Tranmere Rovers travel south to face Sutton United on Saturday afternoon, in the second game of November to be described as a ‘six-pointer’.
In the first game of such significance, Rovers comfortably cruised past Forest Green Rovers at Prenton Park. It was a performance to remember on Remembrance Day, with the opening goal coming from a corner on the 8th minute.
Kristian Dennis added the second after the break, in front of the Kop before Young loanee forward Rob Apter showed exactly what he can do to seal the all important three points.
The defence, an area that a lot of criticism has rightly been placed onto, also worked exceptionally well. Jordan Turnbull impressed and you haven’t been able to say that too much this campaign!
Ahead of the game against 24th placed Sutton, I spoke to Des from Gandermonium to ask why The U’s are positioned so low after a promising transfer window in the summer.
When did you first start supporting Sutton United? What was that first experience like?
First game was 1982, home to Hitchin. I was 8. I remember the ground back in it’s former athletics configuration, the one main stand, 2 smaller wooden ones on the Rec side. Mickey Joyce, a prolific goalscorer of that era, scored within about 30 seconds of us getting through the turnstiles a touch late just after kick off. Joycey can still be found about the place on matchdays today chipping in. I occasionally blame him for getting me into all this nonsense!
What have some of the best and worst moments in the time you’ve followed the club been?
Best would be Cup runs and playing the likes of Middlesbrough and Coventry. Leeds and Arsenal too. The latter run was quite something. Winning Conference South in 15/16 with a 26 game unbeaten run was special too. Of course, gaining FL status was amazing, but with the Covid restrictions we only saw 3 matches that season, so it all felt a bit weird!
Worst moments were 07/08 season. At the time, it was arguably the worst campaign in at least 50 years, if not ever for the club. We looked properly set to slide down the pyramid at that point, but thankfully we got things right the next season and here we are. Also ‘Piegate’ in the wake of the Arsenal game was shit too. Took a largely full strength top 4 PL side the distance with a performance Arsene Wenger himself described as ‘astonishing’ and all it’s remembered for is Wayne Shaw and his fucking ‘pie’. Front page of the Sun, the lot. Wasn’t even a sodding pie either, it was a pastie. Still, top bants eh?
Could you start us off by giving us a random fact about either the club/the area of Sutton?
Our mascot is a giraffe. Two reasons for that, firstly there’s a vague colour match (look, just go with me on this alright!) and secondly, at the time we were thinking of getting a mascot, we had a strange connection to a 3rd Division side in Gambia who took our name after an expat agreed to fund them a kit, but only if they took the name Sutton United. No one knows who this geezer was, but the link lasted a number of years before the team went dormant. So as a little nod to them and that African link, we picked a giraffe.
Could you also tell us a little bit about Gandermonium and how you’ve been doing recently?
Gandermonium is a blog I started waaaaay back in 1998. Just writing about games via match reports as we didn’t have much of an internet presence back then. It evolved over time more into being about the adventures of various idiots following the U’s along with the reports. I eventually packed it in at the end of 07/08 as it was basically just me doing it and I’d had enough after such a dreadful season and us not really being that good for a few years. Then a title win and 3 play off failures later in 2012, 2 fellow fans pestered me to bring it back. Eventually I relented, set them up a simple site and passed the baton whilst acting as an ‘Editor in Chief’ as such.
Another 10 years of that and we’ve come full circle once more. I largely pulled the plug again at the end of last season as after going from a high point of 5 different writers spouting all sorts of nonsensical bollocks thinly disguised as match reports, we suddenly went back to it being just me again for one reason or another as people retired, got lives etc.
Still, in that second spell, we didn’t miss a single competitive game between December 2012 and the end of last season, so it was probably time! We still do entries, but far far more sporadically now, as and when I fancy it or someone offers to knock something out for a particular match. It’s been fun though and it’s genuinely been touching finding out how many people have read it and got a chuckle out of it over the years.
Sutton are managed by 42-year-old Matt Gray, he guided the club to promotion into the EFL for the first time in their 123-year-history after being appointed in 2019. How great has he been at the club?
Matt’s been great for us. He had a bumpy start and was always going to find it hard to follow a long standing and very successful manager in Paul Doswell, but the club stuck by him and I think that really resonated with him as he dug in to find that winning formula. Paid off in spades as he took us into the Football League and then a first Wembley visit in 41 years with the Pizza Cup final. Suffice to say, he’s got plenty of credit in the bank and that’s helped a lot this season with the poor start we’ve had. Sure, there’s been people calling for his head, but nowhere near as many as if he’d been anywhere else.
With The U’s bottom of the EFL, do you believe that Gray has the managerial ability to drag the team away from the drop?
Only one way we’re gonna find out! I do know that Matt will be working as hard as he can to turn it around, simply as that’s the kind of guy he is. Plus, as I mentioned above, I genuinely believe that the faith shown in him by the board and the club in those early days meant a lot to him and he wants nothing more than to repay it with being as successful as he can. Sadly, the squad’s not quite clicked this year, so it’s all about just getting points on the board, staying up and having another look at it over the summer.
How will he approach Saturday’s game? (Tactics/Starting eleven/Formation).
We’ll play 442 or a variation of that. It’s just our way. Not sure if he’ll set up to be solid first half or hour and kick on from there or if we’ll come out front foot like we did against Notts and Walsall. In both those games, we scored early and then ran riot. Sadly, we’ve not seen anything like enough of that sort of performance this season.
Bruce Elliott is chairman of The U’s, a man who has been a fan since the 1960’s. At the moment, what are your thoughts on him? What are some of the current projects that the club is working on?
As you say, Bruce is a fan. Started in the Supporters Club. So no one’s calling for his head or anything, he and the rest of the board have been a steady hand on the tiller for many years now and one of the reasons why we are where we are. He’s always in the players bar after games and is perfectly happy for people to ask questions about what’s going on etc, which helps massively with supporters feeling involved. As for projects, I’d guess it’s currently about getting the last phase of upgrades done this season at GGL so that we fully comply with FL seating and capacity regs should we stay up. There should be a new stand of some description being thrown up on the Rec side at some point this season. Apart from that, I guess it’s business as usual, keeping us running and trying to find some other lunatics prepared to put money into a tiny FL outfit!
Summer recruitment, following on from a mid table placed finish in League Two, saw winger Omari Patrick being brought to Gander Green Lane as players such as winger Enzio Boldewijn and striker Omar Bugiel went elsewhere. With the transfers made did you believe that Sutton would be battling it out at the bottom of the division? Where would you say the greatest issues are in the squad?
Everyone was pleased with the recruitment. Solid, plenty of experience at this level and a bit of attacking nous in the likes of Partick. Sadly though, whilst this is probably the strongest squad we’ve ever had on paper, it just hasn’t clicked on the pitch in most cases. There’s definite ability there and when they turn up, they’re a bloody useful outfit as 5-1 and 4-0 home wins over Notts and Walsall as well as the 1-0 win away at Wycombe in the Carabao Cup show.
Sadly though, we’ve not turned up enough and conceded goals for fun far too many times this season and you’re only going one way if you’re averaging 2.5-3 goals against. Our issue seems to be in midfield where we’ve really missed Craig Eastmond and his replacements just haven’t quite done it yet. Our new wide players don’t seem to be offering our full backs a lot of protection either. Still, the goals against seem to be improving and we’re starting to put together a few more consistent performances, so we remain hopeful.
Summer signing Harry Smith, 28-year-old 6ft striker formerly of Leyton Orient, has netted nine goals in fifteen games as well as picking up two assists. How great of a signing has he been? Is he the main player to watch out for?
We’d already be as good as down if it wasn’t for Smith quite frankly. Perfect player for us, big lad up top, wins the flick ons but is also half decent playing to his feet and bringing in players around him. A lot of people were worried that losing Omar Bugiel would be an issue, however it’s turned out alright so far!
Tranmere and Sutton used to regularly meet in the National League, both sets of fans making friends with each other. The last meeting between the two clubs was at Prenton Park in early January, finishing with a two-all scoreline as Josh Hawkes and Kane Hemmings netted for the hosts. Alistair Smith scored a brace for the visitors. What’s your score prediction for the tie this time ‘round? In your eyes, is it an early ‘six-pointer’?
Think it’s a touch early to talk about 6 pointers, but with the start we’ve had we absolutely have to start winning our home games regularly. Get 8-9 more of those this season and we’re a damn sight closer to that 50pts mark than we are currently and staying up is a bit less of a slog. Feel for Tranmere as we’ve got a soft spot for the whites from those NL days and are always made welcome at Prenton by the locals, but we gotta get results so I have to say a home win! For us, staying up is everything so 22nd will do. That extra half million or so TV money from next season is massive.
Finishing off, your thoughts on Tranmere? Newly appointed boss Nigel Adkins has a lot to prove following on from his poor time as interim. Do you reckon that The Whites will go down?
I think we’ll both be fine though, as FGR look shocking and someone else always makes a late nosedive for 2nd bottom after Xmas. Plus with Adkins confirmed permanently, he’ll no doubt move to make a couple of additions in January to shore things up. I wouldn’t panic just yet.