Article by Mark Bravery
Sutton United kick off their third season in the National League this Saturday (4 August) with a trip north to divisional newcomers Harrogate Town, the first meeting between the two clubs.
Over the next nine months United will look to build on last season's excellent third-placed finish, though the league looks set to be tougher in 2018/19, with a number of upwardly-mobile clubs eyeing promotion to the Football League.
Harrogate were runners-up last April in what was considered a strong North division, finishing six points behind Salford City, before overcoming Chorley and Brackley Town in the play-offs. They have a full-time squad, and become the fourth National League club to have installed a 3G pitch (along with Sutton, Maidstone United and Bromley).
Town's recent goal threat has come mainly from striker Dominic Knowles and wide man Joe Leesley (National League North Player of the Year), but manager Simon Weaver has boosted his attacking options by recruiting Aaron Williams, who scored 33 goals for Brackley last season (including a penalty against Sutton in the FA Trophy), and ex-Lincoln winger Jack Muldoon from AFC Fylde. Also recently arrived at the CNG Stadium is defender Callum Howe, who was on loan at Eastleigh last season and has joined from Port Vale.
Sutton manager Paul Doswell has kept the core of last season's squad, but re-signed centre back Charlie Clough from Barnet and left-sided defender/midfielder Dan Wishart from Forest Green Rovers, while right back Dale Bennett has also arrived from Forest Green and striker Jonah Ayunga joins after being released by Brighton & Hove Albion. Also arriving are young Irish forward Aaron Drinan, on loan from Ipswich Town, and former Bristol Rovers midfielder Wayne Brown.
On the debit side, defenders Louis John and Terell Thomas have departed respectively for Cambridge United and AFC Wimbledon, midfielder Simon Walton has joined Billericay Town, winger Ross Stearn has returned to Bath City and striker Byron Harrison has signed for Barnet. Doswell also announced this week that veterans Simon Downer and Craig Dundas are being released from the playing squad, the latter joining Hampton & Richmond Borough after over 500 appearances for Sutton.
Both Clough and goalkeeper Jamie Butler are expected to have recovered from the groin strains that sidelined them during last Saturday's 1-0 win over Norwich's Under-23 side, but Ayunga is a doubt for the trip to Yorkshire because of a similar injury acquired in training. Harrogate may have fitness concerns over Knowles after he was taken off early in last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Cefn Druids, while forwards Jordan Thewlis and Mark Beck both missed that game through injury.
Sutton play their opening home game next Tuesday evening (7 August) when Doswell's former club Eastleigh are the visitors. On the equivalent Tuesday last season Sutton lost 1-0 at Eastleigh, but won December's return fixture 2-0 with goals from Tom Bolarinwa and Tommy Wright.
The Hampshire club went on to finish a slightly disappointing 14th. The departure of chairman and major investor Stewart Donald for Sunderland FC has caused some tightening of the purse strings at the Silverlake Stadium, but manager Andy Hessenthaler has kept most of last season's squad and added defenders Alex Wynter and Josh Hare from Maidstone and Joey Jones from Woking. On Saturday the Spitfires are at home to Solihull Moors.