NON-LEAGUE NEWS: Sutton United face a date with destiny this afternoon, just one game away from a Wembley play-off final and the chance of entering the Football League for the first time in the club’s 120-year history.
A capacity crowd of nearly 5,000 is expected at Gander Green Lane for the National League semi-final play-off against Boreham Wood.
Speaking to SUFCtv, manager Paul Doswell said: “It’s going to be like an FA Cup game.”
Sutton have long been the leading force in non-league football in south London, with the romance – and some success – in their cup runs, most recently beating League One’s Wimbledon and dumping Championship side Leeds United out of the cup in the 2017 fourth round and earning themselves a lucrative tie at Gander Goose Lane against Premier League Arsenal.
Their most famous “magic of the cup” moment was probably in January 1989, when they were non-league giant-killers in front of the Match of the Day cameras, winning 2-1 against Coventry City, then a top-tier club who had won the Cup in 1987.
But a win today would open up the possibility of a whole new future for Sutton.
If they beat Boreham Wood, they would then face a Wembley final against former League club Tranmere Rovers, with the prize a cherished place in League 2 come August.
Sutton went straight to the semi-finals as a reward for finishing third in the National League, a great achievement in itself for a team that only came up to the top-tier of non-league football in 2016.
The U’s have enjoyed a break while today’s opponents have had to beat Fylde in a bruising match less than 72 hours ago to qualify for the semi -final.
Boreham Wood manager Luke Garrard says this puts his team at a disadvantage, “It’s going to be tough. Why? Because they’ve had a rest.”
Garrard concedes that the U’s are strong at the back with an ability to win matches on the break but Boreham Wood are very dangerous away from home. Although there was a recent dip in away form, from September 30 to March 14 the Wood enjoyed an unbeaten run away from home.
The Wood’s Portuguese star is Bruno Andrade, a former QPR, Wycombe and Stevenage player, who is among the top scorers in the National League, with 21 goals.
It all has to be settled today: if there’s no winner after 90 minutes, it’s extra time, and then the nerve-jingling possibility of penalties. With Boreham Wood’s Fylde game still in their legs, such a possibility may favour Sutton’s fresher squad.
But the bookmakers, unusually, don’t make Sutton the odds-on favourites to win the game in the regulation 90 minutes, not that anyone at Sutton will be making any conspicuous gambles on the game. Last month saw the Gambling Commission issue a £84,000 fine to Tabcorp UK Limited, The Sun newspaper’s betting off-shoot, for irregularities around the bet on Sutton reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw eating a pie on camera during the U’s Arsenal game.
And there will be less need to look for gambling windfalls if Sutton attain League status and can go full-time.
“It’s been a fantastic season,” Doswell said. “For a club of our size to get into the play-offs, a part-time side with a medium-sized budget – it’s an incredible achievement.”
It’s not clear whether Sutton could thrive in a full-time league, especially with moves to ban their 3G pitch. The pitch was laid in 2015 and provides vital income for the club from its community use.
For those unable to squeeze inside Sutton’s tight ground, the game is being shown live on BTSport and broadcast on BBC local radio at 3pm.
Expect a lot of selfies of local Tory and LibDem politicians at the match if U’s win. Amber and proud, the club colours suit the Liberal Democrats who won their own relegation decider on Thursday.
There have been a lot of selfies of politicians wearing Dulwich Hamlet colours recently to highlight Isthmian League Hamlet’s lock-out from their ground by Champion Hill’s owners. The disruption of having to end the season playing home fixtures at Tooting and Mitcham may have been a factor in Hamlet’s failure just to win their league title.
Hamlet therefore face a play-off final of their own tomorrow, at Tooting’s ground handily placed close to a Tramlink stop, against Hendon to secure promotion to National League South. Cash tickets at the turnstiles will be available for the Bank Holiday day match.
In a good season for south London non-league football, Carshalton Athletic won the Isthmian League South with 102 points to move up to the division the Hamlet are trying to escape from.
Four divisions below Sutton, Croydon FC’s fifth place in the Southern Counties East Football League speaks well for future prospects under the structure put in place by the Kinetic Foundation that draws upon their growing and very talented strong youth teams.
No one would have expected last season, when the club struggled just to turn-out a team for its fixtures, that after the departure of club stalwart Dickson Gill that the Trams would go on to outdo their local rivals, Croydon Athletic.
The Rams had a disappointing season, finishing 13th, 15 points behind Croydon FC.
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