Westleigh Park, Havant
Oh. Dear. God.
Now, dear reader, I would certainly be bottling it to not contribute some words on this fixture. To not acknowledge this game and pretend it never existed would be conduct unbecoming of a gentleman. For a start, through knowing a couple of Sutton fans, my Facebook world was LITTERED with the foulness of their celebratory mood on Saturday evening, so I had the fact it VERY MUCH existed splattered into my face repeatedly like a series of Tiswas cream pies. Their giddy merely added to my grump.
However, while I am keen to man up, take it on the chin like a world champion heavyweight’s limbless sparring partner, there’s not much I can tell you about the second half as I was spending most of that time staring at my shoes and trying to stop my bottom lip hitting the ground next to them.
I’m not used to 5-0 home defeats. To the best of my knowledge, in our fifteen years as a united entity, it has only happened once before, in 2004 and I didn’t personally witness it so, as far as I’m concerned, it NEVER HAPPENED. Indeed, even away from home, opposition Michelle’s have been relatively rare. The two times I have seen us hit for a Lady Godiva were in very different circumstances. One was the first time I ever travelled to an away league game, back in 1999, when Tamworth duffed us up on a decidedly damp December afternoon for all of their 12 Days o’ Christmas gold rings. The other was at Liverpool, so doesn’t really count.
The most troubling thing is it could and should have been very different. Indeed, arguably the result can be traced back to one incident. Steve Ramsay mishit a cross which was claimed at the far post by Sutton keeper Tom Lovelock, but on dropping managed to carry the ball over the line. The linesman started running to the halfway line to signal a goal, but the referee decided he had been pushed over the line. While there were pressuring bodies in attendance, the physical contact would have been no heavier than a rose petal riding on the breeze landing on a lily pad. Looking at the video it seems clear that any contact between players happens after the ball has crossed the line. Bollo.
Up til that point, we had played decent stuff and dominated most of the game, although that has been happening a lot lately. At Bishop’s Stortford and at home to Hayes & Yeading last weekend, we had plentymuch chances to win the feckers, but conspired to lace our own feet with lead.
Thus, in the 34th minute, Sutton had their first decent chance and took it, Kane Haysman taking advantage of the ball dropping nicely for him after a Jake Newton tackle to lob Ross Fitzsimons with more than a little aplomb. Bugger, let’s just get to half time with this deficit and rebuild from there we thought, our last two games have seen us trailing 2-0 at the break and even though we clawed back a draw at Whitehawk in midweek, it’s not something I like us having to do week-in-week-out.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the position we found ourselves in as Sutton played to the very last of the three added minutes, Fitzsimons submitted a poor clearance which allowed the visitors to break away rapidly and an almighty goalmouth scramble developed. For all our bodies and desperate diving around, Anthony Riviere eventually had enough space to slot home.
Come the second half, Lee Bradbury bet the house AND car on a 3-4-3 formation and it is for this reason that he is now living on a yellowing mattress under a bridge. Let’s just say, that big boy crush we all had on Bradders last season, well we’ve drawn a big black rectangle over his name on our pencil case. Who knows, we may write it again soon in Tippex over the top, we may look back on this heavy duty mullering as the point where things changed but at the moment, Bradbury’s tactical decisions which were largely imperious last year, seem fuelled largely by desperation this time out.
We started the season looking solid as a rock, not conceding a goal until our fourth game but since then we have grown leakier and leakier at an alarming rate, like a rusty pipe flushed through with acid. Five goals conceded at home is not the level of organisation we sought when we realised our major source of goals from last year’s efforts cleared off to the professional game.
We’re savvy enough to know that we’ll not easily replace Ollie Palmer, but with various loan signings on the go, we have five strikers available and are yet unsure as to what our best option is up top. The 4-5-1 with Sahr Kabba of recent weeks became 4-4-2 with Scott Jones and Portsmouth loanee Ryan Bird (Bird-on-a-Hire, anyone? No? Please yourselves) and then of course 3-4-3 with an added Sahr and Jonte Smith during the second half during which we had so little shape we had begun to resemble Jabba the Hut’s ‘Frankie Say Relax’ t-shirt.
As such, with us betting it all on ATTACKATTACKATTACK, we were left bereft at the back and Sutton easily picked us off. By and large they had five chances, and took them all. We cannot blame the apparent wrongness of our disallowed opener, we still largely caused our own downfall. We collapsed like a 1920’s dowager on accidentally catching sight of her gardener’s wang.
It was unedifying to watch, some of our fans ‘snuck out’ and I found myself easily distracted by my own feet. However I’m afraid staying to be a part of these moments is as much an essential part of being a supporter as dancing on the pitch during Cup runs. You live, you learn, you deliver blows, you take them.
Speaking of the Cup, we at least have the distraction of the Road to Wembley beginning for us next Sunday but fate has not been entirely kind sending us to a Conference North club, Gloucester City, when plenty of relative minnows were available. Mind you we went to North Leigh last year and got humped out, so maybe we need a challenge we can rise to; help us back onto a more even keel.