Roarie Deacon might sound like a lion or tiger mascot for Sutton United, but his goal last night just added a new dimension to a thrilling looking climax to the National League season. For us it was unfortunate, and many observers have commented it was an undeserved draw for Sutton. My own take is that after 90 minutes we’d both scored a goal, so the draw was deserved even if it didn’t reflect the balance of play.
After getting over the initial disappointment of dropping two points I decided to make myself feel better by compiling a list of all the teams in the top five that have taken a point from Sutton at Gander Green Lane. Here it is: Lincoln City and Forest Green. Bear in mind Forest Green lost there in the FA Cup too, so technically the only team in the play-off race not to lose a game at Sutton is Lincoln City.
If that isn’t enough to convince you we’re in a good place, how about a list of all the teams to have beaten Forest Green home and away this season? Lincoln City. That’s it. So in the space of just a few days we’ve become the only side to take six points from Forest Green (so far) and the only top five side to avoid defeat on the plastic pitch in South London.
Our nearest rivals are now Tranmere Rovers after they snuck a 1-0 win over Dover, but here is a list of sides to have taken six points from them this season: Lincoln City. They have lost twice to Barrow (league and FA Cup) and Macclesfield (league and FA Trophy) but in league competition alone we are the only side to have triumphed twice over them. They look to be the danger side at the moment, but three back to back wins mask a slightly different story. They’ve actually only won three of the last seven, which is the same as us (if you count our FA Trophy semi-final as a win over 90 minutes). They’ve got a tough little spell coming up as well, Sutton visit Prenton Park on Tuesday which won’t be easy, and then they have promotion hopefuls Aldershot, Forest Green and the resilient Guiseley still to play.
We’re on 76 points, and if we continue to win our home games and draw our away games we’ll finish on 95 points. Bearing in mind our final two games are away at Maidstone and (by then relegated) Southport, I could realistically see us ending up somewhere around the 98 mark. If Tranmere win all of their remaining games bar two, they’ll be on 97 points. That’s how close it could be. That would mean they’ll have to go eleven games unbeaten, a run that would be their best spell of form by a country mile all season. With FGR and Aldershot in particular still to play, is it safe to assume they’ll drop a couple of points somewhere else? I think so.
Last night’s draw was a good result if you ignore the fact we had the game won on 90 minutes. Sutton is a tricky place to go, no matter how much you train on an artificial pitch I don’t think anything can prepare you for a full game on it. That isn’t a complaint, all the sides have to play on it and Sutton are not in a comfortable mid table position because of the surface alone. They have good players, as seen in their wonderful FA Cup run and of course over two games with us. Roarie Deacon is a quality player, unpredictable and incredibly effective. He’s netted twice against us now, and it was his goading that dragged Bradley Wood into a moment of madness way back in August. It was a moment of brilliance last night that rescued a point for his side, and gave the white part of the Wirral something to cling on to.
All of this is academic if we can keep winning football games. Our form doesn’t look wonderful on paper, but if you take out the cup games then we’re not doing badly at all. We don’t lose many (two in the league this year) and when our backs are against the wall we can still pull draws out of the bag (York, Aldershot and Sutton spring to mind). All we need to do is snatch at least a point from our game in hand and then simply match Tranmere’s result week after week. They’ll drop points, we will too but ultimately our destiny is in our own hands.
It is a shame that we have recorded 90 minute wins over Boreham Wood and York in the FA Trophy but not the league. I dare wager anybody supporting City would have swapped those results around, and I’d be more than happy to take the 3-1 win at Gateshead in a couple of weeks time as well. Now the trophy is put to bed without a Wembley appearance it is nothing more than a subplot in the main story of our season, a subplot that ending up going nowhere.
I will say that perhaps the biggest factor in our favour at the moment is the return of Harry Anderson. In two appearances from the bench he has shown exactly why Danny and Nicky have brought him back to the club. He does look a different class to the likes of Josh Ginnelly and Joe Ward, and neither of those are bad players. Harry Anderson has something else though, something a bit different to almost all of the wingers I’ve ever seen at Lincoln. He not only has pace and a direct attitude but he is as strong as an ox too. His return to the club might just be the deciding factor in what is proving to be the closest National League title race in many years.