Sutton United: Story of the U’s restores some magic to the cup

In a desperation to find a story the one that was already there was almost forgotten.

Leeds had joined Liverpool, Brighton, Newcastle and many other sides in apparently devaluing the FA Cup by making wholesale changes to the starting XI, while Sutton United did their best to attract controversy by inviting Dario Gradi, an ex-player currently suspended by the FA due to an ongoing investigation into historic child abuse, as a guest for the fourth round tie.

A captivating weekend of cup action threw up a lot of talking points and it was easy on Sunday afternoon to drown Sutton’s achievement under all the noise.

The National League side booked their place in the last 16 of the cup with a 1-0 win over Garry Monk’s much-changed Leeds.


Outplaying Leeds

In a rain-swept Gander Green, in which the conditions got the better of the television camera lens, Leeds failed to get to grips with the artificial surface or the livewire forward Roarie Deacon who had an early goal disallowed for offside before forcing goalkeeper Marco Silvestri into a series of saves with shots from distance.

The winner was scored by captain Jamie Collins, the part-time builder who ignored his manager’s advice to go high by “hitting it low and hard”.

“On Friday I was on a building site,” Collins told BBC Radio 5 live. “This is a great day. What a fantastic achievement.”

The achievement of reaching the fifth round, where they will join fellow national league side Lincoln, is rewarded with £400,000 which manager Paul Doswell said will go to repairing the roof of their leaky clubhouse.

Rose’s Tea Bar, a fixture of Gander Green for over 50 years, may also warrant a renovation too given it finished the day with record profits.


Capturing the imagination

Sutton are 16th in the National League and, relatively comfortable from the dangers of relegation, it would take a black heart to begrudge the part-timers a cup run that chairman Bruce Elliott believes has earned the club in excess of £500,000 in prize money.

A fifth round tie with Arsenal now promises to capture the imagination in a way the cup has seemingly forgotten.

In a modern game skewed by finances, where clubs don’t appear averse to trading their soul for extra revenue or corporate interest, it is heartening to witness Sutton, with their throw-back ground and 45-year-old goliath-esque reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw sitting on the bench, restoring some romance to a much-maligned competition.

From getting past Forest Green Rovers in the fourth qualifying round to dumping out Cheltenham of League Two and League One’s AFC Wimbledon in rounds 2 and 3, Sutton have endeared themselves to many during their cup run and it would be difficult to resent the U’s diverting attention from worrying about tiling their entrance hallway.

Doswell however says there is no intention to move up into the league pyramid so the reward money will be spent on maintenance rather than on players.

Promotion would mean the end of the artificial pitch after all, paid for with the help of property-developer Doswell who leant the club £500,000, as it is against EFL rules.

“We won’t be spending £15,000 or £20,000 on a player” said Doswell, “we’ve no ambition to be a League Two club.”

The attentions now will move to Boreham Wood in the FA Trophy before dates with Tranmere, Solihull Moors and Guiseley focus attention back onto league matters.


Welcoming an English giant

Arsenal then make the trip south through the capital in late February prepared to meet a vociferous sell-out crowd surrounding a plastic pitch.

They will be welcomed by a squad bursting with confidence after their giant-killing of Leeds, including one of their ex-alumni in Craig Eastmond, while league experience is rife with Nicky Bailey, Jeffrey Monakana and Matt Tubbs, who has been here before with Crawley Town back in 2011.

Centre-half Simon Downer once retired at the age of 19 after failing a trial at Newcastle due to a recurring knee injury but he will now be looking forward to the prospect of marking Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

Those preaching that the cup is lacking some of its lustre will have a difficult time convincing him.


Leeds let-down

Meanwhile Leeds do have targets set on promotion and though the side at Gander Green isn’t the one that Monk needs to prove their credentials for the top-flight, it still included the likes of Souleymane Doukara, Stuart Dallas and Kalvin Phillips.

Kemar Roofe and Hadi Sacko were both introduced late on as the tie fell beyond reach and Liam Cooper, stand-in captain for the day, picked up a second yellow card with eight minutes left.

The chemistry that had got them to third in the Championship was non-existent as the ball was surrendered too easily and too often.

Monk will be disappointed by the way his team, still good enough on paper to overcome a non-league side, let him down.


A safe haven for youngsters

Leeds joined the string of clubs receiving criticism for devaluing the FA Cup by making a raft of changes to prioritise league commitments, but it can be argued that with the financial incentives offered by the Premier League and the demands placed on those gunning for promotion from the second-tier- both Newcastle and Brighton fell the same way as Leeds this weekend- the cup offers the safest haven in which to blood the youngsters, like Fulham did with Ryan Sessegnon in their rout of Hull City.

It is an argument for another day however and it will probably resurface again in round 5, again at Sutton as Arsene Wenger may be persuaded to get by with a rotated squad like the one that demolished Southampton on Saturday evening.


The biggest day in the U’s history

Whatever happens though it will be Sutton’s day, just as it was on Sunday.

“The biggest day in the club’s history” was how Doswell described the victory over Leeds. An even bigger chapter is set to be written.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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