[ Written by Ian Brown ]
So….I set off for Sutton with just one cheese and onion roll (home-made) to sustain me.
I told myself that this reflected ` all that made Britain great` , but in truth the frugality of my chosen diet owed more to lack of foresight than any appreciation of things historical.
Recent County history dictated that an improvement in County`s fortunes was deeply desired by all who made the trip, but few gave us much hope really, although with the likely return to action of Walker and Palmer I was pretty hopeful.
In the event, with both Palmer and Walker back, and firmly ensconced in the County team, County came away with a good point. I say `good` and it was, and it cheered almost 400 travelling fans no end, but my over-all feeling was that we were worth more, and probably would have achieved that had Lady Luck not once again decided to aim her fashion accessory in our direction. Referee Lloyd Wood did not help either, but I am sure you are tired of my tirades on the subject of officials.
All that said, 0-0 was a decided improvement and County are to be congratulated.
Largest volley of congrats go to Palmer who was in imperious form from first to last. Walker too slotted back in seamlessly and with Turnbull set up a virtually impenetrable shield in front of the back four. Honourable mentions also for the tireless Minihan and Adam Hammill who again showed, in the hour or so he was on the park, some real glimpses of class that we just might need as we strive to establish ourselves in the National League.
Back at 3 o`clock proceedings got underway with the greatly reassuring sound of Palmer`s head making firm contact with the ball.
I was already buoyed, as County, backed by a travelling army that was quickly in excellent voice, withstood an early assault from our hosts!
Three minutes in, and County replied via Minihan and Thomas , but although Sam got his cross in, Mulhern could not get his shot off on the end of it.
The five minute mark saw my first small to medium sized vapour, as Harry Beautyman was allowed to head the ball back into play from fully a yard over the touchline. Just what the liner to my left was up to I cannot begin to imagine . He did it several times more later , mainly to our benefit, but I was not happy as Sutton were attacking thanks to the liners folly! I was still `in one` as Jon Barden seized the ball from this travesty, and only mildly placated when he dragged his shot wide!
Another minute and matters brightened with the sight of Turnbull imposing himself on anything in a yellow shirt that moved in the vicinity, but the `tackles` were already coming in thick and fast from United, and within the first 6 minutes County had themselves 2 free kicks.- sadly making nothing of either.
County were beginning to press however, and it took a robust but fair tackle by Jamie Collins to stop a run by Thomas.
Sutton responded as Beautyman went close after slipping several challenges on the edge of the County box, the pressure from Sutton continung via a free kick, but Palmer did all that was necessary to see any danger off from this, sending County on the attack.
Later on, I would be frustrated to see the white shirted blues, defend really well and then fail to find a white shirt with a clearance, but at this point the passes stuck, and Walker was unlucky to see his shot blocked in the box.
It was County on the front foot now, and unlucky again as Hammill saw his effort deflected by Ben Goodliffe into the keeper`s arms.
Yes….this was better…we just needed a touch of luck , but nothing came of a couple of corners after Osborne had examined the home defences nicely down the right flank.
Osborne was there again, 23 minutes in, forcing Rob Milsom to concede another, corner, but once more nothing came of some promising moves.
On it went with County continuing their searching examination of the home back line, but again to no avail as Hammill`s downward header missed out by inches.
The County pressure continued as Thomas won a corner that seemed to offer more than the previous one`s when Palmer headed back across the box in the prescribed manner, but despite a series of shots pinging in from JG`s men, it stayed 0-0, the raid ending when Mulhern side footed wide.
A reply from Sutton was perhaps overdue, and when it came via David Ajiboye, it looked a decent response as he had sneaked in behind the County back line. Fear not though as Palmer was on hand and the white shirted angst was banished in style, and joining with Bully Ash continued to make timely interventions with Sutton pressing, the best of these from Palmer seeing off another dangerous ball from Ajiboye.
Then Keane joined in blocking another Ajiboye effort, as County showed some of that I mentioned earlier namely not finding a white shirt from deep, and this trait surfaced again teeing Ajiboye up for another run that saw him square the ball back across the box to Beautyman who thankfully skied a lulu over the heads of the large County following behind the goal towards Sussex.
But , with half time approaching, there was no sign of let up from Sutton , as the County cover just held with Jarvis in behind them on the County left flank.
All this seems to indicate that County were struggling a bit, but that would not really reflect things as they were, they were still defending well- a late Sutton free kick fended off with some comfort. We just needed that good defending to be translated into viable attacking play, and almost smack on half time, they obliged with something of that ilk.
A neat move, and loads of determination, saw the ball with Mulhern just inside the box. He had company and did well to slip the ball on to Thomas who was galloping towards goal at speed. The shot that followed on from this perhaps lacked power, but was heading in when Goodliffe ushered it out off the line.
The half ended with Sutton responding, Walker heading the ball off the line at the other end under pressure, and Palmer tidying up in fine style.
That was a decent half from a County view point, and there was all to play for after the break.
The early pressure upon the re-start, came from Sutton , but any anxiety was soon dispelled when substitute Ken Davis lifted a poor effort over the bar.
This prompted a reply from County that saw them gain a free kick on the edge of the box. Was it Walker or Hammill who would take it ?…… they kept us guessing until the latter did the deed forcing keeper Jamie Butler to push the ball around the post. That was a close call for County`s opponents, but Craig Eastmond headed the resultant corner out to sort things for Sutton.
But County were not finished, and Thomas and Hammill drew applause from the County following with some lively attacking play that ended with the keeper keeping Hammill`s shot out.
Hammill looked to be in something approaching prime form, and County were profiting from this fact, but the 55th minute saw Beautyman nip back to rob Mulhern in the box, after the County number 25 had set him up.
That was disappointing , but by no means as much as the next action which saw Mulhern win a corner with the home back line in disarray. The action took place a couple of feet away from me ( why did you not get a photo then, I hear you unkindly exclaim)and the ball plainly went out off the defender. Not only that I am reliably advised that my colleague Andrew Machin overheard the far liner advising the hapless ref “ corner….corner” before he turned truth on its head and awarded the harassed home defenders a goal kick.
The home angst was to continue, despite Mr Wood`s largesse, as Walker was instrumental in pushing County forward.
Beautyman threatened to lift the siege with a neat run from deep, but this was curtailed by Keane and Hammill who then turned brief defence into promising attack, that alas came to nothing.
We were beyond the hour now, and JG`s men were still attacking and Hammill was in dazzling form down the left . Heading into the box Hammill sent the ball on ahead of him only for Ajiboye to stop it with his hand. The referee saw it….gave the free kick…..but there wasn`t even a yellow card for the miscreant!
That was appalling, and of course the offender then declared a dividend as ,when Palmer headed the kick back across the box , the keeper was able to keep the subsequent shot by Walker out!
Bell was now on for Mulhern, and soon after Hammill was substituted being replaced by Leesley.
County kept the pressure on though and Palmer was frustrated to see his header, from another free kick saved by Butler.
On….on it went with Sutton still conceding free kick after free kick, but without cost, as the latest one saw a veritable rocket volley from Bully whizz inches over the bar!
We then saw the unedifying sight of Bell being mugged by Beautyman as he shaped to run clear from just beyond half way. Beautyman was not booked similarly to a rack of others in yellow before him – surely the odd one might have earned the dubious honour!? But no and Butler saved Bully`s kick to ramp up my already well ramped ire!
Free kick after free kick came and went- Palmer getting to most of `em, the 77th minute being no exception, as both Bell and Walker had absolutely zero luck with the ball pin-wheeling about in the box.
Then( IRONY ALERT!!!!), Sutton at last broke the siege through Ajiboye, who with Palmer covering him, went to ground. Free kick to Sutton….I could just see where the ref would come up with that one, but a booking for Palmer…bearing in mind the laise faire approach he had adopted to a plethora of assaults from the home side earlier.
I was just about soothed when Jarvis sent his header flying up and over the bar from the free kick.
That was just an aberration however, and County were soon back attacking , Minihan running Sutton raged down the right. Bell had a shot charged down and the County end went AS as a ball to the back of the box saw Eastmond plainly handle the ball. Unbelievably the ref did not give a penalty!
(Don`t believe my account? Then go to marionsboard , check out Stranded Hatters post under thread `Clean Sheet` for additional proof)
A dreadful decision !
It went nip and tuck after this , with 10 minutes left…..Beautyman ruining a promising run for Sutton by lifting the ball high over the bar…….Butler in action to thwart Leesley, and also saving an effort from Osborne……..Ajiboye ending the sequence by shooting was over the bar after latching onto the ball just inside the Sutton half.
Into added time we went with Butler saving Keane`s volley, but Mr Wood was obliging Sutton wholesale with free kicks , but impressively, County ensured none could get through.
County were under some pressure in the games dying embers, but they did not completely neglect attacking play, Hinchliffe`s long ball from the back being very useful in putting the home back line in deep trauma.
Eastmond , was more deeply traumatised than most and having found touch in desperation , he then went all Laurence Olivier and swooned to the deck. Even the obliging Mr Wood did not buy that one!
Sutton cleared their lines from that action tough and Ajiboye , under pressure from Keane Eastmond went down. Mr Wood was quick to intervene with a free kick and a booking to the County man !
Minihan headed the kick out, and with County unable to now turn defence into attack, Sutton applied late pressure again ended when Milsum sent his shot flying wide.
Game over….a point gained…….a decent point…….one that gives solid reassurance in my view anyway, that County can hack it at this level.
County supporters certainly can- to have 387 there today was remarkable , and they were supportive throughout, staying to applaud the team off at the end!
Onwards and hopefully upwards then, starting with Hartlepool at Edgeley Park on Wednesday!
Sutton United line up:-
Butler, Barden ( Davis 24) , Goodliffe, Collins ( Matsuzaka 85),Beautyman, Eastmond, Ajiboye, Randall ( Reid 83), Wright, Milsum, Jarvis.
Subs not used :- Bolarinwa, Dundas
Stockport County line up :-
Hinchliffe, Minihan, Palmer, Keane, Cowan, Turnbull, Walker, Thomas, Mulhern ( Bell 65), Osborne, Hammill ( Leesley 68).
Subs not used ;-
Ormson, Arthur , Dimaio.
Attendance : 1808 ( 387)