Tennis Balls and Tomatoes

CONFERENCE SOUTH

Att: 602



LEWES – 0

SUTTON UNITED – 1    [Quinton 80.]

When the fixtures were released, as it traditional we all naturally looked for every opportunity possible to visit the seasidey type venues for a weekend of beer & footy. So much so, that even the almost-but=not-quite seasidey trips like Havant & todays oppo Lewes were seriously considered for piss ups.

Sadly though, our plans of getting a B&B in nearby Brighton were scuppered. The recent cold snap meant that a fair bit of the white stuff had fallen in Lewes, putting the game in some doubt. They eventually decide on an early Saturday morning inspection. Add to this the strange “2 nights minimum stay at weekends” policy of almost every doss house in Brighton that we called and you’ve got some very frustrated Sutton fans being denied some serious revelry.

After a vote, it’s decided that we’d just spend the day down on the south coast rather than the weekend. The fact that we’d have to waste valuable drinking time wandering round in Brighton looking for a “1 night only” B&B before even knowing if the game would be played being the most telling factor.

So, the crew assembles early at East Croydon for the train down. Greek is missing as his fundage for this outing has had to be allocated to his poorly car and he’s decided to place the Eastbourne weekender as a higher priority for his remaining cash reserves. Very sensible I think you’ll agree.

The journey down is pretty quick. Although the carriage we’ve chosen is absolutely freezing, which given the recent cold snap is pretty disappointing! Naturally, the stop before Lewes, the ticket inspector appears and confirms what we should have known already. This is the only carriage without heating. All the others are nice & toasty.

D’oh!

We alight at our destination and with a good few minutes before the pubs open, we decide to take the short trot over the bridge to the ground & attempt to conduct our own pitch inspection.

After trying to peer over a fence for a couple of minutes, Chalmers discovers a turnstile gate open at the far corner. We stroll in and find ourselves stood at the top of the Rooks new covered terrace. Which I have to say, is pretty impressive. Unfortunately for our hosts, this is the only real ‘hard’ standing available in the ground and as such means that despite surprising many of us by challenging for a play off spot, the ‘Dripping Pan’ doesn’t meet Conference National standards. Meaning if the do finish top 5, they won’t be eligible for those play-offs.

The main problem is that the ‘Pan’ has large grass banks on 3 sides. Admittedly, with the rolling snow topped hills in the background, this does look very pleasant and as we’ll testify, they’re very nice to lounge about on sunny pre-season afternoons, but they don’t impress the people who matter in this particular case. The Conference ground grading committee. And sadly for Lewes, ‘hard standing’ outweighs ‘nice views’ every time.

Our fears of a postponement are allayed slightly after a good chat with the resident groundsman who’s spotted us lurking and wandered over, no doubt to tell us to fuck off initially. Apparently a local ref has given a provisional ‘yes’ already and he was fairly confident the match referee will agree.

Mr Groundsman is also hopeful that the match ref will say yes too, as he’s been out forking the surface for a considerable amount of time already this morning. So much so, that he seems quite prepared to introduce Mr Match Official to his fork if he does decide to postpone it.

Happier about the situation, we head back over the bridge and into the first pub to start getting some boozing done. Aaaaah. Beer! Whilst supping our first of the day, it’s discovered that the beermats in use double as postcards. Feeling sorry for the Greek fella and his non-attendance, we decide to send him some cheery “wish you were here” greetings. Soon, 4 ‘Harveys Brewery’ postcards are written, liberally daubed with beer and stamped ready for dispatch. Right, anyone see a postbox anywhere?

After a couple of pints, we wander up the hill into the main street of Lewes itself and it’s certainly one of the nicer places we’ve got to visit this season. Drunken fools we may be, but we’re not entirely uncultured! We do like a typical ye olde english high street with a good smattering of old buildings.

Mainly ‘cos a lot of those old buildings are usually pubs in places like this.

Further beers in the White Hart and then the Brewers Arms takes us nicely up towards kick off. Millsy & Darren make it up from the ground to join us for a swift beverage pre-kick off before we head back down the hill for the match. Having paid in, we soon find ourselves back on the large terrace behind the goal. The U’s line up includes the returning Gary Elliot at the back, with Quinton moving into midfield. On the bench is new loan signing, Jermaine Hunter.

What follows though is largely 45 minutes of tedium. Unsurprisingly the pitch cuts up quite badly and is soon making passing the ball more than a couple of yards very difficult for both sides. Neither team creates much in the way of serious chances. Lewes pacy attackers, including one of last years Sutton heroes Jon Nurse on loan from Stevenage (and who’s brother is sitting on our bench!), were struggling to make an impact with a couple of weak shots at Wilson and a half hearted  penalty appeal after Nursey collides with Elliot in the box. The U’s manage a couple of cross shots in return, with one low cross from Gray being hooked wide by the stretching Corbett at the far post. If only he’d left it for the far better positioned Brake arriving behind him. Put a name on it lads!

With the uninspiring tempo of the game, we look to other means to get our entertainment and the home fans also occupying the terrace are only happy to oblige. A good series of banter, song and counter song flicks back & forth between the two sets of fans without once getting abusive. Certainly helps pass the time.

Joff departs with about 10 minutes of the half remaining, seemingly suffering from an ankle problem. Jermaine Hunter replaces him, making his U’s debut. With a couple of minutes remaining, Lewes have the final say of the half. The play being switched left to right before a deep cross is swung into the box, drifting just wide of Wilson’s far post.

We decide to vacate the cover for the second half and instead perch ourselves atop the bank behind the far goal. It’s also by far the easiest solution for displaying an 18ft flag if you have one. Which we just so happen to. The solution is simple, just lay it out on the bank! After the restart, the hosts threaten first. A corner from our right draws Wilson off his line, but he’s unable to claim. The loose ball is mishit across goal and wide of the target. The U’s slowly come into the game and shortly before the hour, the Rooks ‘keeper, who’s looked a little unconvincing at times, punches a Brake corner from the right straight to Gonsalves in a decent position, but he’s unable to keep his defnder’s instincts as well as his effort down and fires over the bar.

As the match progresses, it’s the U’s who are seemingly having the better impact up front with Hunter making a nuisance of himself. Just past the hour, he latches onto a ball slipped into the box behind the defence. In a tight spot, he manages to keep his feet, skip round the sprawling ‘keeper and clip the ball back across goal, right under the crossbar. But sadly, Brake arriving at the far post just fails to make even the slightest contact required and surely give us a vital lead.

Hunter is in action again several minutes later, running onto a ball played inside by Gray on the right. His angled shot being beaten away by the ‘keeper. Sadly, there’s no one in a quartered shirt lurking to pounce on the loose ball and the danger is cleared.

Lewes’ response is immediate. A rare sweeping move on the iffy surface sends Nurse into space down the left. His cross is delivered to the centre where the towering figure of Lawrence Duku rises highest to loop a header over Wilson and back off the crossbar. He fails to redeem himself in reacting to the rebound and somehow spoons it high & wide of the mark when it seemed so much easier to score.

At the other end, another good chance goes begging. Another foray down the right is setup with Quinton finding Gray down the line. His cross in is headed out at the near post, finding only Corbett on the corner of the 18 yard box. Despite having a bit of space to bring the ball down before striking, the U’s skipper elects to hit it first time and he fires over the target.

Our hosts are denied a goal a minute or so later, with the midfield failing to close down quickly, a square ball around 25 yards or so out from goal results in a thunderous drive that from our lofty position at the far end appears to be going into the top corner, is brilliantly tipped away by Wilson.

Still, we’re now feeling a bit more confident. There’s at the very least a point for the taking here and our performance certainly deserves at least that reward. But with 10 minutes remaining, that reward gets precisely three times bigger than expected.

Quinton collects a loose ball in midfield and advances up field. He plays a 1-2 with Corbett to bypass the defender in his path and running onto the return pass slides in to beat the ‘keeper to the ball, lifting it over him and into the far corner of the net.

Understandably a little overjoyed at this breakthrough, we hurtle down the slippery bank in wild celebration. The most impressive feat being that none of the hurtlees stacks it and everyone makes it to the barrier at the bottom the right way up, fists pumping in delight at Quinno’s opener.

However, having made it to the bottom in one piece, clambering back up a wet grass bank in the cold is a lot harder than it looks. The home side seem deflated by the goal and for the final 10 minutes they seem to run out of ideas somewhat, allowing us to dig in and cling on for the win a hell of a lot more comfortably than we’d have expected to having scored so late.

Somewhat happy with the result and the points, we head back to the clubhouse to warm up and find that the Bobbins have suffered a terrible 4-0 defeat at Welling. The locals continue their friendly attitude over a beer and are very gracious in defeat. No one seems to mind when the press lady is adding the League results on the board on the wall that we cheer loudly as she puts our result up.

She gets her revenge though by scrubbing out our “1” and replacing it with a miniscule little dot. Pffft, whatever love, still more than your lot managed! Of course, another loud cheer goes up from the assembled U’s fans when the Welling – Bobbins score is also added to the board. Here, about about you make that ‘4’ a bit bigger eh? Lovely stuff.

A few pints later, we decide to bid our farewells and head into Brighton for the final part of the evening’s festivities. A quick trudge back to the station and we’re soon on the train a couple of stops to the coast. Somehow along the way Windy manages to acquire a tennis ball from 2 random people on the train. Of course this leads to many questions and unsurprisingly not many answers.

In Brighton itself, we meet up with Bob & Cathy who set off at FT for some beer guide pubbage, for a couple of beers in a spot by the station before heading over the ‘Morning Star’ further down for some of Dark Star’s finest. In here we find a very pissed Brighton fan and it seems he recognises the shirts.

“Here, that’s Sutton isn’t it?? There was was some of your lot making a load of noise in Liverpool Street a few weeks back….”

Might’ve been!

It turns out matey was one of the many confused Seagulls fans from that pre-match beer up in the Hamilton Hall when we were on the way to Redbridge in the league and them to Upton Park in the Cup, just after Xmas. Small world!

Many more refreshments later to celebrate the welcome three points and we’re somewhere towards the state of the Brighton lad was when we arrived. Closing time marks the end of the party and we head off for the last train back to East Croydon armed with a stack of pre-packed sandwiches acquired by Windy from a nearby offy to help soak up the ale. Sadly, most of these contain slices of tomato. And as none of us really likes tomato, they’re of course carefully picked out. Pretty soon after, Windy manages to trigger a tomato slice fight and loses badly when the combined allied forces of Taz, Chalmers & Mrs C paste him with disgusting squidgy vegetablefruit bits.

Another valuable life lesson learned there methinks.

MAN OF THE MATCH : Gary Elliot. First game back after 10 years away. Solid as a rock.

ENTERTAINMENT : 5. Not a great spectacle on a poor surface, but both sides at least tried to play.

TEAM : Wilson, Scarborough, Elliot, Gonsalves, Gray, Quinton, Honey, Corbett, Brake, Akuamouah, Vansittart   SUBS : Watkins, C.Nurse, Hunter

THE REFEREE’S………did ok considering the pitch. Let play go as much as poss, no complaints really.

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