The game: Hendon v. East Thurrock United.
The ground: Earlsmead Stadium.
The conditions: dry and mild; just the way I like my Pinot Grigio.
Monday night football is always a bit of a luxury. Sunday’s pub roast feels like a distant memory, the grimmest working weekday has crept slowly by, your boss has just given you your first deadline and then – wait, what’s this?! – you’re having a pint, watching sport and fraternising with other humans, none of whom want to talk about corporate synergy. Add a relatively temperate climate to all this, and the whole thing feels like a real treat; no wonder, then, that the Earlsmead hosted a fair few fans for Monday’s potentially pivotal contest between the ‘Greens’ of Hendon and the ‘Rocks’ of East Thurrock United.
With the sides so close in the Ryman League table – and in direct competition for a play-off spot – this was always going to be a tight affair. The opening ten minutes were even, both teams feeling out the opposition; the torn-up turf made it difficult for either side to play expansive football, and the majority of the early attacks petered out. Still, it only took twelve minutes for a goal to come. A fairly innocuous cross found the Rocks’ top scorer, Sam Higgins, in the Hendon box; his on-target header was palmed back into a dangerous area by home stopper Ben McNamara, and this mistake was duly punished – the ball thrashed into the net by United’s Kye Ruel.
The next fifteen minutes saw Hendon up the pace in response. Tony Taggart and Andre Da Costa combined well on the left, Dave Diedhiou and Kezie Ibe on the right; working the flanks well, they looked to set up the industrious Leon Smith at every opportunity. Still, the momentum hadn’t entirely swung their way. In the twenty-third minute, after a beautiful cross-field ball from the Rocks’ Ross Parmenter, forward Mitchell Gilbey was sent through one on one with McNamara; a brilliantly-executed, last-ditch tackle from Diedhiou was the only thing that stopped him tucking a second away. Had the tackle been mistimed, the Hendon full back would have conceded a penalty and almost certainly seen red. Fine margins.
In the twenty-fifth minute, a rapid Hendon move saw Leon Smith surge into the Rocks’ box; he set up the overlapping Da Costa on his left, but the Portuguese midfielder could only crack a shot high across the away net. Three minutes later, Smith was at the heart of another attack, chesting down a long ball before firing at United’s keeper David Hughes; his shot was deflected just wide for a Hendon corner.
It was from this corner that the home side equalised. A perfect delivery fell to the feet of Greens’ defender Charlie Goode; with his back to goal, he then swivelled and slammed a shot past Hughes. After the jubilant home celebrations had died down, both sides were restricted to strikes from distance and half chances. Tony Taggart impressed for Hendon in defence and attack, bombing up and down the left wing, while Rocks’ goalscorer Ruel also stood out, going close on a couple of occasions; neither could influence the scoreline, however, and it remained level at the break.
The second half was far more pragmatic. Both teams began with endeavour, but few openings were created. Things did briefly burst into life in the fifty-eighth minute, when Diedhiou, high up the pitch, blasted a twenty-yard effort at goal which Hughes only just tipped over the bar; the Greens then nearly scored once more from the ensuing corner, Elliott Brathwaite’s swipe from five yards parried safely away. A couple of minutes later, Ben McNamara made up for his earlier error by keeping out a Ross Parmenter strike. After this, chances were even scarcer.
Another small burst of action around the seventy-minute mark saw Sam Higgins fire straight at McNamara from twelve yards, before a Hendon counterattack led to a corner which Charlie Goode headed over from close range. Both teams made themselves hard to break down, both were well organised, but the bobbling, divot-laden pitch simply would not oblige the attackers. Hendon substitute Aaron Morgan had a shot saved in the seventy-seventh minute, before Higgins saw a strong drive pushed out by McNamara ten minutes later. Without further ado, the whistle went.
The teams were equals on the night, and a draw was exactly the right result. There won’t be much separating Greens and Rocks at the end of the season, on this evidence; happily for me, there are plenty more Monday match ups to watch before then.
Result: Hendon 1 East Thurrock United 1.
My MoM: Tony Taggart (Hendon). Contributed well in attack without foregoing his defensive duties. All-action.
Best fans: we all went to Monday night football. We are all the best fans.