‘I can’t remember a time when we actually had a bit of money to spend’

Ask English football fans to pick their fairytale story from last season and many would plump for Sutton United’s memorable run to the fifth round of the FA Cup.

The south Londoners, who were enjoying their first season in the National League, disposed of four higher-ranked teams to make it to the last 16, where they came up against Arsenal. Alas, the Gunners had too much quality on the day, but for a club that trains twice a week and who are kept ticking over by an army of volunteers, just reaching that stage of the competition was an achievement.

For Bruce Elliott, the campaign was particularly sweet. “That was my 20th season as chairman of the club and obviously that would be my best ever. We got promotion at the end of the previous season, so we were entering a little bit into the unknown with the National League. It was a big step up, so we had that to look forward to and then of course we got caught up in a wonderful FA Cup run as well.”

This was very much uncharted territory. The level of attention that non-league clubs receive is usually pretty limited, so to have hordes of journalists flocking to Gander Green Lane on a fairly regular basis took some getting used to.

Gander Green Lane

“It was difficult and quite stressful at times. We’re very lucky that we have so many good volunteers who know the club and have been involved for some years, so there’s a great continuity there, but it took quite a few of us out of our comfort zone.

“I don’t think those of us who were trying to work got very much work done. I kept coming into the office and ending up spending the whole day on football business.  It was enjoyable, but it took over our lives for a few weeks. Would we do it again if it came along this season or next? Of course the answer is ‘yes’.”

Sutton has always spent responsibly under Elliott’s stewardship. Despite the windfall they received following their fantastic journey, it was never going to disappear overnight.

“By profession I’m an accountant, so that probably tells you all you need to know. The way the club has been run, we’ve never gone mad on the occasions we’ve had money. We were never, ever going to take what I suggest is a slightly irresponsible route, which is just to splash the cash on players.

“There’s a certain amount needed to ensure, as far as we can, that we stay at this level. We’ve competed at National League level now for one season only. The second season is traditionally quite difficult, so the first priority is to make sure, as far as we can, that we stay in this league. But there was always going to be a long list of things that we wanted to do at the football club that have never, ever got to the top of the priority list for expenditure. Every penny we earn from the cup run is going to be reinvested into the fabric of the club, which is how it should be.”

Sutton Wimbledon

A prime example of this community focus has been the club’s partnership with the Knights Foundation, who will sponsor Sutton United’s Academy for the next three seasons, while the ground will be renamed the Knights Community Stadium. Four new classrooms will be instated on-site at the ground, which will allow the Academy’s players to receive a formal education in conjunction with their football training. This September will see a fresh intake of 100 16-year-olds.

However, the club had already made great strides prior to their cup heroics. In a drive to entice local residents and disaffected supporters of more illustrious teams in the capital, the U’s took the bold move to reduce season-ticket prices dramatically.

“It was a calculated gamble on our part a couple of years ago. We started adult season tickets at £99, which was unheard of at National League level or above. In fact, when the BBC did a survey of the top five divisions for season-ticket prices [the Price of Football survey in 2016], it was no surprise to find that we were the cheapest season ticket.

“I think we’ve signed up just over 1400 for the season ahead, which, bearing in mind we’ve just had a couple of pre-season games, is pretty phenomenal really. I think what’s happened is, because we made them cheap, we’ve got a lot of Chelsea and Palace and AFC Wimbledon and Fulham supporters that live in and around Sutton and I think a lot of them have decided to adopt us as their second team, so when their team is away or not playing on a Saturday at 3 o’clock, they can come down to Sutton and enjoy some decent football. That’s really worked for us.”

The 3G pitch was another game-changer for the club and was the brainchild of manager Paul Doswell, who had previously brought in the idea at Eastleigh, where he had been at the helm for eight years. It was pointed out by Doswell prior to the Arsenal match that most League Two clubs are “skint”; the artificial pitch allows the club to rent it out to any group that wants to make use of it, meaning that a steady stream of income trickles in all year round.

Sutton 3G

A related strength is the durability of the pitch. The surface is not adversely affected in poor weather conditions, in contrast to grass pitches, which are susceptible to wear and tear as the season progresses. Elliott lamented the “anomaly” between the comparatively lax regulations for grass pitches and the far more rigorous assessment of artificial surfaces.

“I’m not singling them out for special treatment, but a number of people have used the example of Newport County’s pitch last year. They were allowed to play Football League matches on a pitch which clearly left a lot to be desired and there doesn’t seem to be any rules and regulations about the quality of grass pitches.

“You can play on a ploughed field it seems in the Football League. But if you’ve got a 3G pitch, it has to be FIFA two-star rated and has to have rigorous testing every 12 months. There does seem a little bit of a contradiction there, which I’m sure at some stage will get addressed.”

Despite the obvious advantages that the pitch brings, a vote on whether to allow them in EFL competition back in November 2014 ended in a dead heat, with 68 of the 72 member clubs choosing to have their say. Elliott was unsure about when the next vote would take place, but was surprised at the lack of persistence from some sides in favour of the proposed introduction, given that they are in dire financial straits.

“It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I’m surprised that a few clubs in the Football League haven’t put their league under more pressure. These clubs are being held back from putting a 3G pitch in, which surely will make them more financially stable. That’s what the leagues want their clubs to be.

Newport Gwent Dragons v Newcastle Falcons - Anglo-Welsh Cup - Rodney Parade

“If it’s good enough for the FA Cup, for European games, for World Cup games, why is it not good enough for the Football League? Very strange.”

Sutton is entering its second season at this level and the club is certainly not entertaining the possibility of going up, either automatically or through the play-offs. However, were they to achieve the highly improbable for the second year running, would they revert back to a grass pitch?

“Well, if the rules don’t change and we were in that position, then we’ve signed an undertaking saying that in that scenario, we would take up our 3G and put grass down. Now of course, it’s not as though you waste the whole expense of the 3G because without knowing the technicalities of it, you only take up the top surface and replace it with grass, so you take up the carpet and put grass down.

“Obviously, we don’t want to do that because it would stop a lot of usage of the pitch, which obviously brings in much-needed income. But I think it’s one of those situations we’d worry about if and when it happened.

Sutton dressing rooms

“Let’s be realistic about it, look at who didn’t go up last year. A club the size of Tranmere is playing another season in this league, which shows just how difficult it is to get out of. You can’t plan for every eventuality, so we just crack on for the time being and let’s see how the season progresses.”

That said, Elliott feels that pressure should be brought to bear on the EFL in order to give themselves the best possible chance of retaining their current surface if they were to go up. Promotion would certainly provide Sutton with a dilemma should the policy on pitches remain unchanged and there could be the possibility of foregoing entry to the Football League to keep the artificial surface intact.

“This [the decision whether to accept promotion] would be the decision of the board of directors of the club at the appropriate time so I wouldn’t like to conjecture on it, but my personal opinion would be that we would have to make absolutely sure that if we were in a position of promotion, that we took it. The FA would be interested. They’ve authorised all this.

“I don’t what the procedures would be, but obviously the first thing if you found yourself in that position would be to put some pressure on to see whether the rules could be changed. We’re so far away from that scenario that we’ve got enough to worry about without worrying about that at the moment, but we’d deal with it.”

Roarie Deacon

A mounting injury list stifled their progress in the league last season, but they still finished 12th and the club will be looking to consolidate that performance during their follow-up campaign in non-league’s top flight. Much of their success has been built on snapping up players released from the academies of more established sides, helping them to rekindle their enthusiasm for the game and then moving them on to a professional outfit.

Two beneficiaries of this approach were Max Biamou and Roarie Deacon, who have joined Coventry City and Dundee respectively over the summer. Both were standout performers last term and the club hopes that two of their recent acquisitions from Dover Athletic, Moses Emmanuel and Ross Lafayette, can fill their shoes.

This policy of nurturing and developing young talent is not a recent phenomenon though. “Nicky Bailey was a youngster at Fulham many moons ago and was thrown on the proverbial football scrapheap [back in 2000]. Our youth team manager cajoled him into playing in our youth team at Sutton. He did really well for us as a club, got to the first team, went to Barnet, then ended up at Charlton and Middlesbrough and did really well and the fact he’s returned home is great for us, towards the end of his career.

“Recently, we seem to be getting a very nice reputation, which is along the lines of picking up players who seem to have lost their way a little bit and don’t seem to be doing themselves justice, putting them in the shop window and giving them some really good-quality fitness and coaching. If you’re good enough, you’re going to get noticed. They see that we’re not going to stand in their way.”

Nicky Bailey

The conversation turns back to what they will do with the money. If the FA Cup adventure seemed other-worldly, the priorities now are far more prosaic.

“We’re refurbishing both home and away and referees dressing rooms. They were very, very old, well-publicised also as to how small they were during the cup run, particularly when Arsenal came to us. We’ve got some temporary dressing rooms as well, there’s a new turnstile block going in, there are some new toilets, there’s a new club shop coming in, so it has enabled us to do all those things that were OK, but you really wished you’d got a bit of extra money to be able to replace them, renew them and generally upgrade and that’s what we’ve been able to do.

“It is exciting. I can’t remember a time when we actually had a bit of money and sat round a table discussing how we were going to spend it! It’s normally the other way round, you sit round the table wondering where the next few thousand pounds is going to come from.”

This is a club that has its feet firmly on the ground, choosing responsibility over recklessness. Doswell has been in the managerial hotseat for nine years and it is easy to see why he and Elliott have one of the longest-lasting partnerships in English football’s top five divisions. The hubbub may have died down after last season’s madness, but don’t be surprised if they write more headlines in 2017/18.

Featured image: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images Europe

Images (from top to bottom): Press Association, Clive Rose/Getty Images, SUFC 3G website, David Davies/Press Association, Press Association, Rex Features, BPI/Matt West

 

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Tim Vine’s verdict on the match

Bowmer’s Blog bumped into Sutton United fan Tim Vine at Gander Green Lane after his side were defeated 2-0 by Arsenal in the FA Cup.

The comedian and pun extraordinaire, who has been a vocal supporter of the club and a visible presence throughout their improbable Cup journey, was magnanimous in defeat and felt that Arsenal deserved the victory.

“I think we did very well, but you’re left thinking that if we’d just put a couple of those chances away obviously it would have been different, but that’s what the great sides do, they always do enough each time. So I think if we’d put those two chances in, we probably would have lost 4-2. I think Arsenal would always have done enough to beat us, because they are just a better side.”

House of Commons speaker John Bercow was also at the match, although he supports Arsenal.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: BBC

Exclusive: Sutton defender believes Lincoln can upset Arsenal

Sutton full-back Dan Spence believes Lincoln could upset the applecart in the next round of the FA Cup when they face Arsenal at the Emirates next month.

Speaking exclusively to Bowmer’s Blog after his side’s match with the Gunners, Spence believes that the Imps will be confident going into their clash with Arsene Wenger’s men.

When asked if Lincoln have a chance in the next round, his response was emphatic. “Of course. Obviously, Arsenal are going to be odds-on favourites, but, like Lincoln, have already showed, this season they’re doing really well in the league and they’ve taken those performances into the Cup. They’ve already had two or three big upsets so you can’t ever write them off. I think they’ll do themselves proud.”

The game was the biggest in the club’s history, but the 27-year-old felt that neither he nor any of his team-mates were distracted or overawed by the occasion. “Although this is the 5th round of the FA Cup, we’ve all played in big games – maybe not as big as this – but in big games before and as a footballer you’ve got to be prepared for that. Concentration is one of the main things you have to keep up in any game.”

Despite not managing to get on the scoresheet, the National League outfit went very close on a number of occasions, most notably when  former Arsenal academy graduate Roarie Deacon saw his shot thunder off the bar and Spence felt that they could have got back in the game. “There was a really good chance, we hit the bar. I think we had a Jamie Collins header from a corner which was close. If we had managed to take one of those chance with twenty minutes to go, you never know what could have happened.”

The former Eastleigh player, an Arsenal fan himself, came on as a second-half substitute and enjoyed pitting his wits against his boyhood club.

“Yeah, it was really good to come up against players of their calibre. You obviously don’t get to do it very often if at all, so when the opportunity comes around, you’ve just got to take it and I think we’ve done ourselves proud today.

“Obviously, the flair players are good players to play against because you don’t get to play against these types of players ever. They’re in national teams, they’ve played at World Cups and European Championships. They are all big players, so to play against any of them was a privilege.

“I came on for the last 20 minutes or so, so I didn’t get a full taste of what they offered, but, yeah of course, they’re really sharp, they’re obviously really fit and quick so it was tough, but I think the boys who started the game did really well and obviously keeping it down to 2-0 in the end was probably a decent result.”

Sutton return to normality next Saturday when they face Torquay at Plainmoor in the National League.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: Getty Images

 

 

Sutton v Arsenal – the alternative picture

It was an absolute privilege to be at Gander Green Lane last night. Although the game finished 2-o to the Gunners, this did not dampen the spirits of the home supporters, many of whom may never witness an occasion like this again. Here are some photos that I took using my phone on what was a momentous day for Sutton United Football Club.

 

The skyline looked incredible – a sign of things to come….

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The ‘half-and-half’ scarf sellers were out in force….

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The fans were in high spirits….

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The stage was set….

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Sutton v BBC floodlights (which one’s which?)….

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The home fans were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the superstars (and Arsenal)….

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Hang on, this isn’t the National League….

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It’s Dan Walker! Meanwhile, Gary Lineker and Co. were in the TV-shaped MOTD studio (far left)….

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The views (and pictures) weren’t always the best….

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At least the cameraman had a great vantage point….

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Arsenal certainly were rapid at times….

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A masked man was arrested after invading the pitch and gesticulating at Nacho Monreal. You don’t get that in the Copa del Rey….

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Before soaking up the adulation of the adoring home crowd….

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People were making use of every vantage point they could find ….

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Arsenal opted for a luxury coach on this occasion….

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The visitors were certainly pestered by Sutton for large swathes of the match….

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The gates were completely unnecessary (look at those hooligans)….

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Those watching for free were soon interrupted by the Met Police (see hi-vis jackets)….

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There was a bit of a flare-up in the second period….

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There was a pitch invasion at full-time….

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Wenger sought sanctuary in the tunnel….

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Before being mobbed….

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The calm after the storm….

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Loitering near the home dressing room for an interview (which I got – watch this space)….

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Sutton boss Paul Doswell has time for some solitude….

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90 extra seats had been installed to accommodate Arsenal fans….

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The home manager is then interviewed by the club’s in-house TV station….

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The clear-up had well and truly begun, with the club volunteers helped by a red fox….

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Alex Bowmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sustainability the key for Sutton to thrive

Amid all the drama of the build-up to the biggest game in Sutton United’s history, manager Paul Doswell was a picture of serenity as he took his seat in front of the massed ranks of journalists.

It is difficult to overstate the achievements of this friendly, family club situated on the outer fringes of south London. Their improbable run began in the fourth qualifying round with a 2-1 home win against fellow National League outfit Forest Green Rovers. That was followed by a 6-3 demolition of Dartford, before slaying EFL opponents Cheltenham Town, AFC Wimbledon and Leeds United to get to this point.

Doswell has admitted that the “media circus” has at times been difficult to deal with, but he is not one to get carried away and is certainly not likely to be angling for a move to a professional club.

He has been at Gander Green Lane for nine years following eight years at Eastleigh. Despite the temptation to spend the revenue generated from this glorious Cup run on players, Doswell has a far more long-term, sustainable vision which involves the whole community, particularly the children in the local area.

The money “won’t go into buying players – our wage budget is very, very strict – but we need four new dressing rooms for the younger ones. We can announce that the ground will be renamed the Knights Community Stadium. The Knights Community Stadium runs academies and we’ve got 100 16-year-olds starting in September for the new school term. So we’re looking hopefully to buy four dressing rooms, four shower rooms and place them round the ground. And we’ve got a roof leak; everyone knows about the roof.”

Doswell is head of a property development company and it is this business acumen that shines through when he speaks. He is also an avid Southampton fan and was a regular attendee at their Europa League matches and made trips to both Prague and Milan. Despite the vast disparity in resources between the clubs, the boss can see some obvious parallels.

“We would have played Southampton if they’d bother to beat Arsenal,” he joked. “I had a lovely text from Les Reed as well after we got the draw, just saying that ‘I’m sorry we couldn’t have done better against Arsenal’. I sort of model myself a little bit on what Southampton have done, because I think the model here, which is to bring young players in, improve them and let them move on is not a lot different to what Southampton have done. Our budget in the National League is comparative to Southampton’s in the Premier League, relatively speaking, so naturally I take a lot of references from the club.”

The rehabilitating role that clubs like Sutton play cannot be underestimated. Many aspiring footballers enter top Premier League academies from a very young age hoping that they have got what it takes, but very few eventually make the grade.

“When you’re released by Arsenal and Palace and all the rest of it, your life changes very quickly,” Doswell remarked. “Jeffrey Monakana is a prime example, and Jack Jebb actually. Both at Arsenal – one was going to be the new Jack Wilshere and one was going to be the new winger on the block and they both ended up here. What we try to do is rehabilitate these players in a positive way and if another club in the football chain wants to take them, then we welcome that. It’s an unusual thing that a manager wants his players to progress, but that’s the situation here.”

Doswell’s shrewd transfer policy should be applauded, but for all his efforts, the club would not exist without an army of volunteers beavering away behind the scenes. Without them, there would be no Sutton United.

Their willingness to work for nothing has allowed the club to operate on a shoestring and the small size of the club means that every person’s contribution is recognised and appreciated, not least by the manager himself. “I have ended up, not realising it, putting the club under enormous pressure because of the media situation. We’ve had people like our press officer Tony Dolbear, who has actually had to take days off work just to become a press officer. That’s what you need to write about, it’s the volunteers here that genuinely take holiday days off. I take my hat off to them really.”

As a result of their Cup exploits, Sutton’s league form has nosedived and they currently sit 17th in the National League. However, the idea of being promoted does not hold much appeal for the club, mainly because it would mean having to get rid of the artificial pitch that has brought them so much success. The surface has made Gander Green Lane a fortress, but only grass pitches are permitted in EFL competition. The 3G pitch is used by local school children and Sutton’s junior sides, bringing much-needed revenue into the club, as well as a new generation of passionate followers and their parents, who will hopefully return in their droves long after the whistle has sounded on their FA Cup journey.

“The National League is the holy grail for us. If people can take anything from this Cup run, it’s the fact that we’ve gone from having zero children here, because they couldn’t play on the [old] pitch as it was so bad, to having hundreds, and I mean hundreds. That means that mums and dads come down and they’re engaged in the club and if League One and League Two had one club which would vote to allow this it would be unbelievable and it’s a brilliant pitch by the way. It’s been played in the SPL, it’s been played in the World Cup for the women in Canada and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

The attendance figures have risen notably since Sutton decided to slash ticket prices, with the long-term pay-off outweighing the short-term pain. “The best decision we ever made was making season tickets £5 for adults and free for children. As a father now, you can bring your two kids down here for five quid. Since that change, our crowds have gone from 700 to nearly 2,000 and we are definitely picking up people who are disenfranchised paying £100 for a ticket.”

Many managers often admit that their personal life takes a hit when they are immersed in such an all-consuming job. When things aren’t going well, this sacrifice must seem futile. However, times like these make all the toil seem worthwhile.

“My job, the family and football are the three things that keep me going. With all of us, we get it in the wrong order at times, it’s normally football, family and work. My wife and children have probably suffered at times because of my obsession with the game but then  you watch my kids run on the pitch after the Leeds game and for me, that’s priceless.”

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: SUFCTV

 

 

 

Sutton take Wimbledon to a replay

Sutton United 0-0 AFC Wimbledon

In the build-up to this clash, it was difficult to pinpoint the most interesting sub-plot. Is it the fact that the teams are 49 places apart in the English football pyramid? Or that they feature two of this country’s longest-serving managers? Is it the fact that Sutton have a rich heritage in this competition, knocking out top-flight Coventry City twenty-eight years to the day? Or that AFC Wimbledon played their first match as a ‘new’ club against today’s opponents in a friendly, before six promotions in thirteen seasons saw them rise from the Combined Counties League to their current status as a League One club?

Whatever the ‘correct’ answer, the sense of anticipation made for a febrile atmosphere at Gander Green Lane. While both clubs were disappointed that this fixture was not televised, it probably enticed more fans to the ground, with 5013 expectant fans pouring through the turnstiles, despite there being only 765 seats. The hosts had pulled out all the stops to accommodate the hordes of media representatives, and a certain Alan Pardew was also in attendance.

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The first-half began energetically, even though quality football was at a premium. Of those in Sutton’s starting line-up, the only player never to have played in the English Football League was Maxime Biamou. This level of experience meant that the gap between the two teams was minimal and indeed it was Sutton who enjoyed the better chances over the course of the match. The first of these came after five minutes following an interception from Bedsente Gomis. He slipped in a neat through-ball to Matt Tubbs. Tubbs, who enjoyed a productive spell at the Dons two seasons ago, got the ball out of his feet but hit his shot wide of James Shea’s left-hand post.

Tubbs had made an encouraging start to the match and seemed intent on proving that he still belonged in Football League company. He won a free-kick a few minutes later, which Roarie Deacon took. The former Arsenal and Sunderland trainee floated an inch-perfect delivery into the box for Nicky Bailey to get his head on, but the former Charlton and Middlesbrough midfielder diverted his effort over the bar. The hosts were clearly relishing the opportunity to put one over their local rivals, but Wimbledon soon provided a reminder of their threat, with Lyle Taylor curling the ball over the bar, leaving keeper Ross Worner slightly concerned.

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Despite being on the back foot for much of the opening stages, Neal Ardley’s men had enough quality in their ranks to force the issue as the half wore on. Tom Elliott and Lyle Taylor have formed a strong partnership up front, and the former almost made a connection to the latter’s cross. The Dons had a bit of momentum now, with 37-year-old Dannie Bulman’s snapshot gathered in by Worner, before Andy Barcham almost ran clean through, only to be thwarted as he was bearing down on goal.

Dean Parrett was also growing into the encounter, demonstrating his prowess from free-kicks and giving the Sutton defence a few nervy moments. However, one of those deliveries ironically led to possibly the hosts’ best chance of the first half. Worner’s punch away found Deacon and the winger drifted forward before playing a sumptuous through-ball to Biamou, who sprinted clear. Just when it looked as if he would send the home fans into ecstasy, his effort with the outside of his right foot whistled over the bar. The groans from three sides of the ground and the delirium in the Wimbledon end gave you a sense of just how important that chance was. Minutes later, Deacon knocked the ball down to Gomis, who blazed over.

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A nagging suspicion in a game of this sort is that an off-colour display from the league side in the opening period would pick up in the second half and this duly happened. At the forefront of this revival was the impressive Parrett. The tricky winger had come through the ranks at Tottenham but never really got the chance to demonstrate his potential at White Hart Lane. Following a three-year stint at Stevenage he moved to Kingsmeadow in the summer of 2016 and his ability was shining through in this match.

In charge of set-pieces, he whipped another free-kick delivery that was punched away, before sending in a cross that was gathered in by Worner. His partner in crime Barcham was also displaying quick feet of his own, evading a few challenges before flashing a shot across the face of the goal with Worner stranded. Wimbledon were now starting to look like the side who would take the game by the scruff of the neck. However, Deacon was always capable of turning the game in his side’s favour and another pinpoint pass set Biamou free. This time the Frenchman got his effort on target, but Shea got down smartly to palm the ball away from danger. Seemingly buoyed by that chance, the non-league outfit began to knock on the door again. However, Tubbs, despite his willingness, does not have the stature to hold the ball up and became an isolated figure, leading to his eventual replacement by Dan Fitchett. Neither team was content to sit back, but the end product was lacking.

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Then, five minutes from the end of normal time, the referee had a big decision to make. Dons captain Barry Fuller made his way into the box only to be taken by substitute Bradley Hudson-Odoi. The massed ranks of Wimbledon fans behind the goal howled for a penalty, but the man in the middle Keith Stroud waved away the protests. After watching the TV replays, it did appear that Hudson-Odoi took the ball although his trailing leg did catch Fuller from behind. Undeterred, Wimbledon kept pressing and after pinball in the box following a corner, Paul Robinson snatched at his shot, which flew just over the bar into the Sutton sky.

Hudson-Odoi aimed to atone for his risky challenge, giving his marker twisted blood before curling in a delicious ball that nobody gambled on. A lack of clinical finishing was both side’s undoing and this was typified when, in the dying embers of the game, Elliott failed to connect cleanly when close to goal, knocking his effort wide, which was quickly followed by another effort by Robinson, valiantly blocked by a member of the Sutton rearguard.

The Vanarama Conference side then had one last chance when they were awarded a free-kick. The anticipation had reached fever pitch, as the home fans dared to dream one last time. The ball was swung by Deacon and after an almighty scramble, Gomis leapt like a salmon, only to direct his acrobatic bicycle kick over the top.

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Given all the fanfare that had preceded the fixture, the outcome was underwhelming. However, there was plenty of endeavour on display, with both sides clearly going for the win. Both clubs would welcome the revenue boost that a cup run would bring (if not the added workload). The replay takes place on Tuesday 17 January and there is the significant carrot of a home tie against Leeds United for the victor. The prospect of a further Cup giant-killing awaits.

Alex Bowmer