To Gander Green Lane, home of Sutton United, the Travelling City Faithful were welcomed with fireworks all around the ground as though it were Guy Fawkes Night. Nice people here, although their ground lacks TLC. Sutton are 10th in the League with 25 points, having won 7 and drawn 4 of their 16 games. However, they have won 5 and lost only once at home this term. This wont be easy for City who are 2nd, 4 points behind The Shots.
For tonight, The Dynamic Duo recalled Wilmot in goal, 4 at the back: Gould, Moran, Campbell and Naylor; 4 in the middle: Oakes, Challinor, Castle and Smith (22 today); and up front: De Souza and Browne. On the bench: Kean, Mackail-Smith, Martin, Evans and Townley.
Whether jolted by the loss of the top slot in the League or fired by the words of The Duo after Saturday's match, or both, this was a very different Saints performance. City played the football that we saw at the beginning of the season. Playing the ball through the midfield and using the width of the pitch, City threatened from the start and exposed a shaky home defence. The two strikers were working hard and linking well with the midfield. Within 15 minutes, Saints were two up. First Smith took a pass from Gould, carried the ball forward into the box and beat the home keeper, Andy Pape. 0-1. 5 minutes later Smith harried the home defence and caused confusion just outside the box, taking the ball away from the stranded keeper to pass into the empty net. 0-2.
To their credit, Sutton rallied and pressed the visitors, who fell back into defence for the next 20 minutes. Wilmot was forced to show his pedigree on several occasions, one double save at full stretch in my memory in particular. It seemed that City had weathered the storm, but just before half time, from a free kick wide on the right, Beale was allowed a free header from 8 yards to reduce the deficit. 1-2. H.T.
Within moments of the re-start, Smith was brought down on the edge of the area and fired the free-kick low around the wall to the keepers right. A hat-trick for the birthday boy. 1-3. This was entertaining football. In front of their back line, Sutton are a good side and look dangerous. City played the ball out of defence through the midfield and the players from whom the fans expect quality football showed it. Mackail-Smith replaced De Souza, and Evans came on for the injured Gould.
With about 10 minutes left to play Sutton scored after a goal-mouth scramble. 2-3. Kean came on after an injury to Naylor. City pressed and were rewarded with the final goal when Challinor was on hand to hook a loose ball home from close range from an Oakes corner. 2-4. F.T.
City were very good value for the 3 points. Good attractive football and whilst every player played his part, Wilmot, Moran, Oakes, Challinor and the two strikers will be particularly pleased with their contributions, MotM? Smith, of course, and not just for the hat-trick. Sutton looked a good side going forward but their defence was somewhere else tonight.
The crowd was a disappointing 300 or so with less than 100 having made the trip from Hertfordshire.
Entertainment 8/10. Atmosphere 7/10. Technical Merit 7/10. Referee 3/10.
Match report by Awayday