Pre-Season (Pld 8, W 8, D 0, L 0, F 18, A 6)
In a pre-season campaign against largely inferior opposition, United showed promise for the season ahead by winning all 8 friendlies. Eastbourne Borough of the Doc. Martens Premier provided Sutton’s toughest opponent on paper but were beaten by two late U’s goals, including a sublime lob from Scott Corbett. Of the new faces joining the club, United fans were most excited by the return of Paul Rogers following a successful professional career (Unfortunately, work commitments forced Paul to seek football nearer to home and he eventually joined Worthing) but were also impressed with the early performances of striker Rob Collins, who hit four goals.
August (Pld 5, W 3, D 1, L 1, F 6, A 4)
Sutton made an excellent start to the league season, going unbeaten in the first four games. A goal-less draw with Hayes was followed by one-goal-margin victories against Bognor, Grays and Kingstonian. The month ended with the U’s suffering a first league defeat of the season, surrendering a 2-1 lead in a 3-2 home loss to Ford.
September (Pld 9, W 2, D 2, L 5, F 9, A 13)
After beginning the month with a 2-0 win at Hendon, Sutton’s form mysteriously deserted them and there followed five defeats in eight games during a miserable September. In five of the games the U’s failed to score a goal; three of the nine goals that were scored came from the penalty spot. The final two games of the month saw United drop out of the FA Cup at the second qualifying round as a 0-0 draw at home to Bishop’s Stortford was followed by a 1-1 draw in the replay and a penalty shoot-out defeat.
October (Pld 4, W 1, D 0, L 3, F 2, A 8)
The new month did not bring fresh cheer for United; the first three games of October brought three more defeats. The three-nil home loss to Hitchin marked the nadir of the season as the U’s skirted dangerously close to the bottom four – but when Matt Fowler scored to give Sutton a 1-0 win against Basingstoke, he stopped the rot and started a run that would last for two months.
November (Pld 7, W 4, D 3, L 0, F 12, A 6)
After scoring only three goals in the last eight games, Sutton began to find the back of the net with increasing regularity. Nicky Bailey bagged four goals from midfield, Matt Fowler added four himself and, as the month progressed, Jon Nurse moved from reserve team football, to a place on the bench, to a starting spot and two goals in the final two games of the month – including the only goal of the match away to Kettering and one of the two that saw Sutton past Bedford and into the third round of the FA Trophy. The defence also turned itself around, keeping three clean sheets and conceding less than a goal a game for the first time in three months.
December (Pld 4, W 3, D 1, L 0, F 15, A 2)
If the weather had been better in December, Sutton’s devastating form may have brought them more than three wins and one draw. After a draw against Heybridge and a 5-0 thrashing of Farnham in the Surrey Senior Cup, the U’s reached the Christmas period playing in top gear. A trip to Bognor brought back three points after a 2-0 win and, two days after Christmas, United delivered the perfect present to their fans by stuffing local turkeys Carshalton by six goals to nil, with Matt Fowler knocking a hat-trick past his former club. Jon Nurse continued his impressive start for Sutton, scoring in all four games to increase his scoring streak to six consecutive matches.
January (Pld 6, W 2, D 1, L 3, F 11, A 13)
The beginning of January brought a blip to Sutton’s recovery with three straight defeats. A narrow loss to Grays was followed by a slip-up at home to Dunstable in the League Cup and an exit from the FA Trophy at the hands of Forest Green. The Conference side were flattered by the 4-0 score line, playing most of the game on the counter-attack, and many of the U’s didn’t look out of their depth - Paul Honey was excellent during the match, running tirelessly in midfield and making countless ball-winning tackles. Sutton were back on track in the second half of the month, beating St. Albans comfortably and earning a 1-1 draw at Bishop’s Stortford before dumping Carshalton out of the Surrey Senior Cup with a 2-0 win at the Lane.
February (Pld 7, W 5, D 1, L 1, F 18, A 6)
It was another good month for United with just the one loss at Bedford on the 28th. Three more clean sheets for the defence showed there’s more to this Sutton side than a creative midfield and increasingly ruthless front line. Three of the matches saw the U’s hit at least four goals and a six-nil demolition of lowly Aylesbury featured a five-goal haul for Matt Fowler.
March (Pld 8, W 6, D 1, L 1, F 17, A 7)
It all went a bit crazy in March. Leading one-nil in the opening game of the month against Billericay, Nicky Bailey took exception to Matt Hanlan’s captaining, United conceded an equaliser and Bailey didn’t feature in either of the next two matches, including the U’s scraping past Chessington & Hook in the Surrey Senior Cup. When he returned away to Canvey, his play was more blistering than at any point in the season and Sutton went goal crazy. Indestructible Canvey were clobbered three-one to suffer their first home league defeat of the season and United embarked on a post-WWII record-breaking run by scoring more than three goals in seven consecutive games. Hornchurch were beaten 3-1, Harrow and Braintree were both on the end of 3-0 score lines and Sutton then reached the final of the Surrey Senior Cup by knocking out Kingstonian 3-1.
April (Pld 5, W 4, D 1, L 0, F 17, A 6)
The run continued into April; in form Ford were overwhelmed 4-2 before United beat Kingstonian again – this time hammering them 4-1 in the league at the Lane. Whilst this game marked the end of the amazing goal-scoring run, Glen Boosey’s dazzling, solo wonder-goal saw him commence a personal scoring streak by hitting the back of the net in four straight games. The U’s came from two down to rescue a point away to Carshalton then beat Hendon 2-0 at home to set up the distinct possibility of capturing second spot in the league. In the last home league game, Heybridge were hammered 5-1 with Jon Nurse scoring a hat-trick in twelve minutes either side of half-time.
May (Pld 2, W 1, D 0, L 1, F 6, A 2)
A trip to Basingstoke on the final day of the league season brought another exceptional U’s performance. The home side were flattened 5-0 as centre-back Tony Quinton grabbed a hat-trick, and with Hendon losing against Kettering, Sutton jumped above them to finish in the runners-up spot. The Surrey Senior Cup final may have ended as a 2-1 defeat against Woking but Sutton emerged from the game with plenty of credit – Woking had been under the cosh for much of the game and, only a week earlier, had finished the season in ninth place in the Conference and as one of the league’s form sides.
An amazing season - Who would have thought back in October that United would have finished second? Indeed, at the time, the chances of finishing in the top thirteen and securing a Conference South spot were beginning to look bleak. Credit then to the players and management team – they said they could turn it around and not only did they do it, they did it in a manner that left the Ryman Premier League reeling. Our performances since November have been a joy to watch – it’s cool to turn up at matches expecting to win, and that’s how it’s been for U’s fans in the second half of the season. More of the same next year, please!
Top Scorer: Jon Nurse, 24 goals.
Biggest Win: 6-0 v Carshalton, 27th December 2003 & 6-0 v Aylesbury, 10th February 2004
Biggest Defeat: 0-4 v Forest Green Rovers, 10th January 2004
Games won in a row: 8, 9th March – 10th April 2004
Games lost in a row: 3 (twice), 4th – 18th October 2003 & 1st – 10th January 2004
Games without losing: 12 (twice), 21st October – 27th December 2003 & 9th March – 1st May 2004
Games without winning: 7, 20th September – 18th October 2003
Games without conceding: 3 (twice), 16th – 23rd August 2003 & 2nd – 27th December 2003
Games without scoring: 3, 20th – 27th September 2003
'From The Lane' End of Season Awards
From The Lane’s Player of the Year
Nicky Bailey – An excellent season for United’s young midfielder saw him net 20 goals and emerge as the team’s creative force. When he wasn’t playing we really missed his presence on the pitch and that was a big factor in our choice. Simply put, he was integral to the team this year.
From The Lane Readers’ Player of the Year
Nicky Bailey – For the second year running Nicky Bailey got the nod from our readers as the U’s player of the year. In a close poll, eleven players scored points but Nicky’s midfield displays made him a deserving winner.
Best Sutton Performance
In March, United travelled to Canvey, unbeaten at home in the league, and beat them 3-1. It was the start of our amazing scoring run and was an all-round excellent team performance – when the hosts did beat the U’s defence, Andy Iga was in inspired form, including a great penalty save. United enjoyed some penalty drama at the Canvey end as well, Nicky Bailey taking a spot kick three times before the outcome stood.
Best ‘Feelgood’ Sutton Performance
Well, we wanted to give it an award, so here it is – U’s 6, Carshalton 0 (27/12/03). Undoubtedly this game made the United fans happier than any other – 3 goals from Matt Fowler and one each for Jon Nurse, Matt Gray and Paul Honey left this as a Christmas derby that we’ll never forget!
Goal of the Season
There were so many contenders for this one, we can’t even list them all here. Matt Hanlan’s flick up and volley against Aylesbury in October; Paul Honey’s strike against Carshalton at Christmas; Jon Nurse against Carshalton in the Surrey Senior Cup and his goal in the final against Woking; Tobi Jinadu’s drive into the bottom corner at Canvey and Matt Gray’s freekick against Harrow were some that made our rather lengthy shortlist but, in the end, Glen Boosey’s solo goal against Kingstonian was just too classy. Here’s what we said about it at the time:
“Having been on the pitch for a mere 3 minutes, Boosey began the U’s record-breaking goal by collecting the ball ten yards inside the K’s half and running towards the area. He beat one man before he reached the edge of the box and then twisted past two more as he broke into the area. As two defenders and the ‘keeper closed in, Boosey turned and switched the ball to his right foot and left all three of them lying on the grass. With the goal at his mercy he then kept his head to pass it into the right side of the goal, past the hand of Key who had tried desperately, but in vain, to reach the ball.”
Celebration of the Year
Andy Iga runs three quarters of the length of the field to jump into the crowd of Sutton players celebrating Jon Nurse’s opener against Carshalton during the 6-0 rout.
The ‘What the Blazes’ Award for Most Bizarre Moment
United have just beaten Canvey 3-1 at Canvey and ended an unbeaten home record stretching from the start of the season to mid-March, Jeff King, Canvey manager, goes on Radio Essex, and without a flicker of sarcasm in his voice says that Canvey were the better team and deserved to win! What the blazes?
The ‘S**t Ground, No Fans’ Award for the Worst Ground and Least Fans
Not much debate on this award, as Ford United walk away unanimous winners. They’ve got about 10 fans (incidentally, they keep count of the attendance by the bloke on the turnstile doing five-bar gates as people enter) and a weird ground. There’s one bit of terracing behind the goal at the turnstile end which is impossible to walk into without ducking below some metal barriers … strange, very strange.
The ‘Jar Jar Binks’ Award for Most Annoying Supporters
Bands at football grounds can be annoying at the best of times but one bloke, with a trumpet, turning ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ into a funeral march is downright depressing and it earns his team, Canvey Island, the annoying supporters award.
The ‘Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Award for Unluckiest Ryman Premier Team
We were all set to give this to Basingstoke after they missed out on a Conference South place on the last day of the season but then a twist of fate saw them sneak in at the expense of Hendon, who decided to pull out. We feel bad for the Hendon fans, so we’ve changed the award slightly and they’ve got it for unluckiest Ryman Premier fans.