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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Sutton's Great Escape denied lift off by last-minute Doncaster penalty

Sutton United (0) 1 Eastmond 73’

Doncaster Rovers (0) 1 Ironside (pen) 90+5’


Sutton United’s hopes of remaining in League Two were dealt a stoppage time blow by relegation rivals Doncaster Rovers at Gander Green Lane.


With Steve Morison’s side looking set to move within four points of safety, goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis gave away a penalty in the final minute of additional time that was converted by Doncaster’s Joe Ironside.


Captain Craig Eastmond had given Sutton a second-half lead, as Morison and his new-look team showed signs of life despite the recently appointed manager now going five games without a win since replacing Matt Gray.


“I’m gutted for the players,” admitted Morison. “We deserved to win, we had more chances than them and were better than them. It's just one moment of madness has cost us the game.”


Three consecutive draws against in-form sides to begin Morison’s tenure seemed a promising start but a midweek home defeat to Harrogate followed up by this late blow against one of the teams Sutton could realistically catch mean it is hard to see this week as anything other than a backwards step.


With less than a minute played, it looked as though it would be an early spot-kick that cost Sutton. After a Doncaster long ball was not dealt with, forward Billy Waters raced through on goal and bore down on Bouzanis in the Sutton net.


With the travelling fans behind the goal anticipating a rare moment of joy on the road in a season in which their side has won just one away match, Waters went down as Bouzanis spread himself at the feet of the striker.


With Gander Green Lane expecting Sutton to begin the process of falling to 10 points from safety, referee Scott Simpson spared them. He deemed Waters had dived and the Doncaster man was booked.


The game progressed with little of the excitement of that early incident, and there was a real lack of quality throughout.


The visitors seemed slightly the more confident side, yet Doncaster’s method of attack rarely developed beyond balls launched into the Sutton penalty area.

Some indecisive defending meant it caused problems though. Twice Walters was almost presented with a clear sight of goal, and only thanks to last-ditch interventions from first Sam Hart and then Ben Goodliffe did the scoreline remain goalless.


Surviving those moments gave Morison and his side something to build from. The new manager was able to make seven signings in the last weeks of the January transfer window. Four of them started this one and all made a difference.


“I can’t compare to how the team was before, I’m here to worry about what we do,” said Morison. “All of the loanees played today and on the whole they were excellent.”


Stephen Duke-McKenna, borrowed for the remainder of the season from QPR, was the liveliest of them. Dancing beyond agricultural challenges and pouncing on possession in the rare moments that the ball remained on the ground for any sustained period of time, he looked the most likely of anyone in yellow to make something happen.


This was shown most clearly just after the half hour, as Duke-McKenna turned away from one Doncaster man before setting fellow loanee Olly Sanderson up for a shot straight at the legs of visiting goalkeeper Timothee Lo-Tutula.


The second half was somehow even less eventful. Even the return of Sutton top-scorer Harry Smith following a six game suspension did little to lift things, with the only opportunity of note before the final 20 minutes being a volley from another January addition in Charlie Lakin that bounced just wide of the post.


A season-defining moment looked to have arrived for Morison as the sun set and south London was reminded that winter is not quite over. After some great play by Ryan Jackson down the right, Eastmond collected the ball in the centre before steadying himself and lashing into the net.


Morison let himself go on the touchline. Gander Green Lane finally had something to get excited about. The escape mission was finally set to begin in earnest.


Sutton were never going to cruise to victory from that point, particularly given they have now only seen out four wins from 30 league matches this term, and nerves began to jangle in the closing stages.


Omari Patrick passed up a presentable chance to seal the victory, and the nervous kicking of Bouzanis extended to the point that he cleared a free-kick out of the ground from just inside his own half.


Worse was to come though, as with just seconds remaining, the experienced goalkeeper came off his line and clattered into Ironside. The striker sent him the wrong way from 12 yards and a triumph that looked set to revitalise Sutton’s season became yet another disappointing afternoon.


Duke-McKenna claimed afterwards that the players believe their luck will turn soon, and his manager even went a step further.


I am as confident as you can be that we can avoid relegation,” he said. “If we weren't confident, I might as well hand in my resignation and go now.”


Sutton: (5-2-1-2) Bouzanis – Jackson, Kizzi, Goodliffe, Hart, Adoms-Malaki (Beautyman 74) – Eastmond, Lakin – Duke-McKenna – Sanderson (Patrick 59), Angol (Smith 59). Subs not used: Arnold, John, N’Guessan, Moore.


Doncaster: (5-2-3) Lo-Tutala – Sterry (Taylor 75), Olowu, Wood, McGrath (Maxwell h/t), Rowe (Hurst 82) – Bailey, Senior -Adelakun (Broadbent 59), Ironside, Waters (Molyneux 75). Subs not used: Jones, Craig.


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