Sunday, 3 January 2016

Sutton Common Rovers 2 v 1 AFC Hayes

Saturday 2nd January 2016
Gander Green Lane, Sutton
Combined Counties League Premier Division
Admission: £7.00
Programme: £2.00
Attendance: 100 (estimate)
Match Rating: 3

After a slightly strange festive period, with few games being played in the south-east on Boxing Day and none at all on New Year’s Day, my first game of 2016 was dictated by the weather. With a wet forecast this morning falling on mostly already waterlogged ground, I decided quite early on a safe, stress-free option today at a venue with a plastic pitch. Although this would mean a revisit for me, my only previous visit to the home of Sutton United was over 20 years ago, in my early days as a ground hopper.

Gander Green Lane is located virtually adjacent to West Sutton train station, and predictably is a far superior venue to what one usually encounters in the Combined Counties League. Indeed, even by National League Southern Division standards, the league in which Sutton United currently play, it is a very good stadium, easy on the eye, with excellent facilities that successfully combines modern enhancements whilst retaining plenty of character and the feel of a traditional non league stadium, although spectators are quite distant from the pitch. Spectators enter through a turnstile block behind one of the goals, and from there a bank of uncovered terracing stretches to the old-fashioned all-seater stand, built in 1951, straddling the half way line. Good elevated views can be had from here, although there are some supporting pillars. Behind the goal next to the entrance is a stand covering a few terrace steps. Another bank of uncovered terracing stretches around the far corner, beyond which there is a low covered terrace along most of the length. Behind the remaining goal is yet another stand covering terrace steps. For this level, the programme was very expensive at £2.00, on top of an entrance fee at the top end of what is charged at step 5 level and whilst it was a reasonable read with plenty of content, did little to justify it being at least double the price of just about every other programme I have purchased at this level. But I suppose that playing football at a National League stadium does not come cheap....

A glance at the league tables suggested a close game today, with both teams stuck in mid table, and AFC Hayes one point and one position better off than Sutton Common Rovers. AFC Hayes went into this game in 11th place, having gained 28 points from their 23 league games, with eight wins and four draws, while Sutton Common Rovers have drawn one fewer and lost one more, but they have reached the fourth round of the FA Vase.

On a murky, damp afternoon, although the first half was generally quite even, the hosts looked a constant threat throughout this match, and will wonder how they did not have the game won at half time, or eventually win with a more convincing scoreline. But after spurning at least five gilt edged chances to take the lead, the scoreline remained goalless at the half time break.

It only took Sutton Common Rovers two minutes in the second half to break the deadlock, with a goal that the visiting keeper, who ranged from the brilliant to the shaky all game, might have done better with. François Gabbidon drove in from the right before drilling the ball low below the keeper and into the net from a tight angle. Nine minutes later and Sutton Common Rovers were awarded a penalty for a foul tackle which actually did not fell the striker, so well done to the referee for still awarding the penalty. However, the keeper Bobby Khaira saved the penalty taken by Liam Holden, as well as a powerful shot in the follow up play. They had other glorious chances to increase their lead, and they were made to pay when Ronnel Dennis scored a lovely goal on the volley to equalise for the visitors. Still the home side continued carving out glorious chances, only to be denied by near misses or fine saves by the keeper, but it seemed that they had run out of steam with about 15 minutes to go as the chances dried up. But with five minutes to go, Sutton Common Rovers did manage to score again. Kobe Botwe showed some good footwork in the area to evade a couple of defenders, before firing low inside the near post. They saw the game out quite comfortably, and claimed a deserved win that should have been a lot more convincing. Not that AFC Hayes played that badly, just that they created a fraction of the chances the home side managed.

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