Saturday 1st February 2020 | 15:00
Kuflink Stadium | Attendance: 979
Address: Stonebridge Road, Northfleet, Gravesend, DA11 9GN
Arguably the lowest point of Sutton’s run of poor results in the autumn was the home defeat against Ebbsfleet, when Gozie Ugwu’s penalty ten minutes in to stoppage time enabled the Kent side to leave Gander Green Lane with a 3-2 win, lifting them off the bottom of the table and dropping U’s in to the bottom four.
Tomorrow U’s will seek to make up for that disappointment, having enjoyed an upturn in form since that October afternoon and going in to the game in 15th place, but in terms of points closer to the play-offs than the relegation zone. Meanwhile Ebbsfleet have remained in the lower reaches of the table, and Tuesday night’s victory against Woking, when substitute Tobi Adeloye scored twice to see Fleet come from behind to win 2-1, was their first in the league since the end of November, and while they now have a four point cushion over bottom of the table Chorley they are seven points behind 20th placed Dagenham & Redbridge.
Until two seasons ago U’s had a wretched record at Stonebridge Road but have turned that around with consecutive 1-0 wins. The scorer of the only goal last season, Craig Eastmond (above, beating Nathan Ashmore), serves the third game of his four match ban, but Ebbsfleet also have an influential player suspended in Josh Payne, whose spectacular volley provided one of their goals at Sutton in October. Andre Blackman should return from a ban and Myles Weston could feature after injury but Jack King is a doubt and Michael Timlin, recently signed on loan, is still the subject of an embargo. Fleet do have several recent signings, though, with goalkeeper David Gregory and midfielder Adam Mekki added to the squad.
We will have commentary on the game through our Mixlr channel as usual. The game is not segregated and Sutton supporters are welcome in the club bar. Those driving to the game are advised to use Car Park C at Ebbsfleet International Station, about ten minutes’ walk from the ground and costing £3, rather than try and park at or near the ground.
In a game that never reached any great heights, Sutton shrugged off a disappointing first half performance to come away from Stonebridge Road with another point, Harry Beautyman’s 13th National League goal of the season early in the second half cancelling out the softest of goals from Marvel Ekpiteta after just six minutes.
On a difficult surface and in a gusty wind it was always likely that it would not be an afternoon for flowing football, and with Ebbsfleet boosted by coming from behind to beat Woking on Tuesday U’s would have expected a tricky afternoon against a side battling to pull themselves closer to the sides above them at the bottom of the table, and the home side had the perfect start. It was ironic, having defended the numerous Solihull set pieces so well a week earlier, that on the first occasion they were similarly tested here U’s were found wanting. The conditions played their part, with Nik Tzanev coming off his line in an effort to collect Adam Mekki’s free kick and finding the ball holding up in the wind, leaving him in no man’s land as Ekpiteta sent an unchallenged header past him in to the vacant net.
Sutton almost replied immediately as Tommy Wright met a low Kenny Davis corner with a crisp first time shot that went just past the post, and although far from their best U’s still had opportunities and tested goalkeeper David Gregory, whose last outing against Sutton had seen him let Wright’s shot through for the winner at Boreham Wood. He had another anxious moment here as he fumbled Beautyman’s shot but was able to gather it at the second attempt as it bounced behind him, but soon afterwards made a fine save from David Ajiboye’s fierce shot.
Ekpiteta came closest for Ebbsfleet to a second goal, his header deflected for a corner, but otherwise they were unable to take advantage of U’s struggles, and paid in the second half as they were immediately under pressure. Almost immediately U’s produced a fine right to left move which ended with Kyel Reid shooting over when he might have hoped to hit the target, but they were soon level as Wright’s persistence won the ball back from Ekpiteta’s challenge and from there Beautyman put Ajiboye in on the right and then continued his run to meet Ajiboye’s fine cross with a diving header that gave Gregory no chance.
From that point it was a game that could have gone either way, with Tzanev making one smart save at his near post from a low angled shot from Ayo Obileye, but the best chances again fell to U’s, with two free kicks wasted as Beautyman hit the wall and Reid shot high and wide, and then Wright, taking advantage of a slip by Ekpiteta, shooting past the advancing Gregory but maybe not with the power he had hoped and Jamie Grimes was back to clear off the line. There was a very brief appearance for new signing Callum Kealy at the end, but with little time to affect a result which on balance was about right.
Ebbsfleet: D Gregory, L Wilson, J Grimes, F Sutherland, A Obileye, M Ekpiteta, J McGlashan(sub J Goddard 83), J Umerah (sub A Blackman 73), G Ugwu, T Adeloye, A Mekki. Subs n/u J King, H Palmer, A Egan.
Referee: Scott Jackson