Sutton United 4 Reading U21s 0 (19th July 2014)
I’m out of practice at this, barely finding the energy to describe the game and this new ground for me, but not as out of practice at this young Reading team looked as they were comprehensively outplayed.
Opting out the first team’s trip to Yeovil, this reserve clash at Sutton’s previously unvisited Gander Green Lane ground was my choice on this very warm and humid afternoon. The a/c in my car had thankfully kept both heat & humidity at bay as I crawled along a section of the M25, zipped as fast as I could past Tolworth, possibly the dreariest place in the whole country, through the attractive Cheam High Street (apparently most “Tudor” buildings here date right back to the 1930s, but nevertheless still look better than any other high street built since then) before parking in a side street opposite the ground. Even allowing for taking a wrong turn into the park rather than the club entrance, from car to turnstile can’t have been more than two minutes.
That’s just as well, as it wasn’t a day that welcomed any kind of physical exertion. For the first time at a football match in the UK I’d gone for a pre-match bottle of water than a beer, although getting to the ground about 20 minutes later than planned also had something to do with it.
Gander Green Lane is a ground that most fans over their mid 30s will remember from the day when Sutton famously beat Coventry City, cup winners of two years earlier, 2-1 in the FA Cup 3rd Round in 1989. Perhaps more bizarre for me was seeing live coverage of Sutton’s 2011 cup tie here v Notts County in Bangkok, with Thai commentary.
The ground had changed a bit from what I remembered. The curving terraces behind both goals have since been truncated, to be replaced with modern covered terracing units, which while not blessed with an abundance of character, probably offer better viewing than the originals. The fair sized curving terraces still exist in the corners though, meaning that unlike most non-league grounds that claim a similar 5000 capacity, a crowd of that number here would actually allow everyone a view of the pitch.
The main feature of the ground is an old style stand for about 750, not quite as imposing somehow as similar grounds at other non-league venues, even if it would be the envy of most at their level. The better view and shade this stand offered made the stand a tempting vantage point, but the extra admission required to do so put me off.
Opposite is a decent chunk of covered terrace, not quite going the full length of the pitch, but solid-looking enough to almost make it look like it had been carved rather than constructed. Both sides were a fair distance from the pitch, which was less than ideal, due to the ground once having a track, with strips of artificial turf used to fill the gap. Many fans clung to the pitchside railing rather than the relative lofty terraces, with the humidity causing a palpable lack of a desire to do anything other than stay very still.
Sadly, for those people (and there weren’t exactly loads) venturing across to Sutton to see what Reading’s academy had to offer, this attitude extended to most of this youthful squad. Many of the better U21 players had travelled with the first team to Yeovil, and this game would be men against boys in every sense here.
It would be unfair not to praise Sutton for a decent display, but Reading didn’t exactly go out of their way to make things difficult for their opponents, with a sloth-like ability to stand and watch at the back, coupled with an apparent belief that as they were sweating enough just standing around, actually working hard at the game seemed pointless.
It took Sutton just six minutes to take the lead. A low shot was saved, but not cleared. After being chipped back in, it was just simply lifted back over the keeper into the far side of the net. The 2nd on half an hour was a stunningly directed in a near-post header from a set piece, although the defender’s decision to not challenge was at best questionable. The third, just before half time, was a shot drilled in after nobody cleared. It could have been worse too.
Any thought of a determination to redress the balance a bit was shown to be forlorn when Sutton added another too easy goal, from a low cross to the near post soon after the break. The Reading youngsters, who barely managed a decent chance of their own all afternoon despite never looking over-run, were probably fortunate that there was no more scoring. It could have got rather embarrassing.