United began their 2003/04 pre-season campaign with a 4-2 win over Sevenoaks at Greatness Park. Paul Rogers returned to play his first game for the club since leaving for a professional career a decade or so ago and Scott Forrester was also back at the club. ‘Keeper Kevin Davis and defender Rob Dale were the only other newcomers.
Sutton were in command for the majority of the first half, with Davis only getting a touch of the ball on two or three occasions. Forrester had the best of the earliest chances, sliding in at the back post to volley wide after good work on the left wing from Danny Bolt and Danny Dray. Forrester also put a simple chance wide slightly later but was judged offside anyway.
Eddie Akuamoah was the creative force behind the opening goal after 25 minutes - running at pace into the area, he left one defender flat-footed before shooting straight at the ‘keeper. When the ball fell back to his feet, though, Akuamoah had the presence of mind to look up and lay the ball back to Bolt, who crashed the ball past a couple of defenders and into the net from ten yards.
It was also Akuamoah who effectively set up Bolt for the second five minutes later. Capitalising on a defensive error, Akuamoah collected the ball ten yards outside the area and was pulled down by the goalie just inside the box as he attempted to take the ball round him. Bolt took the spot-kick and hit it fiercely into the right side of the goal. Bolt was looking for his hat-trick as halt-time approached, going for an audacious lob from at least thirty-five yards but the ‘keeper scrambled back in time to tip the ball over the bar. Half-time: Sevenoaks 0, U’s 2.
After a change of team at half-time, United soon had their lead reduced to one goal, when a cross from the left was volleyed home by a Sevenoaks striker ten minutes after the break. Barely two minutes later, however, Matt Fowler re-established Sutton’s two goal cushion when he caught the goalkeeper out with a beautiful lob from nearly thirty yards.
United remained in control against their lower-league opposition and increased the lead further with twenty minutes to go. When the Sevenoaks goalkeeper was adjudged to have picked up an intentional back-pass, the free-kick from ten yards out was touched back to Nick Bailey, and he slammed it past the ‘keeper and the crowd of defenders on the line.
There was further consolation for Sevenoaks when they scored again with just five minutes left - a corner from the left hand side headed firmly in at the near post by Andy Miller. Full-time: Sevenoaks 2, U’s 4.
1st Half: Davies, Brooker, Dray, Dunne, Gonsalves, Hodges, Bolt, Rogers, Akuamoah, Forrester, Brown.
2nd Half: Davies, Hamlin, Akuamoah (Gonsalves), Palmer, Dale, Hewitt, Bailey, Honey, Fowler, Gray, Hanlan.
Goals: Bolt (25, 30), Fowler (57), Bailey (68).
U’s v Eastbourne Borough (26/07/03)
Sutton faced their most challenging pre-season game so far, with a trip to Eastbourne Borough, who won promotion to the Doc Marten’s Premier last season. Only three substitutes on the United bench today indicates that it is a more serious run out than the games against Sevenoaks and Molesey.
United started positively, and were much the better side in the first half. Within the opening ten minutes, Danny Bolt had a great chance to give the U’s an early lead but having broken into the area he elected to chip Eastbourne ‘keeper, Lee Hook, rather than slot the ball past him and it drifted agonisingly wide of the post.
Scott Forrester could also have opened the scoring but he shot tamely at the goalkeeper after a cross from the right wing. United’s players continued to find space but did not test the home ‘keeper – Eddie Akuamoah failed to connect with what would have been a spectacular volley on the edge of the area and Paul Rogers struck the ball just wide when he met a drilled Bolt corner at the near post.
Sutton’s defence looked a little suspect from corners and Eastbourne players twice headed high and wide when they were well placed to open the scoring. Half-time, Eastbourne 0, U’s 0.
Chances for the majority of the second half were few and far between. Aside from when Matt Gray shot low across goal from the corner of the area, the game looked set to end as a nil-nil draw. Then, with fifteen minutes remaining, Scott Corbett, on as a substitute for Ryan Palmer, controlled the ball on his chest on the edge of the area and lobbed the ball over the ‘keeper, off the underside of the bar and into the back of the net with a beautiful volley. 1-0.
The goal gave the U’s increased confidence and Corbett almost added a second straight away, but just failed to connect with the ball first in a three-way race with the Eastbourne ‘keeper and a defender. Within the last five minutes, Gray extended the Sutton lead to two goals when he met a cross at the back post and stabbed it in off an unfortunate defender. 2-0.
Forrester could have further increased the lead but when he rushed onto a through-ball he missed the ball after reaching it ahead of the ‘keeper. Final score: Eastbourne 0, U’s 2.
Team: Davies, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer (Corbett), Gonsalves, Hodges, Bolt, Rogers, Forrester, Watson (Hamlin), Bailey (Honey).
Goals: Corbett (75), Gray (85).
Right, Matt Gray sticks the ball home off an Eastbourne defender.
U’s v Leatherhead (02/08/03)
Sutton retained their 100% pre-season record with a 3-2 win over the Tanners. Andy Iga, formerly of Hampton & Richmond, started the game in goal for the U’s and another new name, Rob Collins, played in a three-man front line with Matt Fowler and Mark Watson.
United began the match pushing the ball around reasonably well, the front three interlinking well apart from the final ball, which just failed to release a player on a couple of occasions. Watson looked good holding the ball up, and controlled high balls well more than once.
At the back, the United defence coped with all Leatherhead had to offer without looking entirely comfortable. Twice in the half, Iga impressively claimed two high balls under challenge from attackers to give a good impression on his U’s debut.
Collins almost christened his first game in an amber and chocolate shirt with a goal after twenty-five minutes but his shot from eight yards was saved by the ‘keeper and he could only force the rebound over the bar. As it was, he only had to wait a further five minutes for his first U’s goal, Matt Gray played a great through-ball that left Collins clear of the defence and he kept his composure to shoot past the left side of the goalie from the edge of the box.
Five minutes later, Fowler doubled the lead when the ball was crossed to him after good work from Watson. Meeting the ball near the penalty spot he side-footed it with his first touch into the far corner of the net, just beyond the despairing dive of the Leatherhead ‘keeper. Half-time: Leatherhead 0, U’s 2.
Kevin Davis, United’s only substitute, replaced Iga at half-time and was immediately called into action but could not prevent the home side reducing the deficit – when a Leatherhead striker cut into the area along the byline, his shot from a tight angle was too good for Davis.
United continued to look generally the more confident team, spreading the ball around whenever possible and soon fashioned a half-chance for Scott Corbett but his firm header from six yards was saved. After sixty-five minutes a slick interchange of passes released Nick Bailey, and when he was felled in the area the referee pointed straight to the spot. After strong debates over who would take the kick, Fowler stepped up and smashed the ball in off the underside of the bar – there was no hope for the ‘keeper.
With no outfield substitutes on the bench, an injury to Danny Hodges reduced the U’s to ten men with twenty minutes remaining. The man advantage shifted the bulk of possession to Leatherhead who were also benefiting from having a number of fresh players on the pitch. A tense finish to the game was assured when Watson was dispossessed in the area and the ball was put past Davis at the second attempt after a great reaction save had initially denied the Leatherhead forwards but United hung on for the win. Final score: Leatherhead 2, U’s 3.
Team: Iga (Davis), Gray, Gonsalves, Palmer, Collins, Hodges, Honey, Corbett, Fowler, Watson, Bailey.
Goals: Collins (30), Fowler (35, 65pen)
Right, Mark Watson challenges for the ball.
U’s v AFC Wimbledon (09/08/03)
United and AFC Wimbledon commemorated the 1963 Amateur Cup Final with this friendly. Players from the ’63 final were introduced to the crowd but were not treated to the goal-fest that they provided forty years ago, when the game finished 4-2 in favour of the Dons.
Sutton threatened to take an early lead when Mark Watson cut the ball back to Matt Fowler, whose shot from the edge of the area beat the ‘keeper only to hit the bar and go over. The visitors responded positively and would have taken the lead from a twenty-five yard effort were it not for Andy Iga, who tipped the ball away from the top corner with a great save.
On the half hour, the ‘friendly’ erupted into a 20-man confrontation when a terrible challenge on Nick Bailey provoked the U’s midfielder into reacting angrily. Both he and former U Sean Daly were substituted at the referee’s request, but would certainly have received their marching orders in a competitive game.
At one stage AFC Wimbledon did have the ball in the back of the net but the forward had been ruled offside long before he chipped it in. United rarely threatened and their best chance came from the always dangerous scenario of a Danny Bolt free kick but even he could not give Sutton the lead.
With half time looming, Wimbledon had a golden opportunity to open the scoring but when Iga’s punch on the edge of the area fell to the feet of a Dons forward, he missed the open goal with a side-footed effort. Half time: U’s 0, AFC Wimbledon 0.
The game was slightly more open in the second half, Sutton had a goal ruled out for offside, Watson had a strong downward header saved, and the Dons had a couple of great chances but missed a header from six yards out and put the ball wide when the goal was seemingly wide open.
On the hour Rob Collins was released with a curled ball over the top of the AFC Wimbledon defence and flicked the ball over the ‘keeper but it rolled into the side netting. Eight minutes later, though, Collins made no mistake when a long ball over the top was misjudged by the Dons defence and he kept his head to slot the ball into the bottom left corner.
The goal proved to be enough for victory for United, who kept up their 100% win record for this pre-season campaign. Full time: U’s 1, AFC Wimbledon 0.
Team: Iga (Davis), Gray, Akuamoah, Honey, Collins, Bailey (Kironde) (Cole-Bolt), Bolt, Corbett, Fowler, Watson, Gonsalves.
Goal: Collins (68).
Right, Rob Collins lifts the ball over the 'keeper but his shot is only going to hit the side netting.
U’s v Hayes (16/08/03)
After a successful pre-season it was down to business for the 2003/04 season with a trip to Hayes. With the exception of Andy Iga in goal, the starting eleven were all regulars from last season, although the announcer’s effort to read out the U’s line-up could have given the impression of a vastly different team.
Hayes looked the better side for the opening five minutes but United soon found their rhythm and were passing the ball around well. At times, Sutton looked a yard quicker than their hosts but the referee missed some obvious fouls and blew up early when the U’s were well positioned.
Danny Bolt was first to test the giant Hayes ‘keeper, Bossu, but he got down well to tip the ball wide. Nick Bailey looked a threat from midfield, twice picking up the ball outside the area and winding his way past a couple of defenders before being stopped and eventually got a clear sight of goal but his header at the back post was saved and the rebound pushed away before he could get a boot to it.
When Hayes threatened at the other end, Iga was always equal to their efforts, displaying on more than one occasion that JR has signed a great replacement for Tommy Dunn. With half-time approaching, Bolt almost produced a collectors item, when good link up play between the midfield and forwards set him up on the edge of the area and he hit a first time, right-footed effort crisply towards the bottom corner. U’s fans momentarily celebrated only to realise that the ball had hit the side-netting. Half-time: Hayes 0, U’s 0.
After the break United continued to look the better of the two sides but struggled to carve out any great chances and were largely restricted to efforts from outside the area. Bolt, in particular, went close with a clever lob attempt from twenty yards that caught out the Hayes keeper but fell the wrong side of the right post.
The attacking threat from Hayes was based on counter-attacking, and with fifteen minutes remaining, a through-ball caught out the United defence and left a Hayes forward one-on-one with Iga. As the striker rounded Iga the deadlock looked set to be broken but the U’s keeper dived backwards and gathered the ball one-handed from off the foot of the disbelieving Hayes frontman.
Having been held back in the first half, Eddie Akuamoah was much more influential down the left wing in the second forty-five. A foul on Akuamoah allowed Bailey to whip a low free-kick in towards the near post, where Matt Gray connected with it and sent it towards the bottom corner. Once again, though, Bossu reacted in time to palm the ball wide, and leave both sides with one point from this opening match. Final score: Hayes 0, U’s 0.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer, Hodges (Honey), Bailey, Bolt, Corbett, Fowler (Collins), Watson, Gonsalves. Sub (n/u) Boosey.
Right, Mark Watson gets an arm in the face. Penalty?
U’s v Bognor Regis Town (19/08/03)
After a draw at Hayes on Saturday, it was back to the Lane tonight for a game against table-topping Bognor, who lead the pack thanks to a four-one win at the weekend. Both Danny Hodges and Matt Fowler started the game despite going off injured on Saturday, so the team was unchanged as they ran out in a slightly changed home strip.
With only a few minutes on the clock, Mark Watson had a chance to score Sutton’s first goal of the season but when the ball ricocheted to him on the edge of the area, his shot was more or less straight at the ‘keeper, who collected it easily.
Watson had a second chance within the opening ten minutes but again could not find the back of the net. On this occasion, Scott Corbett’s ball across the area gave Watson a free header from six yards out but he could not get on top of it and his header went just over the bar.
Bognor had the look of a useful side in the first half, out-passing the U’s and using the full width of the pitch. But despite the good build up play and a number of dangerous crosses, the visitors had few clear sights of goal and their best chance was dragged just wide of the Sutton goal. Half-time: U’s 0, Bognor 0.
Sutton were a much more positive team in the second half, closing Bognor down quickly in midfield and therefore restricting their attacking play. This good work from the midfield trio of Nick Bailey, Danny Bolt and Corbett allowed the wingbacks, Matt Gray and Eddie Akuamoah, to surge forward as well.
As Fowler hobbled off again shortly after half-time, Rob Collins joined Watson upfront and immediately looked to make an impact with some tireless running. As United dominated, Watson soon found himself with another chance but struck the ball high and wide from the edge of the area after cleverly turning the last defender.
Bognor went dangerously close to making their only opportunity of the second half count when a shot from the edge of the area beat Andy Iga but hit the bar and came down on the right side of the line, from United’s perspective.
Finally, after 78 minutes of the second league game, Collins was sent free with a through-ball from midfield and kept his head to fire left-footed past the ‘keeper, who could not keep the ball out despite getting a touch. The goal spurred the U’s on further and the Bognor area was bombarded with corners and free-kicks. With only a few minutes remaining, Bolt could have made the three points safe but his shot on the turn from a tight angle went narrowly over the bar. Final score: U’s 1, Bognor 0.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer, Gonsalves, Bailey, Bolt, Corbett, Fowler (Collins), Watson, Hodges (Honey). Subs(n/u) Hamlin, Boosey.
Goal: Collins (78)
U’s v Grays Athletic (23/08/03)
Big-spending, full-time Grays arrived at Gander Green Lane, having taken four points from their opening two games like the U’s. With Matt Fowler out injured, Rob Collins got a chance to impress with a start up front.
In a quiet first half, United’s only real chance came when Mark Watson beat a couple of defenders but shot wide with the goal at his mercy. Whilst Grays had a fair bit of possession, Sutton contained them well.
Things threatened to turn ugly when Matt Gray and the Grays ‘keeper had a shoving match and Gray picked up a yellow card, a couple of Grays players lucky to escape without even a word from the referee. Half time: U’s 0, Grays 0.
Sutton improved after the break and on the hour Bailey latched onto a Bolt through-ball and was pulled back just inside the area as he went for goal. The referee did the right thing and awarded the penalty and sent off the offending defender. Bolt had to wait to take the penalty as a member of the Grays staff was sent from the dugout but, after the delay, Bolt placed the ball on the spot and slammed it to the left of the ‘keeper and into the back of the net.
The man and goal advantage in Sutton’s favour helped to settle the team and Grays did not offer much threat to steal any of the points. Once Andy Iga had to dive at the feet of an attacker to claim the ball, but otherwise the defence coped with everything that Grays could muster.
Sutton could have finished with more than a one goal win but Danny Hodges headed into the side-netting with the goal at his mercy and Matt Hanlan, on as a sub for Watson, narrowly missed the corner of the goal when he hit the ball from the edge of the area.
Maybe Grays will reap the rewards of going full-time as the season wears on but today United looked comfortable and deserving of the win that extended the unbeaten start to the season, and increased the run of clean sheets to five games including friendlies. Full-time: U’s 1, Grays 0.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer, Gonsalves, Bailey, Bolt (Honey), Corbett, Collins, Watson (Hanlan), Hodges (Hamlin).
Goal: Bolt (58 pen)
Right, Danny Bolt strikes the ball (hidden behind the ref) past the Grays keeper.
U’s v Kingstonian (25/08/03)
Sutton made the bank holiday trip to Kingsmeadow for the local derby against Kingstonian, looking for three points against a K’s side that had also started the season with seven points from the opening three games.
United made the more positive start and almost grabbed an early lead in the eighth minute. Matt Gray collected the ball in a central position about thirty yards out and steadied himself before hitting a low drive from just outside the area but Kingstonian ‘keeper, Lance Key, just got down in time to tip it around the post. From the resulting corner, Danny Hodges headed just over after meeting the ball well.
Whilst Kingstonian put in a few dangerous crosses, Sutton continued to have the better chances – Rob Collins curling the ball at the ‘keeper from the edge of the area and Eddie Akuamoah shooting powerfully from a tight angle after good work from Scott Corbett. Gray also combined well with Danny Bolt to have another effort from outside the area but it was straight at Key and easily saved.
After setting up Gray for that chance, Bolt was controlling the Sutton play before half-time, bursting past a couple of defenders and into the area to win a corner that lead to a period of pressure. When Kingstonian did break, though, they could have taken the lead but one of their forwards headed wide when well positioned. Half-time: K’s 0, U’s 0.
With the second half twelve minutes old, United grabbed the first goal of the game. Collins took the ball into the area but, rather than shooting, turned back and slid the ball to Nick Bailey who controlled it and hit it left-footed from near the penalty spot. The crowd of Kingstonian defenders could not stop the ball from finding the bottom right corner of the goal.
Having had three clean sheets this season, the U’s fans may have hoped that the goal would have been enough to take all three points but within a minute the K’s were level. Iga was only beaten by the long shot from their number seven due to a deflection that looped the ball over his dive and into the net.
Surrendering the lead so quickly handed the momentum to Kingstonian who almost scored again with another deflected shot minutes later but this one fell just wide. Then, in the sixty-fifth minute, the hosts had a great opportunity to score but Iga was off his line quickly to force the striker into shooting wide.
United slowly began to work their way back into the match, the midfield re-establishing control and, with eight minutes remaining, Bailey swung a free-kick towards the far post and Matt Hanlan was on hand to head the ball into the top corner and send Sutton to third in the table. Final score: K’s 1, U’s 2.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer, Gonsalves, Hodges, Bolt (Honey), Corbett, Collins, Watson (Hanlan), Bailey. Sub (n/u) Hamlin.
Goals: Bailey (57), Hanlan (82).
Right, Sutton's players celebrate Matt Hanlan's winner.
U’s v Ford United (30/08/03)
After an excellent start to the season, United’s unbeaten run came to an end in a disappointing fashion against Ford, who were the better team on the day. United fielded the same starting eleven as against Kingstonian and on the bench was the welcome sight of Danny Brooker, who is on the verge of returning to the team after another recovery from injury.
Ford looked the more positive team from the outset, and Andy Iga was called into action after only a few minutes but produced a save to deny Declan Perkins’ headed effort. The Sutton defence was under threat from balls raining into the box, and were struggling to cope with the wide play of Ford but it was the U’s who took the lead against the run of play on the half hour. Ryan Palmer’s ball into the box created a scramble that involved shots from Rob Collins and Mark Watson before the ball rolled out slowly to near the penalty spot and Matt Gray ran in to thunder the ball past the Ford ‘keeper.
But, as with the bank holiday fixture at Kingstonian, Sutton failed to hold the lead for a significant time, as Ford pulled level after only seven minutes. After confusion surrounding the fallen corner flag, Ford’s corner was not cleared at the near post and striker Perkins shot past Iga from six yards.
Sutton could still have headed back to the dressing room in the lead when Scott Corbett played a beautiful through ball to release Collins down the left but, despite shooting past the ‘keeper, Collins’ shot also went the wrong side of the post. Half-time: U’s 1, Ford 1.
Just after the break, United briefly looked the better team and Nick Bailey was on the end of a good move only for the Ford ‘keeper to save well low down after a forceful shot from the midfielder. The visitors soon stepped up a gear, though, and had United on the back foot for ten minutes before a hopeful punt up-field released Collins and, after indecision from the ‘keeper, Collins headed over him to reinstate Sutton’s lead.
Failing to hold onto a lead is fast becoming a bad habit for the U’s, and it took only two minutes for Ford to find an equaliser. Iga came outside his area to collect the ball but rather than smash it into touch, he attempted to control it and lost possession. Although play was forced wide, the cross into the box picked out a forward who shot past the retreating Iga into the bottom right corner.
The game went from bad to worse for United because four minutes later Ford took the lead when a ball through the middle was chased by Craig Edwards and he flicked it over Iga into the goal. Despite the introduction of an extra striker, Sutton could not find the goal that would preserve their unbeaten record as the game finished U’s 2, Ford 3.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer, Gonsalves, Bailey, Bolt (Honey), Corbett, Collins, Watson, Hodges (Hanlan). Sub (n/u) Brooker.
Goals: Gray (31), Collins (64)
Right, Rob Collins celebrates scoring the second goal.