SUTTON United got the ball forward quickly and pressed high up the pitch to frustrate Basingstoke Town at Gander Green Lane on Saturday.

Town’s passing was not as crisp as it could have been for much of the game and they never really got out of second gear as their Vanarama Conference South title challenge came to an end.

Sutton enjoyed plenty of possession and territory, but they struggled to create chances, requiring two mistakes from Basingstoke goalkeeper Stuart Moore to give them the win.


Town made three changes and switched to a 3-5-2 formation, with Nathan Smart and Tom Bird asked to play as wing-backs. James Harper, Simon Dunn and Louie Soares were the midfield three.

Sutton operated a very narrow midfield diamond, but it was a very fluid system.

Damian Scannell was given licence to roam and find space just behind the front two, often drifting out to the wings, while the other three interchanged positions all of the time. In general, Micky Spillane played the anchor role, but he was not constricted by it, with Glen Southam and Bedsente Gomis filling in for him.

Direct passing and high press gets Sutton on the front foot

The hosts set their stall out from the first whistle, getting the ball forward early to strikers Craig Dundas and Louis Theophanous with the ball and not letting Town settle when out of possession.

Dundas has spent the last couple of seasons doing a job for Sutton in midfield. In my opinion, that’s a terrible waste of a really useful striker.

I’m not sure he’d ever be prolific in front of goal, which is probably why he has been tried in midfield, but whenever I’ve seen him play in attack, he has caused problems.

His size and strength mean he is an excellent target man. He’s tall enough to get his head to high balls and strong enough to hold the ball up if it is played into his chest or feet.

In addition to this, he’s fairly quick across the ground, offering something of a threat in behind the defence as well.

In short, he’s exactly the striker you want if you are looking to play direct – and Sutton were quick to utilise him in the early stages of the match.

The other part of their game plan was to press aggressively, preventing Town’s defenders playing out from the back.

The early stages of the match were fairly even. When they managed to break out of the press, Basingstoke looked dangerous, with Dunn and Soares passing the ball neatly, while Sutton had a little more of the play but were reduced to shots from distance.

Goals change games

The game swung in the home side’s favour with 18 minutes on the clock, when an excellent ball into the area from a free-kick forced a mistake from Town goalkeeper Stuart Moore, whose parry hit Jamie Collins on the back and rebounded into the net.

The hosts went into the game having scored just once in six outings, so the opening goal of the game was always going to be vital. Had Basingstoke got it, a few Sutton heads might have dropped, but going ahead gave the home side a massive boost.

The home side were very much on top for the rest of the half, pinning Town deep in their own half. The visitors appeared to get frustrated, resorting to much less effective long balls of their own and over-committing when they got the opportunity to go forward, leaving them open to the counter-attack.

Sutton midfielder Bedsente Gomis was especially impressive during this spell, harrying opponents and breaking dangerously from the centre of the field.

However, for all of their possession and territory, the hosts created very little in the way of chances. Town defended well, but Sutton were also to blame, making bad decisions when they got into the final third.

It was very much against the run of play that Town levelled from the penalty spot shortly before half-time, but despite bossing the game, Sutton had only had one effort on target, with their goal coming from a Moore error rather than a shot.

More of the same after the break

It was a very similar story in the second half, with Sutton on the front foot and playing much of the game in Town’s half of the pitch.

Town manager Jason Bristow made two understandable substitutions, bringing on the pace of Lloyd Macklin to stretch a tiring Sutton side and introducing Jamie Brown to give his team more of a physical presence in midfield.

What he didn’t do was alter the shape of his team, which was something of a surprise.

Considering that they needed to win the game to stay in with a chance of winning the title, playing with three centre-backs could be seen as a little conservative.

Bristow explained after the match that, having seen how Sutton played, with a very narrow midfield, he thought that playing Tom Bird and Nathan Smart as wing-backs would cause problems.

He was right. On numerous occasions, Bird and Smart found themselves in acres of space. Unfortunately, Town were unable to get the ball too them often enough for them to create any real chances.

Had he stuck with the diamond, the midfield would have been horribly congested, probably resulting in a stalemate, so going for something different was the right thing to do.

In hindsight, Bristow might feel that a flat 4-4-2, with attacking full-backs and wide midfielders looking to exploit the width, might have been a good option, though Town could have been outnumbered in the centre of the park.

With time running out and the game seemingly meandering towards a draw, which wasn’t really any good to them, Basingstoke could have rolled the dice a little, perhaps removing one of the centre-backs in favour of an extra attacking player.

As it was, the game was decided in injury-time. The visitors almost nicked it, but some good defending denied Rob Dickie. Then, at the other end, Moore made his second major error of the match and Sutton capitalised to take all three points.


This was a hard match to assess. If you watch my post-match interview with Bristow, you’ll see me suggest that Sutton deserved to win, something the Town boss disagrees with.

His argument is that while his side didn’t do enough to win the game, Sutton didn’t create many chances – and he has a point.

Moore has been fantastic for Basingstoke all season, but he had a bad day, making two big mistakes that resulted in goals. Had he been on form, it could be argued that Town win the game 1-0, though their goal was also the result of an individual error.

The goals apart, Sutton managed just two shots on target. One of them was a fairly routine save for Moore, while the other was somehow cleared off the line by Bird.

Town tested Aaron Howe even less, the home goalkeeper making just two comfortable saves. On the balance of play, Sutton were the better side, but maybe 0-0 would have been a fair result.

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