BASINGSTOKE Town were overpowered by a direct and ruthlessly effective Sutton United side at Gander Green Lane on Saturday.
The visitors were never at the races, going behind after five minutes, trailing by three goals at half-time and going on to lose 4-0, despite Sutton being reduced to 10 men in the second half.
Town welcomed back Wes Daly, Manny Williams and Shaun McAuley following injury. McAuley was left on the bench, while Williams replaced Robbie Matthews in attack and Daly came in for Marcus Johnson-Schuster, with Robbie Rice reverting to right-back.
The formation was 4-4-2, with Daly anchoring the midfield and Andrew Jenkinson playing in a more advanced role.
Sutton also operated 4-4-2. Both Craig Dundas and Michael Spillane sat fairly deep in the centre of midfield, with Damian Scannell given a free role on the left to provide support to the strikers.
Pace up front and a direct style works well for Sutton
Sutton came into the match with a definite gameplan – and it worked a treat.
It wasn’t overly complicated, basically involving getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, with either goalkeeper Jason Brown or the back four launching long balls forward.
The hosts did not have much in the way of height up front, but they did have plenty of pace in the form of Jamie Taylor, Gavin McCallum and Scannell. Whenever the ball was thrown forward, at least one of them would look to run into the space in behind the Town defence.
Town struggled to deal with this. McCallum and Taylor won far more headers than they should have done against the visitors’ central defenders and the Town defence found themselves facing their own goal far too often.
The knock-on effect was that the visitors were forced to concede a lot of throws in their own half. The hosts sent centre-back Charlie Clough forward almost every time, despite rarely putting long throws straight into the area, but he gave the Town defence a problem.
It was from a throw that the hosts took an early lead. Town switched off, it was taken quickly and the defence never recovered, with Scannell allowed to play two one-twos and slot past Wells.
Out of possession, Sutton worked hard as a unit and were more physical, stopping Town building attacks up patiently by pressing quickly and breaking the play up with minor fouls in midfield. The visitors could get nothing going throughout the first half, failing to trouble Brown at all.
It was one-way traffic, with Town often finding themselves penned deep in their own half.
Scannell was causing problems as well, roaming across the field to find space, and the second goal was scored when he popped up on the right side of the area.
Sutton’s direct style came to the fore with their third goal. Having been defending, a long ball forward was misjudged by Rice, who had a torrid afternoon, allowing Taylor to create a goal for strike-partner McCallum.
Half-time changes fail to alter the course of the game
Bristow made a double substitution at half-time, replacing Rice and the ineffective Jenkinson, who was bullied out of the game, with Robbie Matthews and Shaun McAuley. Nathan Smart dropped to right-back in a very attacking Town side, with a front three spearheaded by Matthews and supported by Louie Soares and McAuley from midfield.
McAuley has been a big loss in recent weeks and he made a good impact, popping up in dangerous areas and giving the Sutton defence something to think about.
Town got plenty of men forward but failed to do enough in the final third, while Clough was a rock at the back for Sutton.
With the game won, the hosts relaxed and passed the ball around nicely, showing that they were playing a direct style by instruction rather than necessity in the first half.
The visitors may have sniffed a chance when Dale Binns was harshly dismissed, but his departure made little difference to the game, which Sutton continued to boss despite being a man light.
They even added a fourth when McCallum was given time to cross for Dean Sinclair to break into the box unchecked and head home.
Town’s best chance came in injury-time, and ironically, having tried to play football all afternoon, it stemmed from a simple throw down the wing, with two flicks putting Kezie Ibe away.
It was a bad day at the office for a tired-looking Town, who were second best throughout and simply could not deal with Sutton’s physical and direct approach.
Paul Doswell’s side may not be the best in the league individually but on this evidence they have found a very effective way to score goals and win games. It’s easy to knock this approach but it works when done properly and they could yet challenge for the title.