him unmarked on the Far Post again! as Scott Cousins’ excellent left-footed delivery from out wide, using full benefit of the wind was simply touched home by Isaiah Rankin for his first 1st half goal of the season, and his earliest of any match by about three and a half hours.
The goal settled Hendon down and they began to assert themselves. Tom Davie and Scott Shulton were both fairly prominent, linking well with Carl McCluskey and Rankin whilst the back four dealt well with the increasingly limited Wingate threat. After Davie had returned a poor Bobby Smith clearance with interest from 40-odd yards out that bounced off the base of the post, the lead was increased in the 20th minute when Cousins delivered a corner towards the far post for Casey Maclaren to climb highest and nod the ball home simply from close range for his first goal of the season.
Casey Mac - Superb effort this season so far.
At this point it is worth making a note of Casey’s efforts this season. He’s always been a player who has given 100% whatever role he has been asked to undertake and having begun this season wide on the left, all that is left for him to do now I think is to don the gloves at some point to complete the set. However, I have always had a nagging doubt about his ability to play at this level. Part of that comes from what I saw as a desire to try and play too much football at times rather than keeping things simple, and part of it was simply down to his temperament. The nadir of my ‘fan / player’ relationship with him, more so than his brother, came after the disgraceful brawl in pre-season at Chesham the summer before last. I really didn’t want him to play for the club again, particularly as this wasn’t the first time he had ‘got involved’. A stray elbow against Dartford, a headbutt against Tonbridge that went sight unseen, it was beginning to verge on the ridiculous.
However, for the first time since his long injury lay-off a few years ago, I have really seen Casey as a real asset to the squad. Not only for his willingness and ability to play in more than one position, but also because he has improved markedly as a footballer now. To be honest, I think the ‘number 6’ role suits him down to the ground, just as it does Kevin. Both have thrived this season in the holding midfield role so much so, that the player most physically suited to the role, Dave Diedhiou has been largely unable to get a look-in. (More of him later). Gary deserves a lot of credit for sticking with Casey through the bad times, his patience is now really paying dividends, and to be fair, Casey (who has always been approachable) deserves a lot of credit for the way he has knuckled down to concentrate on his football, and leave the bare knuckle brawling behind. At no point was that more obvious than yesterday when in the face of some provocation he kept his calm. Gone are the stupid, reckless challenges, gone are the stray elbows and more snidey elements to his game. He has benefitted hugely as a player from the change and Hendon have benefitted as a team.
The unlikely 2 goal hero (with thanks to
Back to on-field events and the more cynical members of the crowd may have begun to accuse the yellows (as the Greens were yesterday) as employing a game similar some exponents of the egg-shaped game by not so much playing for touch, as playing for corners. On 28 minutes, another corner was swung in by Scott Cousins to the far post were Dave Diedhiou simply prodded the ball in before wheeling away in celebration and within five minutes, yet another Cousins corner to the far post was taken down by Diedhiou, totally unmarked again, before smashing the ball into the roof of the net. The combined distance of the four goals was probably no more than 20 yards, but they all counted.
From a Wingate perspective, the simplicity of the goals was almost as bad as the repetitive nature of them. Hendon really hadn’t had to work especially hard to gain a lead that if not already unassailable by this point, certainly was ten minutes before the break when David Laird, who had scored four times in Wingate’s previous two matches lunged at Ryan Wharton. Behind the goal Wingate fans were vociferous in their disapproval for Wharton’s antics as the referee brandished the red card in Laird’s direction. I would agree that there isn’t really any need for the centre half to yelp as he goes down when fouled, but put quite simply, the challenge was late, reckless and unnecessary. It wasn’t as bad as Karagul’s in the return fixture, but it was worthy of a dismissal.
It had been a while since I had seen Hendon four goals to the good at half-time. In actual fact, it had been a while since I’d seen them manage that many in 90 minutes. Talk at the break was of how many we might go on to get after the break, but I was more concerned with making sure we didn’t do anything silly to undo all of our good work. We did that with a fair degree of comfort, although Wingate deserve credit for giving it a go after the break and forcing a couple of solid saves from Berkley in goal. At the other end we rarely looked like extending our lead before Carl McCluskey coolly made it 5-0 two minutes from the end to complete another good personal performance from him just behind the front man.
I couldn’t actually remember the last time I saw us scoring five in any game, never mind a competitive one. Having looked back through the website, it was a 6-0 win against Biggleswade United in the FA Cup back in September 2005. The last time I’d seen us achieve the feat in a league game? April 22nd 2000 when Hendon beat Farnborough Town 5-3. Although we have of course scored five in matches since then, I had not been lucky enough to have been in attendance.
So, a point outside the play-offs, with Bury losing and having 2 men sent off in the process, there is still a glimmer of hope that this time around Hendon may just sneak into the top five. With three matches remaining, two against relegated sides the match on Saturday against Kingstonian takes on extra significance now. There would be no better time to lay to rest the ghost of our awful league record against them. And with the K’s having to play on Thursday in their London Senior Cup semi-final against Cray, one can hope against hope that they may be struggling a little with fatigue themselves. However, as we saw last season in the final of that competition against Wingate, sometimes fatigue just isn’t there.
This time things are no longer in our hands. All we can do is pick up nine points out of nine. Lewes still have to play Cray and one suspects that Wealdstone may well slip up somewhere with six matches remaining in just over a fortnight. There are likely to be more twists and turns between now and the end of the month, and it promises to be an entertaining ride full of ups and downs. For the time being, I’m laying expectations firmly to rest and concentrating once again on being the plucky underdog.   

Monday, April 2, 2012

Football –Sod you! 5 Minutes of Mayhem

Saturday 31st March 2012
Lewes 3-2 Hendon
Ryman League Premier Division
The Dripping Pan

Saturday and one of the few away days I’ve braved this season. And boy am I pleased I did. Well, yes and no actually. Off the pitch things were marvellous. On the pitch they began similarly so, before descending extremely rapidly into chaos and bitter disappointment. This was not how Gary Mac's autiobiography ghost writers would have had him marking 15 years a Hendon man.

Hendon marched down to the South Downs to meet Lewes in a match that should they come away victorious, would probably be very much favourites to snap up one of the play-off positions. Coming down the hill from the town centre and the very hospitable chaps and chapettes at The Brewers Arms (good selection of ales I’m told, good selection of Euro-lagers and very good selection of BURGERS!) I felt like I was going to a proper football match. Scores of people were descending the hill towards the ground, mostly bedecked in red and black stripes.

The Dripping Pan, for those who haven’t been before is fairly unique amongst Ryman League grounds. You enter the ground at the top of the terracing, which is high enough to rival the prefabricated one at either end of Imperial Fields, before descending downwards to pitch level. It made me imagine that I was watching a lower league match in Scandanavia or Central Europe. Don’t ask me why.

Team news had come through on various smart hand held devices, (they’re still no smarter than the average Premier League captain as far as I can see) and perhaps the most obvious thing to note was the absence of Greg Ngoyi or Elliott Charles from the Matchday squad. At a time when you need goals, to be missing your first choice centre forwards is a real blow. That said, Belal Aite-ouakrim, who got the number 9 shirt, has been resembling a footballer once more in recent weeks and Carl McCluskey has been thriving just behind the centre forward as well.

Lewes, who have had a fairly torrid winter off the park with the dismissal of former favourite Steve King for reasons unrevealed which resulted in a number of players leaving the club have in recent weeks steadied the ship under the stewardship of Simon Wormull and hauled themselves back into play-off contention. Before kick-off they stood a couple of places and three points behind the Greens. With Steve Robinson, and Paul Booth still very much part of the furniture at the Pan, this was likely to be a scrap. A big scrap in front of a very good crowd. And so it proved.

Hendon settled the quicker of the two sides, as the 20 or so travelling fans melted seamlessly into the hoardes of Lewes faithful who had stayed behind the goal they were defending to enjoy a pint of the local liquid gold, and it all made for a very pleasant atmosphere. The Glaswegian Four were in fine fettle having already witnessed Rangers overcome Motherwell in the lunchtime SPL meeting treating the locals to their unique brand of banter.

Jerome Federico began really well down the right flank getting Lewis Hamilton reversing rapidly (ho-ho-ho, F1 humour) on more than one occasion. He flashed a shot wide of the near post and sent a couple of dangerous balls into the box as well that were well dealt with by the Lewes back four. Belal, showing himself to be somewhere close to the form he was in at the beginning of last season, was causing Max Hustwick no end of problems and he was denied a first league goal of the season only by a wonderful save from Matt Ingram in the Lewes goal. The ball bounced nicely for the number 9 to strike from about 10 yards out, powerfully towards the roof of the net, yet the reaction from the Lewes custodian was superb, pushing the ball onto the top of the bar on its way over the top.

The breakthrough came on the quarter hour mark and it was no real surprise. Belal and McCluskey linking up extremely well with an exchange of passes that ended with Belal stretching just inside the penalty area to get to the ball before Ingram and send it rolling into the back of the net. Scorer collided with keeper and needed treatment, before lasting another five or so minutes and being withdrawn. One wag (me) suggested cruelly that he was suffering a nosebleed after finding the target, on in his place came Isaiah Rankin, about 50 minutes earlier than we would have liked.

I felt that we were still on top for much of the half, without ever really threatening to take the game by the scruff of the neck and kill Lewes off. The closest anyone came to doing that was Rankin who turned Robinson smartly and sent a powerful drive no more than a yard wide with Ingram beaten. However, at the other end, Chris Breach in an unfamiliar midfield role headed home a free kick on the stroke of half time only to see the goal disallowed for a linesman’s flag up. I was in no position to see who, what or indeed when was offside but I wasn’t going to argue with the official unlike a number of those behind Rikki Banks’ goal. This should have provided the Greens with a warning, and if it did, it went totally unheeded.

I was behind the dugouts on my way around to the far end when the scores levelled just after half time. Chris Breach once again heading home from a set-piece to bring the home side level. This seconds after the same player had been denied by an excellent Banks save. Amusingly the Lewes bench were imploring the same assistant to raise his flag to disallow the effort, a genuinely amusing moment. However, any smile was wiped off my face not 60 seconds later when Nathan Crabb ended a game of pinball in the penalty area by slotting the ball home. The place erupted, and those in green looked utterly shellshocked.

Shell shock turned to abject horror as I finally arrived at the far end, Banks did very well to deny Crabb low down, but Paul Booth was the quickest to follow up ahead of any green shirted don and fire into the empty net. 3-1. It was 3-1. I checked the electronic scoreboard which confirmed that it was indeed 3-1. How had that happened? I could see our play-off hopes disappearing over the chalk-pitted hills and way off into the Sussex distance. This was like that match against Tonbridge yet a thousand times worse.

Undettered, Lewes continued to force the pace and look for more. Banks denied Booth with a smart block when the Rooks number 10 looked odds on to increase the Hendon misery. Somehow, the storm was weathered and we’d only had the roof blown off, windows smashed in and the walls decimated by the onslaught. Last season certain players would have lost their heads at this point, this time they kept them and plugged away.

Jack Mazzone came on for his debut having been a deadline day signing on loan from Woking and looked quite lively, forcing Ingram into a good tip over late on. Booth had another effort ruled out dubiously for offside at the other end and Banks who had spent the first period largely unemployed would have delighted our wonderful government with his work-rate in the second half. The scoreline was given a dash of respectability as the game moved into time added on when Scott Cousins picked out the top corner with nonchalant aplomb, but it was too little too late. Led by the ever impressive Steve Robinson the home side saw out the remainder of the four minutes in relative comfort to record a vital win.

It’s a long time since I’ve felt as deflated as I did at the final whistle. So many ifs and buts, yet ultimately, nothing. Credit Lewes for that second half, I haven’t seen anyone take us apart like that for quite some time, and if they are able to channel that kind of performance in their remaining five matches then I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish in the top 5. It was extremely impressive yet I still feel the defeat was partially down to ourselves and the way we began the 2nd half. At least we’re not out of it completely, but we cannot afford any more lapses like that again. Our run-in looks favourable on paper, but paper and grass are vastly different surfaces.

What I do know is that if we happen not to go up this season, and if Lewes happen not to go up this season, then I will be hoping with every sinew in my body that we meet in August next season. They’re everything I like in a Non League club. Well run, extremely good hosts and look set-up to take themselves (and this is an important point being a Community run club) forward strongly in the medium to long term. Good luck to them, a thoroughly good bunch.

For another view of the game, I would urge you to have a look at the excellent Ball Is Round site for their take on proceedings.

Friday, March 30, 2012

That Man Is A Hero #2: Gary McCann, The Goalkeeper

It was a bank holiday Monday at the end of March, presumably Easter Monday but I can’t be sure. Hendon were taking on Aylesbury United at Claremont Road in front of what today would count as a bumper crowd of 405 and in the Greens line-up was yet another new goalkeeper. Scott Ashcroft, Andy Harris, Jan Wagenaar, and Tony Wells (not to mention 45 minutes of David Speedie) had all filled the number 1 shirt with varying degrees of success throughout the season. The man chosen by Frank Murphy, himself in the job for a mere matter of weeks was his former custodian from Dulwich Hamlet, Gary McCann.
We lost that game 3-0 and there was little about the afternoon’s proceedings that suggested in any way that we might have witnessed the birth of a true Hendon legend.(Ah yes, legend, that oft overused and abused description in football, much like world-class or ‘quality / top top’ player). However, as time has worn on over the last 15 years (minus 1 day) the name Gary McCann has slowly but surely been etched, ever more heavily into Hendon folklore.
31st March 1997 was the day it all started and the same date, 15 years later could well play a pivotal role in shaping the club’s short-term on-field future as final preparations for the trip to the Dripping Pan tomorrow to play Lewes in what can only be described as a play-off six pointer are put in place.
Gary went on to play a key role in the end of season run that saw the side win all but one of their seven matches after his debut against Aylesbury and end the season in a heady 16th spot which looked very much impossible at the beginning of March that year. Perhaps the first sign that he was a little out of the ordinary as far as goalkeepers went was a glimpse of what happened in the 2-1 win at Hitchin Town. The home side were given a late penalty and Gary managed to get down well to save it. I have a feeling Rudi Hall was the man who took it, but I may well be quite wrong. However, this wasn’t just down to luck, but the fact that Gary had noticed a photograph in the Matchday programme of a penalty from Hitchin’s previous match. Noting which way the take sent the ball, he guessed that the player would do the same thing again. He did, Gary was right and we were on our way to one of the most comfortable and enjoyable run-ins I’ve witnessed as a fan.
The following season was another excellent one to watch. Finishing the season 4th in the table and picking up the Full Members Cup in the process, these achievements were eclipsed by events against Leyton Orient which I have described earlier in the season. In the replay at Brisbane Road, Gary was not alone in being outstanding. The match video shows a couple of outstanding saves, one in particular from a late header was quite brilliant, but what struck me most was the way he commanded his penalty area and caught pretty much everything that wasn’t already dealt with by the heads of one of his centre halves. 
Gary McCann not following the example of Paul Hyde, clearing from Carl Griffiths against Leyton Orient
 Those of you who know him will be aware that as goalkeepers go, Gary didn’t have the advantage of height compared with say, Dickie Wilmot, Will Viner or various others who have bedecked the yellow or red or grey jersey in recent years. However, he was one of the most commanding goalkeepers I’ve seen. Anything that came into his 6 yard box was his, he rarely dropped a cross and all of that helps to give the back three or four a lot of confidence. Not only that, but he was loud, and that was something that particularly lends itself to the making of a good goalkeeper. When Peter Schmeichel was at the peak of his powers, comment was often made of the way he used to bawl out Steve Bruce or Gary Pallister but no one doubted the motives behind him doing so. The penalty area was his domain and woe betide anyone who didn’t do his bidding in there. I still remember Gary very nearly coming to blows with Steve Bateman – hardly a shrinking violet himself - following a slight misunderstanding.
Gary continued to play a full part in the 1998/99 season, becoming the first goalkeeper I’ve seen in a Hendon shirt to be dismissed for a professional foul (I think, possibly handball outside the area) against Bromley at the beginning of the season, making a pretty astonishing 63 appearances and playing his own part in two more cup wins, the Full Members Cup for a third time, and perhaps more memorably in the Middlesex Senior Cup final against Wembley. The game went to penalties (two spot kicks in normal time had been already been converted) and Gary bravely stepped up to take one of Hendon’s five. Bravery quickly became misguided confidence as he sent his effort high over the angle of post and bar, sending Hendon fans behind the goal diving for cover as the ball disappeared somewhere in the direction of Edmonton.
Credit where credit is due though, Gary showed real strength of character to shrug off his woeful attempts at being Matt Le Tissier, instead wisely choosing to personify Mark Crossley from the next Wembley spot kick by making an excellent save. Some of us may have been questioning whether Gary really was a sports shop owner or whether in fact he was a script writer. Something that to this day remains unknown.
Twelve months later his career was in the balance. Already having suffered a nasty injury early in the season at Enfield, Gary came off worst in a challenge at Earlsmead against Harrow Borough in April with Damien Markman in the first half. He was carried off, and it soon became clear that we wouldn’t see him again that season, nor for some time afterwards either. His next appearance came in a Full Members Cup Tie at Heybridge at the end of December 2000, a game which was lost 6-5 but marked the beginning of Gary’s on field rehabilitation. He recovered enough to appear in a further 20 matches during the fraught end of the season that never ended before more surgery in the close season.
Frank Murphy moved on and Dave Anderson took over, his first match in charge being a friendly at home to Southend United. Gary played, despite not being anywhere near fit and probably did himself few favours. David Hook came in and Gary, when fitness was regained had spells away from Claremont Road with Slough Town, with whom he enjoyed further FA Cup glory, and Aylesbury United whose loyalty to Adam Wheeler saw them not really ever accept Gary. This hadn’t been lost on the Hendon faithful and their only loyalty to their former charge was returned when the Ducks came to Claremont Road in October 2002, losing 3-1 with Wheeler in goal, as they chanted Gary Mac’s name for much of the evening. He made 13 appearances over the three seasons of Dave Anderson’s stewardship, his final game keeping a clean sheet at Bedford Town after David Hook suffered back spasms before the match. In all Gary ended making 196 appearances for the club and had already put his name amongst the best goalkeepers to play for the club in the semi-professional era. 
Pondering his next move..
Little did we know though, that this was only the start of the journey we would find ourselves on with him, as we shall see in part two.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Democratic Republic of Carshalton - An Update

Back in August I didn’t go to one of Hendon’s most complete performances of the season when the Greens visited The Memorial Ground, Carshalton and came away with a 3-0 win. Some of you may remember my reasons for not attending, but those of you who haven’t read the piece I wrote some seven or so months ago can have a look here.

To be honest, I was a little uneasy about posting the piece on-line as I wasn’t sure how accurate it was. A Robins fan who was in dispute with the ownership of the club kindly read the piece and was very kind about it, so I posted it and got a lot of very nice feedback.

That was until recently when I received an email from a disgruntled reader. I replicate the correspondence word for word in the interests of balance and fairness.

Dear Mr. Whiskers,
I read with keen interest your blog post in August 2011 entitled ‘Why I Won’t Be Going To Carshalton’ and was horribly offended by the unflattering comparisons you made between the owner / manager of Carshalton Athletic Football Club and Our Dear Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-Il.

Whilst I appreciate that no overt comparison was made, the tone of your post made the point you were trying to make blindingly obvious. 

To be quite honest I wouldn’t expect outsiders to understand just what we are trying to achieve here under the current leadership but believe me that any hardships ‘suffered’ by individuals do not simply happen for no reason. Every action has a consequence and as such, those who choose not to appreciate all the hard work I have done and improvements I have made as being for the good of all concerned should not be able to benefit from the fruits of my labour. I reserve my right in my capacity as the head of this operation to expel those who will not work with me.

I am not so pig-headed as to say that I haven’t made mistakes. I have. The most important thing though is to learn from your mistakes and there is no doubt that I have done s. I recognise the need  to control, censor and filter press releases and communications with my subjects more tightly, improve crowd control at mass rallies to prevent any potential dissent from spreading amongst the 10% who I am doing my best to eradicate from society, and I realise that however much money you invest in a project, there is no guarantee that you will succeed in what you set out to do. When you don’t, the answer is simply to invest a little bit more next time around and reap the benefits.

As a result of your post I have monitored events closely and run my own comparison between the leaderships of Carshalton Athletic FC and DPR Korea and below you can find my conclusions.       
  • I have never and will never correspond with one of my followers by any so impersonal as email or Twitter
  •  I have never abused any of my dear followers with bad language.
  • I have never hand-picked attendees at Party meetings for my own benefit.
  •  Although I have a big ego, it would never allow me to turn a football club into a mini totalitarian state. They should be inherited, never converted.
I look forward to a full and unreserved apology for the unfortunate and unflattering way in which I have been portrayed upon your journal.

Yours with nuclear fusion,

Name supplied (Pyongyang)

Unfortunately, I was unable to post my full and frank apology before my correspondent passed away, but I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that life in North Korea and on the terraces at Carshalton over the last couple of years are very different and that my assertions were both misguided and ill-researched. I have sought to rectify this over the last couple of months with a lot of research and am not much better informed to say that it is not only those in the northern half of the Korean peninsular that would be embarrassed with any comparison made with the leadership of Carshalton Athletic, but that the majority of authoritarian regimes would find life at Colston Avenue repressive even by their standards.

Shortly after my post in August, I was heartened to see an offer from Paul Dipre to the fans than had been banned from home matches to open dialogue and bring an end to the dispute. The result was a joint statement from both parties that appeared to give the green light for everyone to start pulling in the same direction. Unfortunately, as time has progressed, that has not been the case.

I would urge anyone who is anyone to read the supporters forum here and compare them with the soundbites that appear in the Surrey Comet from the manager / owner before drawing their own conclusions as to just how disappointing the season has been from their perspective. ‘Judge me after 10 matches,’ the manager proclaimed as he presented his new signings on an all singing, all dancing power-point presentation that was projected from an airship directly onto the carpet-like turf at the Memorial Ground. After 10 matches Carshalton had 10 points. Not to worry, thought I as I looked back at my pre-season predictions that had them finishing in the play-offs, they just need to gel. They’ll be fine.

An upturn in form around Christmas and New Year coupled with a great run in the FA Trophy that saw them beat Lincoln City suggested that this could well be the case but since the turn of March, they have lost five out of five. All by the odd goal, but scoring just once themselves in the process. With Laurent Hamici (last season’s top goalscorer in the division), Paul Vines (a  proven goalscorer with Tooting & MItcham and Kingstonian) and Dean McDonald (has been injured, but proven at Conference South level) available a return of 36 goals from 34 matches isn’t good enough. To put that into some kind of perspective, only Aveley, Horsham and Hastings have scored less.

In fairness to Dipre, he has identified the problem. ‘To win games, we need to score more goals.’ He’s right. Although, with that level of insight, quite honestly my four year old daughter could be Carshalton manager as she is fully aware of the need to score more goals than the opposition. However, what she probably wouldn’t have been able to do is acknowledge just how challenging things have been this season. I’ve had to explain to her that sometimes players aren’t playing because they’re poorly – something which Dipre apparently didn’t consider at the start of the season ‘I did not expect the issues that have come up in terms of injuries we had at the start of the season and are having now’ fair enough perhaps, but a good manager would anticipate and act when injuries occur – let’s face it, Craig Edwards has had it vastly worse at Billericay this year and seems to be doing alright. 

‘For a first timer starting with a blank sheet, I could have done a lot worse,’ he said last week in the local press. It would have been interesting to see how much worse he would have been prepared to tolerate from another, more proven manager before pointing him towards the car park. There is little doubt that Carshalton have one of the healthier budgets in the division (if some rumours of what some players are earning are even half true then they’re on more money part-time than I am full-time) and so perhaps there is one thing we ought to be thankful to Dipre for it is dispelling the myth that you can give an open chequebook to anyone off the street and they’ll be able to build a squad of promotion challengers.

At the start of the season Dipre said ‘my target is to end the season better than we started it.’ Taking four points from their first two matches was a good start, the way things are going it’s hard to see how even he, can talk up what will be at best, a mid-table finish as being any better than the start of the season, never mind last season. One perhaps for Andy Coulson to get his teeth into.

I hope we never find ourselves as Hendon fans in the situation Carshalton fans are currently in. Trying to support the club they love in the most testing of circumstances any fan could imagine. There’ll be a good number of them at Vale Farm tomorrow, and they deserve a lot better. I hope that Dipre realises that he is not the man for the job, that his ego can allow him to stand down in the summer and appoint a true footballing man to take charge of the team with the same backing that he has allowed himself. I will not be holding my breath.

Tomorrow we will be using those god-forsaken red footballs in aid of Sport Relief. In many ways it would have been more appropriate if it was a Comic Relief year instead.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Three More Points Banked

Looking back upon our win against Lowestoft a fortnight ago I lyrically waxed about our performance and play off prospects, possibly a little too much. The following Tuesday the Trawlerboys went south and lost to a resurgent Hastings United side whilst we spent last weekend labouring in the 2nd half once again on Canvey Island. I ought to have learned long ago to stop reading much into results here, there and everywhere because they mean absolutely Bo-Jiggles in the long run.

So in the wake of this weekend’s 3 points against title chasers AFC Hornchurch, Harry Hyperbole is taking a break and will be replaced by Dougie Dourness.

It was a glorious (Ed – steady on, pleasant will suffice) sunny Saturday in North West Wembley as Hendon looked to build on their recent improved home form against Billericay’s closest challengers as things stand for the title AFC Hornchurch. As I think I’ve said before, the Greens boast a good record against the Urchins, something which considering the heavy influence of Messrs McBride and MacFarlane and their record against Hendon with Purfleet / Thurrock, would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Before kick off on Saturday, Hendon were unbeaten in their previous five meetings with the Urchins, a run that included four wins. The visitors arrived at Vale Farm on the back of a defeat at home to Hastings in midweek that ended a run of four straight wins and clean sheets. Like the Greens, much of the Urchins’ success this season has been built on extremely solid foundations, as you’d expect from a side managed by Jimmy MacFarlane who, for the record, I rate as consistently the best centre half I’ve seen at this level.

In the wake of that reverse MacFarlane rang the changes, James Love replaced Michael Spencer at number 2, Simon Glover was fit to come into the heart of midfield in place of Andy Tomlinson, Tambeson Eyong swapped places with Jonathan Hunt and Lewis Smith returned to the bench. Meanwhile, Gary McCann handed a second debut to on-loan goalkeeper Rikki Banks, who arrived on Friday from Eastbourne Borough, James Parker and Scott Cousins returned in the full back positions after missing the defeat to Hampton in midweek whilst Greg Ngoyi and Elliott Charles led the line up front.

The game began at a frantic pace with the visitors very much on the front foot. I was impressed with them in the early stages. They moved the ball quickly, but with purpose trying to release the pacy men out wide in Eyong and former Thurrock and Sutton man Fola Orinoshole and get good balls into the box for the tall and dangerous Martin Tuohy and Leon McKenzie to attack. Simon Glover sat deep in midfield and passed the ball well, whilst Frankie Curley had license to get into the box and support the two strikers.

Defensively they looked very strong, if not quite as physically imposing as they have in previous years. Elliott Styles and Rickie Hayles are as good a centre half partnership as you’re likely to see this season along with Rob Swaine and Chris Wild this season. It was noticeable in the first 20-25 minutes how much physically stronger they appeared than those in Green shirts, and although not quite hanging on, the back four were under a lot of pressure in those early stages. Going forward, as has often been the case when getting a foothold in a game, there was little in terms of service or support for the front men to enjoy.

Leon McKenzie had the ball in the net early on with a looping header, but the assistant’s flag was already raised signalling offside giving the referee no option but to chalk the goal off. So he did with a great deal of subtlety I thought.

That early effort apart, the Hendon back four, protected by the hard-working Casey Maclaren and Elliott Godfrey did well to keep Banks largely unemployed. At times it was a stretch, but neither Tuohy or McKenzie really had a sniff of goal, much of this was down to the efforts of Parker and Cousins at full back who although on the back foot dealt well with the threat from out wide.

It took 26 minutes for the Greens to have their first effort on goal, Casey Maclaren lashing the ball quite a long way over the top of the bar from distance. Although not troubling Joe Woolley in the Urchins net, it signified the moment where Hendon decided that there were going to be two sides taking part in the game as an attacking force.

Suddenly passes began to find their men, Ngoyi in particular worked the two centre halves harder as the service into him improved and perhaps most importantly, Darren Currie was able to exert some influence on proceedings down the left flank. On a couple of occasions he sold James Love a body swerve or a dummy with a moment of class and gleefully reaped the rewards (Ed – watch those superlatives laddy). He was also responsible for the first effort of note on target in the first period as a free kick was half cleared to him on the right angle of the penalty area. Taking a touch he drilled a low drive through a crowd of bodies that Woolley did very well to not only get down to but also to hold.

On the stroke of half time, the Hornchurch custodian bettered that save after the best Hendon move of the match down the left flank saw Cap’n Cousins swing a beauty of a cross in. Carl McCluskey got up and directed his header towards the top corner of Woolley’s net from about 8 yards out. The goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to get an extremely strong hand at full stretch to the ball and send it behind for a corner. I certainly haven’t seen too many better stops this season by a visiting goalkeeper.

Any Greens fans holding their heads in despair soon experienced the full roller-coaster of emotions as MacLaren picked up the cleared corner down the right hand side, sent a cross over towards Greg at the near post. Someone got a touch and sent the ball off towards the far stick where Elliott Charles was able to climb and after a game of head, nose, shoulders, chest, bundled the ball far enough over the line for the well placed referee to signal goal before it was scooped back to give the home side the half time advantage.

After the break, with Elliott Charles sitting a little deeper on the left flank and what looked to all intents and purposes like a 4-2-3-1 formation similar to the one with which I have achieved so much success with on Football Manager 11 with FC Porto (3 defeats in 57 matches for the record), in order to stem the tidal wave of blue and white shirts that was headed towards our penalty area.

For the most part the early storm was weathered. A couple of long range efforts missed the target by a similar distance, and an impressive run down the right flank by James Love ended with the right back unable to get a decent cross away and Banks was able to smother with ease. Fola Orilonishe then sent an overhead kick towards goal from inside the penalty area which Banks managed to scoop slightly unconventionally around the post for a corner, but these efforts were the exception rather than the rule.

The reason for this, not for the first time, was the excellent performance by the back four and two men shielding them in particular. There was nothing desperate about the way they defended, where possible they passed the ball out from the back in an attempt to relieve the pressure on them rather than just mindlessly hoof the ball onto the head of an opposing centre half for the ball to come straight back at them.

Jimmy MacFarlane introduced the lively Leon Smith with half an hour remaining, popping him on into an inside left position place of Orilonishe and he brought a new dimension to Hornchurch’s attack with his pace and ability to cut inside. He used this to good effect on a couple of occasions, bringing one good low block from Banks, but for the most part, the move probably played into Hendon’s hands as he always looked to cut inside where things were already pretty congested. In theory this could have opened the left flank for Joe Anderson to overlap from left-back, but with James Parker able to pass Smith on when he came inside, he was able to deal effectively with the threat that Anderson provided.

The game was sealed in rather predictable fashion. With Isaiah Rankin on the pitch and the game deep in stoppage time you know there’s every chance of a goal. And so it proved once again as the substitute broke into the visitors half, controlling a long clearance with a delightful first touch. He was away, with two Urchins in pursuit trying to pick his pocket and although they kept pace with the striker, they couldn’t muscle him off the ball without giving away a free kick and their place on the pitch as this was a very definite goalscoring opportunity. Ranks proved as much by powerfully sending the ball over the advancing Joe Woolley (who did well to get a hand to the effort) and into the roof of the net.

As the Greens wheeled away, forward and back in delight, further back towards the halfway line it became obvious that Ryan Wharton and Leon McKenzie were involved in a ‘full and frank’ discussion. The Hendon number four very definitely landed a fairly meaty jab onto the Hornchurch number 10’s chin, but had the wisdom to do it whilst the official’s attention were otherwise engaged 80 odd yards away. I can’t imagine that McKenzie was entirely innocent as Wharton isn’t the kind of bloke to randomly smack a bloke without some kind of mitigating reason. Both benches became involved, one Hornchurch fan in particular showed his displeasure with Wharton extremely vocally and to be fair, I can understand why. The referee, once order had been restored, showed both men a yellow card, presumably because that was the simple thing to do having not witnessed the original incident.

The goal was pretty much the final kick of the game, and another very impressive three points were racked up. The side moved up the table to 5th, back into the play-offs and with only Cray and Wealdstone in touching distance if they win their games in hand. One suspects that the home fixture with Cray on the 27th is going to play a massive part in proceedings, a win could be enormous. However, the key isn’t going to be one home match, it’s is likely to be how we get on against those sides with little to play for towards the end of the season and battling against relegation. For the time being, with a free midweek to get people focused for the tricky trip to Concord on Saturday, the fans can look back on another job very well done.

Player Ratings

1. Rikki Banks: Returned on Friday for his second loan spell at Hendon and performed very well. Highly rated by Lewes, Gary’s pulled off a masterstroke getting him in again. Looks more dominant and commanding than six years ago and picked up a well deserved blank sheet. 7/10

2. James Parker: Up against an experienced winger in Fola Orilonishe and then a different threat in Lewis Smith, Parks had one of his most impressive games of the season. Coming into form at a crucial point in the season. 8

3. Scott Cousins: Once again dealt well with a pacy opponent, keeping the service from his side of the pitch to two good centre forwards at a minimum. Linked up well with Darren Currie, and later Michael Lewis. 7

4. Ryan Wharton: Went dangerously close to blotting his copybook with a moment of madness just ahead of the final whistle, but up until that point had been as impressively solid and strong as ever this season. 7

5. James Fisher: Superb performance at centre half bringing an air of calm authority to proceedings defensively. Organises things well and compliments Ryan Wharton very nicely. Better in the air than you expect him to be given his relatively short stature. 8

6. Casey Maclaren: Another excellent midfield performance by the elder Maclaren. Kept his head after a first half booking, broke up Hornchurch’s rhythm and momentum well and supplied the cross for the first goal. 8

7. Carl McCluskey: Moments of brilliance paired with moments of infuriation. Unlucky not to score just before the first goal when his header was brilliantly saved, but had a tendency to overplay after beating a couple of men when simple passes were on. 7

8. Elliott Godfrey:  Worked his nuts off alongside Casey Maclaren in a more defensive role, particularly 2nd half than perhaps he is used to but did the hard work very diligently. 8

9. Greg Ngoyi: As tireless as ever up front he didn’t get a sniff of goal and was well marshalled by Elliott Styles and Rickie Hayles. Replaced midway through the 2nd half. 6

10. Darren Currie: Once Hendon had got a foothold in the game, he came into his own and dictated things in the last quarter of an hour of the first half with some moments of quality. A great influence on the side. 8

11. Elliott Charles: Got the first goal and led the line with his usual strength and pace. Worked hard, managed to stay onside for most of the game before being replaced late on for Rankin. 7


12. Jamie Busby: Late change for Darren Currie to help shore up the midfield

13. Isaiah Rankin: Once again a goalscoring cameo to seal the three points. Genuinely classy goal from start to finish 8

17. Michael Lewis: Gave us a better shape on the left flank midway through the 2nd half and allowed Elliott Charles to play as the target man. Worked hard and used the ball with intelligence 7

Match Rating: 6/10
Star Man: James Fisher
Verdict: Another excellent three points against another decent side once again underlining the side’s play-off credentials. It’s quite a few years since games against the top four sides in the division will have yielded four wins out of eight matches, the key in the run in is going to be the matches against sides lower in the division. All very much still to play for.

Note: A big thanks to Rob Monger of AFC Hornchurch for his fine work with the video camera and making the goals available on youtube.