Anyone not at Tuesday’s Blue Square Bet South clash at Gander Green Lane would have assumed from looking at the result that Sutton had suffered a hangover from Saturday’s FA Cup victory against Kettering and the subsequent news of a televised tie against Notts County, but they would be a long way wide of the mark as U’s instead suffered an evening when the fates that by and large have gone for them over the last three months began to even the balance up. After a spell in which Sutton have been able to do little wrong it was perhaps inevitable that they would at some stage come up against an inspired goalkeeper and committed defence that they could not breach, and on this occasion the frustration was compounded by a goal inside the last quarter of an hour that came from a mixture of individual brilliance and poor refereeing.
With Paul Telfer and Alan Bray both injured, the latter facing another two-month lay off with knee ligament damage, U’s recalled Neil Jenkins from his loan at Kingstonian for his league debut in Sutton colours and he was unwittingly involved in the moment of controversy that preceded Tonbridge’s winner, although not before a display that suggested that, now fit, U’s have another excellent left-back in their squad.
The main architect of U’s downfall was Tonbridge goalkeeper Lee Worgan who made three outstanding saves and several other good ones, the best of which came midway through the first half when Leroy Griffiths collected a fine pass from Jenkins and cut the ball back from the by-line for Harry Beautyman, who steadied himself just inside the area before crashing in a shot that the keeper tipped over. U’s should have been in front by then, Tony Taggart dragging a shot across goal having intercepted a poor pass on the edge of the Tonbridge area, but could equally easily have been behind when they failed to clear a free kick and Tim Olorunda’s shot, despite carrying little venom, bounced through a crowded six-yard box and bounced back in to Kevin Scriven’s arms off the post. Olorunda might also have done better with a header when he was left unmarked to meet a cross from Jon Heath, as could Anthony Riviere when he miscued a shot having been set up by Craig Dundas – U’s ended with a corner, and although when the ball fell to Griffiths he struck a powerful volley Worgan was well placed to save.
U’s almost went in front in bizarre circumstances four minutes after half time when an interception from Sonny Miles sent the ball looping high over the back-pedalling Worgan from outside the penalty area, but the defender was spared the embarrassment of a spectacular own goal as the ball rebounded off the crossbar to safety. The woodwork was struck again soon afterwards, this time with more intent as Sam Page headed Beautyman’s cross against the post with Worgan beaten, but it was the keeper who repelled the next effort, blocking Beautyman’s low shot with his legs. Tonbridge had posed little concerted threat to the Sutton goal, but in one scramble Scriven had to make a fine double save from Frannie Collin. The chances still fell mainly for Sutton, though, and after a promising break from Taggart had ended with a chipped cross which substitute Craig Watkins could only head weakly at Worgan, the keeper made another fine save when, having collided with a defender as he punched away a Jenkins cross, he recovered to push away Chris Piper’s low shot at full stretch.
It was already a frustrating evening for U’s, but it became worse fourteen minutes from time when, having just required treatment for a head injury after a penalty area clash, Jenkins was on the ground again still clearly feeling the effects. Referee Barry Holderness allowed play to continue, though, and Collin jinked his way past a weakened defence before unleashing an explosive shot that ripped in to the roof of the net. Jenkins was immediately replaced by Fola Orilonishe but U’s struggled to put the visitors under any severe pressure as they searched for an equaliser, the two best positions being squandered by wretched crosses, first by Taggart and then by Griffiths, and Tonbridge were able to hold on for a third successive league victory.
Tonbridge: L Worgan, M Boateng, J Heath, R Kember (sub D Walder 90), B Judge, S Miles, T Olorunda, A Storey, A Olorunda (sub J Beecroft 74), F Collin, K McLaggon (sub B Andrews 88). Subs n/u C Henry, J Hagan. Goal: Collin(76) Booked: Storey(89-time wasting).
Referee: B Holderness (Wickford) Att 737
Tuesday night’s game against Tonbridge was one where things didn’t go for us. I thought we created six or seven great chances and their keeper’s had a stormer, I’ve just spoken to Tommy and described it as a smash and grab – they set up to defend and to try and nick a goal and, until we had to go for it at the end it was just about the only chance they had. So there’s a feeling of disappointment, and the players are disappointed, but I thought we did alright. I’m disappointed for the players because they gave a lot of effort, created some chances, and came up against a keeper in top form and a side that defended really well.
I didn’t really think we’d get a bad reaction after Saturday in terms of fitness and the way we approached the game, and we didn’t. I thought on another day we could have had three or four, their keeper’s made an incredible save in the first half and another in the second, we’ve hit the post and bar and sometimes in football you don’t get what you deserve. From Tonbridge’s perspective it was a great away performance from them, they’ve had a game plan and stuck to it, and good luck to them. They’ve been on a good run recently, though, and it was their third win on the spin.
I was furious about the goal, and I’ve been in to talk to the referee, who I thought was poor. Neil Jenkins went down having taken an accidental elbow in the forehead in our penalty area, and after he’d been treated the referee asked Sam Page to keep an eye on him, but he’s then gone back on the ground, and the referee should have stopped the game, instead of which Tonbridge have gone through to score a goal that might not have been scored if Neil had been there. The referee saw him go down, and I’ve had a word with him and he said he didn’t realise it was Neil who had gone down, but it was only a minute earlier that he’d asked Sam to keep an eye on him because he was really struggling.
Paul Telfer’s got a thigh injury and Alan Bray’s likely to be out for another 8-10 weeks with a medial knee ligament, which is a real blow, so Neil had to come back, and we want Romone back to get him playing again with us. We wanted to look at Tommy Kavanagh again tonight, and we thought Craig Watkins had put in a good shift against Kettering, and the idea was possibly to get Craig and Fola on after about an hour perhaps when Tonbridge’s legs were tiring and perhaps really take the game to them, but things didn’t work out like that.
We banned talk of Notts County before the game so that’s not an excuse, and the effort we had to put in against Kettering isn’t an excuse either. Anyone at the game tonight would have thought that we deserved to win comfortably, and the fact that we haven’t doesn’t take away from the performance. Having said that, once I knew we had been chosen for a televised game I was bursting to tell people but had to keep quiet until midday. It’s fantastic for the club, great for the players and great for me, and we’ve just got to completely enjoy it. It’s a great financial boost, and I just hope over the next two or three weeks that everyone enjoys it. As far as the league campaign’s concerned it does have a knock-on effect. You play a lot of Tuesday night games where the atmosphere’s a bit different – the atmosphere tonight was different from what a Saturday game might have been, but even so I thought we played OK and didn’t get what we deserved. Saying that though we’ve played Eastleigh and Dorchester this season and didn’t play great and won those, and on another day Staines might have smashed six in to the top corner a couple of weeks ago, so sometimes you’ve got to take things on the chin, and we’ll train on Thursday and look to bounce back on Saturday.
Saturday will be a tough game - Dorchester are on a good run and have done particularly well at home, so it won’t be easy, but we’ve collected 33 points from 16 games and I’ve said before that it’s important to pick up as many points as early as possible, because who’s to say we won’t go on a run where we don’t pick up many, but it’s a good competitive league and I’m absolutely delighted with where we are at the moment