Article by Mark Bravery
Sutton United would return to the summit of the Vanarama National League this Saturday (24 March) if they win their home game against relegation-threatened Chester FC.
Sutton have already enjoyed five brief spells as league leaders during this campaign, but the last of those was in early December. Returning to the summit as the regular season enters its final five weeks would be a real statement of intent by Paul Doswell's team.
Doswell tweeted this week that, should the club take the step up to the Football League, they intend to replace the 3G playing surface with a hybrid grass pitch, so complying with the League's rules. This clears away much of the uncertainty around United's promotion drive.
Sutton's 1-0 loss at Maidstone last Saturday, their first league defeat of 2018, was less of a setback than it might have been as current leaders Macclesfield Town also lost that day. Macclesfield then drew 2-2 at Maidstone on Wednesday evening, Sutton loanee Ross Lafayette scoring a late equaliser for the Stones. The Silkmen, now three points ahead, are not in action this Saturday, as their scheduled opponents Gateshead are playing in an FA Trophy semi-final, and victory over Chester would put Sutton top on goal difference.
It was United's 3-2 win at Chester last August that took them top for the first time, Louis John and Tommy Wright putting Sutton 2-0 up before the Blues pulled two goals back, substitute Kieron Cadogan scoring a stoppage time winner.
Chester subsequently slumped into the relegation zone where they have remained almost continuously since, with only six league wins all season, the last of those coming at home to Eastleigh (3-1) in mid-February. They then lost four in a row before drawing 0-0 at home to Aldershot last Saturday, a match in which their young keeper Andy Firth, on loan from Liverpool, made several fine saves. They are currently second-bottom, eight points adrift of Barrow who are out of the relegation places only on goal difference.
Chester have been managed since September by Marcus Bignot, previously in charge at Solihull Moors and Grimsby Town, and now assisted by the Blues' former manager Neil Young who took the re-formed club up to this level in 2013.
Late last season Sutton beat Chester 5-2 at Gander Green Lane, Adam Coombes (with a brace), Adam May, Jamie Collins and Nicky Bailey putting United 5-0 ahead, James Alabi then replying twice for the visitors.
Sutton will check on the fitness of Nicky Bailey, sidelined for the last five weeks with a knee injury. There are also fitness doubts about winger Tom Bolarinwa, who missed the Maidstone game, and Louis John, who played in that match but wasn't risked in Tuesday's England C International against Wales.
With this being an international weekend, season ticket holders at Premier League or Football League clubs can gain admission to Saturday's game for just £10 (£5 concessions, £1 under-16s).