A trip to Hornchurch was never going to be the easiest game for an injury-plagued Sutton to end their poor run, and so it proved, the home side controlling the game for large periods on their way to a comfortable victory.
The signs were bad from early on, as Vinny John found space to head home in the sixth minute only for the linesman’s flag to rule it out for offside. Two minutes later, though, United allowed Jude Sterling space to run along the edge of the area and then hit a low shot past Andy Iga into the bottom right corner.
After 15 minutes, Danny Bolt almost capitalised on a poor back pass when he ran onto the ball on the left wing but his chip over the stranded ‘keeper from thirty yards went agonisingly wide of the far post.
With the game approaching half-time, both sides had chances to add to the scoring. Firstly, a dangerous Hornchurch cross was met with a diving header by John, but he sent it down into the ground and up onto the bar. At the other end, Nick Bailey’s inswinging free kick found Collins at the back post, but he could only head wide with the ‘keeper out of position. Half-time: Hornchurch 1, U’s 0.
Ten minutes after the break, Sterling went close to his second of the game but, like John before half-time, he sent his header into the ground and this time it bounced narrowly over the bar.
On the hour, United had what was more or less their only chance of the half – a ball upfield by Matt Hanlan was controlled by Collins and Bolt ran in but fired wide from twenty-five yards.
The game was finally put beyond Sutton during a six minute period half an hour into the half. A low cross from the left was headed home by Mark Graham from within the six yard box and, six minutes later, John collected the ball on the edge of the area and turned to shoot across goal into the bottom left corner past a diving Iga. Full time: Hornchurch 3, U’s 0.
Team: Iga, Dray, Fletcher, Palmer, Hodges, Bailey, Bolt (Williams), Hanlan, Gray, Watson (Hamlin), Collins. Sub (n/u) Gorman.
Right, Mark Watson challenges the Hornchurch 'keeper for a cross.
U’s v Braintree (07/10/03)
Sutton suffered a fourth consecutive league defeat on Tuesday night, losing at home to Braintree, and thereby dropping to 18th in the table. Eddie Akuamoah returned to the side after missing the game at Hornchurch and Matt Fowler started for the first time since the game against Bognor on 19th August. Danny Bolt and Ronnie Fletcher dropped to the bench.
In a slow start, it took nearly twenty minutes for the first real chance of the game, Matt Hanlan on the touchline and laying it off to Akuamoah. His cross found Mark Watson unmarked in the middle but he could only head the ball wide of the right post.
On the half hour, Matt Gray almost produced a moment of magic but his goal-bound curled effort was deflected just wide. Minutes later Gray was involved again, as he beat a man down the line and swung in a low, dangerous cross. Fowler, rushing in at the near post, could not quite get the touch that would have tested the ‘keeper.
With Sutton looking like the better team, Braintree counter-attacked and scored against the run of play in the 35th minute, their number seven running from the half-way line before despatching a low drive into the bottom right corner from twenty yards. At the break: U’s 0, Braintree 1.
In a more open second half, Braintree could have extended their lead three minutes after the interval but stabbed the ball wide from ten or so yards after a deep cross from the left wing.
Gray continued to trouble the visitors’ left back, beating him and striking a low ball across the face of the goal in the 52nd minute. Watson could not reach the ball at the near post, and then Fowler slid but could not get a toe to it at the back. Just before the hour, though, Gray’s persistence down the wing finally paid off when he laid the ball back to Hanlan – his drilled effort towards the far corner was saved by the goalkeeper but Watson was on hand to tap the ball home into the now unguarded net.
Ten minutes later, Sutton were denied what looked like an obvious penalty, Nick Bailey showing good awareness to take a quick throw to Watson, who beat one man and was then chopped down as he went past the last defender but the referee and linesman were unmoved by United’s appeals.
But with fifteen minutes to go, Braintree took the lead once again, a low free kick finding a forward in space to knock the ball home with a stooping header. Sutton immediately began pushing for another equaliser and Fowler had a great chance within the last ten minutes when he ran onto a through-ball and had only the ‘keeper to beat. Taking the ball on his left foot, he attempted to strike it into the bottom right corner, but the goalie blocked the shot with his legs.
Substitute Bolt almost made an impact in the last five minutes when his long ball was received by Rob Collins but his centre was headed just wide by Watson. Then, in injury time, Watson controlled a Bailey ball into the box on his chest but could only half-volley at the goalkeeper. Final score: U’s 1, Braintree 2.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah (Collins), Palmer, Gonsalves, Bailey, Hamlin, Hanlan, Fowler, Watson, Dray (Bolt). Subs (n/u) Williams, Fletcher.
Goal: Watson (57).
U’s v Hitchin Town (18/10/03)
Trying to avoid a fifth consecutive league defeat, and pick up their first win for a month, Sutton almost got off to an excellent start against Hitchin this Saturday, but Nicky Bailey’s run down the wing and cross was inches away from Matt Fowler’s head at the near post. That set a precedent for Sutton’s game - a case of so close yet so far in front of goal.
Despite the positive opening minute, the match quietened down into a dull affair until the twentieth minute. A cross from the left wing found Chris Dillon in space, and his header looped over Andy Iga. The United goalkeeper got a hand to the ball and pushed it upwards and away from goal but the linesman’s flag signalled what was already painfully obvious to the U’s fans after the bulge in the roof of the net – 1-0 to Hitchin.
The referee almost lost control of the game when Matt Hanlan was involved in a tussle with Paul Abbott - the pushing and shoving could have seen Hanlan sent from the field by a stricter official. Matt Gray also landed himself in the ref’s book for his vocal disapproval of the official’s decision after a free-kick was given against United.
Whilst Hitchin continued to trouble Sutton, it was United who had the best chance of the next few minutes. Fowler’s excellent work on the ring wing was wasted by Mark Watson who could only side-foot a volley straight at the visitors ‘keeper, Richard Wilmot.
United’s defensive frailties were exposed again by Hitchin, as they extended their lead to two goals just after the half-hour mark - Adam Parker was given time to control the ball in the area and blast it past a helpless Iga.
Inspiration was needed from someone if Sutton were going to get back in the match and it almost came from Danny Bolt when he beat the ‘keeper and hit a powerful shot goalwards from a ridiculously tight angle, only for it to be cleared off of the line. Half-time: U’s 0, Hitchin 2.
In the second half, Sutton created a handful of great chances but still failed to find the back of the net. Bailey was unlucky not to hit the target with a header from a Bolt curled free kick but it was Fowler and Watson who were guilty of missing the best chances.
First Fowler collected the ball in the area and only had to shoot past Wilmot, with Watson providing a further option of a simple pass. Fowler chose to shoot but his fierce effort was blocked by the Hitchin goalie. Then, Watson ran on to a clever through-ball but, instead of sliding it into the bottom corner, he elected to try and flick the ball over Wilmot and he got just enough on the ball to allow it to be cleared.
Sutton may also have had a penalty, when Fowler was knocked over from behind on the right side of the area but, whilst the referee considered it to be a foul, he incredibly gave a free-kick on the edge of the box, rather than the spot-kick that was merited.
The half was far from all Sutton’s way, though. Hitchin tested Iga on a number of occasions, with one shot from the edge of the area bouncing off the inside of the left post and flying straight across the face of the goal. And, with time running out, the visitors put the win beyond doubt when Carl Williams was on the end of a good move to knock the ball past Iga. Final Score: U’s 0, Hitchin 3.
Team: Iga, Gray, Hamlin (Dray), Palmer, Gonsalves, Bailey, Bolt, Hanlan, Fowler, Watson, Hodges (Williams). Sub (n/u) Fletcher.
Right, Ryan Palmer gets set to head the ball across the Hitchin area.
U’s v Bedford Town (08/11/03)
Ryman Premier football returned to the Lane after almost three weeks without a first team game. Having ended the rot against Billericay on October 21, United were looking to build a winning streak. With Matt Gray suspended, Tony Quinton made his debut in the amber and chocolate quarters.
The match started slowly, both teams looking content to push the ball around at no real pace. Finally, with an injection of speed, Matt Fowler was released down the left in the tenth minute, and with United players flooding into the middle, Fowler tried to lay it across but it was cleared away. Then, a minute later, a high ball over the top looked to have found Mark Watson in space but he failed to control a ball that would have left him with a clear run on goal.
Bedford’s attacking threat was coming largely from corners but any chance of goal was being snuffed out by an assured performance from Andy Iga, who claimed good looking crosses on three or four occasions.
Danny Bolt had a couple of chances to put away one of his trademark free kicks but was denied firstly by the wall and then by a comfortable diving save by the Bedford ‘keeper. With 33 minutes on the clock, Quinton worked sufficient space on the right wing to knock over a dangerous cross and it was touched down by Watson to Fowler, who swept it in from six yards out.
Quinton was impressing well on his debut, and could have put his name on the score sheet just before half-time when he had a free header from a Bolt corner, but his downward effort bounced up nicely for the ‘keeper, who claimed it easily. Half-time: U’s 1, Bedford 0.
The slow pace of the first half, continued into the second, broken only by the speed of Eddie Akuamoah who darted forward on a couple of useful runs. After eight minutes of the half, a cross from the right wing went right across the face of the goal to Fowler at the back post, and he kept his cool to slot it home, but it was ruled out for an earlier offside call.
In the 67th minute, Jon Nurse came off the bench to replace Watson, for his first senior team performances for the club having impressed at reserve team level, and immediately had a chance but shot wildly high and wide of the goal. Nurse looked promising, though, winning the ball in the air repeatedly and giving a high work rate.
With seven minutes left, Bedford pulled level, shooting powerfully home from close range after a free kick just outside the area was chipped into the box. Matt Hanlan almost put United straight back into the lead but his long shot from 30 yards was tipped over the bar. From the resulting corner, Ronnie Fletcher had the time to shoot on the turn from a central position twelve yards out, but put his shot wide of the right post.
The game came to life in injury time, Bedford surging forward on a counter attack only for Iga to come out of his area to block a shot. The ball remained at Iga’s feet and he found Bolt on the halfway line with a great pass. He burst forward past two Bedford players but the attack broke down as the ball was laid over to the right wing. Then, four minutes into stoppage time, a United long-throw resulted in a scramble in the area that saw the ball get forced over the line, only for the referee to indicate that the Bedford ‘keeper had been fouled in the process. Final score: U’s 1, Bedford 1.
Team: Iga, Quinton, Akuamoah, Palmer, Gonsalves, Bailey, Bolt, Hanlan, Fowler, Watson (Nurse), Fletcher. Subs (n/u) Honey, Williams, Hamlin.
U’s v Aylesbury United (11/11/03)
United came close to winning at home for the first time since 23 August, but some debatable refereeing allowed Aylesbury to collect a share of the spoils. Matt Gray returned from suspension to start at right wing back, with Tony Quinton moving to centre midfield and Danny Bolt dropping to the bench. Otherwise the starting line-up remained the same as Saturday’s draw against Bedford.
Matt Fowler almost continued his scoring form as early as the ninth minute but Kevin Davies, on loan at Aylesbury from Sutton, blocked his first shot and then forced Fowler to put the rebound into the side netting.
Aylesbury threatened to score when a couple of crosses dropped within inches of the back post without any players challenging for the ball but United escaped, and took the lead in explosive fashion in the 16th minute. Matt Hanlan collected the ball on the run half-way into the Aylesbury half, and with no defenders around him, flicked the ball into the air with his first touch and then lobbed a volley over the stranded Davies from thirty yards out.
Mark Watson showed some good control to beat a man down the right wing and hit a low fast cross but, when Davies dived to palm the ball away, there was no one there to knock the ball into the unguarded net.
Aylesbury ended the half strongly, having a goal disallowed in the 44th minute for a foul on Andy Iga, and then heading a corner forcefully over from six yards out. At the break: U’s 1, Aylesbury 0.
Aylesbury started the second half as they finished the first and had a great chance to equalise in the 53rd minute but Iga came out brilliantly to dive at the feet of the striker and block the shot.
Three minutes later Sutton extended their lead to two goals. Hanlan laid an angled through ball across the visitors defence, and Nicky Bailey sprang through the offside trap to collect the ball, run into the area, round the ‘keeper and roll the ball into the net.
The two goal margin was reduced after only 7 minutes, though, as an Aylesbury forward had time in the area to control the ball on his chest in the area and strike it past Iga.
Sutton pushed forward, and the good use of the flanks gave Aylesbury a lot of problems. In the 75th minute, Bailey zipped down the left wing, beat one man and cut inside to shoot. His low shot to the near post was fumbled behind for a corner. A minute later, Hanlan ran through to put a low cross in but Fowler could not get a touch to the ball and it went straight across the area. Matt Gray collected the ball on the far side and hit another dangerous cross, but this time it was deflected just wide of the post by a defender.
In the 78th minute, Watson was first to a cross that the ‘keeper spilled, and he span near the penalty spot to shoot home. Unfortunately the players, and most of the U’s fans, had not noticed the offside flag that had been raised almost a minute earlier, and the goal was ruled out.
With seven minutes remaining, Aylesbury were level in debatable circumstances. A cleared Aylesbury corner was contested for by Fowler, half way inside the United half and the referee saw some offence that merited a free kick. The resulting deep ball into the U’s box was headed at the back post, and looped over Iga into the far corner of the goal.
United pushed forward again, but now seeking a winning goal rather than one to make it safe. Eddie Akuamoah zoomed forward from the back, and hit a brilliant cross but it was sliced over the bar by a defender.
Paul Honey, on as a substitute for Ronnie Fletcher, had a positive influence on the United midfield, and hit an excellent cross field pass to Gray, with only minutes remaining. With space down the right wing, Gray again had time to put in a cross, and Fowler was first to it but could only head straight at Davies.
Aylesbury almost snatched all of the points in the last minute, when one of their players, ran down the right wing, cut inside past Akuamoah and struck the ball for the far post. Iga was beaten, but the ball hit the outside of the post and went wide. Final score: U’s 2, Aylesbury 2.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer, Gonsalves, Bailey, Fletcher (Honey), Hanlan, Fowler (Nurse), Watson, Quinton. Subs (n/u) Hamlin, Williams, Bolt.
Goals: Hanlan (16), Bailey (56).
Right, Mark Watson wins a header against an Aylesbury defender.
U’s v Met. Police, Bryco Cup 2nd Round (18/11/03)
United began this season’s League Cup with a home tie against Met. Police tonight. New signing Tobi Jinadu slotted straight into the starting eleven up-front. Paul Honey started in midfield, Tony Quinton presumably cup-tied. Following Mark Watson’s departure, the captain’s armband passed to Matt Hanlan.
In a slow start to the game, nothing of much consequence happened in the opening fifteen minutes. New-boy Jinadu showed an element of early promise by winning a couple of flick-ons.
Jinadu was then involved as United opened the scoring in the 17th minute. A ball was played into his feet ten yards outside the box, and he span off his man and laid the ball out into the path of Matt Gray. After one touch, Gray swept in a cross to the back post, where Matt Fowler rose to head the ball back across goal and in off the bottom of the right post.
Two minutes later, Gray and Fowler almost combined for a second when another Gray cross reached Fowler at the near post, but he could not get enough behind his first time shot, and the ball rolled across the area.
The rest of the half was much like the opening fifteen minutes – quiet. Sutton threatened to do something of interest more than the visitors, Nicky Bailey beating a man down the left wing but failing to find a United player with his low pass, being the pick of the half-chances. At the break: U’s 1, Met. Police 0.
At half time, Jon Nurse came on to replace Lewis Gonsalves. He joined Fowler up-front, with Jinadu moving into the back three.
After a few short substitute performances, Nurse’s effort tonight added to the opinion that he could offer something to the first team on a more frequent basis. He was involved in a lot of United’s attacking play, twice creating problems for the Met. Police back line in the opening ten minutes of the half when he beat defenders. Whilst his pass was lacking on the first occasion, his left-footed cross after opening up the defence for the second time was only inches from Bailey.
Bailey was revelling in the attacking midfield role he had become accustomed to before taking on Scott Corbett’s defensive, midfield ball winning position after Corbett was injured earlier this season. Twenty minutes into the half, Bailey found himself with only the ‘keeper to beat, when he latched onto a ball through the visitors’ defence, but he dragged his shot wide of the left post.
With twenty minutes remaining, Nurse almost scored a memorable first for the U’s, but his low shot from twenty-five yards out pinged off the bottom of the right post and went straight across the goal-line. In the next minute, Gray broke down the right wing and his cross was struck over by Hanlan from just inside the area.
United finally put the game to rest in the 83rd minute. Bailey received a pass twenty-five yards out with his back to goal, and struck a shot on the turn. The accuracy and quickness of the shot caught out the ‘keeper who could only watch as it sped into the bottom left corner. Full-time: U’s 2, Met. Police 0.
Team: Iga, Gray, Akuamoah, Palmer, Gonsalves (Nurse), Bailey, Jinadu, Honey, Fowler, Hanlan, Fletcher. Subs (n/u) Hamlin, Williams, Bolt.
Goals: Fowler (17), Bailey (83).
U’s v Basingstoke Town (22/11/03)
The referee passed the Gander Green Lane pitch fit for play, but it must have been touch and go, as surface water was evident from the kick-off. With the match going ahead, Jon Nurse was handed a first start and a chance to impress, by U’s manager John Rains.
The wet conditions were always going to make attractive football difficult and they almost had an impact as early as the third minute when a defensive error gifted the ball to a Basingstoke striker inside the United area but the shot went wide of the left post.
Basingstoke remained on the front foot during the opening ten minutes, and almost got lucky when a cross slipped through Andy Iga’s hands. The United ‘keeper reacted in time, though, to turn and grab the ball away from the goalline.
Sutton finally began to make an impression after 15 minutes, and Nurse was unlucky not to open the scoring when his diving header, from a Matt Gray left-footed cross, went just the wrong side of the right post.
Four minutes later, Nicky Bailey kept his rich vein of scoring form going by giving Sutton the lead. After beating two players, he let fly with a rocket shot from just outside the area. Although the ‘keeper got both hands to it and palmed it away, Fowler was first to the rebound and struck the ball low across goal. Again the ‘keeper was well positioned, this time stretching out a leg to knock the ball away but he was powerless to prevent a goal when Bailey was on hand to fire the rebound in from 12 yards, 1-0.
Sutton could only hold the lead for a mere two minutes. A looped cross to the back post was met by a Basingstoke forward, who towered over Tony Quinton to head the ball home, 1-1.
Although possession was about even for the remainder of the half, Sutton still had the better of the chances. First, Fowler played in Nurse, who was forced wide but managed to get a left-footed shot in from a tight angle only for the ‘keeper to block with his foot. Then, with the half almost over, Tobi Jinadu played a measured pass out of the United defence to Nurse. When Nurse was brought down, the ball broke for Eddie Akuamoah, who smashed the ball across the box – Fowler, sliding in at the back post, could not send the ball goalwards. Half-time: U’s 1, Basingstoke 1.
Bailey continued to influence the game after the break, creating a link between the midfield and forwards that had been lacking earlier in the season. His run and cross just after the break was inches from the end of Fowler’s boot, as he stretched for it in the middle of the area.
When United regained the lead on the hour, Bailey was involved again, playing a long ball over the top of the visitors’ defence for Nurse to run onto. With one defender to contend with, Nurse brushed him off the ball and cut it back from the touchline to Fowler who slotted it via the underside of the ‘keeper into the back of the net, 2-1.
There was a horrible sense of deja-vu three minutes later, as Basingstoke once again managed a quick reply. When United failed to clear the ball, a firm shot from the edge of the area was pushed away by Iga, but only to the feet of a Basingstoke forward, who had the time to strike the ball into the centre of the goal, 2-2.
With 15 minutes to go, Akuamoah almost struck United back into the lead when a cleared corner fell to his feet twenty-five yards out but his right-footed precision curler was tipped around the post by the ‘keeper.
A minute later, a United corner caused more problems as Bailey drilled a low cross to Matt Hanlan, and he unleashed a first time shot from the edge of the area. As the ‘keeper saved, Fowler looked like he would be first to the rebound but a defender managed to get a foot to it and send the ball off of Fowler for a goal kick.
With ten minutes to go, a flowing team move almost produced a deserving winner. Hanlan began the play by laying it out wide to Gray, who hit a first time ball across the field to Bailey. He cut inside past two players before Nurse took the ball from him and span off his man into the area. His power shot from 18 yards was just tipped over by the ‘keeper’s reactionary save.
After that period of intense pressure, the final ten minutes passed without action as both teams settled on a point. Final score: U’s 2, Basingstoke 2.
Goals: Bailey (19), Fowler (60).
U’s v Bedford Town, FA Trophy 2nd Round (29/11/03)
Sutton booked their place in the third round of the FA Trophy with a deserved two-nil victory against Bedford Town. Tony Quinton was cup-tied so was ineligible for this game, and Tobi Jinadu missed out after picking up a knock on Tuesday. In his place was Lewis Gonsalves, who continues to feature in the team despite needing an operation.
Bedford almost got off to a flyer in the sixth minute, when their number nine turned past the United back line but he shot wildly across the goal on his left foot. Sutton responded positively, Jon Nurse and Matt Hanlan struggling to find space for a shot but managing to work the ball to Nicky Bailey. His powerful shot from just inside the area was straight at the ‘keeper, though.
A foul on Matt Fowler on the right wing gave Bailey the chance to swing in a dangerous cross in the eighteenth minute. Hanlan judged the cross well to be first to the ball, but headed wide of the left post when he really should have made the ‘keeper work.
Andy Iga had to be alert slightly later, when a Bedford forward found himself in on goal after beating two United defenders. Iga dived quickly to his left to block the shot but any goal would presumably have been ruled out by the linesman’s offside flag.
With the match nearing the half-hour, Paul Honey broke forward with the ball from the halfway line. He played the ball to Fowler on the left wing, who cut back past a defender and swept a right-footed cross in towards the back post. The ball looked to be coming in perfectly for Nurse, but he lost his footing in the slippery conditions and could only head wide.
Matt Gray was giving the Bedford left back a torrid time throughout the first half, and sent a beautiful cross over to Fowler in the 35th minute. In space around ten yards out, Fowler could not get over the ball and sent his header high of the goal. Half time: U’s 0, Bedford 0.
United started positively after the break, and, with ten minutes gone, Bailey beat three men in a run across the pitch and knocked it to Fowler who flicked it onto the wing to Eddie Akuamoah. Unfortunately the excellent build up ended with Akuamoah’s cross being easily cleared.
Akuamoah was having more and more of an impact down the left side of the field, though. In the 64th minute, after bringing the ball from his own half, he played a one-two with Nurse and sped into the area but the ball was knocked behind by a defender. From the resulting corner, Ryan Palmer collected the ball at the back post and hammered it across the six yard box, where Fowler was on hand to turn it into the net, 1-0.
Five minutes later, Hanlan had a glorious chance to increase Sutton’s lead to two goals but shot wide of the goal from near the penalty spot after Honey had fought his way past two defenders and cut the ball back from the touchline.
All was forgotten after United’s next attack, though. With 73 minutes gone, Fowler showed the value of chasing every ball when he slid to reach a long ball over the visitors’ defence just before it went off. Not only did he keep the ball in, but he sent it across the goal to Nurse, who slid in to beat the ‘keeper to the ball and knock it into the back of the net, 2-0.
For a few minutes after the goal, United looked like they might let Bedford back into the game, but they soaked up the pressure, and then went on the attack for the final ten minutes.
The Fowler and Nurse partnership upfront is really beginning to look useful, and they combined again with a minute remaining, Fowler spinning off his man on the halfway line, then passing the ball to Nurse. He cut inside his man and into the area but shot across the goal, largely because of the defender that was pulling at him from behind.
With the final whistle imminent, Sutton frustrated Bedford by holding the ball around the visitor’s area for nearly all of the five minutes of injury time. Final score: U’s 2, Bedford 0.
Goals: Fowler (65), Nurse (73).