Sutton United 1 (John 88) Tranmere Rovers 1 (Goodliffe og 17)
For the second week running Sutton salvaged a point with a late goal, Louis John striking in the 88th minute to deny Tranmere a first away win of the season although the visitors did avoid defeat on the road for the first time. They would have been hoping for more after Ben Goodliffe's own goal had given them a first half lead, but while not at their best Sutton kept battling to the end and deserved the leveller that John thumped home after a Harry Smith header from a corner had been blocked. While the result keeps U's at the bottom of the table, it extended an unbeaten run to four games.
There was just the one change from the draw at Colchester, with Goodliffe returning to the side after suspension, replacing Omar Sowunmi who hadn't trained this week, while another who was an injury doubt, Joe Kizzi, retained his place at left back with Rob Milsom unavailabe through illness.
After a tame start to the half, a shot from Tranmere’s Kristian Dennis on the edge of the box after ten minutes, saved by Dean Bouzanis, would set the precedent for a first 45 minutes in which there were chances at both ends, Not long after, Aiden O’Brien and Harry Smith linked up well down the right, performing a quick give and go to get Smith in behind and delivering a fine cross, which Beautyman, arriving at the back post, headed on target, but it was parried away by Tranmere goalkeeper Luke McGee for a corner.
Sutton gradually began to settle into the game, with an N’Guessan cross forcing a mix-up between the Tranmere goalkeeper and defence. Smith and O’Brien led from the front, pressing the Tranmere backline and looking to get in behind. However, as Sutton looked to be taking control Tranmere's threat from the right-hand side saw them take the lead after 16 minutes, as Regan Hendry pounced on a misplaced John header and put Rob Apter through on the right. Apter had just seen one low cross well cleared by Dominic Gape, but this time saw his centre deflect in off Goodliffe past Bouzanis.
Matt Gray’s side responded well; a Beautyman cross found Smith, who headed over from range. There was a penalty appeal when Smith seemed certain that he had been fouled in the box, with the Tranmere defender seemingly pulling his shirt, yet nothing was given, and moments later, O’Brien would come narrowly close, with a header was just wide of the post.
Rovers continued to look dangerous on the counter-attack, Hendry's effort on goal comfortably saved by Bouzanis after receiving the ball outside the penalty area and searching for the far post.
Dominic Gape gave away a free kick roughly 25 yards out, with the winner of the set piece, Hendry striking low to force the save from Bouzanis, who needed two efforts to grab the ball. However, a couple of minutes later, a series of rather bizarre events would unfold. Continuing to apply pressure, Sutton once again forced Tranmere into a mistake, latching onto a stray pass to the keeper. The ball seemed to hold up in the pitch, giving Josh Coley’s outstretched boot the opportunity to connect and get the shot away. McGee blocked the effort which fell to O’Brien in acres of space with an open goal to aim at from the edge of the centre circle but frustratingly the ball hit the foot of the post.
The final chance of the half fell to Tranmere’s Dennis, who, on the turn, nearly left U’s supporters stunned with a half-volley that hit the outside of the post. with Bouzanis helpless. Sutton ended the half with work to do, but still very much in the game.
Apart from a blocked shot by Smith, and O’Brien coming close to putting Harry Beautyman through, nothing much happened in the early stages of the second half. Howeve as the half went on Sutton began to take the game to Tranmere, forcing them back and applying lots of pressure. The long throws of Jackson and Kizzi, the link up play between O’Brien and Smith, and the driving midfield runs from deep by the likes of N’Guessan asked Nigel Adkins' side questions which were normally answered as Sutton failed to create sufficient clear cut chances to go with the territorial advantage
Harry Beautyman fashioned an opportunity for Sutton from the left, getting past one player, deceiving another with a smart cutback and performing a good give and go with O’Brien to make space for a cross, which found Smith, who couldn’t direct his header towards goal. At the other end, the dangerous Apter followed up with an effort from range moments later, attempting to curl the ball into the top left corner after cutting in from the right, it had Bouzanis scrambling but missed the post.
With Sutton pushing for the equaliser, Matt Gray subbed on Omari Patrick for Gape midway through the second half before once again, O’Brien did superbly to juggle the ball from deep, evade his opponents, and lay the ball off to Coley down the right. Coley’s cross managed to find the head of Smith, but under pressure, his header was comfortable for Tranmere keeper McGee. Patrick drilled a shot towards goal, which was blocked, as U's were determined to get something from the game.
As the game entered its closing stages Goodliffe performed a perfectly timed last-ditch tackle to deflect Jennings’ whipped cross away from danger. Tope Fadahunsi replaced O’Brien in the 87th minute, and with Patrick increasingly lively a low cross by the winger was turned behind for a corner. Smith met N’Guessan's delivery with a powerful header which was blocked on the line, but to U's supporters' delight, John was in the right place at the right time to hammer home the rebound and equalise with his first goal in the EFL since the 2-0 win against Mansfield almost exactly two years ago.
Suddenly it looked as though Sutton could go on and win the match, with Patrick cutting in and curling the ball wide, then a few moments later, skipping past two Tranmere players to fire a shot on goal, which was blocked out for a corner. From the resulting corner, Harry Smith would win yet another header, which he steered towards the far post; however, it was deflected over by a Tranmere player and referee Lee Swabey soon concluded a tight affair between two evenly matched sides in which a draw was a fair outcome and left Tranmere still two points ahead of Sutton and above Forest Green on goal difference.
Sutton: D Bouzanis, R Jackson, J KizzI, D Gape(sub O Patrick 66), B Goodliffe, L John, J Coley(sub L Angol 89) C N'Guessan, H Smith, H Beautyman, A O'Brien(sub T Fadahunsi 87). Subs n/u J Rose, O Sowunmi, C Dundas, C Clay. Booked: Smith, Coley
Tranmere: L McGee, L O'Connor(sub D Pike 90), C Wood(sub J Leake 72), B Walker, T Davies, J Turnbull, K Morris, R Hendry, K Dennis (sub H Saunders 72), C Jennings, R Apter(sub S Taylor 79) Subs n/u R McAlear, C Robson, J Belehouan. Booked: Wood
Referee: Lee Swabey
Attendance: 3,548 (482 away)