Article by Mark Bravery
With the National League title now out of reach, and having lost their last three games with just four remaining, Sutton United must now prioritise getting the points they need to finish in a play-off position, starting this Saturday (14 April) when Hartlepool United visit the Knights Community Stadium.
Hartlepool, relegated from the Football League last year, have had a troubled season, with financial worries mirroring disappointing performances on the pitch, but the prospect of new ownership has recently eased fears for their future. They have spent most of this campaign in the lower half of the table, and currently stand 17th with 48 points, four clear of the relegation zone. They have lost their last two matches, both 1-0 at home (to Guiseley and Solihull), but won their two most recent away games 2-1 (at Barrow and Maidstone). Another three points should be enough to keep them up. A very late Tommy Wright equaliser snatched a point for Sutton when the two sides met at Pools' Victoria Park ground in October.
Sutton slipped to third following Tuesday's 2-1 defeat at Halifax, with Tranmere Rovers, now a point ahead and with a game in hand, looking the likelier to finish as runners-up behind Macclesfield Town. The clubs finishing second and third enter the play-offs at the semi-final stage, where they have home advantage, so Sutton will hope to avoid being overtaken again. But with AFC Fylde and Aldershot each only a point behind, and Boreham Wood and Wrexham just two points further back, there is little margin for error. Sutton do have a game in hand over three of those clubs (Aldershot having played the same number of matches). A seventh-placed finish is the lowest to qualify for the play-offs, but eighth-placed Dover, two points adrift of Wrexham, will not have given up hope of that.
Sutton expect to be without defensive midfielder Simon Walton, who went off with a strained hamstring at Halifax. Nicky Bailey, another experienced defensive player, has been sidelined since February with a knee injury. Pools' midfielder Luke George is also out with a hamstring injury, while defender Liam Donnelly will be assessed after missing the last three matches with a calf problem.
Sutton are back in action next Tuesday evening (17 April) when they play their game in hand at Maidenhead United, the original match having been abandoned at half-time on Good Friday (with Sutton 3-2 ahead) because of a waterlogged pitch. (Admission to the rearranged game is free for all fans who buy tickets in advance.) The Magpies' 2-1 home victory over struggling Woking on Tuesday lifted them to 15th place and the probable safety of 52 points. That was their first win in seven matches. They are at home to Dover on Saturday.
Sutton skipper Jamie Collins will complete his three-match suspension on Saturday, so will be available to face Maidenhead.