Director of football Trevor Collins urged Bury Town’s players to stick together after getting a first-hand look at their troubles on Saturday.
Much like their FA Trophy exit to Hendon three weeks earlier, the Blues pushed their high-flying visitors all the way before succumbing to a 3-1 loss in the Ryman League Premier Division.
Bury deserved more from the match, but Chris Benjamin had an injury-time penalty saved and Hendon’s Kezie Ibe immediately rubbed salt in the hosts’ wounds by breaking away to net the promotion-chasers’ third goal.
“I thought it was a great performance — the boys showed some real character,” said Collins, who was in the dugout to give manager Ben Chenery a helping hand. “It just shows how close we are — a missed penalty — and we could even have gone on and won the game, but Hendon are a good side and punished us.
“Things aren’t going our way at the moment, but we have got to stick together because there is too much character and too much belief in that dressing room.
“If they do that, they will be fine.”
The Blues made three changes — two enforced — to the side who started the previous Tuesday’s defeat at Harrow Borough, with John Kennedy, Joe Whight and Chris Benjamin replacing Phill Weavers and the suspended duo of Callum Bennett and Miles Smith as they reverted to a 3-5-2 system.
It took some time for the match to spark into life and Joe Whight’s goal-saving tackle on Lee O’Leary was the only noteworthy moment of the opening 15 minutes.
John Kennedy volleyed the hosts’ first effort off target and Ibe chested left-winger Andre da Costa’s powerful left-footed cross wide of the near post.
Da Costa was causing Kye Ruel and Jordan Patrick all sorts of problems down Hendon’s left and he showed he was just as accurate with his right foot when he cut inside and sent over an inswinging cross that Leon Smith powered home with his head.
The dazzling wideman also forced Archer to block with his legs, but Bury got themselves back on level terms in the 34th minute through Russell Short.
Whight brought the ball out of defence to start a wonderful move that finished with Joe Benjamin playing in Patrick on the right and the pacy former Cambridge United man cutting the ball back for Short to coolly convert into the bottom right corner.
However, just as in defeat at Harrow, a goal in first-half stoppage time swung the match back in the opposition’s favour.
The Blues failed to react quick enough when their own attack broke down and Lee O’Leary’s scuffed shot was going well wide until Ibe — who didn’t seem to know much about it — diverted the ball over Archer and into the corner of the net.
Unlike in the loss at Harrow, Bury took the game to Hendon at the start of the second half and Joe Benjamin was denied by a smart save from visiting goalkeeper Ben McNamara, who also backpedaled quickly to push Whight’s deep free-kick over the bar.
The visitors remained a threat and Dave Diedhiou was somehow kept out by a stunning save at point-blank range from Archer, who also parried a stinging shot.
Ibe missed from 18 yards when he should have put the game to bed, but at the other end Joe Benjamin was becoming more and more of a threat as the game went on and found the gloves of McNamara before creating two glorious chances in the final 10 minutes.
The powerful frontman muscled his way through four challenges to the byline and drove a low cross that was just in front of Chris Benjamin and Tevan Allen, who toe-ended the ball harmlessly wide when the goal would have been at his mercy had he been a few inches further advanced.
There was an even better opportunity in injury time when Joe Benjamin thrust his way into the box and was illegally felled by a sliding tackle, but Chris Benjamin’s penalty to the bottom right corner lacked power and McNamara turned the ball around the post.
Ibe, who earlier had a strike ruled out for offside, rubbed salt in Bury’s wounds seconds later when he latched on to a pass over the top and rolled the ball under Archer to seal three points for the Ryman Premier’s third-placed side.
The devastated Blues left the pitch to some frustrated shouts when a converted penalty could have made all the difference.
Reflecting on the late saved penalty, Collins praised Chris Benjamin’s willingness to step forward and added: “Remi Garrett was on the pitch and he was one of the penalty- takers, while Connor Hall put himself forward for it as well.
“But when a player on the pitch grabs the ball and they are adamant they want it, sometimes it is difficult not to let them because they are confident.”