Last Chance Saloon

In introducing this blog, I must admit to a degree of personal responsibility for Sutton’s current desperate plight. My last contribution coincided with the high-water mark of the season when a surprise 5-1 victory against Notts County on the season’s opening day sent U’s top of the nascent League Two table. Since then, I’ve brought nothing to the Gandermonium table and as if to come out in sympathy the Sutton team have brought similarly little in terms of results. As I write they are now rock bottom of the division and have added just three wins in the 32 games played since that triumph in early August.

Must win…

I did make another visit to the promised land for the Tranmere game in November when my son and a gang of his mates did the pre match meal for his birthday. Back then Matt Gray was still in the manager’s chair and in his usual fine form in the bar before the game. The team had obviously been struggling for results but there seemed no signs of panic at the club. Performances seemed to be improving and a win over Bradford and a draw at Colchester sent us into the game with our old friends from the Wirral in good heart. That afternoon was by no means a classic but a spirited second half saw U’s gain a point courtesy of a late Louis John equaliser which stretched the unbeaten run and kept us in touch with our fellow stragglers.

I left that day with the hope that we might soon start turning draws into wins and begin a climb away from danger. However, within a month an 8-0 defeat at Stockport led to Matt Gray’s sad but seemingly inevitable departure. In many ways Matt was the victim of his own success in miraculously getting Sutton into the Football League in the first place and so his legacy is as secure as his predecessor Paul Doswell. With Matt gone thoughts turned to who might be the club’s potential saviour. In the meantime, Jason Goodliffe steadied the ship and presided over a memorable Boxing Day victory at Wimbledon before the club finally made a new permanent appointment in January. Steve Morison had initially done well in his first managerial role at Championship Cardiff and after his sacking there was successfully rebuilding his reputation in taking Hornchurch to the top of the Isthmian League.

With the transfer window open Morison went about remodelling the playing squad and his first three games brought creditable draws. However, in the four games since only one more point has been added and while defeats have been narrow it’s now got to to the stage that only an avalanche of victories will be enough to preserve Sutton’s Football League status. The Last Chance Saloon is very much calling time and is on the verge of draping towels across the bar and ushering its patrons out of the door.

Not winning…

I therefore thought it high time I paid a visit and pen another missive in the hope it would yield a similar result to the Notts County game and ignite the launchpad for the greatest of great escapes. It also helped that a lot of old buddies from my youth were coming back to Sutton for the game and a pre match catch up at the Last Chance Saloon of my youth-The Gander. Although some of our gathering still live in the area I was one of a number travelling from the Sussex coast and so ponced a lift with my chauffeur and erstwhile club historian Mark Frake. It was an early start as in addition to writing half the club programme Mark is also chief car park steward. It’s been a shrewd move by the club to make the most of Frakey’s cheery disposition by placing him ‘Front of House’.; although he’s not the only Sutton fan that’s struggled to find something to smile about this season.

The Frakemobile rolled into HQ before 10.30 so I decided to take a wander around the High Street before rendezvousing with my pals in the Gander at half 12. The beer flowed as we reminisced about our younger days and discussed the forthcoming afternoon’s entertainment. Even with beer goggles on though none of us could see much chance of Sutton avoiding the drop this season and we all agreed victory against Colchester was imperative to give us any real hope.

Arnold, Jackson, Kizzi, Goodliffe, Hart, Clay, Coley, Eastmond, Lakin, Adom-Malaki, Smith SUBS: Sanderson, Duke-McKenna, Sowunmi, Moore, Angol, Taylor, Roberts

On the upside the weather Gods were shining on us as we trooped up Gander Green Lane in bright sunshine and occupied a spot on La Curva in time for kick off. Frakey was already in position and gave us the lowdown on a rejigged U’s line up although it’s fair to say experience this season wasn’t filling him with optimism.

Still not winning….

Sutton did start on the front foot, but it wasn’t long before Colchester threatened and Steve Arnold had already made one fine save before a ‘knife through butter’ move from the visitors saw Cameron McGeehan give them the lead in the 7th minute. The goal seemed to knock the wind right out of the U’s sails as the Essex side went for the jugular. They almost doubled their advantage when a Read free kick hit the inside of the post but then from out of nowhere Sutton equalised after Josh Coley’s fine work and cross from the right was rewarded by Charlie Lakin who poked home from close range. The match took on a much more even hue after that and it was Sutton who were now fashioning the better chances. Ben Goodliffe flashed a header just wide and Harry Smith’s lob cleared the keeper but couldn’t beat Harbottle’s acrobatic goal line clearance.

With parity at the interval the visitors seemed to reappraise their approach in the second half knowing that a point would maintain their 8 point advantage over Sutton in the table. The onus was certainly on Sutton to go for the win and while there was no shortage of effort there were few signs of the craft necessary to break down a side content to sit deep. Then with ten minutes left it seemed our prayers had been answered with the award of a penalty after Stephen Duke- McKenna’s shot was handled. Harry Smith stepped up to potentially give Sutton a survival lifeline but his shot lacked conviction and was too close to keeper Owen Goodman who comfortably turned it aside. It proved to be the last meaningful action of the afternoon and was realistically the final nail in the U’s relegation coffin. In fact as the full-time whistle blew I could have sworn I heard an eerie echo from the Last Chance Saloon bolting its doors after calling time on Sutton’s 3 year stay in the Football League.

Didn’t win. Standard.

If that is indeed the case I’m sure it won’t be long before the U’s and the Gandermonium crew are raising their glasses again – even if the venue is Maidenhead rather than Mansfield.


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