Sutton were celebrating a first appearance in the FA Cup 2nd Round since 1995 on Saturday as they found the form that has taken them to second place in Blue Square Bet South in time to bridge the gap, admittedly not a huge one, in status between themselves and Kettering and deservedly emerge victorious. It was only after half time that the game sprung to life, the first half having been a cagey affair in which the occasion, with a crowd of over 1,500 giving the game a real ‘big game’ atmosphere, seemed to affect both sides, but particularly Sutton who rarely came close to matching some of their attacking football of previous weeks.
Indeed early on Ketteringwere the stronger side, and Simon Downer stood out for U’s as he calmed the initial threat of the tall Adam Cunnington. Kevin Scriven wasn’t tested, though, a free kick blocked by the wall the only time thatKetteringhad a serious sight of goal. As the half went on U’s gained more of a foothold, although Laurie Walker saw no more action than Scriven as Sutton were in the main comfortably held by a defence in which Marcus Kelly was impressive, and referee Mike Bull’s half time whistle signalled the end of as uneventful a 45 minutes of football as Sutton have been involved in all season.
Within two minutes of the restart, though, came a hint of something better as Craig Watkins was fouled just outside the penalty area, and when Leroy Griffiths made himself room to shoot following the free kick, Walker was down well to push the ball round the post. Minutes later Scriven was called in to action as Jean-Paul Marna cut in from the right, aided as Alan Bray lost his footing as he challenged, and shot firmly but straight at the U’s keeper. Cunnington then hit a snap-shot from all of thirty yards that flew just wide with Scriven beaten, and the tone was set for a second half as good as the first had been disappointing, the end-to-end nature shown as U’s squandered a good attacking position when Craig Dundas mis-hit a cross straight in to Walker’s arms, and within seconds were defending as Walker’s long clearance found Josh Dawkin clear, but a heavy touch gave Scriven the chance to come off his line and save.
It was becoming clear, though, that U’s pace up front, particularly from Watkins, was having an increasing role to play in the game, and just after the hour Fola Orilonishe picked up possession midway inside the Kettering half, ran incisively at the visitors’ defence and fired in a shot that was diverted by the challenging defender in to the path of Watkins, who stabbed it past Walker in to the net to celebrate his 100th Sutton appearance in the best possible way.
Having had to make one change at the break after Paul Telfer suffered a thigh strain, U’s then had to change their other full back when Bray, back somewhere near his best, twisted his knee in making a tackle, but apart from one wild shot from Marna after a free kick bounced around the penalty area it was Sutton who still looked the likelier to score, and they should have given themselves breathing space eighteen minutes from time when Watkins headed a deep cross from the tireless Harry Beautyman down for Griffiths, who pulled his shot just wide.Dundas, diving full stretch, just failed to reach a cross from U’s third substitute Tony Taggart, and Watkins also wasted a golden chance to settle the nerves when he blazed over after fine work fromGriffithshad allowed Anthony Riviere to roll the ball in to his path withWalkeralready committed.
The worry that U’s might pay for their failure to score a second was highlighted when Moses Ashikodi’s cross flashed across goal just out of reach of the lunging Cunnington, but Kettering could never muster enough of a concerted effort to trouble U’s defence, and it was Walker who was the busier keeper as he made another good low save to turn aside a Dundas shot. The final whistle brought joyous scenes for U’s supporters, and the players and management who richly deserved the acclaim.
Kettering: L Walker, D Sangare, J Ifil, A Verma (sub M Ashikodi 69), J-P Marna, M Kelly (sub P Ifil 87), S Meechan, D Bridges, A Cunnington, M Swaibo, J Dawkin. Subs n/u A Haxia, N Koo-Booth, J Navarro. Booked: Meechan (73-dissent)
It’s fantastic to be in the second round of the FA Cup, and I’m so pleased for the club, the players, Micky Stephens and Alan Payne who shot off on the train to watch them last week, and everyone. The preparation was very good all week and I thought the players did the club proud.
Unfortunately I think we got caught up in the occasion in the first half and we said to the players at half time that we didn’t think we’d played particularly well. We felt we’d got nervous about the game and didn’t need to – we reassured them that they’d done their bit for the club by getting that far, and told them to go out in the second half and play as Sutton can play, because I thought we’d looked a bit edgy, as they did, and in the second half I think you saw a typical Sutton United performance full of running, energy and good passing and creating five or six good chances.
They didn’t cope with Craig Watkins particularly well, and when you’ve got that type of pace it will hurt anybody, but if there was a disappointing thing from Craig’s point of view it’s that he had another two great chances to put the tie beyond doubt and I was just a bit worried that if we were under pressure in the last five minutes they’d come back and bite us but thankfully it didn’t.
Paul Telfer tugged a thigh muscle in the first half, which could be a result of this being his 15th game on the spin when he was probably only expecting to play two, but he held his hand up at half time and said he was struggling so it was a chance to get Kes back in to the action, I’ve got to say not in his favourite position, but I thought he did very well.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of today is that it looks as though Alan Bray has hurt his knee. He’s been playing particularly well, but it does look as though he’s hurt the other knee from his previous injury, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
We picked a very attacking line-up today, with Fola wide left and Craig Dundas wide right, and Leroy and Craig Watkins through the middle – we couldn’t have set out any more to win the tie from the start, and we got a great 70 minutes from Fola, he stretched their full back and played a major part in the goal. Tony Taggart and Chris Piper were particularly unlucky not to start, but we looked at Kettering and thought that was the best way to go about winning the game, and thankfully we did.
I haven’t really been thinking beyond the Kettering game, as I knew this would be a tough one and it was a win, lose or draw game – you never really knew what we might do. I’ll have a nice bottle of wine tonight and take my wife Kate out for a nice meal, and then look forward to the draw tomorrow. The main thing, if we’re going to progress, is to get a home draw. That’s so important, because we’re so good here, the crowd has been brilliant for us and I can just imagine this place rocking if we get a home draw.
Tuesday’s game against Tonbridge will be difficult, and I really hope we get a good crowd back in here, because there would be nothing worse than turning up with 400 or 500 in the ground, and it’s all quiet and a bit of an anti-climax. The players have done extremely well this season in the league and the cup, so we want to keep that all going, but we also need to make sure there’s no big reaction to winning the game today