Hendon dominated possession and played the better of what football was on show in gale force conditions, but it was AFC Wimbledon that possessed the cutting edge required to steal away from Claremont Road with all three points.
Luke Garrard had recovered from illness and manager Terry Brown recalled Daniel Webb and Steve Ferguson in place of Alfie Potter and Robin Shroot to give the Dons a more ‘robust’ look going forward. Hendon could call upon former Wombles Lee O’Leary and Casey MacLaren, while attackers Belal Aiteouakrim and Brian Haule would give Jason Goodliffe and co. plenty to think about.
Despite a strong wind in their faces, the Greens tried to take the game to their visitors. Inside sixty seconds, James Burgess played in Aiteouakrim behind the Dons’ back line but the lively striker fired wide.
Against the run of early exchanges, the visitors took the lead. Luke Garrard’s free kick from deep broke to Daniel Webb in the box and, as he tried to bring the ball under control, a defender’s arm got in the way. The penalty seemed harsh on the hosts but young full-back, Chris Hussey, stepped up and displayed composure beyond his years to coolly drill his side in front.
Hendon continued to defy the blustery conditions and difficult surface with some neat one and two touch approach play. Haule worked his way down the right and crossed to Burgess arriving untracked in the box, but again the finish was poor with the winger shinning his effort over the bar.
The South West Londoners began to respond with most of the good ideas stemming from Romone Rose up front. The QPR loanee engineered an almost impossible delivery from the right and only Luke Blackmore’s fine parry denied Steve Ferguson from converting his second near post header in consecutive matches.
The match gathered a bit of end to end momentum. Blackmore saved Rose’s 20-yard speculator low to his right, before Aiteouakrim forced Pullen into action, the Dons keeper scrambling to keep out a scruffy effort from the edge of the box.
If Hendon thought the earlier penalty was a soft decision, they were somewhat luckier not to concede a second one. Tony Finn tried his luck from distance; Blackmore fumbled it and, as Webb and Rose went in to pick up the pieces, the Dons’ target man appeared to be hauled down – but the referee saw no infringement.
However, the Dons would go on to extend their lead seven minutes before the break. Webb bulldozed his way to the left hand by-line and clipped the ball back to the penalty spot for Rose, who seemed to hang in the air for an eternity before powering his header into the top left hand corner.
Undeterred the home side battled on to find a way back into the contest. In first half stoppage time Danny Dyer lashed the ball across the six-yard box from the right; it squirmed under Pullen only for Jason Goodliffe to thump it off the line ensuring the visitors would take their two-goal cushion into the break.
With a strong wind now helping Hendon to pile the pressure on, a shoot on site policy was enacted. Dyer darted in from the right but Pullen saw his attempt all the way. The Greens maintained long periods of possession but couldn’t turn it into clear cut chances with the visiting back line working hard to hold firm. With 20 minutes to go, Hendon manager Gary McCann freshened up his attacking options introducing Lubomir Guentchev and Davis Haule for Dyer and Marc Leach.
The travelling Dons, who in truth had struggled throughout the second period to find any rhythm, served up their best move of the match. Rose was once again at the heart of things, robbing a defender and riding three tackles before laying off to Ferguson on the right. The Scot floated his cross to the far post where Webb was arriving but the forward couldn’t quite guide his header on target.
At the other end, Lee O’Leary found a perfectly weighted ball for Brian Haule to latch on to, but again the finish was poor with just the keeper to beat.
Sam Hatton went close with a well worked free-kick 25 yards out, spinning and shooting just over the cross bar.
But, with ten minutes remaining, concentration started to falter in the visiting defence as energy levels ran low on the heavy pitch. Guentchev struck the post with the Dons at sixes and sevens; the rebound found its way over Pullen but was cleared off the line. Another defensive error let in Haule but the former Eastleigh keeper was sharp off his line to deny the Greens’ top scorer. The tall number nine got the better of Goodliffe again, this time getting his shot on target but finding Pullen in good form to edge it round the post.
Hendon may feel this result was rough justice in a match where they more than held their own, but the Wimbledon manager will no doubt be pleased with his team’s dogged graft even if the craft eluded them for long spells. It’s all about taking the chances and that’s what the Dons are doing at the moment.
Seven league wins from the last eight have thrust the Wombles into a ‘no man’s land’ between the playoff bun fight below and Chelmsford at the summit. If Terry Brown’s squad is to have any chance of bridging the eight point gap to their Claret rivals, only a win at Melbourne Park next week will do.