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

 

 

Gander Green Lane a happy home for Sutton

Sutton United 2-0 Bromley

Sutton United maintained their impressive home form with a 2-0 win over Bromley at Gander Green Lane. In the process, the U’s avenged their 1-0 defeat against the Ravens on Boxing Day.

By all accounts, the first half was poor. Neither side got into their rhythm on what was a cold afternoon. Most of the attacking moves broke down after just a few passes, with both teams opting for a direct approach. However, as has been the case for much of the season, many of Sutton’s best moves went through Roarie Deacon. The tricky winger had a shot deflected wide in the sixth minute before playing a ball down the right wing for Dan Fitchett. The striker collected the pass and cut inside his marker, but the shot went wide of Alan Julian’s right-hand post.

The home fans were angry at what they perceived to be unsporting behaviour from Bromley, who booted the ball out of play after Sutton had allowed one of the opposition players to receive treatment (cue a cry of “you’re a horrible cheat” from one of the Sutton fans). The hosts continued to have the lion’s share of the opportunities, with Deacon’s delivery falling loose, allowing Bedsente Gomis to send in a shot from close range that was palmed over impressively by Julian. At the other end, the visitors almost got a chance of their own, with David Martin’s cross crucially cut out by stalwart Nicky Bailey.

Every time it looked like that the deadlock would be broken, a wayward shot or inaccurate pass provided a reality check. Chances for Bradley Hudson-Odoi, an early replacement for Ben Jefford, and Bailey went begging. Deacon continue to buzz around Bromley’s box, fizzing a fierce effort wide from just outside the box, before former Arsenal man Craig Eastmond screwed a presentable chance wide. However, it was Bromley that had the clearest chance of the match up to that point, as Conor Dymond raced into the box from the left-wing, only to inexplicably lose his footing at the vital moment. This led to a flurry of activity with a header from a corner by Bromley’s talisman and top scorer Blair Turgott drawing an instinctive save from Ross Worner.

Then came the breakthrough in the final minute of first-half stoppage time. A foul on Hudson-Odoi led to the award of a free-kick. Deacon expertly whipped the ball into the box and Maxime Biamou rose to plant his header into the corner.

The second half was a far more open affair, perhaps brought to life by a goal that the match sorely needed, as Turgott and the lively Hudson-Odoi both having chances for their respective teams. It was then Eastmond’s turn to take centre stage. The midfielder found himself in space about 25 yards out and cracked a ferocious shot against the inside of the post, before the ball rolled agonisingly across the face of goal. Paul Doswell’s men were firmly in the ascendancy and Deacon was once again giving his opponents a torrid time.

Eventually, their territorial dominance brought its reward. Hudson-Odoi pounced on the loose ball after pinball in the box following a corner and he made no mistake, finishing with aplomb. There were still just under 30 minutes of normal time to play, but Neil Smith’s men had not shown enough to suggest that they could claw themselves back into the match. Biamou headed over from a Deacon corner before newly-introduced Bradley Goldberg won a corner off Nicky Bailey. However, the visitors were not making the most of the few chances that came their way and it was Sutton who were still looking the more threatening, with Deacon once again sending in a devilish cross that was just headed over by Dan Fitchett.

As the match entered its closing stages the play became more fragmented. The Sutton fans became increasingly irate, with one shouting that the ref was “the worst we’ve had down here this season and that’s saying something!” The bitty nature of the last few minutes was summed out by a nasty challenge from a drop-ball; possibly the first instance of its kind in history. 

Sutton saw out the win and underlined their dominance at Gander Green Lane, where they have won nine out of 14 league games and tasted defeat just three times. While their home form has been excellent, the same cannot be said for their away results, with just one win on the road. If they are to mount a play-off challenge, this record must be improved dramatically. For now though,  the team can bask in the glow of a well-deserved win and eagerly look ahead to next weekend’s Derby clash with AFC Wimbledon, as the U’s look to claim another FA Cup scalp in what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest games in the club’s history.

Alex Bowmer

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

 

Sutton settle for share of spoils

Sutton United 2-2 Maidstone United, 25th October, Vanarama Conference

Sutton and Maidstone played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in front of 1,609 fans at Gander Green Lane on Tuesday night. The U’s were three unbeaten going into the game, while the Stones had lost their last four games on the bounce, having been defeated 2-0 at home to Gateshead at the weekend.

Night matches always make for a good atmosphere and both sets of fans did not disappoint. This was a game where possession-based football was the order of the day and Maidstone had the first opportunity of the game. It was the home side though that broke the deadlock. Just over a quarter of an hour in, Ross Stearn collected the ball on the right-wing before playing an inch-perfect ball for the onrushing Craig Eastmond. The ex-Arsenal man then whipped the ball into the box for Dan Fitchett, who nipped in front of his marker to send a bullet header into the top corner. Sutton smelt blood, with livewire Roarie Deacon going close as Maidstone were still reeling from the early setback. Sure enough, they doubled their advantage when Deacon rolled a short corner for Ross Stearn to swing in an inviting cross. Top scorer Nicky Bailey found space in the box and made no mistake, with the former Football League stalwart planting his header into the back into the net after 23 minutes.

At this point the floodgates could have really opened, but Maidstone were handed a lifeline shortly after they had conceded their second, winning a penalty after Jamar Loza was felled. Bobby-Joe Taylor made no mistake from the spot, blasting it down the middle. Suddenly, it was game on. The first half was played at a frantic pace, with both sides displaying their comfort on the ball, no doubt aided by the 3G pitch (one of only two in the Vanarama Conference), which performed exceptionally well. Sutton were intent in adding to their total before the break and had every chance of doing that with the skilful Deacon in the side, as he brought the best out of Maidstone keeper Lee Worgan with a stinging volley from the edge of the box that had to be palmed out for a corner. The midfielder looks set to move on to bigger things and he was the outstanding attacking threat in a creative side. Just when the game looked to be petering out as half-time approached, some slack defending from the hosts allowed their Kent opponents to draw level. Tom Murphy had made an energetic break down the left flank and swung in a cross that was met by the head of Loza, with the Norwich City academy graduate diverting his header inside Ross Worner’s left-hand post.

By contrast, the second half was a bit of a damp squib, with clear-cut opportunities few and far between. Maidstone’s rowdy contingent were almost silenced when Stearn fired an absolute belter from just inside the halfway line that whistled over the bar but midway through the half the visitors had a chance of their own to go in the lead, something that would have seemed improbable early on. Worner’s pass outfield was intercepted and Taylor attempted an audacious lob which drifted just wide of the upright, drawing gasps from both sets of supporters as the ball went tantalisingly close. Deacon had had a quiet second half but burst into life on 73 minutes, whipping in an exquisite delivery which substitute Bedsente Gomis leapt to meet, only to be denied by the sharp reflexes of Worgan. The former Sunderland trainee then hit a sighter from around 35 yards which just drifted wide, before Maidstone had the chance to win it with a direct free-kick. Ben Greenhalgh stepped up, but could only curl his effort just over the bar.

Speaking after the match, Sutton manager Paul Doswell rued the fact that his side had failed to convert their chances, but was happy with the workrate of his charges. He also lauded Eastmond for his pinpoint cross that led to the opening goal, describing the 25-year-old as ‘by far our man of the match’.

The game was a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle and the south London outfit can definitely look forward to a bright future. Reaching the play-offs this season is ambitious, but it is not completely beyond the realms of possibility.

Alex Bowmer