Seasoned giant killers Sutton stumbled into the first round of the FA Cup at the expense of a rather dogged Leatherhead, languishing a whopping 42 places below them in the pyramid.
Pre-match we bumped into Sutton secretary Gerard Mills and he told us how relaxed and laissez faire he was about the game, in contrast to Saturday where he ran the gamut of symptoms of match day nerves from foreboding, through tension and on to physical sickness when Sutton looked like imploding on their own doorstep.
We’d seen Sutton dismantle Dulwich in an earlier round and we’d seen Leatherhead squeeze past the Hamlet in last season’s Ryman 1 South play off final, so we assumed Saturday had been a blip and today would be a more comfortable affair for Sutton, having managed to spot the banana skin at the last moment and avoid tumbling into the gutter.
But no, by all account this game was exactly the same as Saturday, except Sutton not only avoided the banana skin, they picked it up and put it in the bin, although only after having it slip out of their hands and back to the pavement a couple of times.
Pre-match, I thought I’d get all arty and try my new favourite pastime of long exposure photography. For some bizarre reason I thought football would be a great experiment, largely still backdrops of stands and goal for context with the unpredictable blur of players moving ghostly around in the foreground. Didn’t really work, as you can see (left). I’d imagine the pro snappers present (Andy and Paul) will be far from impressed.
The game itself was harem scarem cup joy, no words will do it justice. Imagine that cup game you saw your team playing, they went ahead, they got pegged back, they scored late on and then contrived to concede an even later equaliser to send the game in to extra time. They then leave the door open, get away with it, the bench get angry, someone is sent off and then you snatch what should be the winner and spend 20 minutes desperately clinging on to it. Makes you shudder and sympathetically age 10 years just thinking about it.
The average age of Sutton fans now is actually around 10 years more than it was at 7:30pm on Tuesday evening, some of the Tweets made us neutrals chuckle. “I am not enjoying this one bit” and “That was a proper cup tie. I feel shattered just watching it” said Amber Rambler (superb blog by AR, by the way, well worth a read), Sutton Jared was “offering everything as a sacrfice right now” and, bumping into Gerard pitch-side he was not feeling too sharp and had managed to smoke 17 cigarettes during the game. Impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree.
It looked like the game was over in the second minute, Watkins latched onto a through ball and tucked it under the keeper, 1-0 Sutton and natural order had been restored. For the next fifteen minutes it appeared a procession was on as Sutton shifted the ball around with some eye-catching movement and passing. But the second goal never came, Leatherhead upped the tempo and Sutton started to get sloppy.
Penalty. A little harsh as the forward was going down before the keeper even touched him. But, having seen the ball pushed towards the touchline, Scrivener really didn’t need to go sliding in and he only has himself to blame for giving the ref an option. Tom Hutchings popped away the penno.
One each. Game on.
Half time didn’t calm the nerves and the game was open, full of mistakes, a decent amount of nice play, some spicy tackles, end-to-end motion, half chances, good saves, desperate clearances and a vociferous crowd of nearly 1000. Much of the second half followed this pattern of absolutely no pattern until Watkins popped up with his second of the game seeming to send Sutton into a home tie with Kettering.
Again, no. With the game floating into injury time, another defensive slip let in the penalty scorer and extra time beckoned, as it did the last time we were here. It was significantly colder last night, though, brrrr, the first genuinely cold evening game this year, damn you seasonal change and your wicked gift of text-preventing chill.
The Blue Square South’s resident Grant Holt-alike, Craig Dundas, did his usual falling-over-far-too-easily schtick, which was a shame because he took quite a few genuine hits that the ref waved away with the air of a man who had been given “Didier Drogba’s DVD Dives” last Christmas and watched it intently every day since. Having said that, Dundas, was asked to play up front and deeper in midfield at varying points in the game and his industry probably helped Sutton to finally edge ahead and see out the game.
Sutton controlled most of the first period of extra time and Fola Orilonishe scored the winner fairly early, captured here by one of the aforementioned snappers, Paul Loughlin. There were a few scares but Sutton’s superior nouse and fitness finally told at the third time of leading.
Three things to round this off. With the game at 1-1 and 2-1 people were filtering out. From both sets of fans. Are these people mental? It was barely 9:30, loads of trains were still running in either direction and this was a pulsating Cup tie that was either in the balance? Why on earth bother coming? Anyhow, Leatherhead had opened the gates during the second half and as many people were coming in as going out, which was nice.
The second thing, we got speaking to a lovely old bloke before the game and he was regaling us with tales of Wimbledon’s legendary keeper Dickie Guy leaping the perimeter fence to throttle an abusive Leatherhead fan and how on some autumnal days the mist rolls off the adjacent river and smothers the dug outs. Have to go back for that.
Finally. Oh yes, there was a sending off when Leatherhead equalised. There was some shenangians between the benches when Sutton went in front late on and, when Leatherhead snatched the later equaliser, it all got norty and one of the Sutton subs, we think it was Wayne Shaw, got sent to the stands. As it happens, the stand was about a yard behind the dugout.