Tuesday 6th March 2018, 1945 KO
Sutton United vs Woking
The Build Up
After the entire National League system (stand fast Dover Athletic and Leyton Orient) took a snow day on Saturday, most teams were raring to get back into action on Tuesday. Two of those teams were set to compete in the Old Surrey Derby, a match which I was looking forward to following on twitter. However, you know how it goes, and at around 0030 on Tuesday morning, unable to sleep, I committed to making the short 4 mile trip to Gander Green Lane to take in Sutton United vs Woking in the Vanarama National League.
Now I’ve been to this ground a number of times now, so if you’re visiting the Us, and want to learn a bit about the ground, then check out my entries from the Gateshead or Hendon fixtures. Regular readers will also be disappointed to learn that I won’t be showing the carby goodness I’ve indulged in either, mainly because the late decision meant my girlfriend has already defrosted the chicken for tonight’s dinner – so I’d be right in the shit if I went and scranned a load of chips and burgers…
This match has been dubbed by some as the Old Surrey Derby, but with a 21 mile drive from door to door, it’s fair to say it’s not the most keenly felt. Certainly for Sutton, the now rare encounter with Tooting & Mitcham gets the blood pumping more.
The Us were in good form heading into this fixture, sitting pretty in 2nd, only five points behind Macclesfield Town. With Tranmere, Aldershot, Boreham Wood and Wrexham all breathing down their necks, Paul Doswell couldn’t allow his side any slip ups. In February, the man affectionately known as Dos – a bona fide legend in these parts – signed Byron Harrison on loan from Barrow to help get across the finish line, and the Wandsworth born striker had started well, scoring twice in three games.
With the Play Offs extended to six teams this season, it is a significant advantage (specifically, fewer matches to the Play Off final…) to finish 2nd or 3rd, so even if Sutton are unable to haul in Macclesfield, those spots are the target. However, with the best form in the National League (four wins, two draws) don’t bet against the men from South London closing the gap.
Woking were visiting with very different priorities, after a testing week for the club and those associated to it. Currently 15th, Woking hadn’t managed to win away since October and their last three fixtures had seen two losses and a draw. However, manager Anthony Limbrick and his squad had been dealing with more important issues this week, with the sad news that midfielder Damon Lathrope’s career has been ended by a leg break suffered at Boreham Wood.
At the age of 28, damage to the soft tissue sustained in the leg break had seen Lathrope call time on his playing days following medical advice. The hugely popular player, who joined from Torquay in January earned widespread plaudits for the humility and positivity he displayed whilst dealing with this understandably devastating news. Woking have committed to honouring the player’s contract, whilst a GoFundMe page – www.gofundme.com/damonlathrope – had raised over £4,400 for him and his family at the time of writing.
Woking would be desperate to win this match for Lathrope, but beyond that, to try and recapture some of their sparkling early season form. Indeed, they won the last time these sides met, 2-0 at Kingfield Stadium.
Sutton United’s ground has become one of the most talked about in the nonleague circuit (and indeed the EFL…) over the last few weeks, particularly as their stunning 3G pitch was one of only twelve nonleague playing surfaces in the country able to support football at the weekend. I was at that match, Sutton Common Rovers vs AFC Hayes, and with the rest of the country portrayed as this inhospitably dystopian Arctic wasteland, the GGL surface was in a condition that would the gardens at Buckingham Palace to shame.
The fact that Sutton United, should they secure an historic promotion, would have to face the appalling conundrum of spending around £500,000 (more than the £472,000 awarded for ELF League Two football…) to change their surface, or face relegation to the Vanarama National League South is ridiculous. Added to this absurd financial quandary, would be the loss of revenue to Sutton, who are currently able to rent out their pitch to schools, local age group teams and other senior sides (namely SCR). How, in an age where attritional contact sports such as NFL and Rugby Union can be played on 3G, when the FA and FIFA allow matches to be played on that surface – is it still outlawed at EFL level?
Sutton are not the only club in this position, with Maidstone and Bromley also facing a similar dilemma, however it is Sutton’s success this season which has thrown the question into the spotlight. In addition to the finances, the attendances at Sutton are up 30% this season, to a 2,158 average – an element of which is due to the wider community engagement a 3G pitch facilitates and enables. 3G pitches contribute to matches actually being played throughout winter, to clubs becoming financially sustainable, and to communities engaging with this great sport. It can surely only be a matter of time until the EFL relents, but with a vote not due until later this summer, why should Sutton United suffer because the suits at EFL are too intransigent to move with the times?
Onto the stuff we all actually go to football for – the, erm, football. Neither side fashioned any early chances, and the first that came about was something of a fluke. A cross from the right for Sutton United struck the crossbar after seven minutes, with ‘keeper Nathan Baxter nowhere near it. If that was flukey, Woking’s first (and – spoiler alert) only proper chance came about through a shoddy bit of judgement by Terrell Thomas. Thomas has looked like a real find since joining on loan from Wigan, but eleven minutes in potentially forgot that he wasn’t still on loan to Woking when he played an awful back pass towards Jamie Butler. Except, it wasn’t really towards Butler, more directly into the path of Louie Theophanous, who’s recently arrived at Woking from the Glenn Tamplin Circus. He wasn’t quick enough to react though, and Butler was out to snuff out the danger.
That was, sadly, as close as The Cards came to scoring all evening, and was the only bit of work Butler actually had to do. I’m not really sure what else he did with his time, but I’d suggest next time he brings a book, because he must have been bored to tears.
It took until thirty minutes for the next activity of note, as the ball was launched from end to end aimlessly. Woking seemed more than happy to try and crowd Sutton players out in their own half, and then simply launch long for Theophanous and Reece Grego-Cox to chase, which was easily handled by the two Thomas’s (Aswad and Terrell), Jamie Collins and Louis John. Sutton often found themselves dragged down to Woking’s level in the first half, but one of the rare times they did manage to get the ball down, Harry Beautyman got wide and sent a dangerous ball across the box, which no one could get on the end of.
This was a harbinger of things to come, as moments later, more good work by Beautyman, and his mucker Tom Bolarinwa resulted in the unlikely figure of skipper Jamie Collins getting a shot away, which was deflected behind.
When Beautyman swung in the resulting corner kick, Collins rose well at the back post to nod on, where Byron Harrison got his head to the ball. This skimmed off into a defender and ricocheted around, with Harrison getting the crucial touch (apparently) to put the ball in the net, and give Us the lead.
Over the next ten minutes Sutton got five or six crosses into the back, which drew a sizeable “ooo” from the 2,019 strong crowd each time, but to no avail. With no more significant incidents in the first half, the referee called time on the first period with the hosts one up. To this point it had been quite attritional, with neither team really demonstrating what they could do. Jamie Collins was imperious in both boxes, and the pace of Beautyman, Bolarinwa and Tommy Wright was providing a good outlet for Sutton.
Wright could consider himself unlucky to be subbed for Kieran Cadogan at half time, as Doswell sought to stretch the game. Whilst Wright was the fall guy, the tactical change worked, and Sutton proceeded to really dominate the second half. In fact, it took them only one minute to create an opening, when the busy Beautyman landed an accurate deep free kick on the granite skull of Collins, but his header was loose, and Nathan Baxter gathered easily.
A few minutes later, Collins – playing as a centre back/centre forward hybrid apparently – got a flick on to another free kick, which dropped to a Woking defender under pressure from Harrison. The unfortunate centre back could only scramble the ball behind for a corner, where once again Sutton found the net.
When Beautyman’s corner was half cleared, it arrived at the feet of Kieran Cadogan. The forward signed from Sweden’s GAIS had looked sharp since coming on, and slid the ball wide to Beautyman, who had remained wide. He crossed low, and found Bolarinwa arriving late, who slid the ball home from twelve yards to double the advantage. Cue jubilation, Beautyman celebrating with the fans, and Bolarinwa going for a Pogba-esque dance. 10/10 for match impact, but the Strictly judges wouldn’t have been impressed.
A few minutes later, Byron Harrison came close to adding another, from a bit of defending so bad you could imagine Shkodran Mustafi doing it. When former Peterborough man Nathan Ralph attempted to head back to his keeper, Byron Harrison couldn’t believe his luck at finding himself one on one with the ‘keeper and with time to think. However, Baxter thought quicker, and came out well to smother Harrison’s shot.
With an hour played, Sutton United were unlucky to be denied a penalty, when a frankly absurd lofted pass by Bolarinwa found Cadogan on the left wing. Cadogan held the play up well, awaiting support, and found it in the form of Craig Eastmond. I’m impressed by Eastmond every time I watch him, and find he has an impressive knack of always arriving at the second ball just before the opposition. He was everywhere again today, and when he ran on to Cadogan’s slipped pass, made short work of beating Joey Jones and hitting the byline. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, Jones seemingly caught his lower leg, but referee David Rock wasn’t interested.
Harrison had one more good chance for Sutton, this time provided by Aswad Thomas, who streamed down the left to good effect in the second half. When Cadogan broke well from midfield and teed up Thomas, it looked as though his cross to the back post was too deep. It was a surprise therefore, when Harrison somehow managed to steer his volley back towards goal – impressive technique, but the clang of football on metal indicated he’d been foiled again.
Sutton really had been dominant in the second period, but for the last five Woking pushed on and threatened to grab a consolation. Despite still not forcing Butler into a save, there was a half chance on 86 minutes for captain Richard Orlou. When a cross from the right was half cleared, it fell to Orlou just inside the penalty area, but like a true centre back, he put his foot right through it, and cleared it for a goal kick.
The Wash Up
A valuable win for Sutton, who are now just two points behind Macclesfield Town (although the Silkmen have a game in hand). It was a comfortable victory in the end, and Paul Doswell’s side really did hold Woking at arms length throughout. Woking’s strategy of launching long balls played right into the hands of Sutton’s centre backs, and in Cadogan, Bolarinwa, Beautyman and Wright the Us have plenty of players capable of breaking at speed. Craig Eastmond offered a masterclass in carrying the ball ten yards before teeing up one of his pacier teammates today. Another positive, is that they won this match well without ever really having to get out of second gear.
Woking finish the day where they started, in 15th. Whilst relegation isn’t a realistic worry – there are more than four sides worse than them in this division – they are in danger of their season petering out. Limbrick will need to find a way to raise morale, and getting a result on the road would go a huge way towards that. I thought Anthony Cook was probably the best player for Woking on the day, and was at least trying to do something when in possession, but it wasn’t enough on the day.
Sutton, on the other hand, had a raft of good performers. Aswad Thomas and Craig Eastmond always impress me, whilst Beautyman was effervescent, and Cadogan a livewire when he came on. Byron Harrison has clearly slotted into Doswell’s set up and has now got three goals already, and could prove a crucial acquisition for the run in. Jamie Collins was a colossus at both ends, winning the ball every time it came within his no fly zone, and really marshalled the defence well.
On any other day, his performance would have been enough to secure man of the match, but when Tom Bolarinwa played like he did, and scored, Collins will have to settle for second place. The November signing from Grimsby was a bright spark in the first half, but was practically unplayable at times in the second.
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