Sutton picked up their first point of their return to the Vanarama National League on Tuesday, picking up a thoroughly deserved draw against the side that lost in the Wembley play-off final last season. After a difficult first twenty minutes in which they conceded an early goal and struggled to keep hold of the ball long enough to prevent themselves coming under pressure, Sutton steadied the ship and could have been level long before Nicky Bailey's penalty ten minutes after half time. After that, although Forest Green pushed for a winner, U's defended with some comfort and might just have easily have snatched a winner on the break.
Without Craig Eastmond, injured after taking a heavy challenge on Saturday, U's were able to welcome back Ryan Burge who had a fine game, instrumental in setting up the opening that saw Roarie Deacon win the penalty and desperately unlucky not to score himself just before half time. Nevertheless, U's struggled to make an impact going forward in the early stages as the home side, shaken up after Saturday's defeat at Boreham Wood, set about making amends for that result, and they took an early lead. Ross Stearn clattered in to Mohamed Chemlal on the right touch line, and the tricky French winger picked himself up and sent in a free kick that found Matt Tubbs taking advantage of poor marking to steal round the back of the defence and head past Ross Worner.
Stearn repeated the dose seven minutes later and picked up an inevitable booking, but this time the free kick came to nothing, and although U's were on the back foot for much of the first quarter they suffered no further damage and began to play their way in to the game. After a strong run by Bedsente Gomis, Deacon's low shot was grabbed at the second attempt by Sam Russell, and Burge then left the keeper standing with a delightful chip which came back off the bar. Although Worner had to make a fine save at his near post from Tubbs, and claw away a miscued Jamie Collins clearance, U's finished the half in better heart than had at one stage seemed likely and Dean Beckwith might even have equalised when he dived to meet Stearn's corner but made disappointingly little contact.
The second half began in similar vein and Deacon whistled a shot across goal that was close enough for all three Sutton players in the six yard box to put their heads in their hands, but the equaliser they deserved soon came. Burge did brilliantly to pressurise and dispossess Dale Bennett on the left by-line and pulled the ball back to Deacon, who was tripped by Drissa Traore. Referee Adam Bromley, very close to the incident, had no hesitation in awarding the penalty and Nicky Bailey rattled his spot kick past Russell, who got a hand to the ball but couldn't keep it out.
The home side hit further trouble soon afterwards when Dan Fitchett, who worked tirelessly, put former U's captain Charlie Clough under enough pressure to cause the big central defender to fall awkwardly and suffer a shoulder injury that forced him off. Kieffer Moore, booked in the first half for a challenge on Worner that angered U's players, dropped to centre back with Christain Doidge coming on in attack, and Elliott Frear was also added to the home side's attacking line-up as they looked to regain control. Frear it was who had the best chance, slicing badly wide from a deep right wing cross, while Worner had to come out and dive at the feet of Tubbs, who also volleyed over, but generally U's defended relatively comfortably, with Bailey outstanding just in front of an impressive back line, and always had a threat on the break. A good combination between substitutes Max Biamou and Chris Dickson ended as Moore stretched out a foot to force the ball away from Dickson as he ran on to Biamou's back-heeled pass, while right at the end Burge again outwitted Bennett but couldn't quite pick out Biamou with his cross, and it was U's who were much the happier at the final whistle.
Forest Green. S Russell, D Traore(sub R Sinclair 75), E Pinnock, D Bennett, C Clough(sub C Doidge 58), A Racine, M Chemlal, K Marsh-Brown, K Moore, M Tubbs, F Robert(sub E Frear 62). Subs n/u J Maxted, D Carter. Booked: Moore(foul).
I'd like to thank the boys for my first point as a National League manager. I felt that we grew in to the game and we had six or seven good chances, Ryan Burge hitting the bar, Roarie Deacon shooting across goal and having another shot saved, and Dean Beckwith having a header in the six yard box, and at half time we felt we needed to keep a good shape about us because they had a very fluid system, and we felt we thoroughly deserved the equaliser when it came and then it was important to keep our shape and gained a hard earned point.
I watched the game from the far side initially because the sun was low and shining straight in to the dug-out, and in the first fifteen minutes they played some excellent football that wouldn't have looked out of place at a higher level. We conceded from a set piece, we'd spoken about not giving away soft free kicks but Ross gave one away, and any good delivery at thie level is going to cause you problems. We had plenty else to deal with in the next ten minutes as well but after that we got some messages on to the pitch that we needed Ross and Roarie to start coming inside and disrupt their fluid diamond shape, and then we had three really good chances in the rest of the first half.
You've got to give Forest Green credit as well. They've got three players who played in the French first division last season and that's the sort of level you're up against, and we said to the lads afterwards that they've come away to a side that's definitely going to be there or thereabouts, and they've put on an excellent performance. I'd like to thank our hardy support who followed us down here as well, they must have been delighted with the effort put in and an excellent point.
If you look at the game Ross Worner's had to make one fantastic save in the first half at his near post, which was crucial as we couldn't afford to go two down, but apart from that I can't think of him really having another save to make while their keeper had to make two or three stops. I think a point was about right. If it was based on possession they would have won it but on chances it was about even.
Craig Eastmond was smashed in the ankle on Saturday by a tackle that the Solihull player was booked for, and when he ttok his boot off the ankle had swollen right up and there was no chance of him being fit for tonight, but I thought Bedsi Gomis, Ryan Burge, who I thought was outstanding, and Nicky Bailey grew in to the game, and Nicky was a controlling influence and gave a masterclass in keeping the team together. I thought the back four were outstanding as well. Dan Wishart didn't get beaten once, Dean and Jamie were solid and Kevin did very well for his first game this season.
We had some moments near the end. Ryan got in on the left and Max couldn't quite get in on the cross, and the Max and Chris Dickson had that move when Max backheeled it to Chris and the ball was blocked. There are promising signs there - we know that Max and Chris are both good players but nowhere near match fit yet, which is something we'll work on with them. I also must mention Dan Fitchett, who put in a terrific shift against two difficult centre backs, and ran the channels for me and worked his socks off, and was a big part of what we did tonight.
I saw Lincoln's game against Woking on video, and Lincoln are a proper ex-League Two club. They've got a way of playing, their very competitive but have got some good, good players and have real energy, and they'll be there or thereabouts this season. We'll see what tonight has taken out of us, because we're getting used to this league, but I think we can go anywhere and compete, and that's all we've ever asked, that we're competitive, and we've competed tonight and won our first National League point.