The two Sutton United supporters climbing out of their parked car at the far end of Bulkington Avenue were sending out mixed messages.
“We should win today.”
“Well I suppose we’ll be playing on a 3G pitch so it will be like playing at home. That might give us a chance.”
“You realise they’re two leagues lower than us?”
“You realise that they’re playing really well and we can’t win away?”
“We played well at Braintree!”
“Yes, but we lost!”
It was difficult to argue with any of their logic, even if they were arguing between themselves. On paper, today’s FA Trophy tie between their club and Worthing FC looked too close to call.
There were a number of parallels between the clubs. Both laid 3G pitches, paid for by benefactors- in Worthing’s case, owner George Dowell, in United’s, manager Paul Doswell- over the summer of 2015. Both started last season relatively slowly before mastering their new surface and powering to promotion. Both have had a mixed start to the new campaign.
Perhaps, however, this is where the comparison should end. Since the end of November a run of thirteen matches unbeaten had propelled Worthing from one end of the table to the other, as well as seeing them dispatch National League South Hemel Hempstead Town and Sutton’s rivals Dagenham and Redbridge from the FA Trophy. They were also scoring goals for fun, strikers Lloyd Dawes and Omar Bugiel having bagged twenty one goals each, and came into this match brimming with confidence on the back of a five goal thrashing of Canvey Island. United, on the other hand, despite a promising FA Cup run which had see them draw at their Gander Green Lane with AFC Wimbledon in the third round the previous weekend, were consistent only in their inconsistency.
With only two away wins all season- one in the league, another in the cup- and struggling to score goals (the entire United team combined wouldn’t match the total scored by Dawes and Bugiel), this match had all the makings of an upset. And yet, even having said that, Sutton had been arguably the better side against the Dons the previous weekend. All accounts suggested that they’d also outplayed Braintree for much of their midweek match and had been very unlucky to leave Essex empty handed. Perhaps the tide was finally beginning to turn in their favour- and, indeed, as pointed out by one of the two early-arriving members of the yellow army, there were two steps of the pyramid between the sides.
The rest of the U’s travelling army- and there were many- seemed a good natured and rather optimistic bunch. Their media team were very much in this mould, too- unable to fit into the Worthing press greenhouse (it only has room for five and was full long before their arrival) they were full of Sutton sunshine, set up camp at the back of the stand, and only seemed disappointed at the lack of available biscuits (note to George Dowell- now you’ve sorted out the pitch, the stand, the bar, the catering, the parking, the finances and built an outside bar for al-fresco beer, could we have some hot beverages and some of those little pink wafers please?). United had made a few changes with an eye on their forthcoming FA Cup replay at Kingsmeadow, but they had still put out a very strong and rather attacking side- that attack led by Craig McAllister, still a legend in Sussex after his time with Crawley Town that saw the Red Devils win promotion from the Conference and, six years ago next month, reach the Fifth Round of the FA Cup before being unluckily despatched by Manchester United at Old Trafford. His former strike partner at The Broadfield Stadium, Matt Tubbs, is also part of the Sutton United squad, but was unavailable for this match.
To the left of McAllister in the yellows attacking trio was another former Crawley Town striker, Roarie Deacon. From the off Deacon buzzed around the left wing and the edge of the box, and the third member of the threesome- Bradley Hudson-Odoi- did the same on the right, but there was an obvious problem, and it made it rather easy to understand the U’s lack of goals. High balls were regularly hit up towards McAllister, and, making the most of his height, build and experience, he tended to win most of them, but there was never a player in a yellow shirt near enough to him to benefit from a knockdown. Neither of his attacking partners nor his midfield colleagues were in close support.
Worthing, despite their free-scoring, had a similar problem. Their strike partnership of Bugiel and Dawes isn’t really a partnership at all, rather two individuals ploughing their own furrow and only occasionally combining. Regularly Bugiel won the ball in the air and then tried to use his strength to shield it whilst looking in vain for assistance. Similarly when Dawes was played the ball you could almost be sure that Bugiel would have dropped back to help the midfield and wouldn’t be available for a pass. Their success in creating chances for themselves can be demonstrated clearly by their strike tally, but you have to wonder how many they would have if they actually learned to work together?
The first half was a rather end to end affair, and the major surprise was that it contained only one goal. In the sixth minute a shot from United’s outstanding player of the afternoon, midfielder Adam May, deflected off a defender for a corner, and when the ball was whipped in Craig Dundas sent a header onto the bar. Two minutes later Dawes made himself space and then, with sixteen year old Luke Brodie waiting for a pass on the edge of the box, fired a shot wide of the post. Dawes again caused danger in the 21st minute, forcing U’s keeper Ross Worner into a one-handed save, before a minute later firing a rising shot against the United bar. United responded, and Deacon forced a diving save from Jack Fagan in the Rebels goal, before Husdon-Odoi got into the act, cutting inside before curling an effort that looked destined for the top corner but instead struck the join between post and bar before skimming behind. And then, with only two minutes before the interval, Bugiel did what he does best.
There should have been little danger when the Worthing striker received the ball just inside the Sutton half, but he raised his head and set off on what is becoming almost a trademark run, leaving defenders struggling for position. As he reached the edge of the United box he had Brodie in support on the right and Dawes charging in on the left, but he chose to ignore them both, walloping an unstoppable shot inside Worner’s left hand post to the delight of the noisy home faithful behind the goal.
The half came to a close with the Rebels ahead.
Sutton manager Paul Doswell made two changes at half time, throwing on Craig Eastmond and Maxime Biamou, and his side started the second period rejuvenated- but they could easily have been further behind only three minutes after the restart. A clearance out of the home defence saw Dawes turn away from U’s skipper Dean Beckwith on the half way line, before outpacing the defence as he honed in on goal. At the crucial moment, however, just as he entered the box, Dawes took a poor touch and Worner was able to nip in and clear.
Five minutes later United were level. A cross was knocked down to Deacon on the edge of the box, and he had space to fire a sweetly struck first time shot which Fagan couldn’t get near. The yellows celebrated, and then took control of the match. Another Crawley Town old boy, Rebels full back Sam Rents, timed a tackle to perfection as Deacon bore down on goal, leaving the striker claiming a penalty that nobody else in the ground- least of all the excellent referee, Mr Quelch- believed justified, before Bedsente Gomis squirmed his way between Kane Wills and Brodie on the edge of the box, forcing Fagan into another excellent save. Brodie was shortly afterwards replaced by seventeen year old Sam Lemon, another player with a Crawley connection having been a junior with Crawley United, but the yellow tide continued forward, forcing stout defending from the home side as well as missing chances with which they should have done better, Deacon and Biamou the main culprits.
Worthing worked hard, and their fans made a concerted attempt to wind up away defender Jamie Collins (“have you ever seen a salad”), but by now Sutton were just about in control, and went ahead with eleven minutes to go. A corner was hit towards the back post and the ball pinged around the Rebels box, looking for someone to add a decisive touch. That someone was the continually impressive May, and he fired home to put the yellows ahead. Surely, even with their terrible away record, they would hold on now?
They held on for only four minutes.
Ross Edwards should have done better when, unmarked, he headed a Rents corner wide of the right hand post two minutes after his side had fallen behind, but this miss was forgotten a further two minutes later. Dawes beautifully escaped a challenge, charged down the right and delivered a pinpoint cross onto the head of the onrushing Lemon, who nodded the ball home for his first senior goal.
During the ten minutes still to be played, chances came and went at both ends. McAllister headed wide, Worner saved from Dawes, Fagan saved from Biamou and Deacon, and Edwards managed once more to lose his marker at a corner without being able to capitalize, as another header bounced away.
The 1398 in attendance certainly got their money’s worth, and surely Sutton- particularly after their magnificent defeat of AFC Wimbledon in midweek to set up a home FA Cup 4th Round tie with Leeds United- must now be firm favourites to progress.
That said, you can be sure that supporters at Vauxhall Road and the ‘Chigwell Construction Stadium’ thought very much the same. Worthing should not be underestimated.
A much shorter version of this report appeared in the Non League Paper. Apologies for the headline- I did try to resist it!
Worthing 2 Sutton Utd 2
FA Trophy Second Round
Saturday 14th January 2017
Teams (and Ratings):
Worthing: Fagan 8, Hendon 7, Rents 8, Wills © 7, Boiling 7, Heath 7, Dawes 7, Edwards 6, Bugiel 7, Brodie 6 (Sub Lemon, 7, 63), Sparks 6. Unused Subs: Watson, Belward, Hallard, Schneider
Sutton United: Worner 6, Beckwith ©7, Collins 7, Hudson-Odoi 6 (Sub Eastmond, 7, 45), Gomis 6 (Sub Monakana, 7, 68), McAllister 7, May 8, Dundas 6 (Sub Biamou, 6, 45), Bailey 7, Spence 7, Deacon 7. Unused Subs: Fitchett, Donner.
Match Rating: 4/5
Star Man: Adam May (Sutton United)
Stats: Worthing/Sutton United
Shots on target: 4/9
Shots off target: 4/10
Free Kicks conceded: 4/8
Yellow Cards: 0/0
Red Cards: 0/0
Published on in Cup.