Article by Mark Bravery
With three wins and two draws from a challenging opening programme of National League games, Sutton United are about to face two more opponents who made it to last season's play-offs, starting this Saturday (25 August) when AFC Fylde visit Gander Green Lane.
The ambitious Lancashire club are also unbeaten this season and currently stand third in the table, above fourth-placed Sutton only on goal difference. Their striker Danny Rowe has already leapt to the top of the divisional scoring table with five goals (although two of those were penalties), including a brace in last Saturday's 4-0 home victory over Dover Athletic.
Both of last season's matches between Sutton and the Coasters finished 2-1 to the home team, Craig Dundas and a Simon Grand own goal putting United ahead at the Lane shortly before half-time, Grand scoring a late consolation for his own side.
Fylde went on to finish seventh in their debut season at this level, losing to Boreham Wood in their play-off eliminator match. Since then manager Dave Challinor has signed a number of new players, including defender Neil Byrne from Gateshead, England C midfielder Ryan Croasdale from Kidderminster Harriers, locally born winger Joe Cardle from Dunfermline Athletic and tall French forward Gime Toure from Macclesfield. Another midfield player, Jim Kellermann, who moved from Aldershot to St Mirren in May, has this month joined the Coasters on loan. Among the players leaving Mill Farm was wide man Jack Muldoon, who joined Harrogate (and scored against Sutton on the season's opening day).
Sutton's left back Aswad Thomas completes his three-match suspension on Saturday. Attacking midfielder Harry Beautyman may return to the squad after missing the last two games following the birth of his child, and there will be checks on the fitness of Nicky Bailey, out injured since the Harrogate match. For Fylde, full back Luke Burke is doubtful having gone off hurt in the Dover game.
On Bank Holiday Monday (27 August) Sutton make the relatively short trip to north-east Hampshire to face Aldershot Town. This contest last October under the Recreation Ground lights was a cracker, Louis John and Dundas twice putting United ahead with Bernard Mensah and Scott Rendell (from the penalty spot) levelling the score before half-time, and the game ending 2-2.
Sutton beat Aldershot 2-1 at home on the final day of the regular season, the Shots finishing fifth but losing at home to Ebbsfleet United in a play-off penalty shoot-out. Manager Gary Waddock lost several key players during the close season, including three defenders who signed for the clubs relegated from the Football League, Cheye Alexander and Callum Reynolds joining Barnet and Will Evans moving to Chesterfield, while influential midfielder Manny Oyeleke signed for Port Vale.
The replacements brought in by Waddock include centre back Josh Lelan from Crawley, young full back Dominic Bernard on loan from Birmingham City, experienced midfielder Luke Howell from Dagenham & Redbridge and winger Luke Wanadio from Bromley The Shots have had a disappointing start to the season, with just one win so far (2-1, home to Dagenham) and three defeats. Last Saturday they lost 2-0 at home to Harrogate to leave them 20th in the table, one place and two points above the bottom four. This Saturday they travel to Ebbsfleet. Goalkeeper Will Mannion, skipper Karleigh Osborne and fellow defender Marvin McCoy are all likely to miss the weekend games through injury.