I hate 2023 already…
There’s an odd – and not very welcome symmetry – to our first EFL defeat since the last time we played Sutton in the league.
West Sutton 2 Haydons Road 1 was many things, none of them particularly great.
Out of energy, out of industry, out of luck, and when they went ahead for the second and final time – out of ideas.
Like Colchester on Thursday, we laboured too much and got away with a lot. Unlike Colchester on Thursday, we didn’t have that final push to send us home happy.
Our run was always going to end at some point, and we have to accept that (for now) Sutton are our bogey team.
Every side has one, but ours just happens to be the team four miles away.
I think it was going to be that kind of game when it felt like driving to one of those Ryman League venues beforehand.
I don’t mean that in a good way, even if ironically Gander Green Lane was the venue for some of our notable non-league exploits.
Further questions about whether it would be wise to go in surfaced when Assal was not only out of the first eleven, but not on the bench either.
Mind you, we must have had something in the camp, even if it was a delicate medical condition known as a hangover.
If I was doing a match report that I’m paid for, I would describe this as wretched.
The only reason why we were second to everything was because there were only two participants at that particular moment.
They hit the bar, Tzanev had to pull off a couple of decent stops, and it was no real surprise when they went ahead.
Their #15 was certainly keen to give it large when they scored, anyway. Let’s see how mouthy he is when he’s not protected by a barrier.
I’d like to say that it finally woke us up, and we got going, but that would be lying.
If anything, we should have been three down by the time we mustered our first semi-attempt on goal.
Which was greeted by our lot with “We’ve had a shot”.
I wonder if players and managers ever hear that particular chant, by the way? We know what their egos are like, so it must sting.
To be fair, we did get better, and in the greatest Yuletide robbery since 1927 we equalised.
I’m not sure what the passage of play was, only that Manbun scored it. Oh, and somebody who hasn’t reached puberty threw a flare on the pitch.
That’s a ban, and it looks even more dumb to do in hindsight when you’ve lost the game.
Half time came, and everyone was pretty much relieved and not a little bit guilty of equalising.
Lee Brown came on for NYC, whose performance was worse than his haircut.
I guess he played because Assal was missing, and he’ll need to gain much more fitness. Maybe JJ knew more than we do, for those at Colchester calling for him to feature…?
We played better, although that’s an exceptionally low bar, but it wasn’t too long before we were on the back foot again.
They scored again, and despite Hudlin actually managing to win a header that forced a save, the game was effectively done.
Even six minutes injury couldn’t save us from our first defeat since, er, Sutton in mid-October. And our first EFL goals conceded since Harrogate that weren’t from the penalty spot.
And a reminder that losing sucks. It’s just that we haven’t had that feeling for a good while.
It’s deflating, but we must remember we’ve had a run that most teams would kill for at any stage of the season.
The rumours of JJ offering to quit after the first Sutton league defeat sound plausible, but it forced us to buck our ideas up and get to the stage we’re at now.
Will yesterday’s defeat do likewise…?
Plus points: At least I got home as quick as I ever do from Plough Lane.
Minus points: 3pm to 5pm.
The referee’s a…: Not as bad as the Newport ref but still lousy, according to more than one person. I assume that’s not a compliment.
Them: Dare I say it was their cup final and they won it?
Sharper, fitter, more wanting to win, and you can’t say they didn’t deserve it in the end.
I’m trying to forget the return fixture at Plough Lane, where patience finally snapped, but it seemed slightly similar to that horrible day.
While we’re congratulating ourselves on learning the Dark Arts (TM), we’re still students in that particular field compared to Sutton.
They went ahead again, killed the game off by “injuries” and saw it out without us causing them much bother.
Their terrace we were on is new, and did feel a bit cramped, though not helped in my section by a lack of stewards pointing out that the yellow lined bits aren’t to be stood on.
While KM was probably the most inadequate EFL ground, GGL isn’t much better for crowds above 3000.
I don’t know what their long term plans for it are, but it looks a tired stadium that they’ll have to totally rebuild if they’re a regular EFL side.
I would have expected much more from their support when they were winning. Then again, how many of the home crowd were us…?
Point to ponder: Doesn’t yesterday remind us that we need to do something in the transfer window?
That’s a “yes”, by the way.
One reason for our loss was that we had nobody on the bench who could change things up front.
The player we have used in previous games like that – Hudlin – proved why he’s not the answer.
To put it in the mildest possible terms, we had to change our formation up front to fit him in and it just didn’t work.
If it’s true that Huddersfield want him back, we should drive him up ourselves.
If JJ says there’s a “good chance” of that, and he’s being regularly monitored, he’ll know what the likely outcome is going to be.
Our manager knows that we’re very light up front, and the club should help him as much as possible over this.
Whether we end up getting somebody decent, or whether we end up with Sam Cosgrove mark two remains to be seen.
If we don’t, then you can forget any sniff of the playoffs. Though some will have written them off at the final whistle yesterday.
Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Their biggest league crowd ever, apparently. Also, 1491 of us. Officially. 2) “Plough Lane Coachworks” sign on Gander Green Lane. Coincidence? 3) The phantom AFCW sticker distributor was in the local area beforehand. Raising the flag, so to speak.
Anything else? Will this fledging rivalry between us and Sutton become a genuine one? Or will it go the same way as so many others in the past two decades?
I say that because, despite the “Sutton get battered” chants from us and “Chim chim cheree” from them, I’m still leaning towards the latter.
By that, I’m referring to what we used to have with Hampton and Richmond, Chelmsford, Bromley (to a point) and Crawley.
Feuds that lasted for about three or four seasons, before we finally came out on top and it died off very quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, we cared about those clashes when we needed to, and yesterday stings for that reason alone.
I just can’t help think that we won’t be in the same division in about five seasons maximum, with us going to L1 again probably the most likely outcome.
Then they become the team near us that we end up patting on the head and patronisingly say “well done” to them.
The problem is, the vast majority of us don’t hate Sutton United, and I think many of us will wish them well when it doesn’t affect us.
Though I understand that feeling isn’t reciprocated off the A217.
With that, can it really be a proper rivalry? We owe the very first AFCW game to them, and we have exceptionally long memories.
Additionally, like a lot of forever-non-league sides that end up in the EFL, they struggle to have enough “proper” fans.
Your editor is a Morden lad, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a Sutton supporter around here in over four decades.
Hell, I don’t see too many more of them when I go into their manor.
They’ll need to be an EFL club for about five to ten years before they can start building a proper support up, and by then we will likely be in different divisions again.
Then, and only then, will it start being “proper”, even if it won’t be anything like it is between us and Franchise.
Or as somebody put it yesterday – many in the home sections will be most interested in the result at Nottingham Forest…
So, was it worth it? No.
In a nutshell: Losing sucks.