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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Matt Gray's Sutton revolution gets off to the perfect start against Notts County

Sutton United 5 (2) Kizzi 2, Patrick 23, 50, Beautyman 63, Smith 78

Notts County 1 (0) McGoldrick 69

Even the most romantic of stories must eventually come to an end. After three remarkable seasons under his charge, Sutton United boss Matt Gray decided this summer was the time to say goodbye to a host of players who had been stalwarts of a side that earned the club a first-ever promotion to the football league and reached a Wembley final less than 12 months later.

Twelve players departed in all over the summer, with Gray stating that he had been keen to move on almost all of them as he looked to refresh a team that had not won in its final 11 games at the end of last season.

Ten new faces have arrived so far, and the Sutton manager is keen to add even more, but a mixed pre-season that included defeats to non-league Aldershot and Woking, and a draw against Farnborough, meant there was nervous trepidation ahead of Saturday’s season opener against a Notts County side that many fancy to win back-to-back promotions.

County earned over 100 points last season in the National League and scored more goals than any team in the top five divisions of English football, yet nothing they experienced on that adventure could have prepared them for their welcome back to League Two at Gander Green Lane.

Only five of Gray’s new signings started on an afternoon of grey skies, incessant rain and sporadic thunderstorms in deepest darkest south London, yet that was more than enough to comfortably decide the contest in Sutton’s favour.

As Omari Patrick, scorer of Carlisle’s goal in last season’s fourth tier play-off final, wheeled away after notching his first for his new side and doubling Sutton’s lead midway through the first half, Gray’s men had shown more than enough to suggest that his squad revolution has more than enough potential to succeed.

That strike was a gorgeous curling effort following a pull back from fellow new man Josh Coley, but Sutton’s start to the game had been all blood and thunder; typical Sutton in the best possible way.

The new strike force of Harry Smith and Scott Kashket set about inducing a collective headache among a County defence that did not look prepared for the physical challenge to come.

Smith barely lost a header, but it was the busy work of Kashket that really bothered the opposition backline. Within two minutes he had won a corner from nothing more than a long ball upfield.

And it was from that corner that Sutton took the lead. A familiar duo combined as Rob Milsom’s delivery picked out Joe Kizzi to head home from all of six yards. The opening goal was simple, and there was nothing complicated about the way in which Sutton controlled the remainder of this encounter.

Intense from the very first whistle, Sutton’s work out of possession not only disturbed the passing rhythm of their opponents but opened up opportunities for themselves.

With 15 minutes played of County’s unfriendly welcome back to the football league, captain Kyle Cameron – seemingly rattled by the occasion as much as any of his team-mates – sent a pass back towards his own goal with nowhere near enough conviction.

The ball held up on the sodden turf, allowing Kashket to nip in and round Aidan Stone before he was sent tumbling by a mistimed challenge from the ‘keeper. A red card was shown and a frenetic Sutton start had another justified reward.

Whilst it was Kashket who began brightest of the new arrivals to begin with, it soon became Patrick’s afternoon.

His first goal was an exceptional finish, and arrived just moments after he had almost picked out the same corner of the net from the opposite side of the box, and he continued to be an ominous presence down the left flank.

The start to the game had been so enthralling that 30 minutes had passed before Gray was handed a towel to mop his brow as the rain showed no signs of letting up. His involvement on the touchline just as intense as that of any of his players.

An even better Coley delivery only five minutes into the second half allowed Patrick to brilliantly head home his second, and with the game wildly unfurling into fantasy, Harry Beautyman turned in a pass from substitute Aidan O’Brien.

David McGoldrick, County’s own summer signing who scored 22 goals in League One last term, pulled one back when the game was already over, yet Sutton still rightly had the final say as Smith headed in a debut goal.

The rain had even given way to tentative rays of sunshine by the final whistle, a sign that even the heavens above may be looking forward to what Gray can achieve with this exciting new team.

Sutton United: (4-4-2) Rose – Kizzi, Goodliffe (John 81), Sowunmi, Milsom – Coley (Clay 57), Eastmond, Beautyman, Patrick (Fadahunsi 68) – Kashket (O’Brien 57), Smith (Angol 81). Subs not used: Arnold, Kasimu


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