Saturday 7th July 2018, 1306 Kick Off
Sutton United FC vs Coventry City FC
Well, it’s 31˚C, and it feels as though the league season has only just finished, but as Mitchell & Webb famously pointed out, the football is officially going on forever and as such, nonleague sides up and down the country are already a week or two into their pre-season preparations. To that end, I dusted off the hangover I acquired watching that absolute tart Neymar getting knocked out of the World Cup, and bowled on down to Gander Green Lane, to watch Sutton United host Coventry City in their first pre-season friendly.
Regular readers will be familiar with my usual format, but quite frankly, with the entire nation drunkenly staggering around unable to comprehend that England have got to the World Cup Semi Final (the fucking semi final!), I can’t be arsed as no one in their right mind would actually read about a pre-season friendly. Instead, what I’m going to do, is post some pictures, and jot down a few casual – and not particularly pertinent – observations on the match.
1. It is still far, far too hot for football in England. I absolutely sweated myself empty just watching the game, so I have complete sympathy with anyone who actually had to play in that match. Sensible option exercised by the referee to allow a water break for the players mid-way through each half. I mean, just look at Kieron Cadogan and Craig Eastmond – they look knackered!
2. Speaking of the referee, clearly it isn’t only players who get rusty in the off season. The ref started the game six minutes late, and then ended the first half after 44:34, before calling time on the match with the clock still only showing 87 minutes… To be fair, it was probably for the best, with the air conditioned bar and a chance to watch football take another step on its journey home waiting tantalisingly inside.
3. In terms of the actual match, Sutton looked the sharper of the sides, and ended up running out deserved 2-0 winners. In a lethargic first half, typified by errors (entirely understandably), an own goal by an unidentified Coventry player was the pinnacle of the sloppiness. A pass back to Lee Burge in goal was missed by the ‘keeper whilst he was busy getting a drink, and the ball ended up in the net. 1-0 at half time, and as Coventry changed their entire side for the second half, bringing on a lot of younger lads, Sutton dominated the rest of the game. Paul Doswell also made a raft of changes for the second half, replacing new players such as Dale Bennett, Jonah Ayunga and Dan Wishart with some of his regulars from last season. The increased familiarity led to slicker movement in the final third, and it was no surprise when Craig Dundas turned well in the box after good work by Josh Taylor and Aswad Thomas to double the lead.
4. Neither manager will be particularly fussed by the result, but it was a good chance for both teams to get football miles in the legs, and I was impressed by the work rate for both sides – but especially the Us – in the heat. Whilst there were naturally poor touches and misplaced passes, there was no lack of commitment and tenacity, and the likes of Nicky Bailey, Jamie Collins and Craig Eastmond were typically firm in the tackle.
5. An early opportunity for both Paul Doswell and Sutton’s fans to see their new (and returning) signings in action, and a few words about them. Charlie Clough has arrived from Barnet, and is suitably massive at the back. He could well form a good partnership with Jamie Collins, and there was nice communication between them even at this early stage. Two new arrivals from Forest Green Rovers also started, in each full back position. Dan Wishart, who apparently lives on a diet purely consisting of protein and dumbells was a very physical presence, but also drove forward well in possession, whilst Dale Bennett was at times caught in possession, but put together a few nice passages of play with Tom Bolarinwa. Jonah Ayunga also started, but confusingly wearing Dean Beckwith’s shirt – a Kenyan striker with Brighton & Hove Albion, I can only assume he was on trial pending a potential loan move. This would make sense, as having clearly decided not to take loanee Byron Harrison permanently after his Barrow contract ended, up front is probably the one area where Doswell could do with additions. Ayunga was busy up front, and kept centre backs Dominic Hyam and Rod McDonald busy, whilst one snap shot from edge of the area tested Lee Burge who had to get down well and divert behind.
6. Another potential solution up front is Craig Dundas if can keep the legs going. The veteran striker will turn 38 this season, but – a personal trainer in his day job – he clearly keeps himself in good nick, and was more than a handful for the young Coventry centre backs when he came on. Dundo is a legend in this corner of South London, and it would be no surprise to see him play an important part as the season progresses. He took his goal well today, receiving the cross from Aswad Thomas, turning smartly in the box and making space to squeeze his shot inside the far post.
7. This pre-season friendly was notable for another striker, with Maxime Biamou (who signed a new contract on the 6th) returning to Sutton United for the first time since his departure for Coventry last summer. The French striker scored ten goals in his time at Sutton, but was well contained by the physical pairing of Collins and Clough today.
8. Behind that pairing was Jamie Butler, who was impressively vocal throughout. My main point about Jamie Butler though, is that he wears a short sleeved ‘keeper’s kit, which is something I particularly enjoy. I always think that goalies in short sleeved shirts have a potential to be a little bit more mental, which is a highly important trait in a Number One. This is a big thumbs up from me.
9. The player who impressed me the most in this match was Kieron Cadogan. He can drift in and out of games at times, but when he’s on form he’s one of the most difficult wingers in the league to play against. A natural athlete, his pace will get him into dangerous positions, but his greatest asset is his skill in possession. At least twice today he left professional defenders on their arse with some delightful footwork, and he almost created a few more chances to score.
10. One player who was conspicuous by their absence was Tommy Wright (and of course Dean Beckwith, despite his shirt turning up). Under contract, I don’t think it’s likely that there are any issues other than potentially fitness/injury or work commitments but all the same, he’s likely to be a vital player this season, and Dos will want to get him up and running as soon as possible.
11. It wasn’t just Sutton’s fans who got a chance to see their new players for the first time. The Sky Blues have brought in a raft of players this summer, and three of their new signings – Brandon Mason, Zain Westbrooke and Reise Allassani started the match. Mason has come in on a free transfer from Watford where he came through the Academy, and had an interesting tussle with Tom Bolarinwa in the first half. Westbrooke has just been signed from Brentford, and it’s fitting that his first game for Coventry is inside the M25, with his hometown of Chertsey just being fifteen miles away. Westbrooke showed some nice touches, but struggled to impose himself on the experienced Sutton midfield.
12. I’ll talk about Allassani in a bit more detail. A winger/forward, he has come a slightly more circuitous route to the professional game since being one of the most highly rated prospects at Crystal Palace. Landing at Dulwich Hamlet, Allassani blossomed into one of the brightest and most effective players in the Bostik League last season, hitting 15 goals as Hamlet won promotion to the National League South. The side from South London have been one the most productive nonleague sides in terms of generating Football League talent, with players such as Paul McCallum and Erhun Oztumer also making the step up in recent years. Not only did his goals help to secure promotion, but they also secured him a two-year contract at the Ricoh Arena for an undisclosed fee. London’s nonleague fans are well aware of Allassani and his attributes, but his new supporters at Coventry may be less so, and their first 45 minute viewing won’t have shown much of what they can expect. He was bright in possession, and looked to get forward at every opportunity, but was shunted off the ball at times. He won a lot of free kicks, and will continue to do so as his inclination to run at players, coupled with his speed of both though and movement, means he will always draw fouls. I don’t think he completely did himself justice in this run out, but it was his first half of football at the club, so there isn’t much to be read into that.
12. Sutton United were able to give minutes to some academy prospects as well, with Crossley Lema getting a half at left back, and Ryan Green, Jake Henry and Carl Henry coming on for the last ten. Lema certainly looks a good prospect, and Carl Henry was well involved with the attacking play during his time on the pitch. All four can take confidence for the season that they played against a team of professionals and didn’t look out of place. For Coventry, I thought that of the young lads they brought on, three in particular stood out – Jonson Clarke-Harris (not actually that young, but a new arrival from Rotherham) looked a handful up front, and played a few nice one touch passes. In addition Jak Hickson at left back was sharp and battled well, and the number 12 who I can’t find a name for organised things well at the back [edit: turns out this was Tom Davies, who – at 26 – is also not young…).
13. It’s pre-season, so any conclusions I’ve drawn are almost certainly actually bullshit.
14. Watching the England match in the club bar afterwards was great fun, and Sutton’s clubhouse has the most effective air con unit I’ve ever experienced. Big credit to the Coventry fans who travelled down, and were very vocal in the bar post-match – an attendance of 423 is pretty impressive for a nonleague pre-season friendly in July, and the Sky Blues contributed well to that.
15. It’s coming home.
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