FA Cup: Little Common 0 Hendon 1
PUBLISHED: 16:27 08 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:27 08 September 2019
Hendon avoided the banana-skin of an FA Cup upset at a club two steps lower in the football pyramid, as a late Romario Jonas goal saw off Southern Combination League Little Common at Eastbourne United's The Oval ground.
The Commoners have had to give up their Recreation Ground home in the suburbs of Bexhill-on-Sea because the local council refuse to do the necessary building work on updating it to host matches at step five of non-league football.
Far from ideal, being some distance from Bexhill, Little Common now call Eastbourne home - and, as an aside, the Commoners' reserve team game at the Recreation Ground was abandoned the night before because of a floodlight failure!
As a result, The Oval has hosted a lot of matches and it has not been allowed enough time to recover. The pitch was bumpy, dry and uneven and, when the wind was factored in, it had a deleterious effect on the quality of the game, something that almost certainly favoured the hosts.
There were four changes to the Hendon starting XI from the one on duty at Yate a week earlier, with Chris Grace, Romario Jonas, Conor Calcutt and Dan Williams coming in for Tyla Dickinson, Luke Tingey, Ram Marwa and Tahjae Anderson, respectively.
The seven-man bench included two recent signings, Harvie Gardiner and Tom Nyama, the latter making his debut around the hour mark.
It was clear from the outset that Little Common were going to soak up pressure and look to hit Hendon on the break while, at the same time, trying to keep possession.
The tactics worked in the main because Hendon failed to bring their shooting boots with them and Matt Cruttwell had very little to do in terms of making saves.
A good block by a Commoners defender in a goalmouth scramble after 14 minutes was the best that Hendon could muster for more than half an hour.
Kam English was lucky not to receive a yellow card for a challenge on Jordan Harley, who was left limping after the striker had tried to block a clearance. But there was bad news for the Commoners, who lost creative midfielder Sam Cruttwell after 28 minutes and he was replaced by Paul Feakins
Then in the space of five minutes just before half-time, the Dons had three good scoring opportunities.
First was a chance for Calcutt, who attacked from a narrow angle, but he rather screwed his shot wide, the ball missing the far post by some distance.
Williams had the next opening, but he hurried his attempt and missed the target from a good shooting position. Just before the break, Calcutt and Williams combined for a really good chance. Williams' effort was probably going just wide of the post, but Calcutt got a touch to make sure Matt Cruttwell had no save to make. However, if the ball had been inside the upright, he would not have reached it.
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For the hosts, Jamie Crone came close to giving Hendon a difficult moment, but he was unable to reach a cross. A diagonal ball, in the last minute of the half, picked out Lewis Hole in acres of space, but his touch let him down and Grace was able to gather the ball.
At the start of the second half, Luca Valentine and Williams, twice, all had shots from good positions, but none troubled Matt Cruttwell and, with an hour gone, Hendon nerves were starting to jangle as the deadlock remained intact and one incisive moment from Little Common might prove disastrous.
Nyama had just replaced Valentine, adding steel to the midfield, when those Dons fears were nearly realised. A challenge just inside the Hendon penalty area had the home fans and players screaming for a penalty, but the referee would have none of it.
With 20 minutes remaining, Hendon had another scare when Hole went down in a challenge a few yards outside the penalty area in a central area.
Player manager Russell Eldridge, formerly with Hastings United, took responsibility for the free-kick and his low drive was gathered low by his near post by Grace, smothering the ball before it could get away from him.
Crone then made space for a shot with a good run around the edge of the Dons' box. His shot, however, rolled just wide of the post, though Grace appeared to have it covered.
Five minutes later, Williams did well attacking down the left side and put in a low cross. It was just too strong for both Calcutt and English who failed to divert the ball goalwards as they ran in.
The Commoners had made their two final changes, Ollie Wells making way for Dan Ryan and Sam Ellis limping off to be replaced Joe Brister. It meant that they were unable to add to their attacking options if, and - as it turned out, when - they fell behind.
In the 80th minute, Hendon forced a corner and Charlie Smith ran across to take the set-piece. The ball was delivered to the middle of the very congested penalty area and Jonas ran in to plant a powerful header into the net beyond Matt Cruttwell who had failed to reach the cross.
Before play restarted Anderson replaced English for the Greens. Even though there was significant time remaining, Anderson was quick to waste time by taking the ball to the corner flag and proving very difficult to dispossess.
The Commoners were being held at arms' length by a solid back five, with Smith and Romas being more than ably assisted by Howard Hall, Tom Hamblin (who had been dangerous as an attacking force at set-pieces too) and Lee Chappell, the provider of numerous long throws into the danger.
With three minutes of normal time remaining, Ryan Hope made a break from midfield and he fired off a shot, but like most of the efforts from the men in tangerine, the accuracy was lacking.
As the game went past the 90-minute mark, Hendon fans wondered how much additional time would be added, and they were pleased and surprised in equal amounts as the referee blew the final whistle barely 15 seconds later, ending what had been a difficult but ultimately successful afternoon.
Hendon: Grace, Hall, Smith, Chappell, Hamblin, Jonas, Hope, Valentine (Nyama, 66), Calcutt, Williams, English (Anderson, 81). Unused subs: Gardiner, Abdollahi, McGleish, Boyce, Dickinson.