Article by Mark Bravery
Having gained a satisfactory four points from their opening pair of National League games, Sutton United face two testing matches during the next seven days, the first this Saturday (11 August) when Salford City visit Gander Green Lane for the first time.
Salford are National League North champions, achieving their third promotion in four seasons, and many have tipped them to claim the National League title next April. The Greater Manchester club is jointly owned by Singapore-based billionaire Peter Lim and former Manchester United stars Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, with the Ammies' rise up the non-League pyramid captured in the Class of '92 TV documentary. However, joint managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, who led that upward journey, left at the end of last season due to contractual disagreements. The new man at the helm is Graham Alexander, formerly in charge at Fleetwood Town and Scunthorpe United.
Thought to boast the largest budget that the National League has ever seen, Salford have already raised eyebrows this summer by signing striker Adam Rooney from Aberdeen (with the player reportedly being paid £4,000 a week) and attacking midfielder Danny Lloyd from Peterborough. Other recruits include striker Rory Gaffney from Bristol Rovers, defensive midfielder Nathan Pond from Fleetwood, and Danny Whitehead who played in midfield last season for National League champions Macclesfield Town. Gaffney was on target last Saturday in Salford's opening match, a 1-1 home draw with Leyton Orient, while Rooney gave them the lead at Gateshead on Tuesday only for the home side to fight back and win 2-1.
With this weekend's match likely to appeal to curious neutrals, Sutton will be hoping for a big crowd. Spectators aged under 16 will be admitted free of charge.
Manager Paul Doswell said after Tuesday's 1-0 victory over Eastleigh that he's expecting another very physical game. He will check on the fitness of striker Jonah Ayunga, who sat out the first two matches with a groin strain, and Nicky Bailey, who missed the Eastleigh game. Another player absent from both matches was midfielder Wayne Brown, who most recently played in Australia and whose international clearance is awaited.
Salford may be without Lloyd and defender Liam Hogan, the former having missed the Gateshead match through injury and the latter forced off hurt in its closing stages.
Next Tuesday evening (14 August) Sutton travel to north Kent to face another well funded club, Ebbsfleet United, who last spring finished sixth in their first season back at this level. They then overcame Aldershot Town in a play-off penalty shoot-out before losing to Tranmere Rovers in the semi-finals. Their two games with Sutton produced only one goal, but that was a memorable strike, Tom Bolarinwa's superb solo effort at Stonebridge Road in April arresting a late-season slump and propelling Sutton to a third-placed finish.
The Fleet, who have signed highly-rated winger Ebou Adams from Norwich and striker Michael Cheek from Dagenham & Redbridge, opened the season with a 1-0 home defeat to relegated Chesterfield and on Tuesday drew 1-1 at Orient, Corey Whitely scoring their late equaliser. On Saturday they are at Hartlepool.