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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Steve Morison asks Sutton to believe that their future lies in the Football League

Sutton United (1) 2 Beautyman 44’, 53’

Barrow (1) 2 Whitfield 36’, Canavan 73’



Thirty-six minutes into Steve Morison’s first game as Sutton United manager, he was surely wondering quite what he had gotten himself into.

 

A goal down following a barely watchable start to his return to Football League management on a bitterly cold south London afternoon, his new side were bottom of the fourth tier and set for their 16th defeat of the season.

 

Morison had given up top spot in the Isthmian Premier Division with Hornchurch to take on the task of saving Sutton from relegation, and the former Millwall striker will have done of the finest jobs across any of the leagues if he can stave off the drop come May.

 

“It’s not about me, it’s about the group,” said the new boss when asked about the impact he has managed to have in his first week as boss. “It’s about being brave, and everyone being aligned.”

 

Sutton are unique; a club with a non-league history and the facilities to match, yet they showed in their first two Football League seasons that they can match opponents with greater finances and a more storied past.

 

Ahead of Saturday’s game against promotion-chasing Barrow, mascots were introduced to the crowd at Gander Green Lane along with the other teams they support, their favourite players and the hobbies they enjoy the most. Post-match, the new manager and his players stood for pictures and signed autographs for scores of eager children. Sutton is a club that is miles away from the Premier League in the best way possible.



Few have embraced Sutton quite as successfully as Morison’s predecessor Matt Gray did. In his five years in charge, he oversaw a first-ever promotion to the EFL and a trip to Wembley for the Football League Trophy final less than a year later. They finished a point outside of the play-offs in that same season and were 15 points clear of the drop at the end of last term.

 

It was therefore a surprise, even after an 8-0 defeat at League Two leaders Stockport County that left the club stranded at the bottom of the league table, to see him leave a little less than a month ago. Gray apologised to supporters for the performance for the first time in his tenure after that loss, he left three days later with nothing to say sorry for.

 

The start to Morison’s debut had all of the signs of a team in trouble. The Stockport shellacking was an anomaly given Sutton were unbeaten in five beforehand, yet they lacked confidence in their start to the game. Passes were finding touch instead of a team-mate; Barrow kept winning the ball in the Sutton half; it took until the half hour mark for the home side to have a shot.

 

A Barrow team that had only lost one of their last 16 took time to find their rhythm, and when they took the lead it came from a Sutton mistake. Centre-back Omar Sowunmi wandered out of position, allowing Elliot Newby to break into the box and pick out Ben Whitfield to turn home.

 

Sutton had lacked intensity and ideas up to that point, regularly turning back and playing safe when they needed to grasp the initiative. That has rarely been an issue for Harry Beautyman though. The midfielder is in the sixth year of his second spell at the club and was an integral part of the club’s journey under Gray.



When the Barrow defence failed to clear and the ball bounced loose in the penalty area, it was Beautyman who was the only man in Sutton yellow ready to take advantage. He slammed a well-controlled finish low into the net to level before half-time and a scrappy goal early in the second half had his side ahead in a home league game for the first time since October.

 

The equaliser lifted Sutton and in the second half they were much better. They were not to know that they were off the bottom of the League Two table, but they played as though they had a purpose once more. Morison was pleased but not effusive about his own impact at the interval: “I just asked the players to be a bit braver on the ball. They need to be high on confidence and belief. I asked them if they were starting to believe now.”

 

A scrappy end saw Barrow substitute Emile Acquah thump the crossbar not long before defender Niall Canavan forced a leveller following a poorly defended corner. A perfect start against a tough opponent became a creditable draw that should bring hope for the weeks to come.

 

“We’re here to win,” admitted Morison. “We can’t dwell on it but we’re a point better off than this morning. We wrote on the board [in the dressing room] that we were playing Barrow not Brazil. They’re an excellent team but we need to worry about ourselves.

 

“I believe we can get Sutton out of the situation we are in. I believed that on Monday and I still believe that now. Nothing’s changed. We’re a work in progress but I’m really pleased with this afternoon.”

 

The gap to safety remains six points but the early signs indicate Morison may be capable of building, and perhaps even further cementing, the legacy of Gray by keeping Sutton up.

 

Sutton: (4-2-3-1) Bouzanis – Kizzi, Showunmi, Goodliffe, Jackson – Eastmond (Lakin h/t), N’Guessan – Patrick (Milsom 79), Beautyman, O’Brien (Fadahunsi 79) – Angol. Subs not used: Arnold, John, Clay, Coley

 

Barrow: (3-5-2) Farman – Chester (Telford 70), Ray, Canavan – Feely, Spence, Campbell (White 82), Foley (Gotts 59), Newby – Whitfield, Proctor (Acquah 59). Subs not used: Lillis, Ogungbo, Garner

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