Sutton United manager, Matt Gray, spoke to SNL after his sides 1-1 draw with Hartlepool United. With the Coronavirus picking off leagues all over the world left, right and centre, the Vanarama National League went ahead as Sutton welcomed a Hartlepool United side looking to get back to winning ways after a surprising 1-0 defeat to relegation contenders Ebbsfleet United in their last outing.
Sutton got off to the dream start in front of a 2000 plus crowd at Gander Green Lane, after on loan Millwall stiker Isaac Olaofe, scored his first goal for the U’s in somewhat fortuitous fashion.
In the second minute, Hartlepool goalkeeper Ben Killip had a moment he would hope to forget, when a routine clearance cannoned off pressing stiker Olaofe leg to roll into the back of the net to give Sutton the lead.
Sutton were on top for the majority of the first half, they could have doubled their lead when exciting winger David Ajiboye weaved his way through the Pools defence to curl a shot looking destined for the top right corner, but Killip redeemed himself, with a fine save to spare his blushes from his earlier mishap.
Hartlepool, who were looking to gain promotion back to the football league at the second time of asking this season, after ending their 96 year stay in the professional game two years ago. Although David Challinors’ side sit only 3 points off the playoff spots, the National League’s battle for a potential playoff position is so hotly contested this season, with around 8 sides in contention for a playoff place, every point counts.
The Pools came out fired up for the second half. On the 58th minute Hartlepool winger Luke Molyneux played a delightful sequence of passes with center midfielder Gavin Holohan, and fresh from signing a new two year deal in midweek Holohan signed it off with a exquisitely placed shot passed Sutton goalkeeper Nick Tanzev, making it 1-1 and setting the game up nicely heading into the last half an hour.
Sutton found a second wind with ten minutes left of the game, Harry Beautyman grew into the fixture after being nullified for the majority of the match. His creativity unlocked Hartlepool’s defence on a number of occasions with the clock running down.
Sutton winger Ajiboye, looked to have taken all three points for the U’s, his shot looked destined for the top corner, with keeper Killip frozen to the spot, defender Gary Liddle flung himself at the ball to direct it over the bar and somehow keep the game at 1-1 and saving a point for Hartlepool to take back north.
Matt Gray’s comments after the game
When asked on whether he thought his side could have gone on and won the game Gray said, “Without a doubt, I was not too happy with the goal, I wasn’t too happy with the first ten-fifteen minutes of the second half but we got stronger and stronger as the half went on. We certainly had chances at the end to go and win it. How he (Liddle) has headed it off the line there, and minutes before Beautyman hit the inside of the post. If anyone deserved to win, I thought it should have been us.”
Leading up to the game it was a surprise that the National League went ahead, after the Premier League fell victim to the Coronavirus less than 24 hours before, SNL asked Matt Gray just how unprecedented the 24 hours prior were. “Yesterday we planned as normal, we didn’t know anything, and we did not know any news about the FA, or the Premier League until we came in at lunchtime. Once they made their stand on things, I thought the National League would follow. But that wasn’t too be and the game was on. The players want to play, it’s their job, it’s my job and we were looking forward to getting out for another 90 minutes.
Sutton now sit comfortably mid table, with the point earned bringing them to 50 points so far for the season, all but confirming their place in the National League for next season. Matt Gray had this to say on reaching the half century for the season, and whether his side are potential dark horses for a playoff spot. “The first target has always been 51, with 8 games to go we need one more, so I will be pretty confident we can get that done. If we can sting a good couple of results together, we can certainly have a little late push.”