football-1Southport 1-1 Sutton United

After five away defeats in a row in which the footballing gods had failed to smile on Sutton, the balance began to be redressed at Haig Avenue when a performance that was arguably below even the 4-0 defeat at Chester in terms of quality nevertheless saw U’s return south with their first away point since the victory at Lincoln in mid-August.

A goal behind at half time, the opinions of the Sutton management on the first 45 minutes were indicated by a double substitution at the break, and while U’s carried more threat in the second half they were reliant on a controversial penalty for the equaliser, within a minute of squandering another opportunity from the spot, and grateful to goalkeeper Ross Worner for a series of superb second half saves topped off by a miraculous stop to deny Andrai Jones what would have been a late, and probably deserved, winner.

With Craig Eastmond and Roarie Deacon suspended U’s opted to start with both Craig McAllister and Max Biamou in attack, supported by Bradley Hudson-Odoi and Ross Stearn on the flanks, and there was early promise as Hudson-Odoi turned to hit an early shot from the edge of the penalty area that flashed just past the post. There was also a chance for McAllister, coming in at the far post to meet a free kick with a header which went disappointingly wide, but apart from that U’s were never really in to their stride and with at times a worrying amount of space Southport posed a threat as their full backs pushed forward and Jones and Jamie Allen proved a lively front partnership. Jones should have given the home side the lead when he brought down a pass over the top with his chest and went clear through the middle, but with Worner coming out Jones could only shoot wide.

On the half hour U’s nearly took the lead from nowhere when Stearn’s 30-yard shot crashed back off the crossbar, but eight minutes before the interval it was Southport who edged in front. The problems for Sutton started when Kevin Amankwaah took too long on the ball and was eventually dispossessed. Neil Ashton made use of the space on the Southport left to run on to Josh Thompson’s pass, pulled the ball low in to the penalty area, and Jones took a touch before lashing a shot in to the roof of the net giving Worner no chance.

Worse might have followed just before the break when Worner failed to gather Jordan Lussey’s free kick from the left, and dived on the ball just in time to prevent it from crossing the line in the ensuing scramble, and when U’s came out for the second half Biamou and Hudson-Odoi had made way for Chris Dickson and Craig Dundas, who had joined the club nine years earlier when fortunes were as low as at any time in recent years and who now, in his 428th appearance in a Sutton shirt, made his National League debut. Before the changes had had any time to take effect U’s might have been chasing a two goal deficit as Allen flashed a shot across goal just thirty seconds after the restart, and as Southport continued to enjoy the better of things Worner tipped over Liam Nolan’s header and then made a fine save from Ryan Higgins low to his right, getting enough on the ball to keep it away from the onrushing Jones.

Between those moments Sutton had shown a greater attacking threat in what was becoming an entertaining and open game, and their chance came when Stearn was put in on the right and brought down by Ashton as he tried to work a shooting opportunity. After the misadventures from the penalty spot suffered at Eastleigh and Dover there was some reassurance for U’s supporters as Nicky Bailey immediately grabbed the ball, but although well struck his shot was too close to goalkeeper Magnus Norman and at a nice height for the keeper to beat it away. It was to be U’s afternoon, though, because when Amankwaah headed the resulting corner back from beyond the far post referee Anthony Backhouse spotted a handball in the resulting scramble and pointed to the spot again much to the horror of the home side, Ferguson picking up the game’s only booking for his protests. This time skipper Jamie Collins took responsibility, and to every Sutton supporter’s relief his spot kick found the corner of the net as Norman went in the opposite direction.

The last half hour was far more open than Sutton would have liked as a side defending an away point, with Southport often finding space to launch attacks, although Brandon Haunstrup showed up well on his debut after replacing George McLennan. Jones squandered one clear chance when he burst through the middle and had players supporting him on his left against an outnumbered defence, but took the wrong option with a pass to Allen, who was unable to get his shot away. Substitute James Caton threatened on several occasions, cutting in from the left but failig to find a finish other than with one shot which deflected across goal just out of the reach of Liam Hynes. Callum Howe headed just over from a corner, and Southport’s search for a winner might even have cost them, Dickson having a shot blocked by Ashton and Stearn’s curling effort held by Norman before a clearance left Dickson and Stearn in a two-on-one against the home defence, but Dickson’s touch round the last defender had just too much on it and Norman was able to come outside his penalty area and get to the ball just before the Sutton player.

The final chance was to Southport, though, as Jones’s close range header from a left wing cross was somehow kept out by Worner, who seemed to be diving the wrong way but managed to stick out a hand to turn the ball away and deny the home side their third victory of the season.

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